History Revealed

EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT THE NORMAN CONQUEST

Q: Before we get on to the Battle of Hastings itself, could you explain who the Normans were, and where they came from?

A: The Normans were originally Scandinavians who invaded Normandy – the area of Neustria in Francia – from the late ninth century and early tenth century. When the ‘Normans’ arrived in the region, they didn’t eradicate or expel all the native population. Instead, they settled and married into that population. We can’t recover the precise numbers of people who did this, however – there simply isn’t the data.

Q: Were Normans and Vikings the same?

A: In a sense, they were Vikings: the term ‘Norman’ has the same root as the word ‘Norseman’ or ‘Northman’. And the Normans – particularly the elite of Normandy – did take pride, to some extent, in their Viking past.

But they also very quickly adopted Frankish and Christian traits. For example, the first ruler (later called a duke) of the Normans was Rolf or Rollo, who had a traditional Scandinavian Viking name. But he called his son William; William called his son Richard; Richard called his son Richard – and so on. William, Richard: these are Frankish and Christian names.

The Normans adopted Christianity, too, and by the end of the 10th century, they had begun founding monasteries. They also started building castles and fighting on horseback; they were adapting to all these Frankish customs. So, while they were ancestrally Viking, the Normans were actually quite different from Norsemen – especially by 1066.

Q: Why did the Normans invade England? Had the English king Edward the Confessor made a commitment to William before his death,

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