These formidable warlords included Vikings, mercenaries, kings and crusaders, who spread their influence across Europe and the Near East
Whether Vikings, mercenaries, kings or crusaders, these warlords spread Norman influence
“WILLIAM CRUSHED ALL ENGLISH OPPOSITION TO HIS RULE WITH FRIGHTENING ZEAL”
WILLIAM I 1028-87 THE NORMAN ‘BASTARD’ WHO TURNED INTO THE ‘CONQUEROR’ OF ENGLAND
By far the most successful and decisive of all the Norman warriors, William transformed his position from the ruler of a provincial duchy to the monarch of one of the most sophisticated kingdoms in Europe.
Born at Falaise, he was the illegitimate son of Robert I, Duke of Normandy and his mistress Herleva. William inherited the duchy as a child. He grew up in an insecure atmosphere where several of his guardians were killed and William’s own life was constantly in danger.
His childhood turned him into a ruthless ruler, and in 1047 William asserted his authority by crushing rebels at the Battle of Val-ès-dunes. After mercilessly sacking towns such as Alençon, William used the sword to strengthen his position in Normandy, before turning his eyes towards England.
Upon the death of King Edward the Confessor in 1066, William invaded England after the swift coronation of the Anglo-saxon Harold II. He won the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, in a hard contest where he had to loudly deny that he had been killed. In fact, it was Harold that died that day, and the previously mocked ‘bastard’ duke was now king of England.
William crushed all English opposition to his rule with frightening zeal. His soldiers destroyed vast swathes of the north of England, and around 500 castles were built across the kingdom. The Anglo-saxon Chronicle recorded that the Normans “built castles far and wide, oppressing the unhappy people”.
Despite his success in England, William spent his last years fighting in Normandy against rebels that included his eldest son Robert. In 1079, Robert even unhorsed William in combat and wounded him. The king continued his suppressive wars and was mortally injured in 1087 when his horse threw him near the smouldering ruins of Mantes, a town he had just sacked.
ROLLO 860-930 THE VIKING FOUNDER OF THE DUCHY OF NORMANDY
Rollo’s origins are uncertain, and he has variously been described as a Dane or Norwegian. This Scandinavian warrior was a pirate who raided England, Scotland and Flanders before attacking France with a Danish army. Rollo established himself in the vicinity of the Seine River and besieged Paris. The king of the West Franks, Charles III (otherwise known as ‘the Simple’) was able to prevent Rollo from taking Paris but eventually went into negotiations with him.
By the terms of the Treaty of Saint-clair-sur-epte in 911, Charles allowed Rollo and his followers to settle in a part of Neustria, which formed part of his western kingdom. In exchange, Rollo agreed to end his raiding and acknowledged Charles as his lord. The land that Rollo’s Vikings settled on became known as ‘Normandy’, in reference to its population of ‘Northmen’.
Rollo ruled Normandy but he never became duke and was instead known as the count of Rouen. His Viking descendents later became dukes of Normandy and kings of England.
LEFT: William’s physical strength was such that it was said he could jump onto a horse wearing full armour without effort
A 19th-century statue of Rollo in Rouen. His Viking followers settled in Normandy but quickly adopted the French language, customs and Christian religion
BELOW: William is depicted lifting his helmet during the Battle of Hastings in the Bayeux Tapestry. This is the only contemporary likeness of him