Nor­man war­riors

These for­mi­da­ble war­lords in­cluded Vik­ings, mer­ce­nar­ies, kings and cru­saders, who spread their in­flu­ence across Europe and the Near East

History of War - - ISSUE 60 -

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

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