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Vikings, Normans & Englishmen
A brief history of Viking Conquests
Manley surname spelled out in "Runes"
You might wonder why I've included this page. The easiest explanation is that during my research I learned that a great many of my ancestors, those we've debated endlessly over "English" or "Irish" origins, were in fact neither! Not strictly speaking that is.
Most of my English/Irish ancestors (more than likely yours too) were in fact of Viking origin.
Trying to sum up several hundred years of world history is a bit daunting, to say the least!
I decided it was best to go to the "experts" to explain it properly.
I have "borrowed" from the BBC and Boise University for this purpose, providing links to them. For the sake of "space", I have not (in some instances) included the full texts, but have paraphrased them. Please visit these sites to learn the entire history.
PBS provides the following information on the "Diaspora" or Distribution of the Vikings
From the eighth to the eleventh centuries,
the Vikings, comprising mainly Danes and Norwegians, shot around the Northern
Hemisphere, plundering vast swaths of territory with the rapacity of a
Genghis Khan. The Norsemen raided throughout the British Isles and the
Frankish empire, and even attacked North Africa. They headed west to Iceland,
Greenland, and what is now Canada, becoming the first Europeans to set
foot in the Americas. And they traveled east into what is now northern
Russia, ultimately lending their own name Rus, the Slavs' name for them,
to that great country.
The Vikings in Normandy, France
Originally a part of Charlemagne's
empire, Normandy was fairly wealthy, with lots of monasteries and small
towns. Lying on the northern coast of France, it became a favorite and
easy target for Vikings in the 9thc. It lost most of its monasteries and
was not much of a prize when a Viking came to the King of the West Franks
in 911 with a proposal.
The inhabitants were Vikings, but most people simply referred to them as the North Men. The land given to them took their name: Normandy.
The new duchy was a frontier land,
filled with constant warfare. Viking raids continued, of course, but the
Normans fought among themselves and with their neighbors. And Normandy
became stronger, gathering territories and becoming one of the more powerful
duchies in France. The Norman dukes owed allegiance to the King of the
Franks, but the French king was a weak, shadowy figure in these years,
and the dukes were essentially independent.
England was a Saxon state that still
bore many of the characteristics of the older Germanic kingship. The earls
were as powerful as the king himself, and were rivals as often as allies.
The king's army consisted of his household, his barons and their retainers,
and a general levy of the Saxon peasantry. The Church was centered more
on the monastery than on the cathedral. And England looked more to the
North Sea than across the Channel.
Born 1028 at Falaise in Normandy, William
was the son of Robert I, Duke of Normandy, and Herleve, a girl of Falaise
of uncertain parentage. Although illegitimate, he was, nevertheless, a
direct descendant of Rolf the Viking and had a good claim to the throne.
His claim was all the stronger when his father went on a pilgrimage in
1034 and died on the return trip, making William duke in 1035 at the age
of 7. Before leaving, Robert brought forward William and had him recognized
as his heir.
By the early 1060s, Edward the Confessor was faced with three powerful forces contending for the English throne: the Normans, who could claim the throne by right of bequest; the Saxons, who claimed it by right of tradition and nationality, and who had the advantage of being on the spot; and the Norwegians, who had a better legal claim than the Saxons, but who realistically could win it only by conquest--something Vikings were rather good at.
The Vikings in England
The Vikings attacked Britain's holy places, slaughtered its monks and carried away countless treasures. Well-designed boats and convenient winds helped the Vikings come and go as they pleased. Britain was devastated as the raiders divided the land amongst themselves.
Terror from the sea
'Lo, it is nearly 350 years that we and our fathers have inhabited this most lovely land, and never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race, nor was it thought that such an inroad from the sea could be made. Behold the church of St Cuthbert spattered with the blood of the priests of God, despoiled of all its ornaments; a place more venerable than all in Britain is given as a prey to pagan peoples...'.
Panel from the Bayeux Tapestry
The Battle of Hastings
Harold took a position on some low hills and the Normans attacked that position. It was a hard fought battle that lasted the entire day, neither side able to get the better of the other.
As the day wore on, however, superior Norman discipline began to tell. Some of the Saxon forces began to melt away. Toward evening, Harold himself was killed by an arrow, but by the time he died the battle was clearly lost.
The story of the Battle of Hastings, and the events surrounding it, are told in the remarkable Bayeux Tapestry. Norman knights pursued Saxons well into the night, and by the next day there was no one to stand against the invader. William called his men back and set about securing his position. He had won a great battle, but he had not yet won England, and he needed to keep his army together.
William sent out news of his victory
and invited the Saxon lords to recognize him as the legitimate king. He
waited for five days and none did. Instead, they withdrew to their own
lands, to defend their own interests.
One of his first acts was to build a fortress in London, a tactic he used in several towns. This one became famous though: the Tower of London, the Norman core of which still stands.
Now that he was a crowned king, William set about imposing his rule on England. He spent five years quelling rebellions and establishing Norman authority, building many castles and stocking them with men brought from Normandy. Those who fought with him at Hastings did very well, receiving lands all over England as fiefs.
Music on this page "Sweet Lullaby" by Deep Forest.
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