Brit History: The Normans up to 1066 – History of England Podcast

We are going to move right on from Cnut, and pass over 30 years of history. The super summary is that Cnut’s dynasty ended within a few years, and  led to the the establishment of the old English monarch in the form of the rather ineffectual Edward the Confessor. Edward was dominated by his leading noble family, the Godwinssons, and on his death it is Harold Godwinsson who will take the throne.

So we’ll come on to 1066 next time. But this week I thought a brief survey of the Normans and their history before the English adventure. As ever, go to for more !

22 21 The Normans – a race unbridled

Beginnings – Rollo (846-931) and the settlement of Normandy

Scandinavian settlements of NormandyCharles the Simple, the King of France, managed to defeat Rollo at Chartres, but realised that the Vikings would be back. So he granted Rollo the land of Normandy in 911, on the promise that Rollo would defend the coast and convert to Christianity. And by and large that’s what Rollo did.

The settlement of Normandy was not heavy, and was focussed around the coast, as the map shows. Rollo and his successors encouraged the Vikings to go native. Within a hundred years, the Normans were as French as anyone.

William I Longsword (b. 893, Count of Normandy 931-942)

William I and the expansion of NormandyRollo’s son William had to fight to protect the new kingdom from the Kings of France who regreted their decision, and from jealous neighbours like the Counts of Flanders. In the end they got to him, when Arnulf of Flanders had William assasination in 942. But by that stage Normandy had grown from the gift of the Contentin and Avranches from Rudolph of France, and by William’s mariage.

Richard I ‘The Fearless’ (b. 933, Duke of Normandy 942-996)

A minority was always a dangerous time, so when William’s assasination left 10 year old as his heir there was bound to be trouble. Louis IVth of France took advantage, walked in and threw Richard in prison. But 3 years later Richard escaped and enlisted the help of Hugh Capet, the count of Paris and founder of the Capetian dynasty. Hugh helped Richard back to the Ducal throne and Richard never looked back. His reign saw the start of the development of the famous Norman heavy cavalry and reform of the church. New religious foundations sprang up and by the time Richard died, no one would have imagined a world without Normandy – which had not been the case at the start of the reign. Richard was also the first to call himself Duke – and make it stick.

Richard II (‘the Good’, 996-1026) , Richard III (1026-1027) and Robert the Devil (1027-1035)

Richard II built on the work of his father, fostering the development of the church and maintaining his alliance with the Capetians. And on his death, the succession seemed assured through his son Richard. But Richard died suspiciously quickly. Now early death was not unusual in those days, but tomgies will wag and Robert, his brother, was tringly suspected of fratricide. None the less, Robert took over, and set off to have fun and build his wealth by plundering the church. And while he played, his  Barons helped themselves too – not just to church lands, but to Ducal powers as well. By the time the Pope stopped Robert’s spree with the threat of excommunication, the damage was done, and his son would have to deal with the consequence of a very independent nobility. Perhaps by way of contrition, Robert went to the Holy Land on pilgrimmage 1034-5, where his ability to throw money around earned him the title of Robert the Magnificant. But he died on the way back.

William the Bastard (Duke, 1035 – 1087)

William the ConquerorWilliam was illegitimate and under age  when his father died, so he had to contend with a disputed succession. The turning point came in 1047 with the battle of Val es Dune, when Henry of  France helped his vassal William defeat his Barons. From then until the death of his rivals, Geoffry of Anjou and a disillusioned Henry of France, William continued to fight for his survival. But from 1060, William could finally go on the offensive, safe at home and ready to take on the invasion of England.

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