Skip to content


Free World Class Education
FREE Catholic Classes

An ancient French province, from which five "departments" were formed in 1790: Seine-Inférieure ( Archdiocese of Rouen ), Eure ( Diocese of Evreux ), Calvados ( Diocese of Bayeux ), Orne ( Diocese of Séez ), Manche ( Diocese of Coutances ). The Normans, originally Danish or Norwegian pirates, who from the ninth to the tenth century made numerous incursions into France, gave their name to this province. In the Gallo-Roman period Normandy formed the so-called second Lyonnaise province ( Secunda Lugdunensis ). At Thorigny within the territory of this province was found an inscription very important for the history of the worship of the emperors in Gaul and of the provincial assemblies; the latter, thus meeting for this worship, kept up a certain autonomy throughout the conquered territory of Gaul. Under the Merovingians the Kingdom of Neustria annexed Normandy. About 843 Sydroc and his bands of pillagers opened the period of Northman invasions. The policy of Charles the Bald in giving money or lands to some of the Northmen for defending his land against other bands was unfortunate, as these adventurers readily broke their oath. In the course of their invasions they slew (858) the Bishop of Bayeux and (859) the Bishop of Beauvais. The conversion (862) of the Northman, Weland, marked a new policy on the part of the Carlovingians; instead of regarding the invaders as intruders it was admitted that they might become Christians. Unlike the Saracens, then disturbing Europe, the Northmen were admitted to a place and a rôle in Christendom.

The good fortune of the Northmen began with Rollo in Normandy itself. It was long believed that Rollo came by sea into the valley of the Seine in 876, but the date is rather 886. He destroyed Bayeux, pillaged Lisieux, besieged Paris, and reached Lorraine, finally establishing himself at Rouen, where a truce was concluded. His installation was considered so definitive that in the beginning of the tenth century Witto, Archbishop of Rouen, consulted the Archbishop of Reims as to the means of converting the Northmen. Rollo's settlement in Normandy was ratified by the treaty of St. Clair-sur-Epte (911), properly speaking only a verbal agreement between Rollo and Charles the Simple. As Duke of Normandy Rollo remained faithful to the Carlovingian dynasty in its struggles with the ancestors of the future Capetians. These cordial relations between the ducal family of Normandy and French royalty provoked under Rollo's successor William Long-sword (931-42) a revolt of the pagan Northmen settled in Cotentin and Bessin. One of their lords ( jarls ), Riulf by name was the leader of the movement. The rebels reproached the duke with being no longer a true Scandinavian and "treating the French as his kinsmen". Triumphant for a time, they were finally muted and the aristocratic spirit of the jarls had to bow before the monarchical principles which William Long-sword infused into his government.

Another attempt at a revival of paganism was made under Richard I Sans Peur (the Fearless, 942-96). He was only two years old at his father's death. A year later (943) the Scandinavian Setric, landing in Normandy with a band of pirates, induced a number of Christian Northmen to apostatize ; among them, one Turmod who sought to make a pagan of the young duke. Hugh the Great, Duke of France, and Louis IV, King of France, defeated these invaders and after their victory both sought to set up their own power in Normandy to the detriment of the young Richard whom Louis IV held in semi-captivity at Laon. The landing in Normandy of the King of Denmark, Harold Bluetooth, and the defeat of Louis IV, held prisoner for a time (945), constrained the latter to sign the treaty of Gerberoy, by which the young Duke Richard was reestablished in his possessions and became, according to the chronicler Dudon de Saint-Quentin, a sort of King of Normandy. The attacks later directed against Richard by the Carlovingian King Lothaire and Thibaut le Tricheur, Count of Chartres, brought a fresh descent on France of the soldiers of Harold Bluetooth. Ascending the Seine these Danes so devastated the country of Chartres that when they withdrew, according to the chronicler Guillaume of Jumièges, there was not heard even the bark of a dog. When Eudes of Chartres, brother-in-law of Richard II the Good, again threatened Normandy (996-1020) it was once more the Scandinavian chieftains, Olaf of Norway and Locman, who came to the duke's aid. So attached were these Scandinavians to paganism that their leader Olaf, having been baptized by the Archbishop of Rouen, was slain by them. Although they had become Christian, all traces of Scandinavian paganism did not disappear under the first dukes of Normandy. Rollo walked barefoot before the reliquary of St. Oueu, but he caused many relies to be sold in England, and on his death-bed, according to Adhémar de Chabannes, simultaneously caused prisoners to be sacrificed to the Scandinavian gods and gave much gold to the churches. Richard I was a great builder of churches, among them St. Ouen and the primitive cathedral of Rouen, St. Michel du Mont, and the Trinity at Fécamp. Richard II, zealous for monastic reform, brought from Burgundy Guillaume de St. Bénigne; the Abbey of Fécamp, reformed by him, became a model monastery and a much frequented school.

All these dukes protected the Church, but the feudal power of the Church, which in many States at that time limited the central power, was but little developed in Normandy, and it was to their kinsmen that the dukes of Normandy most often gave the Archdiocese of Rouen and other sees. Ecclesiastical life in Normandy was vigorous and well-developed; previous to the eleventh century the rural parishes were almost as numerous as they are today. Thus Normandy for nearly a century and a half was at once a sort of promontory of the Christian world in face of Scandinavia and at the same time a coign of Scandinavia thrust into the Christian world. Henceforth those Danes and Scandinavians who under the name of Normans formed a part of Christendom, never called pagan Danes or Scandinavians to their aid unless threatened in the possession of Normandy; under their domination the land became a stronghold of Christianity. The monastery of Fontenelle pursued its religious and literary activity from the Merovingian period. The "Chronicon Fontanellense", continued to 1040, is an important source for the history of the period. The ducal family of Normandy early determined to have an historiographer whom they sought in France, one Dudon, dean of the chapter of St. Quentin, who between 1015-30 wrote in Latin half verse, half prose, a history of the family according to the traditions and accounts transmitted to him by Raoul, Count of Ivry grandson of Rollo and brother of Richard I Alinea. Duke Robert the Devil (1027-35) was already powerful enough to interfere efficaciously in the struggles of Henry I of France against his own brother and the Counts of Champagne and Flanders. In gratitude the king bestowed on Robert the Devil, Pontoise, Chaumont en Vexin, and the whole of French Vexin. It was under Robert the Devil that the ducal family of Normandy first cast covetouss glances towards England. He sent an embassy to Canute the Great, King of England, in order that the sons of Ethelred, Alfred and Edward, might recover their patrimony. The petition having been denied he made ready a naval expedition against England, destroyed by a tempest. He died while on a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre.

It was reserved for his son William the Bastard, later called William the Conqueror, to make England a Norman colony by the expedition which resulted in the victory of Hastings or Senlac (1066). It seemed, then, that in the second half of the eleventh century a sort of Norman imperialism was to arise in England, but the testament of William the Conqueror which left Normandy to Robert Courte-Heuse and England to William Rufus, marked the separation of the two countries. Each of the brothers sought to despoil the other; the long strife which Robert waged, first against William Rufus, afterwards against his third brother Henry I Beauclerc, terminated in 1106 with the battle of Tinchebray, after which he was taken prisoner and brought to Cardiff. Thenceforth Normandy was the possession of William I, King of England, and while forty years previous England seemed about to become a Norman country, it was Normandy which became an English country; history no longer speaks of the ducal family of Normandy but of the royal family of England. Later Henry I, denounced to the Council of Reims by Louis VI of France, explained to Callistus II in tragic terms the condition in which he had found Normandy. "The duchy", said he, "was the prey of brigands. Priests and other servants of God were no longer honoured, and paganism had almost been restored, in Normandy. The monasteries which our ancestors had founded for the repose of their souls were destroyed, and the religious obliged to disperse, being unable to sustain themselves. The churches were given up to pillage, most of them reduced to ashes, while the priests were in hiding. Their parishioners were slaying one another." There, may have been some truth in this description of Henry I; however, it is well to bear in mind that the Norman dukes of the eleventh century, while they had prepared and realized these astounding political changes, had also developed in Normandy, with the help of the Church, a brilliant literary and artistic movement.

The Abbey of Bec was for some time, under the direction of Lanfranc and St. Anselm, the foremost school of northern France. Two Norman monasteries produced historical works of great importance; the "Historia Normannorum" written between 1070-87 by Guillaume Calculus at the monastery of Jumièges ; the "Historia Ecclesiastica" of Ordericus Vitalis , which begins with the birth of Christ and ends in 1141, written at the monastery of St. Evroult. The secular clergy of Normandy emulated the monks ; in a sort of academy founded in the second half of the eleventh century by two bishops of Lisieux, Hugues of Eu and Gilbert Maminot, not only theological but also scientific and literary questions were discussed. The Norman court was a kind of Academy and an active centre of literary production. The chaplain of Duchess Matilda, Gin de Ponthieu, Bishop of Amiens, composed in 1067 a Latin poem on the battle of Hastings; the chaplain of William the Conqueror, William of Poitiers, wrote the "Gesta" of his master and an extant account of the First Crusade is due to another Norman, Raoul de Caen, an eyewitness. At the same time the Norman dukes of the eleventh century restored the buildings, destroyed by the invasions of their barbarian ancestors, and a whole Romance school of architecture developed in Normandy, extending to Chartres, Picardy, Brittany, and even to England. Caen was the centre of this school ; and monuments like the Abbaye aux Hommes and the Abbaye aux Dames, built at Caen by William and Matilda, mark an epoch in the history of Norman art.

In the course of the twelfth century the political destinies of Normandy were very uncertain. Henry I of England, master of Normandy from 1106-35, preferred to live at Caen rather than in England. His rule in Normandy was at first disturbed by the partisans of Guillaume Cliton, son of Robert Courte-Heuse, and later by the plot concocted against him by his own daughter Matilda, widow of Emperor Henry V, who had taken as her second husband Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou. When Henry I died in 1135 his body was brought to England ; his death without male heirs left Normandy a prey to anarchy. For this region was immediately disputed between Henry Plantagenet, grandson of Henry I through his mother Matilda, and Thibaut of Champagne, grandson of William the Conqueror through his mother Adèle. After nine years of strife Thibaut withdrew in favour of his brother Stephen who in 1135 had been crowned King of England. But the victories of Geoffrey Plantagenet in Normandy assured (1144) the rule of Henry Plantagenet over that land, which being thenceforth subject to Angevin rule, seemed destined to have no further connexion with England. Suddenly Henry Plantagenet, who in 1152 had married Eleanor (Aliénor) of Aquitaine, divorced from Louis VII of France, determined to assert his rights over England itself. The naval expedition which he conducted in 1153 led Stephen to recognize him as his heir, and as Stephen died at the end of that same year Henry Plantagenet reigned over all the Anglo-Norman possessions, his territorial power being greater than that of the kings of France. A long series of wars followed between the Capetians and Plantagenets, interrupted by truces. Louis VII wisely favoured everything which paralyzed the power of Plantagenet, and supported all his enemies. Thomas à Becket and the other exiles who had protested against the despotism which Henry exercised against the Church, found refuge and help at the court of France ; and the sons of Henry in their successive revolts against their father in Normandy, were supported first by Louis VII and then by Philip Augustus.

The prestige of the Capetian kings grew in Normandy when Richard Cœur de Lion succeeded Henry II in 1189. Philip Augustus profited by the enmity between Richard and his brother John Lackland to gradually establish French domination in Normandy. A war between Richard and Philip Augustus resulted in the treaty of Issoudun (1195) by which Philip Augustus acquired for the French crown Norman Vexin and the castellanies of Nonancourt, Ivry, Pacy, Vernon, and Gaillon. A second war between John Lackland, King of England in 1199 and Philip Augustus, was terminated by the treaty of Goulet (1200), by which John Lackland recovered Norman Vexin, but recognized the French king's possession of the territory of Evreux and declared himself the "liege man " of Philip Augustus . Also when in 1202 John Lackland, having abducted Isabella of Angoulême, refused to appear before Philip Augustus, the court of peers declared John a felon, under which sentence he no longer had the right to hold any fief of the crown. Philip II Augustus sanctioned the judgment of the court of peers by invading Normandy which in 1204 became a French possession. The twelfth century in Normandy was marked by the production of important works, chief of which was the "Roman de Rou" of Robert or rather Richard Wace (1100-75), a canon of Bayeux. In this, which consists of nearly 17,000 lines and was continued by Benoît de Sainte-More, Wace relates the history of the dukes of Normandy down to the battle of Tinchebray. Mention must also be made of the great French poem which the Norman Ambroise wrote somewhat prior to 1196 on the Jerusalem pilgrimage of Richard Cœur de Lion. As early as the twelfth century Normandy was an important commercial centre. Guillaume de Neubrig wrote that Rouen was one of the most celebrated cities of Europe and that the Seine brought thither the commercial products of many countries. The "Etablissements de Rouen " in which was drawn up the "custom" adopted by Rouen, were copied not only by the other Norman towns but by the cities with which Rouen maintained constant commercial intercourse, e.g. Angoulême, Bayonne, Cognac, St. Jean d'Angély, Niort, Poitiers, La Rochelle, Saintes, and Tours. The ghilde of Rouen, a powerful commercial association, possessed in England from the time of Edward the Confessor the port of Dunegate, now Dungeness, near London, and its merchandise entered London free.

Once in the power of the Capetians, Normandy became an important strategical point in the struggle against the English, masters of Poitou and Guyenne in the south of France. Norman sailors were enrolled by Philip VI of France for a naval campaign against England in 1340 which resulted in the defeat of Ecluse. Under John II the Good, the States of Normandy, angered by the ravages committed by Edward III of England on his landing in the province voted (1348-50) subsidies for the conquest of England. The Valois dynasty was in great danger when Charles the Bad, King of Navarre, who possessed important lands in Normandy, succeeded in 1356 in detaching from John II of France a number of Norman barons. John II appraising the danger came suddenly to Rouen, put several barons to death, and took Charles the Bad prisoner. Shortly afterwards Normandy was one of the provinces of France most faithful to the Dauphin Charles, the future Charles V, and the hope the English entertained in 1359 of seeing Normandy ceded to them by the Preliminaries of London was not ratified by the treaty of Brétigny (1360); Normandy remained French. The victories of Charles V consolidated the prestige of the Valois in this province. In 1386 Normandy furnished 1387 vessels for an expedition against England never executed. In 1418 the campaign of Henry V in Normandy was for a long time paralyzed by the resistance of Rouen, which finally capitulated in 1419, and in 1420 all Normandy became again almost English.

The Duke of Clarence, brother of Henry V of England, was made lieutenant-general in the province. Henry VI and the Duke of Bedford founded a university at Caen which had faculties of canon and civil law, to which Charles VII in 1450 added those of theology, medicine, and arts. This last attempt at English domination in Normandy was marked by the execution at Rouen of Blessed Joan of Arc. English rule, however, was undermined by incessant conspiracies, especially on the part of the people of Rouen, and by revolts in 1435-36. The revolt of Val de Vire is famous and was the origin of an entire ballad literature, called "Vaux de Vire", in which the poet Oliver Basselin excelled. These songs, which later became bacchic or amorous in character, and which subsequently developed into the popular drama known as "Vaudeville", were in the beginning chiefly of an historical nature recounting the invasion of Normandy by the English. Profiting by the public opinion of which the "Vaux de Vire" gave evidence, the Constable de Richemont opposed the English on Norman territory. His long and arduous efforts in 1449-50 made Normandy once more a French province. Thenceforth the possession of Normandy by France was considered so essential to the security of the kingdom that Charles the Bold, for a time victorious over Louis XI, in order to weaken the latter, exacted in 1465 that Normandy should be held by Duke Charles de Berry, the king's brother and leader of those in revolt against him; two years later Louis XI took Normandy from his brother and caused the States General of Tours to proclaim in 1468 that Normandy could for no reason whatever be dismembered from the domain of the crown. The ducal ring was broken in the presence of the great judicial court called the Echiquier (Exchequer) and the title of Duke of Normandy was never to be borne again except by Louis XVII, the son of Louis XVI.

The Norman school of architecture from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century produced superb Gothic edifices chiefly characterized by the height of their spires and bell-towers. Throughout the Middle Ages Normandy, greatly influenced by St. Bernard and the Cistercians was distinguished for its veneration of the Blessed Virgin. It was under her protection that William the Conqueror placed his expedition to England. One of the most ancient mural paintings in France is in the chapel of the Hospice St. Julien at Petit-Quevilly, formerly the manor chapel of one of the early dukes of Normandy, portraying the Annunciation, the Birth of Christ, and the Blessed Virgin suckling the Infant Jesus during the flight into Egypt. As early as the twelfth century Robert or rather Richard Wace wrote the history of Mary and that of the establishment of the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The Norman students at Paris placed themselves under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception which thus became the "feast of the Normans"; this appellation does not seem to date beyond the thirteenth century. During the modern period the Normans have been distinguished for their commercial expeditions by sea and their voyages of discovery. As early as 1366 the Normans had established markets on the coast of Africa and it was from Caux that Jean de Béthencourt set out in 1402 for the conquest of the Canaries. He opened up to Vasco da Gama the route to the Cape of Good Hope and to Christopher Columbus that to America. Two of his chaplains, Pierre Bontier and Jean le Verrier, gave an account of his expedition in a manuscript known as "Le Canarien", edited in 1874. Jean Ango, born at Dieppe about the end of the fifteenth century, acquired as a ship-owner a fortune exceeding that of many princes of his time. The Portuguese having in time of peace, seized (1530) a ship which belonged to him, he sent a flotilla to blockade Lisbon and ravage the Portuguese coast. The ambassador sent by the King of Portugal to Francis I to negotiate the matter, was referred to the citizen of Dieppe. Ango was powerful enough to assist the armaments of Francis I against England. He died in 1551.

Jean Parmentier (1494-1543), another navigator and a native of Dieppe, was, it is held, the first Frenchman to take ships to Brazil ; to him is also ascribed the honour of having discovered Sumatra in 1529. Poet as well as sailor, he wrote in verse (1536) a "Description Nouvelle des Merveilles de ce monde". The foundation by Francis I in 1517 of the "French City" which afterwards became Havre de Grace, shows the importance which French royalty attached to the Norman coast. Normandy's maritime commerce was much developed by Henry II and Catherine de Medicis. They granted to the port of Rouen a sort of monopoly for the importation of spices and drugs arriving by way of the Atlantic, and when they came to Rouen in 1550 the merchants of that town contrived to give to the nearby wood the appearance of the country of Brazil "with three hundred naked men, equipped like savages of America, whence comes the wood of Brazil ". Among these three hundred men were fifty real savages, and there also figured in this exhibition "several monkeys and squirrel monkeys which the merchants of Rouen had brought from Brazil." The description of the festivities, which bore witness to active commercial intercourse between Normandy and America, was published together with numerous figures. After the Reformation religious wars interrupted the maritime activity of the Normans for a time. Rouen took sides with the League, Caen with Henry IV, but with the restoration of peace the maritime expeditions recommenced. Normans founded Quebec in 1608, opened markets in Brazil in 1612, visited the Sonda Islands in 1617, and colonized Guadeloupe in 1635. The French population of Canada is to a large extent of Norman origin. During the French Revolution Normandy was one of the centres of the federalist movement known as the Girondin. Caen and Evreux were important centres for the Gironde; Buzot, who led the movement, was a Norman, and it was from Caen that Charlotte Corday set out to slay the "montagnard" Marat. The royalist movement of "la Chouannerie" had also one of its centres in Normandy.

Join the Movement
When you sign up below, you don't just join an email list - you're joining an entire movement for Free world class Catholic education.

Saint of the Day logo
Prayer of the Day logo

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.