The Normans: Astonishing Facts about Britain's Founders

#1 They came from France, but..

The Normans (from the Latin word “Nortmanni”, meaning Northmen) were originally Viking raiders of Scandinavian descent who would eventually settle in northern France, as part of a treaty with the French king Charles III, who ennobled the famous viking leader Rollo. Rollo’s descendants would continue to rule over Normandy for the following centuries. In 1066, their influence would grow even further as the ruling Norman class would become a dominant force not only in northern France, but the entirety of England as the Anglo-Saxon nobility and royals were replaced with Normans after the invasion of William the Conqueror.

#2 They brought French to England

The Norman invasion of England is remembered by historians not only for its political implications, but for the linguistic implications it had for the future of England and how these have shaped the modern English language today. The Norman Conquest brought about many changes in the English, then Anglo-Saxon language and culture, as the vast majority of the Anglo-Saxon nobility were replaced with Norman soldiers and others who had aided William. Furthermore, the very English language itself was directly affected. The terms house, mansion, toilet, offspring, pig, live, think, conceive, mother - all of these and many, many more strode from French into the English language by way of the Norman invasion.

#3 An end to 500 years of Anglo-Saxons

William the Conqueror’s invasion put an end to over five hundred years of Anglo-Saxon rule, replacing a legacy of kings stretching back as far as 6th century AD. Furthermore, many of the Anglo-Saxon political systems were replaced - for example, its monarchy. During the reign of the Anglo-Saxons, English kings and queens had been selected through elective monarchy - a council of wise, old Anglo-Saxon nobles would select the best candidate they believed fit to rule the country. However, France’s monarchy operated under primogeniture, which dictates that the oldest child of the ruler will naturally succeed him as his birthright.

#4 They invaded many parts of the world

While the Normans are chiefly remembered through William the Conqueror’s invasion of England and the legacy he left behind, they were originally raiding seafarers. As such, especially throughout the 11th century, many lands across Europe were invaded and settled by the Normans. In 1024, a group of Norman warriors were paid by the King of Italy to protect his land from invaders - which they did, and efficiently at that. However, after doing so, they decided they liked his lands so much that they decided to invade Italy themselves, eventually settling in Sicily!

#5 Cultural influences

One of the most fascinating parts of the Norman invasion is how they managed to merge their culture with that of the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture in England. Instead of replacing it or wiping it out entirely, they fused. At the time, the Normans could be considered a more “civilised” people, who placed high emphasis on aristocracy, social structures, art, literature and imagination, whereas the Anglo-Saxons were fierce warriors who looked to their heroes, myths and legends for guidance, while celebrating the heroic deeds of their own fighters. These two highly different yet both equally interesting cultures merged to give birth to some of England’s most famous and iconic legends, such as that of King Arthur: a legendary and brave English warrior, which also catered towards the Norman concern for art, literature and romance.

#6 The oldest surviving public record

The oldest surviving public record in the history of Britain is the Domesday Book, or “Doomsday Book”. It was authored as part of a large survey conducted on the orders of William the Conqueror himself, who wished to acquaint himself with his newly-acquired land through a great survey of much of England, Wales. It recorded the names of towns, villages, farms, trees, the wealth of counties, population and many other things, and it was compiled by the Normans. The Domesday Book is kept at the National Archives in London as one of its most prized pieces.

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