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The Normans in Europe

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The Normans in Europe
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Author(s): Arthur Henry Johnson
Date Published: 2010/10
Page Count: 200
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-350-2
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-349-6

The sword and the cross

The Normans (or Northmen) forged an empire that lasted four hundred years. Though principally known for their seat of power in Normandy, they originated from Viking stock and at the height of their supremacy had made their influence felt throughout Europe and into the Middle East. This was a martial people and its leaders took and held power with a cunning, ruthless and often cruel efficiency whilst at the same time contributing to the culture of their time. They played a pivotal role in the wars of the Crusades but the Norman Empire, constantly in a state of expansion, also found itself in armed conflict with many of the kingdoms of Europe including open battle with the Pope of Rome himself and, of course, in the invasion of Britain under Duke William. The very success of the Normans ultimately contributed to their obscurity since they integrated well with those they conquered. Nevertheless, they left an indelible mark on history and that remains evident to this day in our culture, language and architecture. This is the remarkable history of the rise and decline of the warriors with the iconic helmets and kite shaped shields who forged an empire with steel and blood. Available in softcover and hardcover with dust jacket.

The invasion of Hardrada apparently had no connection with that of William. It was carried out without his sanction, perhaps without his knowledge, and had it been successful, Hardrada would certainly have resisted the claims of the Norman duke. As it turned out however, by calling off Harold’s attention from the south at this moment, it materially contributed to William’s ultimate success. The invasion was a formidable one. The isles of Shetland, Orkney, and Iceland, then owing nominal allegiance to Norway, sent their contingent, as well as the Danish settlers in Ireland. Even Malcolm of Scotland, who owed his crown to English help, influenced by his marriage with a princess of Orkney, lent his aid.<br>
Hardrada, having first touched at the Orkneys and Shetlands to collect his forces, sailed south past the mouth of the Tyne, thence to Scarborough and to the Humber, ravaging as he went, Then, advancing up the Humber, he landed at Riccall, near York. In vain the Earls Edwin and Morkar attempted to defend their earldom; they were defeated, and even York opened its gates.<br>
But the triumph of Hardrada was short-lived. Harold, hearing of the danger, at once marched north, and meeting his foes at Stamford Bridge, won a decisive victory. Tostig and Hardrada both fell, and the offer of Harold when treating before the battle, to give the King of Norway seven feet of earth or a little more, as he was taller than other men, was literally fulfilled. From the victorious battlefield of Stamford Bridge Harold was recalled by the news that William had already landed on the shores of Wessex to dispute his claim.<br>
William was hunting in the forest of Rouen when he heard the news of Harold’s election. He at once affected the most unfeigned astonishment, denounced Harold as a perjured man, and drawing up a specious claim, appealed to Christendom. In this appeal the wily diplomacy of William and his two chief friends, Lanfranc and William Fitz-Osbern, is strongly illustrated. He declared himself to be hereditary heir in his own right and that of his wife, and thus appealed to the idea of hereditary succession then. growing in Europe. The religious feelings of the day were enlisted by his assumption of the position of an injured man punishing the false, perjured Harold.<br>
The Normans he reminded of the ill-feeling which had existed since his father’s attempted invasion, and the insults they had to avenge; the murder of the Ætheling Alfred when supported by Norman arms; the outrage inflicted on Eustace of Boulogne by the rude citizens of Dover; the subsequent deposition of a Norman archbishop, Robert of Jumièges, and the expulsion of the Normans by the proud, upstart family of Godwine. To the Pope, Alexander II., and his great minister Hildebrand, he speaks, probably at the suggestion of Lanfranc, of his invasion as a great missionary work which shall purify the corrupted Anglo-Saxon state and church, and bring England more closely under the sway of Rome. Thus, having united the suffrages of Europe, he rapidly gathered an army, and appealed to the ordeal of battle in vindication of his claims.<br>
While, then, we deny absolutely that William had any claim to the throne of England, we must at least acknowledge the skill by which he gathered up the threads, gave to his unjust claim the character of justice, and overcame the opposition of the Norman nobles, many of whom were unwilling to join in the enterprise. We cannot but admire the masterly statesmanship by which, in the face of an ever-watchful overlord at Paris, he was enabled to gain the alliance, passive or active, of nearly all the powers of northern Europe, and prevented the Capetian king from allying himself with Harold or making a diversion by an attack on Normandy.<br>
The army and transports were collected at the mouth of the Dives. Thence sailing to St. Valery on the coast of Ponthieu, William waited until the south wind should blow, meanwhile spurring the religious enthusiasm of his army by frequent religious rites. At last the long wished-for wind arose, and, leaving Normandy to the care of his wife Matilda, he sailed for Pevensey.<br>
The landing was effected without any opposition. Harold was still in the north, and had failed to keep an army together in the south. As William stepped upon the shore, he slipped and fell. The cry of the men, “An evil omen this!” was answered by William’s ready wit. “By the splendour of God” said William, holding up a handful of earth in his closed fist, “I have taken seisin of my kingdom. The earth of England is in my hands.” Then ordering his ships to be beached and dismasted, that all idea of retreat might be prevented, he marched forwards to Hastings.