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Normandy, duchy of

Normandy, duchy of. The origins of the duchy of Normandy lie in a grant of territory around Rouen made early in the 10th cent. by the king of the west Franks to a Viking chieftain named Rollo. This initial grant was supplemented by others and the whole was forged into a coherent political entity during the 10th cent. by Rollo's descendants. The respective roles within the duchy's development of sustained Scandinavian connections and culture, as opposed to adaptation and assimilation into the territory's Frankish environment, is a controversial subject; while many aspects of Normandy's Scandinavian heritage remain very evident into the early 11th cent., the essentially Frankish and Christian character of its government and society surely indicates a process of assimilation to, and exploitation of, existing forms. By the first years of the 11th cent. Normandy still retained political and economic connections with Scandinavia and Scandinavian settlers in Britain and Ireland. But monasteries were being refounded, bishoprics were recovering, government was conducted according to patterns which were Frankish, and society was taking on a feudal structure typical of neighbouring regions. At the same time, Normandy became the centre of an extensive movement of conquest and colonization into southern Europe and Britain which lasted for much of the 11th cent. Why this should have happened is difficult to explain; internal turbulence and a dynamic inherited from the Viking past may play a part, but it is notable that northern French society as a whole was in a period of expansion. The great conquests in the Mediterranean and Britain are best interpreted as a Norman-led movement which absorbed the energies of a large number of enterprising individuals from many regions of northern France; the Norman Conquest of Britain, for example, was a relatively short-lived migration involving Bretons, Flemings, and others, as well as Normans, led by a great war-leader William the Conqueror, a stereotypical—if outstandingly successful—ruler of a French territorial principality. Normandy's place at the centre of a colonizing movement came to an end by the early decades of the 12th cent., though its far-flung connections endured much longer. Its history is thereafter dominated by wars with other French principalities, which in certain fundamental respects are no more than a continuation of the volatile politics of northern France throughout the period of the duchy's existence. Henry I had to work hard to defend it, it was absorbed into the Angevin empire after its conquest by Geoffrey Plantagenet in 1144 and, subsequently, into the French kingdom in 1204 after its conquest by Philip Augustus. Its three centuries of independent existence supported some of the more remarkable exploits of the medieval period. Yet ultimately its history must be analysed in the context of the history of the French kingdom; its expansion was part of the expansion of Francia, its rise and fall was an element in the politics of that region, and its final conquest was brought about by the French king, to whom the dukes owed fealty. In the 12th cent. its internal history is characterized by a lack of enterprise and innovation once the great days of expansion had passed, a state of affairs evident in government, architecture, and learning. Many among its aristocracy possessed lands in Normandy and England, but others resided principally in the duchy; their actions assisted the drift to the status of a province of France. After 1204 many Anglo-Norman magnates abandoned their smaller Norman estates. This was followed by an extensive colonization of Normandy from France.

David Richard Bates

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