The Normans originated when a band of Norwegian Vikings led by the Dane Hrolf the Ganger (Rollo, in the French sources) settled in the region of the lower Seine River in the old area of Neustria, and were granted the county of Rouen, and the territory around the city of Rouen, by King Charles the Simple at the Treaty of Saint-Claire-sur-Epte in 911. Originally lumped together with the other Northmanni, or Normanni, to include Viking invaders all over Europe and stretching across the Atlantic, these Normans who settled on the Seine acquired a distinct identity separate from their Viking colleagues. Over the next hundred years, these Vikings centered in Rouen extended their control over the entire area previously known as Neustria, adding territories to the south and particularly to the west—the Bessin, the Cotentin and the Avranchin. This expansion in the west involved incorporating independent settlements of other Vikings around Bayeux and Caen, and subduing them to the rule of the count of Rouen.
Rollo was essentially still a Viking chieftain, as was his son William I Longsword, who succeeded Rollo as count in 930. Continuing in his Viking ways, in 942 William was killed in battle trying to extend his county eastward, toward Flanders. His son Richard I began the real construction of the future Duchy of Normandy. Richard's marriage to the Viking Gunnor, "of the noblest house of the Danes," who had settled with others in the area around Caen began the lines of Norman aristocracy—all descended from Gunnor and her female relatives. Eleanor Searle has labeled the subsequent Norman expansion as "Predatory Kinship." The Normans continued to solidify their duchy under Richard and Gunnor's son Richard II, who had gained such prestige that he was able to make a marriage alliance with England by marrying his sister Emma to King Aethelred Unraed.
Under these earliest Norman dukes the abbeys of Fé-camp, Mont-St.-Michel, St. Ouen of Rouen, Fontenelle and Bernay were refounded, but the Norman counts tended to appoint their own relatives to bishoprics. The church in Normandy really began its organization under Duke William II the Bastard, who succeeded his father Robert the Magnificent as a child of seven in 1035. Shortly thereafter Lanfranc of Pavia came to Normandy and settled in as a monk of the newly-founded abbey of Bec. Abbot Herluin soon recognized his learning and appointed Lanfranc as prior. The school Lanfranc opened was the first in Normandy, and attracted both lay and clerical students from all over Europe. Duke William raised Lanfranc "as on a watchtower" to oversee the churches of Normandy, and Lanfranc began replacing the ducal relatives with Italian reformers as bishops. Duke William appointed Lanfranc as abbot of the new ducal foundation, St. Etienne, Caen, with its sister abbey for women, Holy Trinity, in 1060. Lanfranc chose the promising student Anselm to succeed him as Bec's schoolmaster and prior.
When William conquered England in 1066, beginning the line of Anglo-Norman kings, he brought lan-franc to serve as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1070, and Lanfranc began replacing the abbots of England with monks of Bec, Caen, Lessay, and other abbeys under Bec's tutelage. anselm succeeded Herluin as abbot of Bec and Lanfranc as archbishop of Canterbury; by Anselm's death, he and Lanfranc had reformed the English church on the model of Bec's monastic ideals, while King william i the conqueror reformulated the English government into an amalgamation of English tradition and Norman innovation, a propitious blend of both traditions, but always claiming to reconstitute the customs of his predecessor Edward the confessor. Anselm struggled with kings william ii, Rufus, and henry i over investitures, and persuaded the latter to abandon them despite the insistence of both kings to maintain the customs of their predecessors. Both Lanfranc and Anselm worked to hold reforming councils in England. Their epsicopates set the pattern that the English Church would follow thereafter—a pattern which survived the anarchy of the reign of the last Anglo-Norman king, Stephen.
In the time of Count Richard I of Normandy, some Normans began wandering southward and settled in southern Italy, which they viewed as a land of opportunity because of its political disunity. Many were hired as mercenaries by the lombard counts and Byzantine officials, to fight against either or both, or against the invading Muslim forces from Sicily. Others made their fortune as highway robbers. Most prominent among these Normans were the 12 sons of Tancred d'Hauteville, a minor lord of the Cotentin; among them, Robert Guiscard (the crafty) emerged as the leader, who eventually carved out for himself a fief in the Apennines. Then he moved down to the plains, drove out the Greeks, supported Pope leo ix after previously fighting against him, and finally received from Pope nicholas ii the investiture of the Duchies of Apulia and Calabria (1059). He also obtained license to conquer Sicily, which he and his younger brother Roger accomplished during the years 1061 to 1091. Robert Guiscard, like his contemporaries in Normandy, founded a string of abbeys, all originating with and connected to the Norman abbey of St. Evroul—St. Euphemia, Sant'Angelo at Mileto, St. Maria of Mattina, St. Maria of Camigliano, to which a number of Greek monasteries were subjected, in a manner somewhat reminiscent of the subjection of English abbeys to Bec monks. The bishoprics of southern Italy were reformed by the papacy rather than by the Normans, but Roger I the Great, in the last few years of the eleventh century, won from Pope Urban II the right to control the churches of his unified realm of Italy and Sicily. In Sicily, Roger permitted the Greek Church to remain dominant, while in Italy he subjected it to Latin rule. Although Robert Guiscard failed in his attempt to create a Sicilian-Dalmatian Empire, his brother Roger organized the new Sicilian state, and his son Bohemund distinguished himself among the leaders of the First crusade, at the capture of Antioch, 1098. The same Norman line of Tancred d'Hauteville ruled, in the twelfth century, at Palermo: Roger II of Sicily was crowned king in 1130 at Antioch. Just as Canut and William the Conqueror had posed as legitimate successors of the Anglo-Saxon kings and preserved in England a number of its ancestral customs, so also the Norman kings of Sicily and the Norman princes of Antioch took on the dress of Byzantium and manifested a remarkable propensity for assimilation. Thus the organizing spirit of a handful of Normans succeeded in uniting the most dissimilar ethnic elements. Everywhere they gave birth to an original and brilliant civilization, be it Anglo-Norman, Sicilo-Norman, or Normano-Syrian.
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[s. n. vaughn/