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Normans

Norman is the softened form of the word "Northman," applied first to the people of Scandinavia in general, and afterwards specially to the people of Norway. In the form of "Norman" (Northmannus, Normannus, Normand) it is the name of those colonists from Scandinavia who settled themselves in Gaul, who founded the Norman duchy, who adopted the French tongue and French manners, and who from their new home set forth on new errands of conquest, chiefly in the British Islands and in southern Italy and Sicily. From one point of view the expeditions of the Normans may be looked on as continuations of the expeditions of the Northmen. As the name is etymologically the same, so the people are by descent the same, and they are still led by the old spirit of war and adventure.

But in the view of general history Normans and Northmen must be carefully distinguished. The change in the name is the sign of a thorough change, if not in the people themselves, yet in their historical position. Their national character remains largely the same ; but they have adopted a new religion, a new language, a new system of law and society, new thoughts and feelings on all matters. Like as the Norman is still to the Northmen, the effect of a settlement of Normans is utterly different from the effect of a settlement of Northmen. Considering the long and devastating campaign of the Vikings within the Frankish empire and more especially within its western portion, it is surprising that they only formed permanent settlements in one small area, leaving practically no marks of their presence elsewhere. Great portions of the Low Countries were in almost continuous occupation by them during the 9th century, but the opportunity was lost, and beyond an important share in the development of the trade of Duurstede, the Vikings hardly left a sign of their influence behind them. The case of Normandy is different. Here was a definite district assigned to the invaders, just as the Danelagh was given to them in England, and the whole of that territory is deeply impregnated with their influence. When the Normans came to England, they were not so French as supposed.

The French King at last made a treaty with them in 911 AD. By this treaty Rollo was given the French province of Neustria, which he was to be allowed to hold as a fief on condition that he became a Christian. Rollo was baptized at Rouen in 912 A.d., and proceeded forthwith to take up the reins of government in his new territory. For many years the Northmen of Neustria were looked upon by the French as pirates, barbarian marauders, but towards the close of the tenth century it gradually became clear to the French that the Northmen, by contact with them, had gradually become Frenchmen at heart. Neustria was now no longer spoken of in other parts of France as the ' Pirates' Land,' but was called the Northman's or Nor'man's Land, which is to say Normandy, and the hitherto barbarian Northman was recognized by the Frenchman as his civilized Norman kinsman. The Normans evolved during the tenth century from a mixture of Scandinavian and French elements.

Italy, south of a line drawn from the Tronto to Rieti, and from that again to Terracina, was the arena of Norman conquest; the genius of Robert Guiscard, of Richard of Aversa, and after them of Roger of Sicily, formed this part of Italy into a political entity which, lasting for 800 years, has been variously called "the kingdom of Sicily," "the two Sicilies," or more familiarly the'' Regno'' or "Kingdom."

Norman conquerors acquired territory outside Normandy, their home. The first of these Norman conquerors were two sons of Sir Tancred de Hauteville, lord of a little village in Normandy. One of them, Robert Guiscard, conquered Southern Italy, where he was presently joined by his brother Roger. Together, Robert and Roger invaded Sicily in I061, and eventually they succeeded in defeating the Saracens, who were in possession of the island. In 1071 they made a victorious entry into Palermo, and Roger became Count of Sicily. For nearly 200 years the Sicilian-Norman Court was a brilliant centre of art and learning, and it is to Sicily that we shall presently go to find some of the finest buildings which owe their origin to Norman enterprise.

The next and last of the great Norman conquerors was Duke William of Normandy, a direct descendant of Rollo, who invaded England in 1066. This invasion partook of the nature of a civil war, for although the Normans were French by civilization, they were, as we have seen, closely akin to the English, and even more nearly akin to any descendants of the reconquered Danish immigrants who may have fought for the English cause ; indeed, a civil strife between the English, the Danes, and the Normans had been in progress long before 1066.

There can be no doubt that the establishment of a Norman power in England was, like the establishment of the Danish power, greatly helped by the essential kindred of Normans, Danes, and English. But it was helped only silently. To all outward appearances the Norman conquest of England was an event of an altogether different character from the Danish conquest. The one was a conquest by a people whose tongue and institutions were still palpably akin to those of the English. The other was a conquest by a people whose tongue and institutions were palpably different from those of the English. The Norman settlers in England felt no community with the earlier Danish settlers in England. In fact the Normans met with the steadiest resistance in a part of England which was largely Danish. But the effect of real, though unacknowledged, kindred had none the less an important practical effect. There can be no doubt that this hidden working of kindred between conquerors and conquered in England, as compared with the utter lack of all fellowship between conquerors and conquered in Sicily, was one cause out of several which made so wide a difference between the Norman conquest of England and the Norman conquest of Sicily.

These two conquests, wrought in the great island of the ocean and in the great island of the Mediterranean, were the main works of the Normans after they had fully put on the character of a Christian and French-speaking people, in other words, after they had changed from Northmen into Normans. The English and the Sicilian settlements form the main Norman history of the eleventh century. The tenth century is the time of the settlement of the Northmen in Gaul, and of the change in religion and language of which the softening of the name is the outward sign. By the end of it, any traces of heathen faith, and even of Scandinavian speech, must have been mere survivals. The new creed, the new speech, the new social system, had taken such deep root that the descendants of the Scandinavian settlers were better fitted to be the armed missionaries of all these things than the neighbours from whom they had borrowed their new possessions. With the zeal of new converts they set forth on their new errand very much in the spirit of their heathen forefathers. If Britain and Sicily were the greatest fields of their enterprise, they were very far from being the only fields. The same spirit of enterprise which brought the Northmen into Gaul seems to carry the Normans out of Gaul into every corner of the world."




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