Normandy the land of the Vikings

Normandy, a name that immediately evokes WWII Landing Beaches and the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Conquest of England by William the Conqueror.

About Normandy - Drakkar prow figurehead
About Normandy – Drakkar prow figurehead

These two invasions marked Western Europe History some 950 years or so apart!

Normandy is located in western France.

It corresponds to the historic Duché de Normandie, founded by King Charles the Simple with the Treaty of Saint Clair-sur-Epte on 911.

Rollo, a Norse nobleman of Danish or Norwegian origin, led his Vikings in a series of raids.

They sailed along the river Seine – as far as Paris – in their long ships or drakkars (dragons in Norse)

The two superbly well preserved drakkars discovered in Gokstad and Oseberg in Norway shed new light on the ships; they are exhibited in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo.

Drakkars were especially designed for raids and exploration.

They were powered by sails and oars and had a shallow draft that enabled them to move at high speed and with precision on shallow rivers.


They were often ornate with carvings and had frightening prow figureheads representing mythical animals and dragons.

It’s therefore easy to imagine the terror of the rural populations of the time when they saw a drakkar appearing at a bend of the river.

Norsemen had indeed the reputation of destroying all in their path… and they did!

The threat of further Viking incursions led Charles the Simple to propose a deal to Rollo:

No more invasion, total allegiance to the French king and conversion to Christianity in exchange of a large fiefdom!

The given land was named Normandie.

Rollo, the ancestor of William the Conqueror

Rollo, often referred to as Robert de Normandie after his baptism, was the forerunner of the Ducs de Normandie.

His descendant William the Conqueror (c1028-1087) launched the Norman conquest of England in 1066; he became the first Norman king of England.

About Normandy - William the Conqueror - Bayeux Tapestry
William the Conqueror – Bayeux Tapestry

William was also known as William the Bastard, because he was the illegitimate son of Robert I, Duke of Normandy and Herleva.

This status obviously caused him much struggle during his youth and adolescence.

However, his marriage to Matilda of Flanders in 1050 brought him a powerful ally in the person of the Count of Flanders.

By 1060, William had therefore been able to extend his authority to the neighbouring counties and the Duchy of Normandy.

The prestigious and unique Bayeux Tapestry depicts William’s Conquest of England.

Normandie – Operation Neptune during WWII

Tragically, Normandy was also the theatre of the WWII D-Day landings.

Decades have since passed; the memories remain.

However, the region that was entirely destroyed and flattened, is reborn from its ashes.

War sites attract millions of  visitors each year and turn the Cotentin Peninsula into a gigantic open-air museum.

Normandie the land of cider, calvados and apples

Normandy covers about 5% of the French territory and has a population of about 3,5 millions inhabitants.

About Normandy - Normandy apples
Normandy apples

Modern Normandy includes 5 departments: Orne, Calvados, Manche (Cotentin Peninsula) and Seine-Maritime and Eure (Haute Normandie.)

The Cotentin peninsula is renowned for its bocage landscape, an immensity of fields delineated from each other by hedges.

It is mainly dedicated to agriculture, cattle and horse breeding, while Haute Normandie Normandy is more industrialized.

The whole of Normandie produces cider and Calvados (apple brandy) and you will find orchards all over the inner land.

The coastlines are essentially dedicated to fishing, seafood production and tourism.

Photos via Wikimedia Commons: Duke William

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Normandy – Latest content