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Normandy (Traditional province, France)


Last modified: 2021-06-20 by ivan sache
Keywords: normandy |
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Flag of Normandy, two versions - Images by Ivan Sache, 26 April 2016

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History of Normandy

After the Roman conquest, all the Celtic tribes of Gaul were incorporated into the province of Gallia Lugdunensis, named after its capital Lugdunum (Lyon). In the Lower Empire, the province of Galloa Lugdunesnsis II was created, with Rotomagus (Rouen) as its capital. The borders of this province were more or less those of medieval and modern Normandy. The Dukes of Normandy subsequently maintained the early ecclesiastic administrative divisions, which were themselves based on the former Roman civil divisions. Christianism spread over the Lower Empire through the axis Lyon-Rouen, so that the firstBishop of Rouen was appointed in the beginning of the 4th century. Another six towns in Normandys, which were former capitals of Gaul tribes, became the seat of a bishopric: Évreux, Lisieux, Bayeux, Coutances Avranches and Sées.
From the 3rd to the 6th century, the Saxons established a few settlements in Bessin, the coastal part of Calvados), while Bretons expelled from England by the Saxons conquered the Channel islands. At the end of the 5th century, the whole Normandy was incorporated into the Kingdom of the Franks. Most of the new colonists settled in the eastern part of Normandy, where the new lords allied with the Church. Powerful abbeys were founded, for instance Jumièges and Fontenelle, in the lower valley of Seine. After the successive shares of the Kingdom of the Franks, Normandy was incorporated into the Kingdom of Neustria, whose kings were landlords with not the least interest in maritime affairs.
Around 800, Charlemagne started to establish a defense system against the Norsemen, repelling a first attack in 820. However, the Norsemen sacked Rouen in 841 and looted the abbeys. In 851, they overwintered on an island of the Seine, making the defense of the coasts impossible. King Charles the Bold built a fortified bridge on the Seine near Pîtres (862) and commissioned the Bretons to protect the paeninsula of Cotentin and Avranches (867), to no avail.

In 911, a Danish army led by the Norwegian Rollo (Hrolfr) was defeated near Chartres. Rollo started negotiations with King of France Charles the Simple. By the "Treaty" (no act was ever signed) of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, France ceded to Rollo the territory usually known as Upper Normandy (departments of Eure and Seine-Maritime). Sooon christened, Rollo's troops were commissioned to defend the area against Viking raids. Like a Frankish Count, Rollo took control of the powers previsouly exerted by the King and the Church.
Other Norsemen settled in Normandy, for instance Danes from England near Bayeux and Norwegians from Ireland in Cotentin. In 923 and 933, Rollo was allowed by the King of France to take control of these areas, which was a fairly difficult task. The borders of Normandy in the middle of the 10th century were more or less those of the former ecclesiastic Province of Rouen. The only missing part was the eastern Vexin, which remained in the royal domain as the Vexin français, as opposed to the western part, incorporated to Normandy as the Vexin normand, the border being river Epte. The territory of Normandy was marginally increased with the incorporation of the Passais, the area surrounding the town of Domfront, around 1050. The stability of the borders of Normandy was a noticeable exception in medieval France.
The Scandinavian influence in Normandy, hardly visible now except in toponyms and patronyms, was mostly significant in coastal areas. The Norsemen have left very few archeological remains and not the least artistic contribution. Their influence on institutions, limited but significant, was on maritime and criminal laws. In the beginning of Normandy, the Frankish institutions were adopted by the Scandinavian lords, who often bore two names (Rollo was also called Robert) and married twice, according to the Christian and Danish (more Danico) rules.

The first dukes increased their powers through sedentarization, abandoning the traditional Viking expeditions. On the model of the Danish Kings of York (England), Rollo (911-c.932) reestablished in Rouen the archbishop and the St. Ouen abbey. He was succeeded by his so,n William I Longsword (c. 932- 942), who propagated the Christian religion and set up a firm alliance with the Kings of France. His successor, Richard I (942-996), repelled an attempt of Frankish conquest and other attacks by his neighbours, helped by Viking mercenaries.
Richard II (996-1026) rebuilt a powerful Church in Normandy, founding or rebuilding abbeys in Fécamp, Jumièges, Saint-Wandrille, Rouen (St. Ouen) and Mont-Saint-Michel. All bishoprics werereestablished. Richard II started to adapt to Normandy the feudal institutions and used them to increase his power and stabilize his state, whereas those institutions were the source of the desagregation of the Kingdom of the Franks. New towns were built, including Caen (1025), which would later replace Bayeux as the second capital of the Duchy. The marriage of Richard II's sister, Emma, with King of England Ethelred II was the source of the subsequent claims by the Dukes of Normandy over the throne of England.

The impulsive Duke Robert the Magnificent (1027-1035) died in Nicaea (Asia Minor) on his way back from Jerusalem. His illegitimate son, William the Bastard (1035-1087), succeeded him. William subdued the revolted barons, with the support of the Church. William forbid the erection of feudal domains within the Duchy and reorganized the army, forcing his opponents to exile. Among them, Robert Guiscard (c. 1015-1085) founded a Norman state in southern Italy. Appointed Count (1057-1059), then Duke (1059-1085) of Puglia, Calabria and Sicily, by Pope Nicholas II, Robert expelled the Byzantines from Italy in 1071 and, later, the Saracens from Sicily. Other Norman lords, serving as mercenaries in England, Spain and Byzance, sent back money to Normandy to fund or rebuild churches, for instance the cathedrals of Coutances and Sées. Some of the rebels eventually reconciliated with William, who took profit of their wealth and military experience.
William incorporated Maine to Normandy in 1063, on behalf of his son Robert. His cousin, King of England Edward the Confessor, without a heir and in big trouble with his court and his subjects, offerred him the succession. Guillaume landed in England on 28 September 1066, short after Edward's death. The English pretender, Harold, was defeated and killed in Hastings on 14 October 1066; crowned King of England in Westminster on 25 December 1066, William was nicknamed William the Conqueror. William's victory was credited to his Scandinavian-like fleet, to the association of cavalry and archers' troops, and to a deep knowledge of fortification systems. Moreover, his English opponents were exhausted after having defeated another, Norwegian pretender. William, officially supported by the Church, attracted in his expeditions several Breton, French and Flemish knights. The conquest of England is depicted on the famous Tapestry of Bayeux.

Normandy and England remained associated in a single state for the next 138 years, from 1066 to 1204. William was much more powerful than his theoretical suzereign, the French Capetian king, locked in his small domain. Wisely, William never challenged the Capetian authority. The Norman barons and prelates were allocated big domains in England, whci allowed them sent back big amounts of money to Normandy. The ports on the Channel developed, including Caen, where William and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, founded two abbeys. The foundation of the two abbeys was indeed a token of good faith, required by the Pope and the King of France, who were scared by the powerful union of Normandy and Flanders.
William's successors could preserve the Anglo-Norman Kingdom thanks to the strength of the institutions set up by William. His elder son, Robert Curthose (1087-1106) was appointed Duke of Normandy, while his brother, Henry I Beauclerc, became King of England in 1100. Back from the First Crusade, Henry overthrowned Robert, modernized the Norman institutions and started the building of a line of fortresses (Arques, Gisors, Châeau-sur-Epte, Domfront, Chambois, Falaise, Caen, Brionne...) on the border with the Kingdom of France. The Échiquier (Chessboard) was established as a Supreme Court presided by the Duke-King or his personal representative.
Since Henry I had only one daughter, married to Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, a succession crisis (1135-1153) broke out, threatening the unity of the Anglo-Norman Kingdom. Geoffrey's son, Henry II Plantagenet (1150-1189), preserved the unity of the Duchy-Kingdom, building a big state, including Anjou and Touraine, inherited from his father, and most western and south-western France brought by his marriage with Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henry's state stretched out "from Berwick to Bayonne", with Normandy as its executive center. Henry prompted the redaction of the Norman Law, which served until the French Revolution as the basis of the moral unity of the Duchy, and is still used, slightly modified, in the Channel Islands.

Richard Lionheart (1189-1199), Henry II's elder son, exhausted his state through his unsuccessful military campaigns. He ruined Normandy by building the huge fortress of Château-Gaillard. which was not able, however, to repell the French assaults against the Duchy. John Lackland (1199-1216) had to face the strong-minded King of France Philip II Augustus, who incorporated Normandy and a part of the southern neighbouring areas to France within two years (1203-1204). Compelled to chose between their Norman and English possessions, the Norman barons, who had not really supported John, mostly emigrated to England. John kept the Channel Islands in spite of the attempts of conquest by pirates supported by France.
The Capetian kings preserved the Norman institutions but placed them under their personal control. The Chessboard, alternatively gathered in Rouen and Caen, was always presided by a representative of the king. In 1258, the Treaty of Paris officialized the separation of Normandy from England. Agriculture, trade and manufacturing industries developed in Normandy. In 1315, Pierre Dubois published in Coutances his charte aux Normands, which establisghed a definitive modus vivendi between Normandy and the Kingdom of France.

In 1343, a few lords from Cotentin supported a plot set up by Geoffrey of Harcourt, lord of Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte, attempting to place again Normandy under English suzereignty. King of England Edward III landed in Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue on 12 July 1346 and sacked Saint-Lô, Caen, Lisieux and Elbeuf on his way to Crécy, where he defeated King of France, Philip the Handsome, on 26 August. Black plague completed the ruination of Normandy in 1348. During the next thirty years, Normandy was scoured by armed gangs claiming to be the English party or the Navarre party (King of Navarre Charles the Bad was lord of Cotentin and Évreux).
In 1364, Constable Duguesclin defeated the Navarre party in Cocherel. In 1375, the English were expelled from Normandy and even from the Channel islands, for a short period. Henry V of Lancaster landed in Touques on 1 August 1417 and organized the occupation of Normandy, but without any promess of autonomy. Total occupation failed since Mont-Saint-Michel was never seized, while several pockets of resistance were organized by farmers led by local lords.
Started around 1440, the French reconquest of Normandy was achieved in 1449-1450. The victory of Formigny, near Bayeux, caused the fall of the last fortresses still kept by the English. From 1461 to 1468, the French occupied Jersey but were expelled by the inhabitants, helped by the English fleet.

In 1450, King of France Charles VII granted Normandy a general amnisty and confirmed the Norman rights. Louis XI formally suppressed the Duchy of Normandy (at least its French part) in 1469 but respected the local rights. The reconstruction of Normandy was achieved with the foundation of the port of Le Havre by Francis I in 1517. The powers of the Chessboard were transferred to the Parliament of Rouen in the 16th century.
[L. Musset. Normandie. Encyclopaedia Universalis]

Ivan Sache, 13 July 2003

Flag of Normandy

The flag of Normandy (photo, photo, castle of Caen; photo, Donjon of Gisors; photo, Grey Tower, Verneuil-sur-Avre; photo, photo, Rouen; photo, Mont-Saint-Michel; photo, church of Barfleur) is a banner of the arms "Gules two lions passant gardant in pale or armed and langued azure", assigned to the province by Jacques Meurgey in his Notice historique sur les blasons des anciennes provinces de France (Historical note on the coats of arms of the ancient French provinces, 1941).
Most of the flags in actual use match the versions sold by Doublet (with blue tongue and claws) and <Varinard (with red tongue and claws; photo, photo, photo), respectively.

Ivan Sache, 26 April 2016

Arms of Normandy

The oldest colour representation of a noble holding a shield is an enamel plaque kept in the Maine Museum of Archeology and History of Le Mans (image), portraying Geoffroy Plantagenet (1135/1144-1150). According to Michel Pastoureau, the plaque was designed between 1160 and 1165, that is, after Geoffroy's death. The shield, represented in side view, is azure with, most probably, eight lions or (some authors count only six lions, though). Geoffroy bears a blue helmet charged with a yellow lion. These arms are thought to be the origin of the subsequent arms of the Anglo-Angevine kingdom, which included Normandy.
Richard Lionheart (1157-1199), Geoffroy's grandson, used a shield featuring two lions affronty. The shield is shown on Richard's oldest known seal, dated 1195 (published in 1880 by G. Demay in Le costume au Moyen Âge d'après les sceaux, replica); more recent seals, dating from the end of Richard's reign, still show two lions affronty (greater seal, 1189, British Library; Canterbury Greater Psalm Book, 1180-1190; St. Louis Psalm Book, c. 1209).
The reason of the change of the field tincture from azure to gules is still a matter of speculation. Red appears to be a traditional colour in Normandy. Alfred Canel (Les étendards de la Normandie) quotes the Jersey chronicler Wace (12th century); describing the battle of Rouen (946), Wace writes: "He bears a gonfalon made of a vermilion Spanish cloth". The crusade chronicler Albert d'Aix (12th century) reports that Bohemond of Antioch (c. 1058-1111) bore a flag of "blood red" colour. Anyway, documents probably dating back to the end of the reign of Richard Lionheart, short before the incorporation of Normandy to France (1204), show the arms of the Kingdom of England with three leopards or on a field gules, the arms of the Duchy of Normandy with two leopards or on a field gules, and the arms of the Duchy of Aquitaine with a single leopard or on a field gules.

The librarian and lexicographer Étienne Lorédan Larchey (1831-1902) commented in 1890 the Equestrian Armorial of the Golden Fleece (image) as follows: "It is believed that these two leopards, with the addition of the leopard of Aquitaine, are those featured on the Royal coat of arms of England".
The arms of the Duchy of Normandy are shown in several medieval armorials; M. Pastoureau pointed out that the Duchy did not exist when the Armorial of the Golden Fleece was compiled (15th century): before being crowned King of France, John the Good (1332) and Charles V (1335) bore the title of Duke of Normandy but no Duke's arms. Larchey adds "Although Normandy ceased to be an hereditary duchy in 1204, it was still represented in the Reims basilica [for the coronation of the Kings of France]". The "representative of the Duke of Normandy" is recorded at the coronation of Louis XIII (1610).

Accordingly, the genuine arms of Normandy should feature only two leopards. There is, however, some local controversy regarding the number of cats (the local name of the cats, here pronounced "ca"). Arms with three leopards are sometimes claimed to be the genuine arms of Normandy, especially in Cotentin, the part of Normandy closest to the Channel Islands. It is pointed out there that the arms of Jersey and Guernsey feature three leopards; since the islands are a direct possession of the English sovereign as the Duke of Normandy, it is thought that the arms of Normandy before 1204 included three leopards; arms with two leopards would have been subsequently introduced by the King of France to differentiate continental Normandy, under French rule, from insular Normandy (the Channel Islands are known in French as the Anglo-Normand Islands), under the rule of the King of England / Duke of Normandy. The arms with two leopards would appear as a truncated and bastardized version of the genuine arms of Normandy.
There is no historical evidence backing up this theory, which was popularized in Cotentin by the poet Louis Beuve (1869-1949) and the priest and writer Marcel Lelégard (1925-1994). Flags with three leopards are frequently used by folkloric groups in the region, and by the municipality of Coutances, the capital of Cotentin. The opponents to this theory replied that only two leopards are featured on the flag of Sark.
[G. Barnage. Le drapeau de la Normandie, l'état de la question. Le Patrimoine Normand, No. 79, Winter 2012-2013]

The controversy is reflected by the use, although quite limited, of a Normand flag charged with three leopards instead of two.

Ivan Sache, 26 April 2016

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