The Norman Conquests of Europe

The Normans were descendants of Vikings who settled in Frankish territories of modern-day Normandy in the early 10th century.

By the late 10th century, they had intermingled with the Frankish population and evolved their distinct culture which earned them the name, Norman, derived from Norsemen.

The Franks

The Franks

By the 11th century, Norman knights started ranging into other territories such as Italy and England. In time, they effectively conquered England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, portions of the Byzantine Empire, and numerous other territories. And although they were repulsed from some territories, they left a deep cultural impact on all these regions during the medieval times.


Norman Conquest of Italy

Italy was among the earliest where Norman knights headed soon after establishing themselves in Normandy. In so doing, they were encouraged by the Lombards as a measure to check the might of the Byzantine Empire.

Varangian-Guard-Byzantine-Empire

Varangian Guard Byzantine Empire

Normans entered Southern Italy sometime around 1016 and by 1047, one of the prominent Norman families has ascended to the Italian throne.

Sicily

Sicily

Using their foothold in Southern Italy, Normans began attacking Sicily and Malta, effectively taking control of Sicily for some time and establishing the Kingdom of Sicily. The Kingdom was noted in medieval chronicles for its tolerant attitude towards various minorities that lived in Sicily.


Norman Conquest of Byzantium

By the early 11th century, many Norman knights were serving as mercenaries in the Byzantine Empire, participating in many battles on the Empire’s behalf.

Norman Knight Kite Shield

Norman Knight

However, by the late 11th century, Normans already had a secure base in Southern Italy and they were gearing up to fight wars with the Byzantine Empire with the backing of the Catholic Papacy.

Map of the Byzantine Empire

Byzantine Empire

Robert Guiscard was a prominent Norman leader who challenged Byzantium’s might in the Balkan region in a number of wars. Although he and later his descendants were repeatedly able to defeat Byzantine armies, they couldn’t securely hold on to a position in the Balkans and despite numerous victories, remained confined to the effective ruling of Malta, Sicily, and other regions in Southern Italy.


Norman Conquest of England

The conquest of England was the most notable chapter in Norman history because it left a lasting impact on the dynamics of the British Isles. Normans invaded England under William The Conqueror in 1066.

King William The Conqueror Medieval KIngs

William The Conqueror

King Harold II was killed in the decisive Battle of Hastings after which William proceeded to have himself crowned the king. Once secure on the throne, William put down many Anglo-Saxon rebellions and replaced the Anglo-Saxon nobility with a new Norman nobility.

Bayeux Tapestry - Scene 57 - Death of KIng Harold

The Bayeux Tapestry Records King Harold Godwinson’s Death

In time, the Norman nobility mingled with the local Anglo-Saxon culture, giving rise to the unique English culture and language which blossomed out of the Middle Ages.

Norman-Nobility

Norman Nobility


Norman Conquest of Ireland

By the end of the 11th century, Normans had a firm control all over England. In the 12th century, they began attempts to control territories in Ireland.

These attempts came to a head when in 1169, Normans were invited by the deposed King of one of the many kingdoms existent in Ireland at the time.

Normans responded by conquering the kingdom in no time and then proceeded to take control of the rest of Ireland. The conquered territory was later claimed from Norman lords by King Henry of England, effectively becoming a part of the English crown. In time, the Norman invaders became entirely absorbed in the local Irish culture.


Norman Conquest of Scotland

The Norman conquest of Scotland began right in the days of William The Conqueror. After William conquered England, one of the contestants for the English throne, Edgar Atheling, fled to Scotland.

Consequently, William led a Norman army in 1072 and conquered the entire Scotland. Norman nobility also came with William, building castles all over the country to secure the Norman hold. In time, the Norman nobility became dynastic families from whom future kings of Scotland came.

William the Conqueror

William the Conqueror


Norman Conquest of Wales

Following the conquest of England, Norman barons sought to secure the kingdom’s frontiers against the Welsh. They mostly confined their hold by the Welsh Marches in the south of Wales and didn’t proceed.

This changed during the reign of William II of England who led a large-scale Norman invasion of Wales between 1081 and 1094. This was short-lived as Welsh regained most of the territory by 1101, largely thanks to help from the Danes.

Danes *Vikings

Danes *Vikings

Henry I reasserted English control over Wales by persuading Welsh princes into declaring loyalty to him and building a large number of Norman castles in Wales.

Medieval King Henry I Portrait

King Henry I

However, the Norman control soon eroded and by 1150, Henry II was attempting to reassert English control. He met with one defeat after another, although he received some kind of homage from two Welsh princes.


Consequences of Norman Conquests

The Norman Conquest had a long-lasting impact on the dynamics of portions of southern Europe and especially those of the British Isles. The Normans had traveled to England in the 11th century as invaders and most of the fighting warriors had landholdings both in England and back in Normandy.

Norman Conquest Europe

Norman Conquest Europe

At the time, William The Conqueror declared fealty to the King of France. Over time, Norman nobility became mingled with the local Anglo-Saxon population.

Allegiance to France also ended in time and Normans in England became independent of the political influence of the Normans in Normandy. Similar events took place in Ireland where Norman nobility became a permanent part of the country’s culture and history, unlike Wales where the Normans couldn’t find a secure foothold despite repeated attempts.

The Norman Conquests Summary

The Normans were descendants of Vikings who initially settled in the southern regions of West Francia which eventually came to be called Normandy.

In time, Normans started ranging out of Normandy to attack England, Italy, and other adjoining regions. In the 11th century, Normans decisively defeated the Anglo-Saxons in England and took over the reign of the country.

They pushed into Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, garnering control of most of the territories in all of these regions. The impact of the Normans was immense in the British Isles where they became a part of the local population and founded many families which later turned into ruling dynasties of the British territories.