Chateu de Faliase. © Christian Musat - Dreamstime

History of the Normans and Normandy – New and Recent Books

The history of Normandy and the Normans continue to excise the imagination of historians, archaeologists and scholars. A handful of recently published books offer introductions as well as more specialised studies

History of Normandy and the Normans. Norman Rule in Normandy, 911-1144 
by Mark Hagger
Boydell Press 2017

In around 911, the Viking adventurer Rollo was granted the city of Rouen and its surrounding district by the Frankish King Charles the Simple. Two further grants of territory followed in 924 and 933. But while Frankish kings might grant this land to Rollo and his son, William Longsword, these two Norman dukes and their successors had to fight and negotiate with rival lords, hostile neighbours, kings, and popes in order to establish and maintain their authority over it.

This book explores the geographical and political development of what would become the duchy of Normandy, and the relations between the dukes and these rivals for their lands and their subjects’ fidelity. It looks, too, at the administrative machinery the dukes built to support their regime, from their toll-collectors and vicomtes (an official similar to the English sheriff) to the political theatre of their courts and the buildings in which they were staged. At the heart of this exercise are the narratives that purport to tell us about what the dukes did, and the surviving body of the dukes’ diplomas. Neither can be taken at face value, and both tell us as much about the concerns and criticisms of the dukes’ subjects as they do about the strength of the dukes’ authority. The diplomas, in particular, because most of them were not written by scribes attached to the dukes’ households but rather by their beneficiaries, can be used to recover something of how the dukes’ subjects saw their rulers, as well as something of what they wanted or needed from them. Ducal power was the result of a dialogue, and this volume enables both sides to speak.

Heirs of the Vikings: History and Identity in Normandy and England, c.950-c.1015
by Katherine Cross
York Medieval press 2018

Viking settlers and their descendants inhabited both England and Normandy in the tenth century, but narratives discussing their origins diverged significantly. This comparative study explores the depictions of Scandinavia and theevents of the Viking Age in genealogies, origin myths, hagiographies, and charters from the two regions. Analysis of this literary evidence reveals the strategic use of Scandinavian identity by Norman and Anglo-Saxon elites.

Countering interpretations which see claims of Viking identity as expressions of contact with Scandinavia, the comparison demonstrates the local, political significance of these claims. In doing so, the book reveals the earliest origins of familiar legends which at once demonize and romanticize the Vikings – and which have their roots in both Anglo-Saxon and Norman traditions.

Dr Katherine Cross is a historian of the early Middle Ages at the BritishMuseum and Wolfson College, University of Oxford.

 

The Normans in the Mediterranean 
Ed. by Emily A. Winkler and Liam Fitzgerald
Series: Medieval Identities: Socio-Cultural Spaces
Brepols 2021

In both popular memory and in their own histories, the Normans remain almost synonymous with conquest. In their relatively brief history, some of these Normans left a small duchy in northern France to fight with Empires, conquer kingdoms, and form new ruling dynasties. This book examines the explosive Norman encounters with the medieval Mediterranean, c. 1000-1250. It evaluates new evidence for conquest and communities, and offer new perspectives on the Normans’ many meetings and adventures in history and memory.

The contributions gathered here ask questions of politics, culture, society, and historical writing. How should we characterize the Normans’ many personal, local, and interregional interactions in the Mediterranean? How were they remembered in writing in the years and centuries that followed their incursions? The book questions the idea of conquest as replacement, examining instead how human interactions created new nodes and networks that transformed the medieval Mediterranean. Through studies of the Normans and the communities who encountered them–across Iberia, the eastern Roman Empire, Lombard Italy, Islamic Sicily, and the Great Sea–the book explores macro- and micro-histories of conquest, its strategies and technologies, and how medieval people revised, rewrote, and remembered conquest.

The Normans and the “Norman Edge”: Peoples, Polities and Identities on the Frontiers of Medieval Europe
Ed by Keith J Stringer and Andrew Jotischky
Routledge 2019

Modern historians of the Normans have tended to treat their enterprises and achievements as a series of separate and discrete histories. Such treatments are valid and valuable, but historical understanding of the Normans also depends as much on broader approaches akin to those adopted in this book. As the successor volume to Norman Expansion: Connections, Continuities and Contrasts, it complements and significantly extends its findings to provide a fuller appreciation of the roles played by the Normans as one of the most dynamic and transformative forces in the history of medieval ‘Outer Europe’.

The book includes panoramic essays that dissect the conceptual and methodological issues concerned, suggest strategies for avoiding associated pitfalls, and indicate how far and in what ways the Normans and their legacies served to reshape sociopolitical landscapes across a vast geography extending from the remoter corners of the British Isles to the Mediterranean basin. Leading experts in their fields also provide case-by-case analyses, set within and between different areas, of themes such as lordship and domination, identities and identification, naming patterns, marriage policies, saints’ cults, intercultural exchanges, and diaspora– homeland connections.

The Normans and the ‘Norman Edge’ therefore presents a potent combination of thought-provoking overviews and fresh insights derived from new research, and its wide-ranging comparative focus has the advantage of illuminating aspects of the Norman past that traditional regional or national histories often do not reveal so clearly. It likewise makes a major contribution to current Norman scholarship by reconsidering the links between Norman expansion and ‘state-formation’; the extent to which Norman practices and priorities were distinctive; the balance between continuity and innovation; relations between the Normans and the indigenous peoples and cultures they encountered; and, not least, forms of Norman identity and their resilience over time. An extensive bibliography is also one of this book’s strengths.

Lives, Identities and Histories in the Central Middle Ages
Ed by Julie Barrau and David Bates
Cambridge University Press 2021

How did medieval people define themselves? And how did they balance their identities as individuals with the demands of their communities? Lives, Identities and Histories in the Central Middle Ages intertwines the study of identities with current scholarship to reveal their multi-layered, sometimes contradictory dimensions. Drawing on a wide range of sources, from legal texts to hagiographies and biblical exegesis, and diverse cultural and social approaches, this volume enriches our understanding of medieval people’s identities – as defined by themselves and by others, as individuals and as members of groups and communities. It adopts a complex and wide-ranging understanding of what constituted ‘identities’ beyond family and regional or national belonging, such as social status, gender, age, literacy levels, and displacement. New figures and new concepts of ‘identities’ thus emerge from the dialogue between the chapters, through an approach based on life-histories, lived experience, ethnogenesis, theories of diaspora, cultural memory and generational change.

 

FEATURED PHOTO:

Chateu de Falaise, Normandy. Photo 81145512 / Falaise © Musat Christian/Dreamstime.com

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