The Normans: Israel’s Final Ingathering

“THE NORMANS of the 11th century were men of Scandinavian descent, who had cast away every outward trace of the language, manners and feelings which made them kindred to Englishmen, and had adopted instead the language, manners and feelings of Latin France.” Such is the authoritative statement of the great historian of the Norman Conquest of England in his book under that title (Vol. 1, p. 149, ed. 1870).

No “French Conquest

An immense amount of very careful study has been made in modern England of the Norman Conquest and the settlement in England of the Normans. Less careful study of the event has occurred in France, where a great deal of spurious pride is felt in the fact that England was “conquered by Frenchmen.” One supposes that this is natural, as a compensation for the numerous and heavy defeats later inflicted on France by England -- including the conquest of the French Empire in Canada and India. It is even said that some indigenous Channel Islanders allow themselves airs as representing England’s conquerors, the Islands being the last relic of the former Duchy of Normandy.

It is impossible to deny the importance of the Norman Conquest, though in fact, its importance can be over-estimated. Our country is England, not Normanland; our language is English not French, though it is much influenced by Norman French. Our laws go back long before the Conquest, whilst the character of the English people of the 11th and earlier centuries is very closely akin to that of the modern English. There is danger that nonsense may be promulgated about the line of English sovereigns beginning with William the Conqueror. Among the British peoples, the English are distinguished by the dreadful trait of snobbery. It is true that Normans settled in Wales, Scotland and Ireland, but few if any Scots, Welsh or Irish would dream of priding themselves on Norman descent. In England, families of note love to talk of “coming over with the Conqueror,” almost always a myth.

Scandinavian Ancestry

In the 9th and 10th centuries the lands of Norway and Denmark sent bands of adventurers in search of loot. Very soon many of these Danes, or Vikings as they were collectively named, began to settle in the lands which they had raided and found them far more economically attractive than the rocky barrenness of Norway. In Ireland, the Danes settled around the coasts and founded most of the ports. In England they secured the north eastern part of the country which became known as the Danelaw. Their influence is shown in many place names, like Grimsby (Grim’s Cliff) and Whitby, and in words of Norse origin which came into the English language. Alfred the Great fought them to a standstill in the 9th century. His successors, the Kings of Wessex, reconquered the Danelaw and became Kings of England. When they declined in the 11th century the Danes conquered England, and Danish kings reigned from 1016 to 1042. The English King, Ethelred the Unready fled to the court of his brother-in-law, the Duke of Normandy, Richard II.

The Origin of Normandy

A century before Richard II, the Vikings had ravaged northern France. The French King Charles the Simple finding that he could not expel them, made a settlement with their leader, Rollo or Rolf. In 911, in a treaty between Charles and Rollo, the latter was recognized as ruler over the country which came to be known as Northman’s land or Normandy. In return, Rollo and his men became Christians, i.e. were baptized. Rollo did fealty to the French King. He is supposed to have married the latter’s daughter but the Viking chiefs were easy on the matter of marriage and frequently had concubines as well as lawful wives.

Rollo was styled the Patrician of Normandy, as was his son, but thereafter the title of Duke was used. The 6th Duke was Robert II known as the Devil and the Magnificent. It was his bastard, William, the son of Arlotta, daughter of a tanner of Falaise, who conquered England. William was thus descended from Rollo whose descent is traced from Fornjot King of Finland, some centuries before 911. This information comes from the Heimskingla, the chronicle of the Kings of Normandy, which contains an account of Odin, who led his people from Asia into Europe, and who figures in the direct ancestry of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

The Numbers of the Normans

It is important to be sure of this. In most cases of Viking settlement the numbers were not over large -- judging by the size of the long ships which have been preserved. There could always, of course, have been arrivals of reinforcements, but the Viking settlements were not like those of the English in the 5th century. The latter were migrations of peoples which turned the former ex-province of Britain into England. The Viking settlement in Normandy was that of a relatively small body of warriors, who for the most part found their women among the natives. If we reckon 20,000 as the number of Rollo’s adherents we are probably putting the number too high.

Within a few generations they were absorbed into the French population. In the 150 years after 911, the only place where Scandinavian speech still lingered was Bayeaux. Odo, William’s brother, the bishop needed help to talk to this section of his flock.

William himself, though illiterate, was far too intelligent not to know of his Norse ancestry; so, too, must his closest associates have known. But they thought of themselves as Frenchmen, and they had the audacity to feel superior to the English who were a people, steeped in civilization, literature and law which the Normans did not possess. Prof. Trevelyn called the Conqueror a high-souled villain.

The Significance of the Conquest

Even Charles Kingsley who described the Conquest as a crime (aided as he said by the Church of Rome) was fain to add that it brought England into the current of European life. Most historians look on it as the consolidation of England. Perhaps the best way to view it is as the in-gathering of the last significant racial element of the Servant People.

However, there is usually more than one way in which an event can occur. For 50 years, from Ethelred’s exile in Normandy to 1066, England and Normandy were drawn closer together. Every plan to prevent the Conquest failed. The last King of the old Wessex line, the Confessor, deliberately ruined his country, by being too holy to beget a son. On his deathbed he acknowledged his sin.

It is estimated that there were 1 million to 1 million people in England in 1066; by 1086 one-third of these had perished or been exiled. Many had been blinded or had their hands cut off. Their places were taken by Normans, Bretons and all sorts of blackguards west of the Alps who had been attracted by the prospect of loot -- blessed by the Pope as a crusade (the English Church had been slow in paying Peter’s Pence).

The Norman villains fell out amongst themselves, and many of them were kicked out by their own kings. Henry I with an army of English conquered Normandy. The mass of Israel was now gathered into the Appointed Place.

-- Leslie G. Pine

Hope of Israel Ministries
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