Normandy

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Map of historic Normandy.
Statue of Rollo in Rouen.

Normandy (French: Normandie) is a region in the northern part of France. People from Normandy are called Normans. The name Normandy comes from the settlement and conquest of the area by the "Northmen" (Latin: Northmanni) also called Vikings. The band that settled at Rouen and became the Normans was led by Rollo. It is also famous for being the location of the Allied invasion of France during World War II (See D-Day). The Battle of Normandy was the beginning of the Allied invasion and liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany.


History[change | edit source]

Archeological finds, such as cave paintings, prove that humans were present in prehistoric times. The Gouy and Orival cave paintings also testify to humans in Seine-Maritime. Several megaliths can be found throughout Normandy, most of them built in a uniform style.

Groups of Belgae and Celts, known as Gauls, invaded Normandy 4th to the 3rd centuries BC. Much of our knowledge about this group comes from Julius Caesar’s de Bello Gallico. Caesar identified several different groups among the Belgae who occupied separate regions and lived in enclosed agrarian towns. In 57 BC the Gauls united under Vercingetorix and tried to resist Caesar’s army. After their defeat at Alesia, the people of Normandy continued to fight until 51 BC, the year Caesar completed his conquest of Gaul.

The history of the duchy of Normandy began about the year 911.[1] This is when a treaty, popularly called St. Clair-sur-Epte, was made. Charles the Simple of France gave territory around Rouen and the lower Seine to Rollo, leader of a band of Vikings.[a][3] More grants followed in 924 and 933.[1] In 1066, the Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror, invaded England after the death of King Edward the Confessor believing he had the most right to be King of England. But King Harold II had himself crowned king instead. King Harold's Saxon army, and William Norman army fought at the Battle of Hastings on October 14 1066. King Harold was killed in the battle. On December 25 1066 William was crowned King of England as 'William I'.

The historic duchy includes two regions of France: Upper Normandy and Lower Normandy; and also the Channel Islands which are not part of France. The duchy of Normandy was not returned to France until after 1204 when Philip II of France took all the French possessions away from his vassal, King John of England.[4] From that time Normandy was a region in France.

Invasion of Normandy WW II[change | edit source]

US troops about to land on Utah beach in Normandy, 6 June 1944.

During the Second World War (1939–1945) Normandy was part of the German occupied France.[5] The town of Dieppe was the site of the unsuccessful Dieppe Raid by Canadian and British armed forces.[6] The Allies (Britain, the United States, and Canada) build-up a large number of troops and supplies for a planned invasion of Normandy. The D-Day landings were on 6 June 1944 under the code name 'Operation Overlord'.[7] This invasion from the sea involved nearly 160,000 Allied soldiers in about 7,000 ships and landing craft. About 12,000 planes dropping paratroopers preceded the amphibious assault by several hours. The Germans were defending their fortifications above the beaches. Caen, Cherbourg, Carentan, Falaise and other Norman towns endured many casualties in the Battle of Normandy. The German defenders fought aggressively but constantly pushed back by overwhelming force. The battle for Normandy continued until the closing of the Falaise pocket.[b][9] The liberation of Le Havre followed. What followed was the breakout of Allied forces into France and finally Germany. This was a significant turning point in the war. It led to the restoration of the French government in France. The remainder of Normandy was liberated only on 9 May 1945 at the end of the war, when the German occupation of the Channel Islands effectively ended.

Geography[change | edit source]

The Hollow Needle at Etretat

The historical duchy of Normandy occupied the lower Seine area, the Pays de Caux and the region to the west through the Pays d'Auge as far as the Cotentin Peninsula. The region is bordered along the northern coasts by the English Channel. There are granite cliffs in the west and limestone cliffs in the east. There are also long stretches of beach in the center of the region. The unique bocage hedges are typical of the western areas of Normandy.[10] The highest point is the Signal d'Écouves at 417 metres (1,368 ft) in the Massif armoricain.[11] Normandy is lightly forested. Eure has the most wooded areas with about 20% being forest.[12] The population of Normandy today is around 3.45 million.

Notes[change | edit source]

  1. English sources including The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle used the names Vikings and Danes interchangeably. Continental sources used the names Swedes, Danes and Vikings interchangeably. Only the Irish sources tried to identify Vikings by their origins. They called Danes Dub-gaill (black foreigners) and Norwegians as Finn-gaill (white foreigners).[2]
  2. The Falaise pocket was created by the Allied armies encircling the German army near Falaise.[8] With the Germans nearly surrounded the Allies proceeded to completely defeat the German 7th Army. An estimated 10,000 German soldiers were killed and 50,000 were taken prisoner.[8] Some escaped through the gap left in the lines but most of these were not combat troops.[8]

References[change | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 R. Allen Brown, The Normans and the Norman Conquest (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1998), p. 15
  2. Gwyn Jones, A History of the Vikings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 75–77
  3. The Annals of Flodoard of Reims 919–966, ed. & trans. Steven Fanning; Bernard S. Bachrach (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), pp. xx-xxi
  4. Maurice Powicke, The Loss of Normandy: 1189 - 1204 ; Studies in the History of the Angevin Empire (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999), p. 283
  5. Dominique François, Normandy: From D-Day to the Breakout: June 6-July 31, 1944 (Norwalk, CT: MBI Publishing Company LLC, 2013), p. 12
  6. Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1887-1976: A Selected Bibliography, ed. Colin F. Baxter (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999), p. 32
  7. The Normandy Campaign 1944: Sixty Years On, ed. John Buckley (London; New York: Routledge, 2006), p. 170
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 John N. Bradley, The Second World War: Europe and the Mediterranean (New York: Square One Publishers, 2002), pp. 336, 338
  9. Russell Hart, Clash of Arms: How the Allies Won in Normandy (Boulder: Rienner, 2001), pp. 391–92
  10. Judy Smith, Holiday Walks in Normandy (Wilmslow: Sigma Leisure, 2001), p. 63
  11. Barbara Eperon, Normandy Picardy & Pas De Calais (Lincolnwood, IL: Passport Books, 1997), p. 76
  12. Judy Smith, Holiday Walks in Normandy (Wilmslow: Sigma Leisure, 2001), p. 119