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History: The Normans

bayeux tapestry In about 1000 AD some of the Vikings who had been raiding France were allowed by the French king to settle in France. They promised to help protect France against other Vikings, and renounced their old gods and converted to Christianity. These Viking settlers in France were called Normans, short for North Men, because they had come from the North. The part of France where they lived is still called Normandy.

As time passed, the children and grandchildren of these Vikings got tired of farming in Normandy and decided to go in search of adventure and riches. In 1066, one of them, William, Duke of Normandy, found an excuse to invade England and try to conquer it from the Anglo-Saxons. So he sailed across the English Channel in boats loaded with knights, troops, archers and horses. The Anglo-Saxon King Harold had been forced to march his army north to defeat an invasion by Harald Hardrada of Norway at Stamford Bridge. But as the invading Normans landed in Sussex, King Harold rushed his army south to meet William at Hastings. Their armies were probably about the same size, but William's cavalry gave him the advantage, and Harold's army was exhausted after its long march. The Anglo-Saxon English lost the battle and King Harold was killed.

William became the new king of England and was now called William the Conqueror. To control England he built many castles, including the Tower of London, where he lived. In 1069 William and his army reached as far north as Abernethy in Scotland. Here he forced the Scottish king, Malcolm III, to do him homage.

William and all his knights spoke French and made French the official language, but the English people spoke Anglo-Saxon. So for many years both French and Anglo-Saxon were spoken in England. But the English we speak in Britain and America today comes mostly from Anglo-Saxon, not French.

Click here for more great information about the Normans.

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