Things to see and do - Normandy
Normandy Leisure tips
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58-51 BC — Roman conquest. New towns appear: Rotomagus (Rouen), Caracotinum (Harfleur), Noviomagus (Lisieux), Juliobona (Lillebonne), Mediolanum (Évreux).
56BC — The Unelli crushed by Sabinius in the Mont Castre area.
1C — Growth of main settlements (Coutances, Rouen, Évreux, etc.).
2C — Nordic (Saxon and Germanic) invasions of the Bessin region. Conversion to Christianity.
260 — Bishopric of Rouen founded by St Nicaise.
284 and 364 — Nordic invasions.
497 — Rouen and Évreux occupied by Clovis.
511 — Neustria or the Western Kingdom inherited by Clothaire, Clovis’s son.
6C — The first monasteries founded.
7C — Monasteries flourish: St-Wandrille, Jumièges.
709 — Mont Tombe consecrated to the cult of St Michael by Aubert, Bishop of Avranches.
The Vikings or Norsemen who sailed from Scandinavia harassed western Europe, parts of Africa and even headed into the Mediterranean.
800 — Channel coast invaded by Vikings.
820 — Seine Valley laid waste by Vikings.
836 — Christians persecuted in the Cotentin region.
858 — Bayeux devastated by Vikings.
875 — Further persecution in the west.
885 — Paris besieged by Vikings.
911 — Treaty of St-Clair-sur-Epte: Rollo becomes the first Duke of Normandy.
The independent Dukedom
Under William Longsword the dukedom takes on its final form with the unification of the Avranchin and the Cotentin.
10-11C — Consolidation of ducal powers. Restoration of the abbeys.
1027 — Birth of William, the future conqueror of England, at Falaise.
1066 — Invasion of England by William. King of France threatened by his vassal, the Duke of Normandy, now also King of England.
1087 — Death of William the Conqueror in Rouen.
1087-1135 — William’s heirs in dispute; ducal authority restored by Henry Beauclerk who becomes King of England as Henry I (1100–35) after his brother William Rufus.
1120 — The wreck of the White Ship off Barfleur Point with the loss of Henry I’s heir, William Atheling, and 300 members of the Anglo-Norman nobility.
1152 — Marriage of Henry II Plantagenet, to Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose dowry included all of southwest France.
1154-89 — Henry II of England.
1195 — Château-Gaillard built by Richard Lionheart.
1202 — Loss of Norman possessions by John Lackland, King of England.
1204 — Normandy united to the French crown
French Dukedom to the Province of Normandy
1315 — Granting of the Norman Charter, symbol of provincial status, which remained in being until the French Revolution.
1346 — Normandy invaded by Edward III of England.
1364-84 — The Battle of Cocherel marks the start of Du Guesclin’s campaigns.
1417 — Normandy invaded by Henry V of England.
1424 — English repulsed by Louis d’Estouteville, defender of Mont-St-Michel.
1431 — Trial and torture of Joan of Arc at Rouen.
1437 — Founding of Caen Uni-versity.
1450 — Normandy recovered by the French crown after the victory at Formigny and the recapture of Cherbourg.
1469 — Charles of France, last
Duke of Normandy, is dispossessed of his dukedom.
1514 — The Rouen Exchequer becomes the Parliament of Normandy.
1517 — Founding of Le Havre.
1542 — Rouen created as a self-governing city for treasury purposes.
1589 — Henri of Navarre victorious at Arques and the following year at Ivry-la-Bataille.
1625 — Alençon also created as a treasury district.
1639-40 — Revolt of the Barefoot Peasants provoked by the introduction of the salt tax (gabelle) .
1692 — Naval battle of La Hougue.
1771-75 — Suppression of the Parliament at Rouen.
Late 18C to today
1789 — The Caen Revolt.
1793 — The Girondins’ attempted uprising; siege of Granville.
1795-1800 — Insurrection of the Norman royalists, the Chouans.
1843 — Inauguration of the Paris-Caen railway.
1870-71 — Franco-Prussian War; occupation of Haute-Normandie and Le Mans.
June 1940 — Bresle Front breached.
August 1942 — Dieppe Commando raid by Canadian and British troops.
June 1944 — Allied landing on the Calvados coast. Battle of Normandy.
1954 — René Coty, born in Le Havre, is elected President of the Republic.
1959 — Inauguration of the Tancarville Bridge.
1967 — Commissioning of the Atomic Centre at La Hague.
1971 — Launch of the Redoutable, the first French nuclear submarine, at Cherbourg.
1974 — Creation of the Brotonne Regional Nature Park.
1975 — Creation of the Normandie-Maine Regional Nature Park.
1977 — Completion of the Normandy motorway (A 3).
1983-84 — Start-up of Paluel Nuclear Power Station.
Start-up of Flamanville Nuclear Power Station.
1987 — Commemoration of the 900th anniversary of William the Conqueror’s death.
1991 — Inauguration of France’s 27th regional nature park in the Cotentin and Bessin area.
6 June 1994 — 50th anniversary of the Battle of Normandy.
January 1995 — Inauguration of the Pont de Normandie.
1997 — A violent controversy breaks out between Greenpeace environmentalists and COGEMA over nuclear waste dumped near La Hague.
1999 — Tall Ships Armada of the Century on the Seine, from Rouen to Le Havre.
1999 — Violent windstorms in December uproot innumerable trees and damage buildings.
2000 — Wreck of the Evoli Sun , an Italian ship loaded with chemicals, off Cap de la Hague.
2004 — Sixtieth anniversary of the Normandy landings attended, for the first time, by leaders of Germany and Russia.
2005 — The centre of Le Havre is named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2006 — Port 2000 at Le Havre opened.
2009 — 65th anniversary of D-Day.
Normans throughout History
The story of the Norsemen, or Vikings, who settled in the Frankish kingdom and from there set out on expeditions of conquest to southern Italy and Sicily as well as to England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, has inspired many tall tales and cinematic extravaganzas.
In the 8C, pagan barbarians from Denmark, Norway and Iceland began their plunder of coastal settlements in Europe and by the 9C they had established a permanent foothold in the region that is now Normandy. In the year 911, Charles III (The Simple) signed the treaty of St-Clair-sur-Epte with the Viking chief Rollo . According to Dudon de St-Quentin, the first historian of Normandy, the Viking simply placed his hands between those of the French king to ratify the agreement creating the dukedom of Normandy: no written treaty was ever drafted.
The Norsemen continued to expand their holdings until well into the 11C, ruling through a succession of ruthless dukes and counts.
Eventually, the Norse converted to Christianity and adopted the French language, but retained a reputation for recklessness, love of combat, cunning and outrageous treachery. At the same time, wherever they went, they showed a remarkable capacity for adapting to local customs. William, Duke of Normandy, became King of England in a coup known as the Norman Conquest (1066), while the Norman kingdom of Sicily was founded by the descendants of Tancrède de Hauteville. Norman rulers were among the most powerful and successful of their time, and established enduring political institutions.
In Normandy, the Normans quickly adopted the precepts of feudalism, became masters of cavalry warfare and fostered the cult of knighthood. Eventually, their reputation for fierceness and brutality was softened by religion, marked by pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land. In England, their rule made the kingdom safer from foreign invasion and brought discipline to church organisations.
Later still, explorers continued to embark from Normandy in search of new lands:
1402 — Jean de Béthencourt, of the Caux region, becomes King of the Canary Islands, but cedes his realm to the King of Castile.
1503 — Paulmier de Gonneville, gentleman of Honfleur, reaches Brazil in the Espoir.
1506 — Jean Denis, a sailor from Honfleur, explores the mouth of the St Lawrence, preparing the way for Jacques Cartier.
1524 — Leaving Dieppe in the caravel La Dauphine , Giovanni da Verrazano, a native of Florence and navigator to François I, discovers the site of New York City, which he names Land of Angoulême.
1555 — Admiral Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon sets up a colony of Huguenots from Le Havre on an island in the bay of Rio de Janeiro, but they are driven away by the Portuguese.
1563 — Led by René de la Laudonnière, colonies of Protestants from Le Havre and Dieppe found Fort Caroline in Florida but are massacred by the Spaniards.
1608 — Samuel de Champlain, Dieppe shipbuilder, leaves Honfleur to found Quebec.
1635 — Pierre Belain of Esnambuc claims Martinique in the name of the King of France; the colonisation of Guadeloupe follows soon after.
1682 — Cavalier de La Salle of Rouen, after reconnoitring the site of Chicago, sails down the Mississippi river and takes possession of Louisiana.
William the Conqueror
William was the son of Robert the Magnificent and his concubine Herleva (The Beautiful Arlette), from the town of Falaise. A descendant of the great Viking chief Rollo, he was first known as William the Bastard.
In 1035, when his father died on his way back from the Holy Land, William, then eight years old, became the seventh Duke of Normandy. His tutors instructed him in the rudiments of Latin and the fine points of military strategy, and also instilled in him a deep religious faith.
Later, three of his guardians and his tutor were assassinated by parties who objected to the Bastard’s succession. In 1046, barely 20 years old, he confounded yet another plot to undo him, and wisely sought out the support of the King of France, Henri I.
For the love of Matilda
William built castles (Falaise – his birthplace – and Cherbourg) and towns (Saint-James), expanded Saint-Lô and Carentan, created the city of Caen, and negotiated peace with his enemies.
Between 1054 and 1060, William held fast against the allied forces of the King of France, Guillaume d’Arques and the Geoffrey Martell of Anjou. He consolidated his power by marrying Matilda, daughter of Baldwin V, Count of Flanders. Mindful of all he had suffered as an illegitimate son, William was a faithful and trusting husband. When called away from Normandy, he left the realm in his wife’s able hands. Tradition assigned the Bayeux Tapestry to Matilda, but it is unlikely that she busied herself with embroidery when William was abroad.
Edward the Confessor, King of England, had recognised William as his heir, but in January 1066 news arrived that Harold had claimed the English throne. The duke appealed to the Pope and Harold was excommunicated.
Within seven months, William was master of England. On 12 September 1066, protected by the Pope’s ensign, about 12 000 knights and soldiers embarked upon 696 ships followed by smaller boats and skiffs bringing the total number of vessels to 3 000. On 28 September, at low tide, the Normans landed at Pevensey, Sussex. William, the last to disembark, stumbled and fell full length. The superstitious Normans were alarmed, but William laughed and, according to the records, retorted: “My Lords, by the glory of God have I seized this land with my own two hands. As long as it exists it is ours alone.”
The Normans occupied Hastings. Harold, who had been busy fighting other attackers, rushed to the scene and pitched camp on a hill. On 14 October William launched an assault, and after a terrible struggle the Normans were victorious; Harold died in combat. The history of the invasion is recounted in the Bayeux Tapestry, which shows fascinating details of combat dress and equipment.
While remaining Duke of Normandy, William was crowned King of England on Christmas Day, 1066, at Westminster Abbey, London. He suppressed revolts, brought to heel the corrupt aristocracy, encouraged noble Norman families to settle in England, and overcame the Pope‘s opposition to his control over church affairs. Norman art flourished in England, as the cathedrals at Canterbury, Winchester and Durham show.
Ruling 52 years in Normandy and 21 years in England, William maintained a large measure of peace and justice in his realm. He died on 9 September 1087 near Rouen and was buried at St-Étienne Church in Caen, as he had requested.
Monasticism in Normandy
Normandy, like Champagne and Burgundy, was a centre of monasticism during the religious revival that swept the 11C, as the many abbeys attest.
Under Benedictine Rule, which gradually supplanted other religious rules, nuns and monks made vows of obedience, poverty and chastity. They practised fasting, silence and abstinence.
The monks’ working day was taken up by divine office (prayers scheduled throughout the day), holy reading and, to a greater extent, manual labour, such as baking bread, weaving cloth for the monastic habits, carrying firewood, sweeping, serving meals, preparing the sacristy, growing vegetables, etc.
Throughout the Middle Ages monasticism played a vital role in society, securing the propagation of Christianity, promoting the authority of the Pope and contributing to the conservation and transmission of learning.
The monastic buildings surrounded the cloisters as detailed below.
Generally, four galleries corresponding to the compass points surrounded a central courtyard, often laid out as a medicinal herb garden.
The abbey church was characterised by an extremely long nave; the monks spent long hours in church for mass and other religious offices. In Cistercian churches, a rood screen placed near the high altar separated the monks’ choir from that of the lay brothers.
The room in which ecclesiastical garments and altar vessels were stored and in which the priest would don his robes before leading the service.
Used for daily monastic activities, including prayers before the day’s work and the reading of a chapter taken from the monastic rule.
The only heated room in the monastery, accessible to all the monks under certain conditions.
A room reserved for the copying out of manuscripts.
A large bare room, endowed with surprisingly good acoustics. During meals, the reader in the elevated pulpit would recite passages from the Bible.
There were generally two: one for the monks above the chapter house and one for the lay brothers above the cellars. In the Cistercian order seven hours were allowed for rest. The monks slept fully dressed in a communal dormitory.
These included the barns and the porter’s lodge, often a grand building with a huge gateway to allow the passage of both carriages and people on foot. The porter’s lodge had living quarters on the first floor, where alms were distributed and justice was dispensed to the population.