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Antiquity and early Middle Ages

Prehistoric finds indicate that Normandy was already inhabited in the Stone and Bronze Age. Which peoples they were exactly is not yet entirely clear. Around 2000 B.C. the Greeks and the Phoenicians reached the coast of Normandy, among other places.

In 56 BC, the armies of the Roman Emperor Caesar entered Normandy and found several Celtic tribes (Gauls). The Celts were Romanised, prosperity increased and, as early as the 4th century AD, the borders of present-day Normandy were more or less established. In the 5th century, the decline of the Western Roman Empire began, ushering in a time of confusion and population movements.

During this time, new tribes settled in Normandy, the most important of which was the Franks. They founded the kingdom of Neustria, which was led around 500 by King Clovis, who had already been converted to Christianity. During this time, the first abbeys and monasteries were founded. From here, the pagan population was converted.


From 820 onwards, the Vikings appeared off the coast of Normandy in search of money and valuables. Even the mighty Charlemagne could not cope with the fast-moving Vikings, who plundered Rouen in 841 and even attacked Paris in 845. With the help of mercenary troops, Charlemagne finally managed to stop the Vikings and drive them to England. In 885, however, the Vikings once again stood before Paris, but were now definitively defeated.

At the beginning of the 10th century, negotiations followed between the Viking leader Rollo and the then ruler Charles the Simple. The treaty (911) concluded between the two ensured that a new state was created where the Vikings could settle: Normandy.

In the following years, the Viking empire expanded to the west. However, the Vikings, now baptised, did not stop their raids and now focus on north-western France and again on England. A treaty with the English king Aethelred II ensured that the raids to England stopped.

Due to a clever marriage policy, the ties between England and Normandy even became closer.

Middle Ages

Important for the development of the Duchy of Normandy was Robert the Devil and his son and successor William the Bastard, later to become William the Conqueror. William the Conqueror even managed to conquer England in the 11th century.

When William succeeded his father, it was chaos in Normandy. To prevent worse, the French king Henry I helped in a battle at Caen, which strengthened William's position. A few years later, William came face to face with Henry. In 1054 Henry invaded Normandy, but through a clever military strategy William managed to defeat Henry's troops and put them to flight. William now had all the power in his hands.

A few years earlier, in 1043, Edward, the son of Aethelred II, had come to power in England. He wanted to appoint William as his heir, but his family did not like this at all and under the leadership of Harold they tried to reverse the increasing Norman influence.

Harold was sent to William, but was shipwrecked and captured by Count Puy de Ponthieu. William managed to free Harold and together with the Vikings they fought in Brittany. Harold promised William that if Edward died he could become King of England.

In 1066 Edward died, and Harold ascended the English throne. The promise to William was not kept and he prepared to attack England with the help of the Vikings. The armies were crushed at the Battle of Hastings and William was crowned King of England not much later.

After his death in 1087, William's realm was divided among his three sons. Robert became Duke of Normandy, William the Red got England, while Henry only got a bag of money. Yet Henry managed to seize power over Normandy and England. This happened after the death of his William and at the moment that Robert was on a crusade.

In the second half of the 12th century, Henry's grandson, Henry II, married Eleanor of Aquitaine, the woman rejected by the French king Louis VII. Henry thought that this meant that he had an immediate claim to all the French hereditary lands, and this was the start of a three-century struggle between England and France.

The Hundred Years' War (1337-1453)

Henry II was succeeded by the famous crusader Richard the Lionheart. On his way back from a crusade, Richard was captured by an international group led by Leopold of Austria. Richard's brother, John without Land, was helped to power by the French king Philip Augustus, but this did not last long. John was forced to relinquish Norman territory and, for the first time in three centuries, Normandy was reunited with France. Unfortunately, Normandy was still very interesting to England and in 1346 Edward III sent a large army to Normandy. This was the start of the so-called Hundred Years' War, with Normandy frequently being used as a battlefield. Until 1436, the battle went well for the English and at that time all of Normandy was back in the hands of the English. This despite the heroic role of Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake in 1431. From 1436, the French regained the upper hand and, after the victory of the French at Formigny and the recapture of Cherbourg, France regained Normandy. In 1453, the English blew the final whistle and the Hundred Years' War ended.

In 1469, the last Duke of Normandy, Charles of France, was deposed. From then on, Normandy was a province of France. In 1514, the "Échiquier" (High Court) of Rouen became the Parliament of Normandy. This parliament was abolished in the period 1771-1775.

Brief history of Normandy after the French Revolution

After riots in Caen, an uprising of the Girondines followed in 1793 and Granville was besieged. A few years later, in the period 1795-1800, there was an uprising by the so-called 'Chouans', Norman royals.

During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), Haute-Normandie and Le Mans were occupied by the Prussians.

In June 1944, Normandy was the scene of one of the most impressive and important battles in world history: D-Day.

6 June 1944: D-day

In the early morning of 6 June 1944, the Allies surprised the Germans by invading the Normandy coast. This day, which went down in history as D-day, marked the beginning of the liberation of continental Europe during the Second World War.

Actually, the invasion was planned for 5 June but General Dwight Eisenhouwer was forced to postpone the action for 24 hours due to bad weather. Until the end of May, the weather had been glorious, but deteriorated rapidly in the following days. On 4 June, Eisenhouwer decided to postpone the operation. Operation Overlord was in danger; there were only two days left that week with the right tides for the landing. Haste was therefore required.

A sudden (temporary) clearing ensured that the invasion could go ahead on 6 June. A further delay would have been too risky; the Germans could find out about the plans at any moment. Crucial to the plan was the total overwhelming of the Germans. And that is what happened:


During the night of 5 to 6 June, Allied bombers bombed the Normandy coast and the Atlantic Wall, the defence line of the occupying forces. Thousands of paratroopers were dropped that night. A few hours later, over five thousand ships and eleven thousand aircraft appeared on the horizon. That day, some 150,000 men went ashore.

The sea was rough, there was a strong wind and a thick fog hung over the Normandy coast. Many boys did not make it to land because of their heavy packs and the high water. Many amphibious vehicles also sank. Those who did make it, could count on fierce resistance from the German side. Especially on 'Omaha Beach', American soldiers of the First Infantry Division met with heavy resistance from German troops.

Operation Overlord was an operation that had never been seen before. Preparations had taken over a year and the script was some five thousand pages long. Millions of Allied soldiers were assembled and trained in southern England, waiting for the green light. A lot depended on it. Not for nothing did Eisenhouwer call D-day 'the longest day'.


Utmost secrecy was the key to the success of the operation. In addition, the Allies misled Hitler with a campaign that convinced him that the main battle would take place near Calais. This deception had worked well; when the invasion of Normandy began, Hitler was firmly convinced that it was a trap and kept key troops out of the battle that he would normally have used.

The Allies had chosen the landing zone between the Normandy ports of Le Havre and Cherbourg because it was where the defences of the Atlantic Wall were lowest. But the cliffs and other obstacles like mines hindered a fast advance. In addition, the Germans continued to offer fierce resistance. The losses on both sides were enormous. Instead of the planned three weeks, the fighting in Normandy lasted two months.

At the end of August, the Allies finally crossed the Seine and liberated Paris. General Charles de Gaulle then marched triumphantly down the Champs Elysees. Although this was not yet the end of the war, several lieutenants warned Hitler that it would soon be. This moment is seen by many as the beginning of the end.


The 'D' of D-day does not stand, as many think, for decision. That is a misconception. The term D-day is mainly used by the American army to designate a day on which an action is planned. The letter is derived from the English words it stands for; 'D' for 'day'. The same is the case with 'H' for 'hour'.

See also the history of France.


Graaf, G. de / Normandië, Bretagne


Normandië, Kanaaleilanden
Michelin Reisuitgaven

Normandië, west : Caen, Mont-St-Michel, Guernsey, Jersey

Radius, J. / Normandië, Bretagne

Reiser, H. / Normandië
Van Reemst

Vermoolen, S. / Normandië

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
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