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Who were the Normans?

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Quick Answer

The Normans were Viking raiders and pirates who took over a portion of France later named Normandy after them. Normans were talented and aggressive warriors and left their mark on much of Europe, even conquering and ruling over England.

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Full Answer

After decades of piracy and raids, Norsemen led by Rollo settled in the lower Seine Valley. In 911, King Charles the Simple created the Treaty of St. Clair-sur-Epte with Rollo, granting him Rouen and the lands at the Seine's mouth. The Norsemen quickly extended their territory to cover Lower Normandy as well, and they styled themselves the counts or dukes of Normandy.

The Normans quickly converted to Christianity, but this did not stop their restlessness or need to expand. Early in the 11th century, Normans sailed to Sicily and Southern Italy, where they offered mercenary services to fight the Muslims who were raiding and sometimes settling those shores. A particularly ambitious Norman, William the Conquerer, laid claim to the English throne in 1066. When Edward the Confessor, childless son of a Norman mother, died, William claimed that Edward had promised him the throne years earlier. Harold Godwineson, a powerful Saxon nobleman, swore it had been promised to him and had himself crowned the day of Edward's death. William led an army to invade Britain and ultimately succeeded, crowning himself King William, and his Norman followers supplanted most of the British nobility.

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