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The Normans (lit. "Northmen") were Scandinavian invaders who began to occupy the northern area of France now know as Normandy in the latter half of the 9th century. Under the leadership of Hrolf Ganger, who adopted the French name Rollo, they swore allegiance to the king of France and received the lower Seine area from him (911). Rollo became the first Duke of Normandy and was the ancestor of William the Conqueror (Duke William II, also known as king William I of England).

William the Conqueror, his fellow Normans and their descendants formed a distinct population in England. Ousting most of the previous Saxon rulers (as the Saxons had, generations before, displaced the leaders of the Celtic tribes in the British Isles), they occupied most of the top places in the political structure. (Historians debate whether pre-Norman England should be considered a feudal government - indeed, the entire characterization of Feudalism is under some dispute.) Many of the Saxon English lost lands and titles; the lesser thegns and others found themselves lower down the social pecking order than previously. A number of free geburs had their rights and court access much decreased, becoming unfree villeins.

The degree of subsequent Norman-Saxon conflict (as a matter of conflicting social identities) is a question disputed by historians. The nineteenth century view of intense mutual resentment, reflected in the popular legends of Robin Hood and the novel Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, may have been considerably exaggerated. Some residual ill-feeling is suggested by contemporary historian Orderic Vitalis[?], who in Ecclesiastical Historii (1125) wrote in praise of native English resistance to "William the Bastard". Likewise, a law called the "Mudrum fine" established a high (46 mark) fine for homicide against a Norman; this law was thought to be necessary due to the high rate of English attacks against Normans.

Whatever the level of dispute, over time, the two populations largely intermarried and merged, combining languages and traditions. Normans began to identify themselves as Anglo-Norman; indeed, Anglo-Norman French was considerably distinct from the "French of Paris", which was the subject of some humor by Geoffrey Chaucer. Eventually, even this distinction largely disappeared with the Anglo-Normans identifying themselves as, simply, English.

References and external links:

  • Brown, Elizabeth (see Feudalism)
  • Maitland, F. W., Domesday Book and Beyond: Three Essays in the Early History of England (feudal Saxons)
  • Muhlbergher, Stephen, Medieval England (Saxon social demotions)
  • Reynolds, Susan (see Feudalism)
  • Robertson, A. J., ed. and trans. Laws of the Kings of England from Edmund to Henry I. New York: AMS Press, 1974. (Mudrum fine)

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