Norman season – 30 facts about the Normans

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Coming to BBC Two and BBC Four this August, a season focusing on the Normans across will provide viewers with a definitive look at a seminal period of history.

Leading the season is The Normans, a three-part series on BBC Two presented by Professor Robert Bartlett that will be broadcast from Wednesday 4th August 2010 at 9pm.

To celebrate the season, here’s 30 things you might not know about the Normans…

1. The Normans were originally Vikings: their name comes from “Norsemen” – “men from the north”.

2. Back in France, William the Conqueror was known as “William the Bastard”.

3. The Battle of Hastings was won in one day. It was one of the longest battles of the medieval world.

4. The Normans conquered England in a day. The conquest of south-west Wales took over 200 years.

5. The Normans introduced cavalry warfare to Britain.

6. William the Conqueror’s wife, Mathilda, was said to be only 4ft 3in tall.

7. 60,000 people all over England were questioned during the Domesday Inquisition.

8. At least 200 calf and sheep skins were used to make the 800 pages of Domesday Book.

9. 13,000 places are named in Domesday Book; this is the first formal record of many English villages.

10. Domesday Book contains about a million words. It was transcribed by the hand of one scribe.

11. 30 years after the Norman Conquest, no village in England was more than a day’s march from a Norman fortification or castle.

12. If anyone displeased William the Conqueror he would have their hands and feet cut off … and gouge out their eyes for good measure.

13. William marched on York to stamp out a rebellion. 100,000 people died as a result of his scorched-earth policy: it was called the Harrying of the North.

14. The Normans introduced the names William, Robert and Henry to Britain.

15. They also introduced rabbits to the British countryside.

16. The Normans added the French word for son, “fils”, to surnames in Britain and Ireland eventually giving us “Fitzsimmons”, son of Simon, and “Fitzpatrick”, son of Patrick.

17. Just 100 years after the Battle of Hastings, the Norman colonisers and the English were so integrated that it was impossible to tell them apart.

18. In 1086, Norman barons owned 55 per cent of the land in England. Anglo Saxons owned only 5 per cent.

19. Norman barons were invited by King David to settle in Scotland. This helped deter a Norman invasion from England and preserved Scottish independence.

20. A Welsh Princess called Nesta helped her Norman husband to escape from their castle – down the toilet chute.

21. The ruler of the Irish Kingdom of Leinster invited Anglo-Norman mercenaries to invade Ireland to help him win back his throne. A colonial English presence would remain in Dublin for the next 700 years.

22. Alice of Abergavenny lost her Welsh-Norman lover in a battle in Ireland. She took her revenge by personally decapitating 70 Irish prisoners.

23. The sons and grandsons of an impoverished Norman Knight called Tancred de Hauteville went on to become Kings of Sicily and Princes of Antioch and Galilee.

24. In the 11th century, the Normans held the Pope hostage for nine months until he agreed to allow them to keep the lands they’d conquered in southern Italy.

25. The Normans in Italy provoked a Pope to go into battle for the first time since the foundation of the Christian Church.

26. Under Norman rule, the Kingdom of Sicily became a great centre of culture and learning.

27. The Norman King of Sicily, Roger II commissioned the most accurate medieval map of the world.

28. The son of William the Conqueror led an army of Normans in the First Crusade.

29. A Norman warrior called Bohemond conquered the Principality of Antioch in modern day Turkey. It remained a Norman Principality for the next 200 years.

30. The first female historian whose work has come down to us was the Byzantine writer Anna Comena. She was impressed by Bohemond’s “broad shoulders, deep chest and powerful arms”. But she was put off by his laugh which was like a “snort of rage.”.