HISTORY OF NORMANDY

 

In the Palaeolithic age at the beginning of pre-history, Homo Sapiens was walking by that time in the forests of Normandy, discovering streams of sparkling water. We can find evidence of this in the Neolithic shelters embedded in the 5000 year old rock formations. The inhabitants of the country domesticated goats, pigs, horses and more
importantly they began to erect enormous stones known as the `Standing Stones' or `Gargantua's Stones' which have always been surrounded by such mystery that we have a tendency to think of them as burial places.
In the Bronze Age, they became experts at the fusion of copper and tin.
The story starts to become Gallic only after the passing of the Celts, who came mainly from Central Europe. The Gauls formed tribes: The Véliocasses at Vexin, the Lexiviens at Lisieux, the Eburovices at Evreux, etc...
The Gauls, both good workers and soldiers, were by nature undisciplined and turbulent and tended not to fight in a cohesive way, it wasn't too difficult for Caesar's Legionaries to soon become the masters of the region.
Our amateurs in the Art of making good barley beer and charcuterie allowed themselves to become civilised by the Romans for more than 4 centuries; no more now the winding paths trodden by the Gauls and mapped out on a whim, the roads were cut in a straight line of paved tree-lined streets; temples and public baths were built, Roman organisation was put in place, and the Gauls began to change, even learning Latin.
Next came a whole bunch of invaders, the Franks, the Saxons, the Alains and many others all took their turn at invading Roman Gaul.


The Vikings' famous drakkar

Until the day when in 820 peasants living in coves along the Seine saw in the distance ten or so curious war ships called Snekkar by the men from the North, Drakkar because of the animal sculpted into the prow or the stern, which was actually a dragon. These enormous boats moved swiftly whether rowed or under sail contained sometimes as many as fifty men along with their animals; the men from the North didn't travel with their women as they could easily find them on the spot ! Swearing by the names of Thor and Odin, our merry Vikings plundered, pillaged, raped and slaughtered up until 911 when the famous treaty of Saint Clair sur Epte was signed between the Frank king Charles the Simple and Rollon or Rolf, chief of the men from the North; it's true that there were a few forays into Paris which gave king Charles something to think about.


William the Conqueror

Soon it was the time for William the Conqueror who, on October14th, 1066 won the battle of Hastings. William's heirs were known as the Plantagenets, and they reigned over Normandy and England.
In 1189, Richard the Lionheart divided the double crown. All his life he would fight against Phillippe Auguste, king of France, who kept a wary eye on his bountiful Normandy.
In order to protect it, he built Gaillard Castle on an outcrop overlooking the Seine; three great towers with a moat around them cut into the bare rock.
The kings of France tried time and again to take over the area, either by force of
arms or by trickery. In 1315 Louis X `le Hutin' drew up a charter for Normandy, promising, amongst other things, to create the `Echiquier de Rouen' a supreme court of justice and revenue. The Normans were convinced they had really won, the page of History is turned, the Normandy of the Vikings is no more and a new era of calm and prosperity is ushered in.

Unfortunately peace doesn't usually last forever and Angles and Franks fought against each other for a hundred years. Joan of Arc was recognised as a saint, she was burnt at the stake in Rouen on May 30th 1431 in the old market place. Saint for some, witch for others, it seems that she gave courage enough to the unhappy king of France Charles VII to enter Rouen triumphantly on November 10th 1449.


Joan of Arc on the stake

From 1530 religious reform spread throughout Normandy, Luther and Calvin made their mark and the Civil War in the name of the father divided the province, creating two different parliaments, Protestant in Caen and ultra-Catholic in Rouen. It's because of this that Henry IV, an infamous warrior, facing the `Duc de Guise could win the famous battle at Ivry on march 14th 1590.

In April 1608, Champlain and Dupont-Gravé left Honfleur along with some settlers, arriving in June at Tadoussac but nevertheless the Normans were to play a part in the colonisation of the New France at Quebec.
Sixty years later it was a pioneer from Rouen who was to discover Ohio and the Mississippi river.


Samuel de Champlain and Roger Cavelier de la Salle

In 1685, after Louis XIV revocation of the Edict of Nantes, many Protestant Normans went into exile in Holland, England and Prussia (around 80,000 of them), at the same time bringing with them their possessions and their knowledge.
In 1786 Louis XVI, travelling through Normandy was warmly welcomed throughout the province; it was, however, only three years later in 1789 that the very same Normans were to march on Versailles in search of the same King.
In 1790, at Beaumoncel, a farm in the camembert region, Marie Harel , with the help of a non-juring priest from Brie, invented the cheese of the same name.
By 1793, Charlotte Corday went to the rue des Cordeliers in Paris and soon
`Marat' was lying in a real `blood-bath'.

`Napoleon Bonaparte' didn't spare Normandy from his call-up for all young men of twenty or more to join the army, commandeering horses and cattle to feed his `Grognards' thus sapping the life from the area.
The British blockade of 1811 had the effect of impoverishing the region by effectively stifling all business activity.

From this period onwards the region became a veritable training-ground for painters: Claude Monet, who was originally from Le Havre decided to make Giverny his home in 1883. It was there that he painted his famous painting `The Water-lillies'. The local farmers, who were not great fans of impressionism `rented' haystacks for him to paint, and even charged him a fee to walk across their fields! A great friend of his, George Clémenceau bought a small chateaux in Bernouville in order to be closer to him, along with Jean-François Millet, `Turner', Bonington, Daubigny,as well as Corot, Jongkind, and Boudin were all influenced by the landscapes of Normandy.


Claude Monet, Marcel Proust and Guy de Maupassant

Not to be outdone, literature also flourished throughout the region with Alphonse Allais, a humorist from Honfleur.
Marcel Proust spent every Summer between 1907 to 1914 in Cabourg in the `Grand Hotel' which he would use as background for his novel `A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs'.
Guy de Maupassant, born in Fécamp found there in his homeland all the principal players and subject matter, notably `Boule de suif' which was published in 1880.

Gustave Flaubert, inspired by some relatively trivial event in the village of Ry (Yonville-i'Abbaye), wrote the best-selling novel `Madame Bovery' in 1856.
In 1866, the composer Erik Satiť is born in the `rue de la sirène' in Honfleur.

In June 1944, after four years of Nazi occupation it was on the beaches of Normandy that the combined Allied Forces landed to liberate Europe from the clutches of the Fascists. The Normans were to pay a high price however, with towns being flattened and the countryside devastated by the Royal Air Force and the American bomber command. More than three thousand civilians were sacrificed in the name of military strategy.


Utah Beach and the Caen Memorial

The Memorial Of Caen This is a powerful call for peace at a time of War in Normandy.
`No doubt there has been, down the centuries, someone who has stayed in a village somewhere in Normandy and watched as army after army has trudged down the road in the name of War :Vikings, William the Conqueror with his men in chain-mail, Danish men-at-arms, squires of Philippe Auguste, Richard the Lionheart, Montgomery's Huguenots, men from the league of Mayenne, Henry IV's gascons, French counterrevolutionaries (the chouans) from Frotté, and the Prussians in 1870. Like them, the Germans today gather in the harvest, and work in the fields leaving Normandy behind them to pick up the pieces.'

The War diary of Dr Soubiran

 

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