Normandy's long military history continues to influence the present day

Normandy has a long history punctuated by periods of intense unrest and war. Photo: Bayeux Tapestry - The Battle of Hastings: Norman knights and archers / Myrabella for Wiki (click to enlarge)

Normandy is a region of lush farmland and rural countryside in northwestern France where 360 miles of dramatic coastline sweep along the shores of the English Channel.

It is a gentle land of pastures and forests, rolling terrain and grazing cows, villages of stone houses and half-timbered cottages, colorful flower boxes and tranquil streams. Normandy has inspired poets and artists with its ever-changing light.   

Despite it’s placid charms, Norman history has been filled with turmoil and conflict.  It’s coastline, overlooking the Channel between England and France, has frequently been used as gateway to military conflicts. 

Channel Islands looking north from Jersey. From left to right: Jethou, Herm, Sark / by Man vyi for Wiki

Channel Islands looking north from Jersey. From left to right: Jethou, Herm, Sark / by Man vyi for Wiki

In fact, the birth of Normandy is mired in war. Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon King, was killed at the Battle of Hastings when William, the Conqueror sailed across the Channel at the head of 696 ships holding 7,000 men.  King Harold was unprepared for the assault and died on October 14, 1066, making way for William, the Duke of Normandy. capture the throne of England.

William’s triumph at Hastings brought an end to England’s Anglo-Saxon rule over Normandy. As a Frenchman, William’s ascension virtually wiped out English aristocracy, establishing a completely different culture and, in the process, eliminating English control over the Catholic Church in England. 

With the creation of the Domesday Book (basically a census that meticulously documented the property holdings of English landowners), William systematically dispossessed his previously wealthy English subjects and conferred their property to his French counterparts. 

William the Conqueror was ultimately crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey on Christmas day in 1066. 

Arranged marriages, treaties and alliances between England and France dominated both countries for centuries to come. 

Situated on the northern coast of France facing the English Channel, Normandy’s strategic geographical position continues to have significant impact upon the evolution of both French and English culture.   

Map of Normandy D-Day invastions from Normandy Tourism (click to enlarge)

Map of Normandy D-Day invastions from Normandy Tourism (click to enlarge)

Nearly 1,000 years after the Battle of Hastings, the world’s largest military invasion on D-Day changed the world again when, on June 6, 1944 General Omar Bradley, known as “The G.I.’s General” commanded American troops to storm the beaches of Normandy, ultimately liberating Europe from the grip of tyranny.

Between the monumental events of Hastings and D-Day, Normandy spawned historic figures like Richard the Lionheart, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Joan of Arc, Charlotte Corday, and explorers Samuel de Champlain and Cavalier de La Salle. 

And, though Alexis de Tocqueville, was born in Paris, his family hailed from Norman aristocracy.

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More from Normandy - Destiny and Light - An Open Book Travel Feature
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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


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