18.05.09, Hagger, Norman Rule in Normandy

Main Article Content

Elizabeth van Houts

The Medieval Review 18.05.09

Hagger, Mark. Norman Rule in Normandy 911-1144. Woodbridge UK:The Boydell Press, 2017. pp. xxvi, 798. ISBN: 978-78327-214-3 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Elizabeth van Houts
Emmanuel College, Cambridge

This is an impressive study of the history of Normandy in the central Middle Ages from its inception as a principality given to the Norwegian Rollo and his followers by the king of France to its conquest by Geoffrey of Anjou, husband of the Norman heiress Matilda. The book is conceived as a political and institutional history sketching the way in which the Rollonid dynasty as the dukes of Normandy brought the inhabitants of what became Normandy together and kept them under their authority. They did so with increasing confidence due to their wealth, political acumen and persuasion, but above all their military power. From 1066 the capacity of the dukes to keep their subjects under their control was on the one hand made easier by the acquisition of England (and its fabulous wealth) while on the other hand the dukes' dual role as both duke and king of England made relations with their neighbours, especially with the king of France, more complicated. How they achieved the rule of Normandy and maintain it until 1144 is explained through a study of the delegation of ducal authority and administrative management of ducal income. Mark Hagger (University of Bangor) began the daunting task of replacing Charles Homer Haskins' Norman Institutions (published almost exactly one hundred years ago in 1918), inspired by his work on the charters of Henry I (1100/1106-1135). The result is a triumph.

The book is divided into two parts. Part I, "Conquest, Concession, Conversion and Competition: Building the Duchy of Normandy," contains five chapters comprising a chronological overview, of which three are focused on the dukes themselves and two on the church and charters. Part II, perhaps somewhat surprisingly called "The Minister of God," contains six chapters which cover the most important parts of ducal government: the duke's authority, his court, his justice, delegation of ducal power, ducal finance and ducal military organization. In the introduction the author offers an interpretation of the main narrative and documentary sources, and in the conclusion he helpfully binds this massive study together. Maps, a timeline, and two indices (on people and places, as well as subjects) offer instructive further guidance.

The chronological narrative of Part I is an essential start of the book. The French territorial principality followed the footprint of the archdiocese of Rouen, itself based on a number of pagi going back to the time of the Roman occupation of Gaul. This administrative template survived through the Merovingian and Carolingian periods. During the period of Viking invasions in the ninth century, which contributed to the collapse of the Carolingian empire, several of the Carolingian rulers had made loans of land to Viking bands in an attempt to shore up the defence of the country against attacks from rival Viking groups. Around 911 King Charles the Simple made one such gesture to the Viking Rollo and his band of followers--although never in his wildest dreams could he have anticipated that Rollo's descendants would still be in charge a century later. These loans were meant as temporary stopgaps, not permanent alienations. What makes the history of Normandy within the kingdom of France so fascinating is the amalgam of Frankish and Scandinavian settlers who coalesced into "the Normans." As Hagger convincingly shows in the first five chapters, the Rollonid dukes managed to hold on to their territory across three generations surviving a father-son conflict (Rollo, d. ca. 928 and William Longsword), a murder (that of Longsword in 942), and the minority rule of Longsword's son Richard I (d. 996). The non-negotiable condition for the loan in 911 had been the Frankish demand that Rollo be converted to Christianity. He did. As late as the fourth generation represented by Richard II (d. 1026) neighbours as far away as Reims remained suspicious of these "pyrates of Rouen," a term with pagan connotations. A combination of marriage alliances with Frankish lords (Aquitaine, Vermandois, and the Robertian--later royal--family of France) and a Scandinavian family in the Cotentin (Gunnor's family) plus selected use of Viking mercenaries enabled the dukes to hold on to the lands which by ca. 1000 were considered no longer as a loan from the French king but as an hereditary allod. The transformation of the political argument of independence, from temporary loan to allod, was the work of Dudo of Saint-Quentin, a Frankish clerk from Vermandois and a formidable Latinist. It was up to Richard II's sons, Richard III (d. 1027) and Robert the Magnificent (d. 1035), and his grandson William who became king of England (d. 1087) to establish their hegemony over the whole of what became Normandy, including the western provinces, and secure its borders to the south with Brittany, the east with Blois-Chartres, and the Capetian kings of the Ile the France. With the wealth of England at their disposal the Conqueror and his sons were able through land grants in England and judicious use of cash to keep their aristocracy on board. As Hagger persuasively points out, this was not a case of pure military might and wealth on the part of the Rollonid dynasty, who during seven generations put their stamp on the nobles from Eu in the north to Bellême in the south. It was also the case that various groups of allodial free Frankish landholders chose to follow their leader and benefit from the share in the enormous indigenous and--after 1066--English wealth that was made available to them provided they remained faithful to the duke. In chapters 1-3 Mark Hagger shows--with some important corrections--that Eleanor Searle and David Bates both were right in arguing that the kinship ties and exploitation of Carolingian administrative structures enabled the dukes to stay in power. He points out that by 1066 most of the Conqueror's close advisers were bound to him by blood (in some cases quite distantly) but that there were also those who were mere companions and friends who had made themselves indispensable. The fierce streak of independence that ran through Rollo's dynasty revealed itself in ducal support for the Church but entirely on ducal terms. The documentary base of his analysis here stresses the value of the charters' beneficiaries' views of ducal government and action in the localities. Popes and his legates were kept at arms' length. By carrying the narrative up to 1144 when Geoffrey of Anjou, by right of his wife Matilda, established control over Normandy (having taken it away from King Stephen), Hagger analyses the repercussions of earlier dukes' relations with the Norman aristocracy, especially along the southern border. The Bellême allegiance to Rouen remained fragile and in the late 1130s its fragility collapsed when it allowed Angevin expansion within Normandy.

The six chapters of Part II of this book are its innovative heart. Building on the work of Charles Homer Haskins, Lucien Musset, David Bates, Pierre Bauduin, and Judith Green, Hagger provides an in-depth study of the administration of ducal government. With unrivalled knowledge of the documentary source base, especially the charters, Hagger sets out systematically to explain how and why the Norman dukes managed their "allod." Chapter 6, "The duke and his executive authority," discusses in depth the way the dukes managed to hand over their authority from father to son, or brother to brother. The dukes, especially William the Conqueror and Henry I, maintained sole executive power which they did not share with any son, hence the frustration of William's son Robert Curthose. There had to be some delegation of authority and Hagger points to Richard II's wife Gunnor and William's wife Matilda in some instances of shared rulership in western Normandy.

In Chapter 7 we turn to the duke and his court, his household officials, the aristocracy's attendance at court, the attestations of ducal wives, where especially important is the observation that Gunnor's attendance disappears after 1025. Hagger wonders about Lanfranc's absence from the court in April and July 1066 on account of his visit to Rome. After 1131 witnessing is not so much a task for the aristocracy but seems to have devolved to administrators. There is the interesting observation that especially after 1066 the dukes did not itinerate as much many historians have thought. William and his sons operated mostly from Rouen. Outside Rouen courts took place in ducal castles. There are good sections on frequent visits to court by beneficiaries of charters bringing with them texts that had been drawn up beforehand. According to Hagger, the dukes used their anger strategically as a political tool especially William the Conqueror, yet on most occasions dukes controlled their emotions. Through supreme self-control they projected masculine authority as a sign of self-confidence and leadership.

Chapter 8 deals with ducal justice, with an important section on the curious document Consuetudines et iusticiae drawn up by the bishops and barons of Caen in 1091 or 1096 to record the extent of ducal jurisdiction. Hagger argues that this document confirms his impression from other sources that local lords had fewer rights of jurisdiction than has previously been thought by Judith Green and David Crouch. But where lords held jurisdiction we see a shift to them handing it to the duke. Increasingly all over Normandy lords submitted their cases to the dukes to ask for his ruling, and at the same time they would hand over the right of justice they theoretically had over their land to the duke as a means to receiving his protection. This development was a mutually beneficiary one for the dukes and their aristocracy, although arguably the wealth flowing from the exercise of justice benefitted the rulers more than his subjects.

Chapter 9 is devoted to "Movements, messengers, mandates and minions" and traces the ways in which the dukes kept in touch with their followers and ensured that their wishes were carried out. Much of government depended on the reliability of messengers and the more important the business they had to conduct the higher their status had to be in order to ensure that the opposite party could trust the duke's messenger. A helpful table with all instances where messengers are being used can be found in Table 9 (528-529). To this list we might add the archdeacon of Lisieux who was sent to Rome to ask for papal support for the invasion of England, and the monk of Fécamp who was sent at Hastings to King Harold. Note that both were ecclesiastical figures. Two very important sections in this chapter are devoted to the office of the vicomte, comparable to the office of sheriff in England, who was responsible for the administration of the ducal demesne and had, according to Hagger, no military role. A similar revisionary view is proposed for the role of the count. Originally it had been a Carolingian office but under the Norman dukes it became more a prestigious title rather than an office. Although this suggestion partly derives from the work by David Crouch, Hagger parts ways with Crouch by denying that counts (like vicomtes) had any military responsibilities attached to their title. In this sense it is crucial to appreciate the differences between a Norman vicomte and and English sheriff--or indeed a Norman count and an English earl. The English officers received substantial payments for their responsibilities whereas the Norman ones did not.

Ducal finance is the subject of Chapter 10. It contains stimulating and illuminating discussions of what "census" meant (a bilateral arrangement of paying tribute to the duke in return for protection), and what "farms," established in Henry I's time and collected in coin, entailed. In Normandy collections of ducal revenue were being streamlined with royal ones in England at Michaelmas audits. In Normandy in due course there emerged a chamber for accounting purposes, but there is no evidence of an English style treasury or exchequer. Earliest indications date from late in Henry I's reign (1129x30). Most audits were locally conducted and there was no central one as in England. In a European context, England was the exception. Hagger argues strongly and convincingly that the emergency of accounting and pipe rolls was the work of administrators and not some stroke of genius of the king-duke Henry I himself.

The eleventh and final chapter is concerned with the military apparatus of the duke. His military capacity depended first and foremost on his household (familia) troops, consisting mostly of stipendiary knights, and lords with their own household troops who having promised fealty to the duke could come to his help. The third group consisted of mercenaries, which we only find from late in the reign of William the Conqueror onwards. It is testimony to the strength of the Norman dukes before ca. 1078 that they could muster sufficient armies themselves and had no need to pay for mercenaries (except for the invasion of England in 1066). On the few occasions that the Norman might was insufficient they relied on others to help them out: until ca. 1025 Viking war bands, and thereafter the king of France. The rewards for the ducal stipendiary household and Norman lords to provide support to the duke were manifold and consisted mostly in gifts of land and cash. There is a good section on castles and garrisons which ranged from 20-1700 knights--a useful table is Table 10 on p. 636. A very important section is devoted to "the army of Normandy" and what this meant. Hagger convincingly shows that dukes raised troops through negotiations with their aristocracy, most of whom held their lands outright and not in return for military service. A good example is the recruitment of troops for the invasion of 1066. There are a few faint signs of quotas linked to landholding before 1066 but they are few and far between them. A stimulating analysis of the famous 1133 Bayeux inquest shows that such quotas as are mentioned there consisted of an expectation that the bishop of Bayeux would offer 20 knights to the ducal household. In 1172 there were quotas for lords to provide knights in case of battle. The total of 581 knights is relatively small and almost certainly represented a contribution to the ducal household troops. Importantly, all free men were expected to serve in the army in case of attack by foreigners. The expectation that all free men had to serve goes back to the Carolingian levy system.

This book is a tour de force. It will be a standard work for everyone working on Normandy. Not every one will agree with all of it, but in terms of synthesis, interpretation, and mastery of a voluminous amount of source material Haskins has found a worthy successor in Hagger.

Article Details