The Normans (from Nordmanni or Nordmaenner, or "Northmen") were a Norse people who settled in Normandy, a region in north-western France, at the beginning of the 10th century. Originating from the territories of today's Denmark and Norway after various raids on French soil they decided to swear allegiance to King Charles III in exchange for a large land area in the north of the Kingdom of the Western Franks.
The term Normanni derives from the French words Normans / Normanz, plural of Normant (modern French Normand), which is in turn borrowed from the Old Franconian Nortmann "Norman" or directly from the Old Norse Norðmaðr, latinized in various ways as Nortmannus, Normannus or Nordmannus (recorded in medieval Latin, 9th century) meaning "Norse, Viking". The first occurrence of the term Nortmannus is in the Sangermanense Code as a probable Latinization of Norðmaðr ("Norse", "man of the north").
The native Norse culture, like that of many other migratory peoples, was particularly versatile and open to the new: for a certain period, this characteristic led them to occupy heterogeneous European territories. After the settlement in Normandy (910) with Rollone, in the 11th century they poured into southern Italy (about 1017) and England (1066, despite several previous attacks and the foundation of the Danelaw by the Vikings). In Southern Italy they gave rise to the foundation of the County of Puglia with the Altavilla and in 1130 to the Kingdom of Sicily.
Normans in Normandy
The Norsemen moved on to occupy present-day Normandy (a region of northern France that took their name from them) starting from the last quarter of the 9th century. In 911, Charles III the Simple, king of the Western Franks, granted, thanks to the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, to the invaders a small portion of territory along the lower course of the river Seine, which then expanded, becoming the duchy of Normandy. The invaders were led by Prince Hrolf, Latinized in Rollone, who made an alliance with Charles.
The Normans became farmers, merging with the local population of Neustria, they adopted the Christian religion and the Gallo-Romance language, thus giving life to a new cultural identity, different from both that of the Scandinavians and that of the Franks.
Geographically, Normandy corresponded to the old ecclesiastical province of Rouen or Neustria. It had no natural borders and was previously a simple administrative unit.
After a few generations, they had become almost indistinguishable from their neighboring Franks. In the 11th century the position of the invaders in Normandy was by now consolidated. Gradually (both in Normandy and in England) they also assimilated the French feudal system.
The Norman warrior class was different from the old French aristocracy. Many of the latter's families traditionally traced back to the Carolingians, while the Normans could rarely boast ancestors prior to the 11th century. Most of the knights remained poor and landless and as a result many of their warriors became professional fighters in order to procure wealth and land.
Normans in England
The Normans had been in contact with England for a long time. The Norsemen had repeatedly devastated not only the English coasts, but also most of the most important ports facing England on this side of the Channel.
The Norsemen managed to impose their hegemony on various English kingdoms, with the exception of the Saxon kingdom of Wessex in which King Alfred the Great, (who reigned from 871 to 898), was able to stand up to them.
Emma, daughter of the Duke of Normandy Richard I, married the English king Ethelred II of England. It was for this reason that Aethelred fled to Normandy in 1013, when he was driven out by Sven of Denmark. His stay in Normandy (until 1016) influenced him and the children he had with Emma, who r