The politics of being Norman in the reign of Richard the Fearless, Duke of Normandy (r. 942–996)
By Fraser McNair
Early Medieval Europe, Volume 23, 2015
Abstract: In 966, by the end of the reign of its third duke, Richard I, Normandy had overcome the crises that had beset it in the middle of the century. Much of this success came from the coherence of its ruling group, which expressed itself partly interms of ‘Norman’ identity. This article uses Dudo’s history of the dukes and Richard’s charters to argue that ‘Norman’ as a political identity was a deliberate creation of the court of Richard I in the 960s, following the perceived failure of his and his father’s policies of assimilation into Frankish culture.
Introduction: The reign of Richard the Fearless, duke of Normandy, did not begin auspiciously. When his father, William Longsword (r. 928×933–942), was murdered in 942, Richard was a minor, and his lands were contested between Hugh the Great, duke of the Franks, and the West Frankish king Louis IV.
When he came into full power in around 960, one of Richard’s ﬁrst action was to ﬁght a perhaps ill-advised war with Count Theobald of Blois-Chartres-Tours over the Évrecin, a war seemingly only won with the help of Viking allies. By the time Richard died in 996, however, he had overcome the challenges of his position to crystallize the Norman elite around himself and secure his and his family’s rule.
Richard did this in many ways, but one of the means most easily accessible to modern historians is the creation of the idea of being Norman as a means by which to galvanize – that is, to create, direct, and legitimize – a political action group. It was under Richard that a Norman identity became salient to political practice; it will be further argued that it was probably only under Richard that ‘Norman’ began to be an endonym for the elites under the control of the dynasty ruling in Rouen at all.
Top Image: Statue of Richard I, Duke of Normandy (‘Richard the Fearless’) in the Falaise town square.