God and the Normans
History Today, Vol. 52:10 (2002)
Whenever the knights of the Duke of Normandy cantered across the battlefields of Europe and the Near East, they advertised their presence and their nationality by shouting ‘Dex aie!’ (God our help!). Alone among the French, the Normans claimed by their war cry a special relationship with God in war. Their presumption may have had a lot to do with their rulers’ idea of God’s special relationship with them in peace too. The Norman dynasty is famous for its martial accomplishment, its aggression and, of course, its conquests. Yet, caught up in banners and battlements, it is easy to miss the spiritual and moral foundations on which their great achievements rested. But evidence for them is there and has yet to receive much exploration by historians, a fact which in turn raises some questions about the nature of the modern historical profession.
We must begin with William the Conqueror (r.1066-87), although he was a member of the fifth generation of his dynasty. There is an abundance of modern biographies of this great monarch, as is only right and proper. But not one of the dozen or so works dedicated to him gives more than a bare nod to the nature of the religious beliefs of the man beneath the crown.