The Normans in Scotland
by Janet McNaughton
Many of the characters in An Earthly Knight
speak French as their first language. What are French-speaking people
doing in 12th century Scotland? It's an interesting story.
If you look
on a map of France, just across the English Channel from England is an
area still known as Normandy, although today it has been divided into
modern départements. The Normans who conquered England in the year 1066
came from this area, but "Norman" is a version of the word "Norseman."
A few centuries before the Norman Conquest of England, these people had
migrated down from Scandinavia to settle the warmer and more fertile
lands of north west France. The Normans were, in fact, Vikings once
removed. By 1066, though, they had adopted European customs, the French
language and Roman Catholic Christianity. The Normans who conquered
England were, for their time, very modern Western Europeans.
To find out more about the Normans, visit the BBC's Normans
web page which links to many pages about different
aspects of Norman history.
The European Commission website also has a good page, The Normans, a European People, with information about Norman history and culture in the 10th to 12th centuries.
Why Did the Normans Conqueror England?
When Edward the Confessor, who was king of England, died in 1066, he
left no sons to take his place on the throne. Edward had grown up in
exile in Normandy and brought many Norman clergymen and
nobles to England during his twenty-four year reign. The English
favoured Harold, son of a powerful English earl to become their king,
but William, Duke of Normandy, claimed that Edward the Confessor had
named him as rightful heir to the throne. He also said that Harold
had sworn to honour his claim while visiting Normandy before Edward
died. Harold was crowned king of England on the same day that Edward
the Confessor was buried, but William of Normandy gathered other French
nobles, amassed a huge army, crossed
the English Channel and made an encampment at Hastings.
BBC Radio 4 did a three part program about the Normans and how they
changed Britain. You can listen to these programs by visiting The
The Battle of Hastings
The English fought as they had for centuries at the battle of Hastings,
in a massed army of men all using the same type of combat.
Whether noble or common, they fought on foot. No one ever brought
horses into battle. The front line was composed of a "shield wall" or
"battle hedge" of young, strong men carrying spears and shields. Behind
with powerful long bows shot iron-tipped arrows. The Normans brought
them the most recent technology and ideas about warfare. The Norman
fought on horseback and the ranks were divided into cavalry (the
on horseback) and infantry (the foot soldiers). King Harold's army had
just defeated his brother and the king of Norway in battle in the north
of England, and had marched about 190 miles to reach Hastings. They
were exhausted, but fought hard. They were no match for the Norman's
superior military machine, though. King Harold took an arrow through
the eye and
died. By the end of the day, the English were defeated.
To see what it might have been like to fight in this historic battle,
try the BBC's Battle
of Hastings game.
For a huge amount of information about this important moment in English
history, visit 1066.com, the Battle of Hastings web site.
William the Conqueror
William of Normandy was crowned William the First of England on
Christmas Day, 1066. He was intelligent and ruthless. England was not
subdued by the Battle of Hastings, and many areas offered serious
resistance, especially in northern England where people were accustomed
to the relative freedom of Norse laws. In fact, present day
Northumberland and Yorkshire were known as "Danelaw" in those days.
When William the Conqueror finally turned his attention to the
northeast of England, his army laid waste
to the entire area, destroying all the villages, burning crops, killing
those who fought and driving others away. Finally, though, all of
fell under Norman rule.
To find out more about
William the Conqueror, visit this BBC
For about 300 years after the Norman conquest, English was only spoken
by the common people. French was the dominant language and virtually
nothing was written in English. A few centuries after the
Conquest, the Normans in England began to fight with their
counterparts in France over land. So English became popular among
nobility because it was seen as patriotic, but the language had
changed greatly, incorporating many French words. For example, the
words we use
in English today for meat: pork, mutton and beef, come from the French
words for those animals, porc, mouton and
boeuf because the people eating the meat were French-speaking
Normans. But the words for the animals: pig, sheep and cow, retained
their English roots, because the people tending the animals spoke
For a good overview of life after the Norman Conquest, visit Norman Rule
after 1066 on the 1066.com web site.
But What Does All This Have to Do with Scotland?
Scotland was not conquered by the Normans. William the Conqueror tried
to invade Scotland in 1072, but he was not successful. The border
between Scotland and England was always in dispute and there were
skirmishes, and sometimes outright battles, but the first few centuries
the Norman conquest were relatively peaceful for Scotland.
William the Conqueror's youngest son, Henry, became King Henry
the First in 1100. He was the first English-born Norman king, and he
married the daughter of Malcolm Canmore, the king of
She was known as Good Queen Maud. One of Maud's younger brothers,
was raised in the court of Henry the First, where he spoke French,
Norman ways and made many Norman friends. Eventually, he married the
of a great Norman lord who brought to her marriage huge tracts of
land. David returned to Scotland and, in 1124, he became King David the First of Scotland.
David brought Norman customs and ideas to Scotland with him. He invited
many European religious orders into Scotland and gave them vast tracts
of land to support the abbeys they founded. To learn more about this,
visit my web page,
Religion in 12th Century Scotland.
King David also invited his friends, mostly younger sons of
Norman nobles, to come to Scotland with him. The Normans did
not divide their lands among their children. The oldest son received
all the land and any titles that went with it. This is called the rule
of primogeniture. It ensured that estates were
not broken up, but it also left younger sons without a means of making
How Did the Normans Change Scotland?
Twelfth century Scotland could hardly be called a country in the modern
sense of the word. It was, in fact, a number of loosely connected
regions mostly dominated by powerful chieftains who might be loyal to
or might openly rebel. Most of Scotland was not directly changed by the
Normans at all. King David, like most monarchs of the time, did not
in one place, but travelled from great house to great house. However,
south eastern part of Scotland which is today known as the Borders was
he seemed to feel most at home and that was where the Normans would
the greatest impact. To learn more about this area, visit my web page, Where
It's hard to think of Britain as a wilderness today, but in that time,
it seems as if the southeast of Scotland was largely empty. We know,
for example, that monks had founded an abbey near Melrose in the 8th
century, but it was abandoned and the area had reverted to wilderness
by the 12th century. King David granted estates to his Norman
friends in this area, where they established typical Norman
homes. Any people who
belonged to the lands, neyfs was the Scottish term,
to the lords along with the land. These Norman lords could also acquire
bondsmen, who became servants for life when a common person who had no
other means of making a living swore an oath to become part of the
In famine years, when crops failed and people had no other choice, many
common people chose to become bondsmen rather than starve to
Norman society was based on a very structured feudal system. Under
the feudal system, everyone was bound to someone of a higher rank. The
serfs (or neyfs) who worked the land were essentially slaves, bound to the
lord who held that land. (All land, in fact, belonged to the king and
only granted to the nobleman who lived on it.) A lord might be bound to
a noble of higher rank, and the highest lords swore allegiance directly
to the king. Everyone gave a percentage of what they produced, their
and animals, any wealth they made in the course of a year, to the
who ranked above them, so that a percentage of everything was, finally,
to the king. The things that were given were called tribute.
were also required to provide knights and soldiers to the king's army
wartime, according to their ability. Those who had no material wealth
be bound to provide days of labour to their overlords.Anyone might also be
required to provide days of labour in addition to the tribute they paid. The entire society rested on this system of allegiance
tribute. Kings and overlords could also add special taxes to this
if they needed money for a war or to pay a ransom, but tribute was the
source of income for any king.
Scotland had a system of tribute before the Normans arrived, but it was
never as structured or rigid as the feudal system. Also, because
political alliance to the king was so shaky, it must have been very
unpredictable. King David knew that the Normans would provide him with
a more stable base, because their loyalty would be more secure and
because their feudal system would give him regular income. David also
began to modernize Scotland, setting up the first real towns, called royal burgs.
(Pronounced "boroughs.") The first burgs were Berwick and Roxboro.
These towns were the only place where trade with foreigners could be
conducted. All the people who lived in the burgs were freemen, who owed
allegiance to no one but the king himself. This system was designed to
increase Scotland's trade with other countries and, not
incidentally, provide the king with more income. To find out
visit the BBC's web page David I and the Impact
of the Norman Conquest
The Normans who came to Scotland still spoke French. We know very
little about how they were received by the common people who had been
Christian for a few hundred years and spoke a version of English,
called Scots, as their native language. This part of Scotland was
surprisingly multi-cultural at the time, and perhaps it had always been
assimilating people from other cultures. Many of the people in Northern
England who escaped from terrible rage of William the Conqueror just
decades before must have come north to Scotland, and many of the
weavers involved in the growling woolen cloth industry
were Flemish. In fact, the Scottish name Fleming means a person of
origin. Scotland was always in contact with the Scandinavian
and there were also people of Danish and Norwegian background in most
Scotland. It may be that the people in this area accepted the
Normans because they were used to outsiders. In any case, within just a few
the Anglo-Normans were completely integrated into Scottish society.