The Scandinavian contribution in Normandy

What was the Scandinavian contribution in Normandy ?   Concerning the population, it is not easy to define its amplitude, all the more since Scandinavian colonisation was superimposed on a strong Frankish and Saxon substratum, whose cultural and ethnic characteristics were very close to the Scandinavians’ own.

As far as we can judge, the density of Scandinavian settlements and population was patchy.   From the place name evidence, it seems that some areas were left free of Scandinavian settlement but the coastal regions of Pays de Caux and Cotentin were heavily populated by them. Also important, but to a lesser degree, was settlement of the Seine valley, the Plain of Caen and Bessin.

The Scandinavian impact is clearly seen at the level of Norman state organisation, particularly where this concerned legal matters such as the establishment of Norman customary law (one of the main bases of present ‘Anglo-Saxon law’, as against ‘Roman law’), and also at the political level.

Normandy received from the Vikings a strong moral stamp.   One can detect psychological features which are characteristic of the Normans and which were attributed to Old Scandinavians:   pragmatism, sense of nuance, reserve, prudence and mistrust, the importance of keeping ones word, a sense of order, individualism, craftiness, a taste for concrete materialism, a willingness to take risks and to adventure.

The Scandinavian contribution has been clearly established in the Norman dialect , particularly in the maritime vocabulary (which was thereafter transmitted, almost completely and intact, to the French language). The Norse language seems to have been spoken in the duchy for a little more than a century;  there was even a ‘university’ at Bayeux in the 11th century to teach it.   Eventually, the language became amalgamated with the native Romance languages (Frankish and Latin), resulting in a new ‘Norman’ language.   This ‘Norman’ language became, in the 14th/15th centuries, a base for what we now know as the French language.

The Scandinavian linguistic influence is to be found again as elements in numerous Norman place names, with endings such as -tot (farm), -thuit (cleared area), -bec (stream), -dal or -dalle (valley), or with hogue (hill, mound), londe (wood), nez (cape or headland), etc., and the ending -ville (from Latin villa):  Gonneville, Hatainville, Omonville, Tourville, and so on.   These place names are mainly derived from Scandinavian personal names, or from landscape features or other descriptors.

Finally, many Scandinavian personal names survive nowadays through family names such as Angot, Anquetil, Burnouf, Toustain, Turgis, Thouroude, Yngouf, and many more.