Raising Knights & Princesses in a Dark Age

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They were accompanied by an enclosed courtyard, or bailey, which was in turn surrounded by a protective ditch and palisade. Relatively easy to build with unskilled, often forced labour, these forts were militarily formidable; and often grew into great castle complexes over time bottom image. In , a Norman Army invaded Ireland , intervening in an internal power struggle in Leinester.

This began the English domination of Ireland that would endure, to one degree or another, through most of its subsequent history.

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Interestingly, the eastern portion of Ireland under the control of the Anglo-Norman conquerors became known as The Pale. The combination of shock provided by the powerful charge of Norman heavy cavalry, with the missile attack of archers or crossbowmen proved irresistible in every major battle of the Norman Era. According to Amatus of Montecassino , Norman pilgrims returning from Jerusalem in called in at the port of Salerno in time break a siege by Saracens from North Tunisia.

Thus began the Norman involvement in the south of Italy; first in the service of the various Lombard princes, and later as conquistadors carving out their own duchy. In a party of some Norman adventures came as pilgrims to the shrine to Michael the Archangel at Monte Gargano. While there, they were persuaded by the Lombard prince, Melus of Bari , to join him and other Lombard lords in an attempt to drive their Byzantine overlords from Apulia.

The Lombard army, spearheaded by the Normans, won five victories over the local Byzantine forces. In response, the Emperor Basil I dispatched elite forces from the capital, Constantinople. These including a force of the elite Varangian Guard. This is the first time but not the last that Norman and Varangian would face-off against each other; and its easy to suppose that a rivalry grew-up between these two elite forces; both of Viking descent. The Byzantines won a decisive victory, and the Normans suffered heavily, with only 10 of the Normans surviving.

Among the dead was Gilbert himself, along with his brother Osmond. Curiously, however, Normans were later that year left to garrison in a key Byzantine fortress guarding an Apennine pass; so it appears that they quickly joined the winning side as mercenaries. During this time, the number of Normans in south Italy steadily increased.

The Normans became past-masters of playing one Lombard prince off against another; always to their own gain. By , the Normans in southern Italy had become so powerful that Sergius Duke of Naples granted Rainulf possession of the former Byzantine stronghold of Aversa , with the title of count and his sister in marriage. Sometime around another group of brothers began coming to south Italy to make their fortunes. The first of his sons to make the trek to Italy were William and Drogo.

After some years, they were joined by their brothers Humphrey, Robert, and Roger.

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During the campaign, there was friction once again between Norman and Varangian, and between the commanders of both corps and their general, Maniakes. After striking the man during an argument, Maniakes was recalled and the campaign collapsed. Returning to Italy, the Normans joined with the Lombards in fomenting a general revolt against the Byzantines in Apulia. In their place, the Normans took over all Apulia except Bari.

Norman castles sprang-up across Italy and Sicily in the wake of Norman conquest.

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Many were former Lombard, Byzantine, or Saracen strongholds. Here is the Norman-built castle at Erice, in the northwest corner of Sicily. He conquered the Lombard principalities; and with his brother Roger conquered Sicily.

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In he took the last Byzantine stronghold, Bari and created a Norman duchy that would eventually grow, together with the Norman dominions of Sicily and Malta, into the Kingdom of Sicily. As the close ally and defender of the Pope, Robert the Weasel became the most powerful ruler in Italy, and counterbalance to the power of the German Emperor. Before the great battle they were detached to beseige a nearby fortress, and so survived the debacle that destroyed so much of the imperial army. After Manzikert, while his erstwhile Byzantine employers were distracted by civil war, de Bailleul took the opportunity to carve-out a Norman duchy in the center of Anatolia, centered on Ankara.

Finding themselves the largest organized Christian military force in the region, they soon became masters of much of the central Anatolian plateau. Eventually the Byzantines and Turks allied to destroy this Norman enclave. But Normans cavalry continued to be highly-prized in the armies of the Eastern Empire for a century.

The Norman fleet of ships carried an army allegedly numbering 30, men though it was unlikely to have surpassed 10, , including 1, Norman knights. The Empire was in a much weakened state following the disaster at Manzikert ten years earlier, and from the civil wars that had followed. The new Emperor, Alexius Comnenus , was a vigorous and competent administrator, and had proven himself an able general in his rise to the throne.

But he was unprepared for the Norman attack. The city was well defended, resting on a narrow peninsula running parallel to the coast. The garrison was ably commanded by the Roman noble, George Palaeologus. The town held out through the summer, aided and resupplied by the combined Byzantine and Venetian fleets.

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By September, Alexius had prepared a large relief army and marched on Durazzo. According to Anna Comnena, Alexius had about 20, men. It included the Tagmata regiments stationed at Constantinople; 1, Varangian Guardsmen; and some 8, Turk and Pecheneg light horse archers. Both wings of the Byzantine army were eventually defeated and fled the battlefield.

Though the Varangians in the center were initially successful, they advanced too far; out of support by the and were forced to halt by charges of the Norman horsemen. Guiscard brought up crossbowmen, closely supported by Norman knights threatening to charge. This forced the Varangians to halt and form shieldburg; which proved incapable of withstanding the powerful close rang fire from the crossbowmen.

Alternating heavy cavalry charges with missile attack, the Normans inflicted heavy casualties on the Varangians. Finally, these broke and the survivors fled into a nearby church; which the Normans set on fire. The Emperor Alexius fleeting the field a Durazzo, while the Norman victors scoff at him in the background.

His well-made heavy armor saved him several other-wise fatal wounds, including lance blows from charging knights. As the Emperor rides away, two broken lances dangle from his armor. Some of the older Varangians may, indeed, have been present at that earlier battle; smarting for revenge. But once again, the combined-arms-tactics of the Normans proved superior to unsupported if valiant heavy infantry alone. Robert returned to Italy after the fall of Durazzo, leaving Bohemond to carry on the campaign.

He died 4 years later. Bohemond was thwarted by Alexius in a mobile campaign in western Greece; and eventually was forced to retire back to Italy. When the First Crusade was called in , he led the Normans of Italy. Ultimately, Bohemond helped to capture the great city of Antioch , where founded a Norman Principality that became the second-greatest Crusader state after the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Compared to, say, the Vikings or stories involving the later Medieval knights, the Normans have received scant attention in film and television. There are, however, several good novels and one excellent film depiction of the Norman knight in the 11th century.


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Author Alfred Duggan penned several books in which the Normans were the subject matter. There is only one good film that strives to capture the look and feeling of the Normans in the 11th century. Schaffner, and starring Charleton Heston A tight, well-crafted and very intimate tale of a petty Norman lord charged with holding a lonely fortress on the North Sea. The costuming, armor and other props in this film represent the best job Hollywood ever did showing 11th century Normans.

I wholeheartedly recommend this film. The Norman knights can trace their roots back to both the Viking warriors who filled the ranks of the Jomsvikings , the Huscarls , and that of their oft-rivals, the Varangian Guard ; as well as the Frankish horsemen, the Caballarii of Charlemagne. In him is seen the daring and ferocious courage of the Viking warrior combined with the superb horsemanship and mobility of the Frankish heavy cavalry. At Hastings and Durazzo the Normans decisively defeated champions of the Dark Ages, fighting in the Viking-style; ushering in the Middle Ages, and the dominance of heavy cavalry on the European battlefield.

Norman knights clash with the Anglo-Saxon defenders on Senlac Hill, Dark Ages Elite: Caballarii of Charlemagne. Jomsvikings: Elite Warriors of the Dark Ages.

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Varangian Guard: Elite Warriors of Byzantium. The War Lord I thought was excellent, even though I did not like the haircut but I know this was necessary for the time. I was lucky enough to meet him in London, so of course I have his autograph in the first book he published which was his Journals. Thank you. Thank you, Rita! I envy you meeting Chuck Heston. He was one of my film idols growing up.

Having fought in my youth with very long hair once-upon-a-time I can tell you this makes sense. Of course I understand why this haircut Barry. Talking about this film has made me want to watch it again now as I have it on disc. I was devastated when I heard Chuck had Alzeimers desease. What a sad ending for such a great man. The Warlord is to date one of the most accurate historical films Hollywood ever made. The armor and costumes were as good as it gets. The script is also very well written. Love the post — and thanks for the heads up of the Heston film — I love Chuck too and have not yet seen this one.

Will definitely have to track it down. Thanks again — bookmarked. You are most welcome, Mel. Given the era in film making in which this was done, it is surprisingly good. Now, that is to damn it with faint praise, as Hollywood usually does a wretched job.

Raising Knights & Princesses in a Dark Age Raising Knights & Princesses in a Dark Age
Raising Knights & Princesses in a Dark Age Raising Knights & Princesses in a Dark Age
Raising Knights & Princesses in a Dark Age Raising Knights & Princesses in a Dark Age
Raising Knights & Princesses in a Dark Age Raising Knights & Princesses in a Dark Age
Raising Knights & Princesses in a Dark Age Raising Knights & Princesses in a Dark Age
Raising Knights & Princesses in a Dark Age Raising Knights & Princesses in a Dark Age
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