Unknown Author, historical artefact.—THE COMING OF THE NORTHMEN

This text is copied from ‘The New Illustrated Universal Reference Book [Odhams Press]’ or ‘The Book of a Million Facts’, seemingly published in 1933. (Authors/editors unknown).I will give more precise details of the reference book I am copying from in future parts of this series of posts. And I will try to discover who was involved in  compiling this book I am studying:




The Norse Adventurers


Life was a hard and often a cruel business in the north-western corner of Europe. The country was rocky and desolate; only in the narrow valleys could the Norsemen grow their scanty crops, hunting wild animals in the dense woods or spearing salmon in the mountain torrents.

It was no country for weaklings; even in the “season of plenty” there was barely enough corn and meat, and in the “season of want” every man, woman and child knew the meaning of hunger and many perished every year. Yet the Norsemen were a hard and high-spirited race, and since there was little to attract them in their homes, they wandered abroad and sought other richer lands, sometimes landing and founding settlements, more often plundering and pillaging and returning to their northern lands.

The Saxons and Jutes and Angles, who had left their homes on the shores of the north Sea and settled in Britain several centuries earlier, became themselves a prey to the “sea-wolves” from Scandinavia, and fled inland carrying their valuables with them as soon as they caught sight of the long ships of the Northmen. France, Germany,(that is the three states of the Verdun partition, link to be added here; many years would pass before France and Germany would become nations.) and even Spain suffered form their raids, and in the churches men prayed “From the fury of the Northmen, good Lord deliver us,” just as men were praying in south-eastern Europe to be delivered “From the arrows of the Hungarians.” In 855 the Danes first wintered in England, and even the valiant King Alfred (871-901) could do no more than divide his kingdom with the invaders. (By the Treaty of Wedmore, 878.)

It was not only want which drove the Northmen from their homes, but also an inborn love of adventure, and they rowed their open, undecked ships boldly across the sea, steering only by sun and stars and caring nothing for danger and privation. The ships might carry 100 men, yet they drew so little water that they could be navigated a long way up even shallow rivers, and this added to the terror of the inhabitants, causing them to flee at the first news of approaching ships.

Some of the Northmen followed the coast of Norway as far as the White Sea; others reached the Orkneys and Shetlands and settled there as sheep-farmers; others bolder still sailed beyond the Faroes until they sighted “Snowland” (now Iceland) and (c.860) founded there a settlement. It was hard to gain a living in this cold and rocky land, but to the Norsemen difficulties existed only to be overcome.

One of the settlers, in punishment for a crime he had committed, was exiled form Iceland, and sailed still farther west till he found a yet more desolate coast. The exile, Eric the Red, named the new country “Greenland” (in hope that a “good name” would attract future settlers). He reported his discovery to the Icelanders, and a number of emigrants followed him to the colony he had founded on the western coast (935).

The son of Eric the Red, Leif, surnamed “the Lucky,” made even more striking discoveries than his father. A report was brought back by some voyager blown miles out of his course by contrary winds, of a mysterious land to the south-west. In the year 995 Leif set out on a voyage to prove the truth or error of this report, and found and named a stretch of coast, well wooded and with a sandy shore, “Markland,” and farther to the south a beautiful land of hill and stream, where grape-vines and flowers of all kinds grew in profusion. This he named “Wineland the Good,” and there can be little doubt that it was part of the North American coast. Thus the wanderings of the Northmen resulted in a discovery which, had it been followed up, must have altered the whole course of world history.


The Normans

While some of the Norsemen were sailing the western ocean, others had explored the Baltic coasts ans penetrated through Lapland into the heart of Russia. Others again had made their homes in northern France, in the province which bears the name—Normandy. Early in the tenth century (911) the French king, realizing that he could not rid himself of the settlers, had accepted homage form their leader, Rollo, and allowed him to style himself Duke of Normandy. Although they had settled down and no longer roamed as pirates, the Normans had lost none of their fire and energy. Now, they applied their efforts to making Normandy the best governed state in Europe. The love for adventure remained, too, and younger sons with no lands or ties to keep them at home wandered abroad, seeking their fortunes wherever occasion offered.

By the middle of the eleventh century the Normans had captured part of southern Italy and the whole of Sicily, and they set up there a kingdom which became the admiration of the whole world. At about the same time, their brethren in the north achieved the conquest of England, breaking the English power in a single battle (Hastings, 1066). Their kinsfolk, the Danes, had maintained a foothold in England since the ninth century, and had even placed a Dane upon the English throne, (This was Canute; 1017-1035) where he reigned most wisely for nearly twenty years, but they never succeeded in making so complete a conquest. The Normans had a peculiar genius for assimilating whatever was best in the civilization of the peoples they conquered, as they had shown in Sicily, where a population of the most heterogeneous, with many seemingly conflicting elements, lived in perfect harmony. In England they absorbed the best of the Saxon qualities and habits so rapidly that within a few generations the population was no longer either “Saxon” or “Norman,” but English.

Office clerk.

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