Archaeological finds, such as cave paintings, prove that humans were present in the region in prehistoric times.
Celts (also known as Belgae and Gauls) invaded Normandy in successive waves from the 4th to the 3rd century BC. When Julius Caesar invaded Gaul, there were nine different Celtic tribes living in Normandy. The Romanisation of Normandy was achieved by the usual methods: Roman roads and a policy of urbanisation. Classicists have knowledge of many Gallo-Roman villas in Normandy.
In the late 3rd century, barbarian raids devastated Normandy. Coastal settlements were raided by Saxon pirates. Christianity also began to enter the area during this period. In 406, Germanic tribes began invading from the east, while the Saxons subjugated the Norman coast. As early as 487, the area between the River Somme and the River Loire came under the control of the Frankish lord Clovis.
Vikings started to raid the Seine valley during the middle of the 9th century. As early as 841, a Viking fleet appeared at the mouth of the Seine, the principal route by which they entered the kingdom. After attacking and destroying monasteries, including one at Jumièges, they took advantage of the power vacuum created by the disintegration of Charlemagne's empire to take northern France. The fiefdom of Normandy was created for the Viking leader Hrólfr Ragnvaldsson, or Rollo (also known as Robert of Normandy). Rollo had besieged Paris but in 911 entered vassalage to the king of the West Franks, Charles the Simple, through the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte. In exchange for his homage and fealty, Rollo legally gained the territory which he and his Viking allies had previously conquered. The name "Normandy" reflects Rollo's Viking (i.e. "Norseman") origins. To this day, in Norwegian, the word nordmann (pron. Norman) denotes a Norwegian person.
The descendants of Rollo and his followers adopted the local Gallo-Romance language and intermarried with the area's native Gallo-Roman inhabitants. They became the Normans – a Norman-speaking mixture of Norsemen and indigenous Franks, Celts and Romans.
Rollo's descendant William became king of England in 1066 after defeating Harold Godwinson, the last of the Anglo-Saxon kings, at the Battle of Hastings, while retaining the fiefdom of Normandy for himself and his descendants.
Norman possessions in the 12th century
Besides the conquest of England and the subsequent subjugation of Wales and Ireland, the Normans expanded into other areas. Norman families, such as that of Tancred of Hauteville, Rainulf Drengot and
Guimond de Moulins played important parts in the conquest of southern Italy and the Crusades.
The Drengot lineage, de Hauteville's sons William Iron Arm, Drogo, and Humphrey, Robert Guiscard and Roger the Great Count progressively claimed territories in southern Italy until founding the Kingdom of Sicily in 1130. They also carved out a place for themselves and their descendants in the Crusader states of Asia Minor and the Holy Land.
The 14th-century explorer Jean de Béthencourt established a kingdom in the Canary Islands in 1404. He received the title King of the Canary Islands from Pope Innocent VII but recognized Henry III of Castile as his overlord, who had provided him aid during the conquest.
13th to 17th centuries
In 1204, during the reign of John of England, mainland Normandy was taken from England by France under King Philip II. Insular Normandy (the Channel Islands) remained however under English control. In 1259, Henry III of England recognized the legality of French possession of mainland Normandy under the Treaty of Paris. His successors, however, often fought to regain control of their ancient fiefdom.
The Charte aux Normands granted by Louis X of France in 1315 (and later re-confirmed in 1339) – like the analogous Magna Carta granted in England in the aftermath of 1204 – guaranteed the liberties and privileges of the province of Normandy.
French Normandy was occupied by English forces during the Hundred Years' War in 1345–1360 and again in 1415–1450. Normandy lost three-quarters of its population during the war. Afterward prosperity returned to Normandy until the Wars of Religion. When many Norman towns (Alençon, Rouen, Caen, Coutances, Bayeux) joined the Protestant Reformation, battles ensued throughout the province. In the Channel Islands, a period of Calvinism following the Reformation was suppressed when Anglicanism was imposed following the English Civil War.
Samuel de Champlain left the port of Honfleur in 1604 and founded Acadia. Four years later, he founded Québec City. From then onwards, Normans engaged in a policy of expansion in North America. They continued the exploration of the New World: René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle travelled in the area of the Great Lakes, then on the Mississippi River. Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville and his brother Lemoyne de Bienville founded Louisiana, Biloxi, Mobile and New Orleans. Territories located between Québec and the Mississippi Delta were opened up to establish Canada and Louisiana. Colonists from Normandy were among the most active in New France, comprising Acadia, Canada, and Louisiana.
Honfleur and Le Havre were two of the principal slave trade ports of France.
Although agriculture remained important, industries such as weaving, metallurgy, sugar refining, ceramics, and shipbuilding were introduced and developed.
In the 1780s, the economic crisis and the crisis of the Ancien Régime struck Normandy as well as other parts of the nation, leading to the French Revolution. Bad harvests, technical progress and the effects of the Eden Agreement signed in 1786 affected employment and the economy of the province. Normans laboured under a heavy fiscal burden.
In 1790 the five departments of Normandy replaced the former province.
13 July 1793, the Norman Charlotte Corday assassinated Marat.
The Normans reacted little to the many political upheavals which characterized the 19th century. Overall they warily accepted the changes of régime (First French Empire, Bourbon Restoration, July Monarchy, French Second Republic, Second French Empire, French Third Republic).
There was an economic revival (mechanization of textile manufacture, first trains...) after the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars (1792–1815).
And new economic activity stimulated the coasts: seaside tourism. The 19th century marks the birth of the first beach resorts.
Allied invasion of Normandy, D-Day
During the Second World War, following the armistice of 22 June 1940, continental Normandy was part of the German occupied zone of France. The Channel Islands were occupied by German forces between 30 June 1940 and 9 May 1945. The town of Dieppe was the site of the unsuccessful Dieppe Raid by Canadian and British armed forces.
The Allies, in this case involving Britain, the United States, Canada and Free France, coordinated a massive build-up of troops and supplies to support a large-scale invasion of Normandy in the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944 under the code name Operation Overlord. The Germans were dug into fortified emplacements above the beaches. Caen, Cherbourg, Carentan, Falaise and other Norman towns endured many casualties in the Battle of Normandy, which continued until the closing of the so-called Falaise gap between Chambois and Mont Ormel. The liberation of Le Havre followed. This was a significant turning point in the war and led to the restoration of the French Republic.
The remainder of Normandy was liberated only on 9 May 1945 at the end of the war, when the Channel Island occupation effectively ended.
Between 1956 and 2015 Normandy was divided into two administrative regions: Lower Normandy and Upper Normandy; the regions were merged into one single region on 1 January 2016. Upper Normandy (Haute-Normandie) consisted of the French departments of Seine-Maritime and Eure, and Lower Normandy (Basse-Normandie) of the departments of Orne, Calvados, and Manche.