The Vikings established settlements in Newfoundland at the turn of the 1st millenium and left. 600 years later, their descendants cross the Atlantic again to colonize large territories claimed in the name of the French Crown.
The presence of Vikings in America is undeniable.
It all starts with Normandy.
As with all things relating to the past, we must delve back into a wee bit of history… I promise to keep it clean, simple and straightforward. Promise.
The northwestern part of modern-day France facing the English channel is populated by Celts and conquered by the romans in 56 BCE.
Asterix the Gaul is a popular series of French comics that (humorously) revisits the story of the last Gaulish village to resist Roman occupation.
The Fall of Rome
When the roman empire falls (5th century), the territory, known at the time as Haute and Basse-Neutrie, is first colonized by the Germanic tribes of the Franks and later the Saxons (up until the 7th century). Christendom is gaining in strength as Frankish lords commision the building of a multitude of abbeys, which rapidly gain measurable wealth.
The word Normandy is owed to the invading “Nortmanni”, the men of the North.
The Viking invasions on the Frankish kingdom are conducted in 2 waves: 790-930 AD and 980-1030 AD. The rich abbeys are targeted by the raiding invaders. The next centuries hover between pillaging and war moratoriums. Allegiances are forged by unlikely allies and betrayals ensue as expected.
Historically, 911 AD is a decisive year for Vikings and Franks alike. Viking chief Rollo and Carolingian king Charles the Simple strike an agreement. King Charles trades the county of Rouen (roughly modern-day High Normandy) for Rollo’s conversion to Christianity and his pledge of loyalty to the crown. Rollo must now fight his Viking contemporaries who seek to enter the estuary of the Seine.
I imagine Rollo gloating, “A bath for a kingdom.” And not with the desperation of Richard III’s plea for a horse…
Scandinavian settlers in Normandy
Normans extend their dominion to neighboring kingdoms, invading lands under Breton rule. Their expansionist politics are met head on by Frankish lords, and soon, Rollo’s dynasty calls upon King Harald the 1st (King Harald Fairhair of Danemark, after which the Draken Harald is named) to help fend off the attacks. Scandinavian colonization of Normandy occurs in waves in the fist millennium, with settlers coming from Danemark, Norway and Sweden. The northern settlers alter the toponymy of the region (names of villages and cities change and bear a strong Scandinavian influence).
The fusion of Scandinavian and local skills paves the way for Normandy’s next conquest: in 1066 AD, William II of Normandy (later deemed the Conqueror) invades England and becomes king.
The Viking legacy in Quebec
Normans in New France
In the 16th century, France opens trades posts in the New World but fails to establish permanent settlements. Quebec city is ultimately founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain. The following 155 years see the arrival of French settlers. It is documented that over 8500 settlers colonized the Saint Lawrence River valley (until the year 1763 AD), of which up to 20% are Normans, 15% are from the Ile-de-Paris region and the rest are from various coastal lands. Norman settlers have a distinct dialect, different from the French spoken in the King’s court. Many Norman words and expressions survive to this day in Jerriais, the language spoken in the isles of the English channel (Jersey Island, Guernsey & Alderney) and in Québécois, the French spoken in Quebec.
Linguistically, French is the most germanic of the romance languages and, reciprocally, English is the most latin of germanic languages. The blend of Latin-Old Norse-Frisian-Old English simmered into interesting linguistic cross-overs between the lands on either side of the English channel, and later across the Atlantic into Canada.
The legacy of the Scandinavian colonization of Normandy is alive today, in family names such as Théroux, Anctil, Auber, Roberge (names rooted in Norse etymology, and still commonly encountered in Quebec to this day).
The Draken Harald arrives in Quebec City on June 14th, 2016.
More to come on this historical moment.