National Geographic : 1932 Jan
THE LAND OF WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR What a courtship was William's! A seven-year siege of Matilda's hand, disdain from the lady, slights not to be endured, and finally a wrathy lover rushing into Matilda's presence, seizing her by the hair, dragging her about the room, striking her, flinging her to the floor. After that she said yes! Still farther north is Dives. Here, in those stirring days of Io66, the future victor at Hastings gathered together "an innumerable host of horsemen, slingers, archers, and foot soldiers," wild, adven turous spirits, the war strength of north ern Europe, eager for the battle over the sea. In the river's mouth lay some 700 ships. The largest could hold fifty knights with all their horses and men; the smallest boats were not even decked over and were loaded to the gunwales with stores and pro visions, including small grinding mills for the grain. For pictorial history of the Conquest, go to Bayeux and look at the 58 scenes embroidered on linen-the famous Bayeux tapestry. Probably no other fabric any where in the world surpasses it in interest and importance. Crude though it is in de sign, and partly defaced, it nevertheless recreates a momentous period in world history. That Queen Matilda may have worked on it with her own hands is now denied by some romance-destroying his torians. "EACH MONUMENT A BOOK, EACH STONE A SOUVENIR" But all Norman roads lead to Rouen at last. Rouen, "Gothic Queen of France" and the duchy's ancient capital, where "each monument is a book, each stone a souvenir." Yet, more than architecture, more than antiquities, Joan of Arc is the strongest lure; for Rouen is her town, satu rated with glorious and tragic memories of her. Her spirit still hovers over the market place where, condemned for "hav ing fallen back into the errors," she went to fiery martyrdom. Some 80 miles from Rouen the winding Seine meets the sea. And the sea means sailors, and sailors often mean Normans. Roving was in the Norman blood, a herit age from northern ancestors. Even after they settled down in France, there were always plenty of Normans keen for new adventures, preferably in lands over the waters. Their conquest of England is one proof of it. And if the sun to-day never sets on the British Empire, may not a strain of Norman blood be partly the cause of it ? "TRANSATLANTIC NORMANDY" North America should know; for from the towns clustering around and up and down from the Seine's mouth Normans followed the cod to the west, beyond the sun, to Newfoundland-the Terre Neuve to this day-and to Nova Scotia waters. One old chronicler in Honfleur found, "be fore ever Columbus was known, permits to fish for cod in the Terres Neuves . . . log books and reports of pilots who had re turned from there." The "big fishing" flourished during the i6th century, and before it ended Normans and other French men ruled the Grand Banks. Explorers and colonizers, too. Out of Havre sailed Jean Ribault, of Dieppe, "a man in truth expert in sea causes," to claim Florida's "River of May" for France. Pierre Belain, of Allouville, in less than nine years, made the first attempts to col onize the French Antilles. And peerless La Salle, son of Rouen, claimed an empire for France on the Mississippi. Canada should know ! A generation be fore Jacques Cartier reached the St. Law rence, Jean Denys, of Honfleur, was there. And though De Monts and Champlain were not Norman-born, the men who helped them plant Port Royal and Quebec were from Honfleur, Havre, Dieppe. Honfleur, in fact, "was always to be one of the nurs eries of Canada." "Can you wonder, then," the Normans ask, "that the St. Lawrence is almost as familiar to us as the Seine? You talk of 'hands across the seas.' They are not only English hands, but Norman. Read what our sons did in New France; read what your own poet says about Evangeline, 'wearing her Norman cap,' and her father singing the songs heard long ago in Nor man orchards. Why, our link with North America is so real that some of us still regard a part of it as Transatlantic Nor mandy."