1. Home
  2. Grants in Focus
  3. Major Research Fellowships
  4. Landscapes of the Normans: ways of seeing

Grant in Focus Apply Info

Dr Leonie Hicks
Canterbury Christ Church University
Major Research Fellowship

Landscapes of the Normans: ways of seeing

Drawing on theoretical frameworks from archaeology, cultural geography and eco-criticism, Leonie Hicks reveals the landscape as a historical actor in its own right

Grey brick castle.
The castle at Falaise.

The Normans are renowned for their monument architecture which stands as a physical reminder of the Norman past within the modern landscape. Perhaps less familiar is the wealth of detail found in descriptions of the landscape in Norman chronicles from Normandy, England, Southern Italy and the Holy Land. Writers like Dudo of Saint-Quentin, Orderic Vitalis or Geoffrey Malaterra incorporated real and imagined landscapes into their histories. These accounts related to both famous events, such as the Harrying of the North in 1069, and the realms of the fabulous and supernatural, my favourite being an angel and devil fighting over a monk’s soul on a bridge over one of the rivers in Rouen. By incorporating elements of the landscape as part of their histories, chroniclers highlighted key themes, notably the use of resources, lordship, sacrality, legitimacy, conquest and, sometimes, humour. 

Key to these descriptions and central to our understanding of the use of landscape in the texts is the act of seeing. The chroniclers actively engaged their audience through language designed to conjure in their mind’s eye a construct of the landscape that was used to explain and connect with concepts relating to the control, use or movement through territories. This technique also engendered emotional responses in those who heard or read these histories and encouraged them to ruminate on the messages of the text. For these medieval historians, the landscape was a dynamic entity that actively shaped history and could be used to create narratives about the past. This is particularly significant when the same event, for example, the siege of Rouen in 946, in which the very young Duke Richard I potentially faced losing Normandy, was retold by different writers over many years. The nuances, different emphases and genres of these accounts reveal how time and context affected and changed the understanding of people, place and events.

Landscape view of green fields.
Looking across Normandy from Exmes, seat of the county of Hiémois held by various members of the ducal family.

Recent years have seen extensive research into medieval chronicles focusing on their creation, manuscript tradition, transmission and how they helped create community. My project is the first to examine Norman historical culture comparatively in relation to the place of the landscape in historical writing across four distinct geographical areas and two centuries. In so doing, I aim to generate a fuller understanding of where ideas of the landscape derived, considering the chroniclers’ own experiences, their deep knowledge of the classics and the Bible, and the connection between people, place and the past.

Current grant holders

Keep in touch
Sign up for our funding bulletin to receive:
  • details of scheme opening dates and deadlines
  • advance notice of changes to award criteria
  • listings of grants made
  • a PDF of our newsletter, containing short articles describing recently funded research.
Our e-bulletin is aimed at research support staff, current grant holders and those considering making an application.
The Leverhulme Trust
1 Pemberton Row
General enquiries
020 7042 9888