The people of Scandinavia (Norway, Denmark and Sweden) found it difficult to produce enough food their needs. In the 8th century Scandinavians, who became known as Vikings or Northmen, began to send out raiding parties in search of food and plunder. When they discovered the superior quality of land in Europe some Vikings decided not to return to Scandinavia.
The Vikings who stayed in France became known as the Normans (Northmen). The first great Norman leader was Rollo the Ganger. After a fierce battle in 911 between the French and the Normans, a peace-settlement was agreed. In exchange for Rollo becoming a Christian the Normans were granted their own lands on the French coast.
The Normans married local women and gradually adopted the French language. They sometimes fought for the French king but were an independent people and preferred to follow their own leader who became known as the Duke of Normandy.
The Normans were successful farmers but they still felt the need to raid other lands. The main reason for this was their belief in primogeniture - when a Norman died all his property was given to his eldest son. This often resulted in younger sons leaving to go in search of their own lands.
As Christians, Normans feared that when they died they would be punished for stealing land and for other crimes they had committed. To help protect themselves the Normans used some of the wealth they obtained from their raids to build churches and monasteries. Norman leaders also went on pilgrimages to the Holy Lands.
In 1035, Robert the Devil, fifth Duke of Normandy, died while on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Robert was a direct descendant of Rollo the Ganger. Traditionally, the duke's eldest son became the next leader. In Robert's case this proved a problem as he had not produced any sons in marriage. However, he did have an illegitimate son called William. Leading Normans decided that William, who was only seven years old at the time, was to become the new Duke of Normandy.