If you enjoy history, school trips to Normandy position you in a magical world that will also captivate your students’ imaginations.
1066 / 1944
For large numbers of students, history school trips to Normandy are associated with just two events: the Battle of Hastings and, possibly, D-Day. Pivotal as those two events were, there is so much more to explore here that might put much of British, Norman and French history into perspective.
A visit to Bayeux is essential. Yes, this is the home of the world-famous tapestry, but the exhibits there put 1066 into its important European context. For the first time, students may see that the 10th and 11th century world was a very different place. They’ll see that both Anglo-Saxon England and Normandy at the time were hugely influenced and controlled by the descendants of the “Norse Men” (sometimes called Vikings) who eventually became in Normandy, “the Normans”.
The dynastic links between the two originally Scandinavian factions led to the famous battle and a union between Normandy and England. Student will also be able to grasp the power of Duke (King) William and his vast lands, including great fortress cities such as Caen.
The 100 years’ war
When students travel to great locations such as Mont St Michel and Rouen, it’s possible to see how the events of 1066 indirectly led to the 100 years’ war. William’s descendants became vastly powerful and held more power than the Kings of France. However, though they held England by legal right and as independent kings, the Normans notionally owed homage to the French king for their lands in Normandy itself. Frictions inevitably led to war and the loss of Normandy to the direct rule of the French kings in the 13th century.
Over a century later, these tensions over dynastic rights would start one of the longest and most famous wars in history. Visiting cities like Rouen, forever associated with Joan of Arc, and even small towns such as Domfront, will show students just how much Normandy’s history has been linked with that of England.
This vast region’s history (Normandy is today divided into Upper and Lower) isn’t just about battles and conflict. In terms of learning history, school trips can also explore the importance of the preservation of tradition in the area. Touring towns like Honfleur near Le Havre will show a wonderfully preserved small harbour with a great tradition of fishing and art. By contrast, many of the smaller towns in the Calvados ‘departement’ have preserved rural charms and traditions around agriculture and cheese making. They offer an insight into a lifestyle that has virtually disappeared from many parts of the UK.
Conflict has played an on-going role in the development of this area though and nowhere is that better seen than along the invasion beaches of 1944. The sacrifices of the allies on Sword, Juno, Gold and Omaha beaches must never be forgotten and they remain poignant places to visit, with many interesting sights to see and museums. They help to put that component of the great conflict into perspective.
Today, Normandy is a tranquil part of France and one that is proud of its history and links to England and the wider UK.
For history, school trips and a good old-fashioned holiday, it’s a great place to visit.