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Rollo of Normandy

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Title: Rollo of Normandy  
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Subject: English Channel, History of France, Viking Age, Vikings, 860, 886, Battle of Hastings, Norman conquest of England, List of treaties, Robert II of France
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Rollo of Normandy

For other uses, see Rollo (disambiguation).
Rollo on the Six Dukes statue in Falaise town square.
Duke of Normandy
Reign 911–927
Predecessor None
Successor William I
House House of Normandy
Born c. 846
Died c. 931
Burial Rouen Cathedral

Rollo (c. 846 – c. 931), baptised Robert[1] and so sometimes numbered Robert I to distinguish him from his descendants, was a Norse nobleman of Norwegian or Danish descent who was founder and first ruler of the Viking principality which soon became known as Normandy. His descendants were the Dukes of Normandy, and following the Norman conquest of England in 1066, kings of England.


The name "Rollo" is a Latin translation from the Old Norse name Hrólfr, modern Icelandic name Hrólfur and Scandinavian name Rolf (cf. the latinization of Hrólfr into the similar Roluo in the Gesta Danorum), but Norman people called him by his popular name Rou(f) (see Wace's Roman de Rou).[2] Sometimes his name is turned into the Frankish name Rodolf(us) or Radulf(us) or the French Raoul, that are derived from it.[Note 1]

Historical evidence

Rollo was a powerful Viking leader of contested origin. Dudo of Saint-Quentin, in his De moribus et actis primorum Normannorum ducum,[3] tells of a powerful Danish nobleman at loggerheads with the king of Denmark, who had two sons, Gurim and Rollo; upon his death, Rollo was expelled and Gurim killed. William of Jumièges also mentions Rollo's prehistory in his Gesta Normannorum Ducum, but states that he was from the Danish town of Fakse. Wace, writing some 300 years after the event in his Roman de Rou, also mentions the two brothers (as Rou and Garin), as does the Orkneyinga Saga.

Norwegian and Icelandic historians identified Rollo instead with Ganger Hrolf (Hrolf, the Walker), a son of Rognvald Eysteinsson, Earl of Møre, in Western Norway, based on medieval Norwegian and Icelandic sagas. The oldest source of this version is the Latin Historia Norvegiae, written in Norway at the end of the 12th century. This Hrolf fell foul of the Norwegian king Harald Fairhair, and became a Jarl in Normandy. The nickname "the Walker", "Ganger" in Norse, came from being so big that no horse could carry him.

The question of Rollo's origins was a matter of heated dispute between Norwegian and Danish historians of the 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly in the run-up to Normandy's millennium anniversary in 1911. Today, the debate continues.

Claimed Yngling lineage leading to Rollo

The Yngling "Fairhair dynasty" lineage introduced in Hversu Noregr byggðist ("How Norway was settled") and the Orkneyinga and Heimskringla sagas suggests a line of Rollo going back to Fornjót, the primeval "king" who "reigned over" Finland and Kvenland. The claimed line leading to Rollo includes Rognvald Eysteinsson, the founder of the Earldom of Orkney.

Raids along the Seine

In 885, Rollo was one of the lesser leaders of the Viking fleet which besieged Paris under Sigfred. Legend has it that an emissary was sent by the king to find the chieftain and negotiate terms. When he asked for this information, the Vikings replied that they were all chieftains in their own right. In 886, when Sigfred retreated in return for tribute, Rollo stayed behind and was eventually bought off and sent to harry Burgundy.

Later, he returned to the Seine with his followers (known as Danes, or Norsemen). He invaded the area of northern France now known as Normandy. In 911 the Vikings under Rollo again launched an attack on Paris before laying siege to Chartres. The Bishop of Chartres, Joseaume, made an appeal for help which was answered by Robert, Marquis of Neustria, Richard, Duke of Burgundy and Manasses, Count of Dijon. On 20 July 911, at the Battle of Chartres, Frankish forces defeated Rollo despite the absence of many French barons and also the absence of the French King Charles the Simple.[4]

The Principality of Normandy

In the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte (911) with King Charles, Rollo pledged feudal allegiance to the king, changed his name to the Frankish version, and converted to Christianity, probably with the baptismal name Robert.[5] In return, King Charles granted Rollo land between the Epte and the sea as well as parts of Brittany and according to Dudo of St. Quentin, the hand of the King's daughter, Gisela, although this marriage and Gisela herself are unknown to Frankish sources. He was also the titular ruler of Normandy, centered around the city of Rouen. There exists some argument among historians as to whether Rollo was a "duke" (dux) or whether his position was equivalent to that of a "count" under Charlemagne.

According to legend, when required to kiss the foot of King Charles, as a condition of the treaty, he refused to perform so great a humiliation, and when Charles extended his foot to Rollo, Rollo ordered one of his warriors to do so in his place. His warrior then lifted Charles' foot up to his mouth causing the king to fall to the ground.[6]

After 911, Rollo stayed true to his word of defending the shores of the Seine river in accordance to the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte. However, he also continued attacks on Flanders.

After Charles was deposed by Robert I in 922, Rollo considered his oath to the King of France at an end. It started a period of expansion westwards. Negotiations with French barons ended with Rollo being given Le Mans and Bayeux and continued with the seizure of Bessin in 924. The following year saw the Normans attack Picardy.

Rollo began to divide the land between the Epte and Risle rivers among his chieftains and settled there with a de facto capital in Rouen. Eventually Rollo's men intermarried with the local women, and became more settled as Normans.


Two spouses are reported for Rollo:

1. Poppa, said by chronicler Dudo of Saint-Quentin to have been a daughter of Count Berenger, captured during a raid at Bayeux. She was his concubine or wife,[7] perhaps by more danico.[8] They had issue:

2. (traditionally) Gisela of France (d. 919), the daughter of Charles III of France


Sometime around 927, Rollo passed the fief in Normandy to his son, William Longsword. Rollo may have lived for a few years after that, but certainly died before 933. According to the historian Adhemar, 'As Rollo's death drew near, he went mad and had a hundred Christian prisoners beheaded in front of him in honour of the gods whom he had worshipped, and in the end distributed a hundred pounds of gold around the churches in honour of the true God in whose name he had accepted baptism.' Even though Rollo had converted to Christianity, some of his prior religious roots surfaced at the end.[9]


Rollo is the great-great-great-grandfather of William the Conqueror. Through William, he is an ancestor of the present-day British royal family, as well as an ancestor of all current European monarchs and a great many pretenders to abolished European thrones. A genetic investigation into the remains of Rollo's grandson Richard I and great-grandson Richard II has been announced, with the intention of discerning the origins of the famous Viking warrior.[10]

The "Clameur de Haro" in the Channel Islands is, supposedly, an appeal to Rollo.



Depictions in fiction

Rollo is the subject of the 17th century play Rollo Duke of Normandy written by John Fletcher, Philip Massinger, Ben Jonson, and George Chapman.

A character based on the historical Rollo, played by Clive Standen, is Ragnar Lodbrok's brother in the 2013 TV series Vikings.[11]

See also

Normandy portal
Brittany portal

External links

  • D.C. Douglas, "Rollo of Normandy", English Historical Review, Vol. 57 (1942), pp. 414–436
  • Robert Helmerichs, [Rollo as Historical Figure]
  • Rosamond McKitterick, The Frankish Kingdom under the Carolingians, 751–987, (Longman) 1983
  • Dudonis gesta Normannorum – Dudo of St. Quentin Gesta Normannorum Latin version at Bibliotheca Augustana
  • Dudo of St. Quentin's Gesta Normannorum – An English Translation
  • Gwyn Jones. Second edition: A History of the Vikings. Oxford University Press. (1984).
  • William W. Fitzhugh and Elizabeth Ward. Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga. Smithsonian Institution Press. (2000)
  • Eric Christiansen. The Norsemen in the Viking Age. Blackwell Publishers Ltd. (2002)
  • Agnus Konstam. Historical Atlas of the Viking World. Checkmark Books. (2002)
  • Holgar Arbman. Ancient People and Places: The Vikings. Thames and Hudson. (1961)
  • Eric Oxenstierna. The Norsemen, New York Graphics Society Publishers, Ltd. (1965)
  • Stewart Baldwin Henry Project: "Rollo "of Normandy", on disputed parentage of Rollo
  • Descendants of Rollo
  • ISBN 0-292-73061-6
  • (previously Saganet): Orkneyinga saga
  • English translation:
  • Orkneyinga Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney. Trans. Pálsson, Hermann and Edwards, Paul. Hogarth Press, London, 1978. ISBN 0-7012-0431-1. Republished 1981, Harmondsworth: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-044383-5.
  • Orkneyinga Saga. Trans A.B. Taylor. London, 1937.
  • The Orkneyingers Saga (Icelandic Sagas, and other historical documents relating to the settlements and descents of the Northmen on the British Isles, Volume III). Translated by Northvegr.
  • "Fundinn Noregr" ('Discovery of Norway'), opening portion of The Orkneyingers' Saga. Trans. Chappell, Gavin (2004) Northvegr: The Discovery of Norway.
  • "Frá Fornjóti ok hans ættmönnum" in the Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda, Old Norse text of Hversu Noregr byggdisk (including the Ættartolur) and Fundinn Noregr at University of Oregon: Norse: Fornaldarsögur norðurlanda.



French nobility
Preceded by
New title
Duke of Normandy
Succeeded by
William I

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