Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Viking Origins: Rollo Ragnsvaldsson

Open disclaimer: This information is based on accepted lineage for royal lines. I do not claim that these lines are 100% accurate but, as most amateur genealogists, I am working under the assumption that they are, until I prove that they are not. I am not a true historian, I am just trying to research my family lines. Especially in documenting old lineages, all history seems to be in dispute.
I previously wrote how I discovered that my mother and father shared a common ancestor in Henry II, King of England. Last year, I found that they have another ancestor in common, further back, in Rollo Ragnsvaldsson, the first Duke of Normandy (or Count- I’ll only say once that historians are actively arguing about whether there even were duchys and dukedoms yet). His name is also seen as Rognsvaldsson, with the ‘a’ and ‘o’ being interchangeable. I use both. Rollo Ragnvaldsson is my 34x Great-Grandfather on my mother’s side and my 40x Great-Grandfather on my father’s side.
Rollo Ragnvaldsson was the son of
Ragnvald I Eysteinsson, the son of
Eystein Glumra Ivarsson, the son of
Ivar Halfdansson, the son of
Halfdan Sveidsson, the son of
Sveide Sviadrasson, the son of
Svidri Heytsson, the son of
Heytir Gorrasson, my 41/47x Great-Grandfather.
Rollo ‘Rolf’ Ragnvaldsson was also known as Hrolfr the Ganger/Walker. He was born in Maer, Nord-Trondelag in northern Norway, about 846 C.E. Rollo was the son of Ragnvald Eysteinsson, the Earl/Jarl of More, and Ragnhild Hilder Hrolfsdottir, daughter of Hrolf Nefia. The family’s insignia was a wolf’s head. The Orkneyinga saga mentions: “Earl Rognvald joined Harold fair-hair when he seized the land, but he (Harold) gave him lordship over both the Maeren and Romsdale; he had to wife Ragnhilda the daughter of Hrolf nosy; their son was Hrolf who won Normandy, he was so tall that horses could not carry him; for that he was called Ganging-Hrolf; from him are come the Rouen Jarls and the English Kings…”
There is a tale that King Harald vowed to leave his hair untrimmed until all of Norway was under his rule. Ten years later, he gave Earl Ragnvald the honor of cutting his hair and trimming up his beard. It is said that Harald’s sons took offense to the honor and burned Ragnvald, and many of his men, within his own home. The title Earl of More was passed on to Rollo’s brother Thori. The details cannot be verified, but it is known that Ragnvald died in his home, in a house fire.
Around 876, Rollo fell on the wrong side of King Harald ‘Fairhair’ Harfagre. Another folktale says he took advantage of the favor shown them by their King and took some cattle from Harald’s conquered lands. Whatever the true slight, he was banished from Norway to the Hebrides, where he found other men who did not wish to swear fealty to a King and they joined together in raiding Flanders before turning to France.
Rollo was a lesser leader in a Viking fleet of 700 ships that besieged Paris under Sigfred, who was given tribute to retreat from the city and leave it in peace. Rollo did not leave with Sigfred. Like others, he stayed behind and took raiding jobs for hire. He participated in the Viking raid on Bayeux. At the defeat and death of Berenger de Bayeaux, Rollo took his daughter Poppa de Valois of Normandy, approximately nineteen years old at the time, as his consort, though there is no record of an official marriage. Poppa’s grandfather was Pepin, Count of Peronne, the great-grandson of Charlemagne.
Legend says that unlike other Vikings, at this point, exiled from his home, Rollo Ragnsvaldsson was more interested in land he could settle on than plunder. I could not find history that agreed on a true timeline of events. That the following raids occurred is not in doubt.
Around the spring of 896, he participated in a raid on Rouen. The people watched as low ships with serpent heads and reptile tails filled the Seine. An Archbishop went to the Northman camp, alone, and received safe passage and fair treatment. Rollo/Rolf agreed to spare the people and their belongings if they turned their city over to him. He made Rouen his base camp and became known for his friendliness with the people: “Wherever he met with resistance, he showed, indeed, the relentless cruelty of the heathen pirate; but where he found submission, he was a kind master, and these qualities contributed to gain for him an easy and rapid conquest of Neustria, as the district of which Rouen was the capital was then called.”
Once he held Rouen, Rollo joined Vikings on another raid of Paris. They camped outside the fortified city for thirteen months, hoping to starve the people out. They eventually gave up without instigating battle and left Paris for the lands of Burgundy. Around 900 C.E. his son William I Longsword (my ancestor) was born. His other children with Poppa de Valois during this time period were Gerloc de Normandie who was baptized as Adela (my ancestor), Robert of Corbeil, Crespina de Normandie, Gerletta de Normandie, and Kathlin de Normandie.
In 911, Rollo was created the 1st Duc de Normandie in the treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, by King Charles the Simple of France. On the condition that he would be baptized in the Christian faith and defend the Seine River against other invading forces, Rollo Ragnvaldsson was granted Rouen and lands around it. This land would be known in our histories as Normandy.
Legend says that when Rollo was bid to pay fealty to the King, and kiss his foot, he refused. He had one of his men do it in his stead, but all Northmen were proud. It is said that the man, rather than stooping down to kiss the foot, instead grabbed it and raised it to his lips, upending the King to his comrades’ delight. One tale did say the King was on horseback, and was almost upset, but claim it was not as disastrous an affair as it might have been. Either way, some stories say the Franks ignored the insult, and others say Rollo smoothed things over by apologizing for his country’s odd customs or bad manners.
The Northmen who created the origins of Normandy adopted the manners and behaviors of the nobles of England and France, even if they did not abandon all of their own ways. Rollo was baptized and given the Frankish name of Robert. Any man who was baptized in Rollo’s party was gifted with lands of his own. Rollo/Robert married Gisela, daughter of Charles the Simple. She was four years old at the time. It is historically agreed that they did not care at all for each other and she died childless.
In 922, Charles the Simple was deposed from the throne by Robert I. Rollo considered his oath to the King fulfilled with Charles’ death. He began a westward expansion into Le Mans, Bayeux, Bessinin, and Picardy. There are many differing stories about Rollo’s exploits as a master, but they all agree that he created an era of peace on his own lands. Whether it was a pile of gold or simply a priceless gold bracelet, tales tell that Rollo had precious goods left out in the public eye, and they were never stolen. One reason no one dared steal it was because none of his people had a need to. His serfs considered him a friend of the people. Another reason was that the punishment for doing so would be swift and final.
Rollo turned his Dukedom over to his son William/Guillaume I Longsword a year before his death. The historian Adhemar writes that at the end of his life, Rollo went mad. He ordered the beheading of one-hundred Christian prisoners, in order to honor the gods he had worshipped. In repentance for the act, he gifted various churches one-hundred pounds of gold to honor the “true god in whose name he had accepted baptism.” Historians agree that he may have embraced Christianity, but he never fully dismissed his pagan beliefs.

The Duke of Normandy, Rollo Ragnvaldsson, died and was entombed at Rouen, Caux, France. The epitaph on his tomb reads: In the temple’s womb rests Rollo/ Father and the first Duke of Normandy, devastated and founded by him/ Out of strength from this labour he died 933, aged over 80 years. His descendants, including William the Conqueror, were also Dukes of Normandy. Following the Norman conquest of England in 1066, they became Norman Kings of England as well.


  1. I am also related to rollo and king henry from my Osborn side would be interesting to compare lines. Im on face book if you want to contact me

  2. This is great! Rollo is also my 34th Great Grandfather. That is as far back as I had gotten, until your article! I was wondering where you found his lineage? I pickup Rollo's line (and what a line it is) by way of Sir Thomas Wyatt and his wife Elizabeth. Feel free to reach out if you like. Thank you again!


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