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  • Writer's pictureSimon Vincent

Rollo - Founder of the British Monarchy

This article is based on a story from the new book Kingdom of Vikings - the Rise and Fall of Norway. Click here for more info: Kingdom of Vikings: The Rise and Fall of Norway: Vincent, Simon: 9781527280175: Books

Art based on Rollo from HISTORY's "Vikings" series.

Rollo is one of the most famous Vikings in history. His life story is both extraordinary and impactful. Through his daring exploits and achievements, a new, relentless and powerful duchy came into existence in Northern France – a duchy that would become the source of French military strength and the home of many royal families throughout Europe. Queen Elizabeth II needs to thank this Northman, as she is a direct ancestor of Rollo.

Reckless chieftain

Hrolf was a Norwegian born on Maere (Møre, a regional name deriving from the Latin “Mare”, meaning sea. Møre was the home of Norway’s finest seamen), in Norway. He was born and raised by a rather wealthy and powerful family.

When the notorious Viking king Harold Fairhair conquered Norway, Hrolfs family decided to ally with Harald. Meanwhile, Hrolf went into Viking (meaning, to go raiding). After his first raids he returned to Norway, but made the fatal mistake of raiding in Viken on Harald Fairhair’s territory. Infuriated, King Harald ordered to have Hrolf exiled. Hrolf was lucky – normally, Fairhair would turn to execution.

Hrolf had quite a frightening physical appearance. He was a huge man, strong and fierce. The legend has it that he was so big that he could not mount a horse, hence given the name “Hrolf the Walker” (Gange-Rolf). Of course, such legends are humorous. Viking nicknames were often based on exaggerating a physical appearance.

Having been exiled from his homeland, this massive man joined a team of Vikings and set off to become a powerful Viking chief.

He and his comrades embarked on a series of bloody Viking raids. He plundered in Ireland, England and Scotland, before heading South to harass the Franks. With mercenaries and other raiders gathered from Britannia, he sailed along the Seine River in France, heading for the lucrative city of Paris. By this time, Hrolf had won himself a feared reputation. Many Europeans dreaded him and his company, and numerous other bands of Vikings wanted to join him on his many exploits.

In 876, Hrolf joined two other, mighty Viking chieftains, Sigfred and Sinric, and besieged Paris. This was the second massive Viking siege of the great metropolis, as the famous Ragnar Lodbrok had also attempted to capture it ten years earlier. This time however, Count Odo and the Franks successfully defended the capital and eventually bought the Vikings away by paying them 7000 pounds of silver. Sigfred and Sinric returned home, but Hrolf was not so quick to leave. He had business with the Franks.

In the beginning of the 10th century, the King of Frankia, Charles the Simple, was so plagued by Viking raiding that he offered the wealthy city of Rouen to the plundering Norwegian. In return for Rouen, Hrolf had to convert to Christianity, become a vassal, provide military assistance when needed and immediately stop all raiding. Hrolf, who had fought viscously with the Franks for years and probably needed a long-lasting solution to the wars, was attracted by the offer. It would give him all that he wanted: fame, wealth and power. He accepted.

Frankish lord

Statue of Rollo in Rouen, France.

Hrolf and his Norwegian veterans quickly integrated. Hrolf set the example when he married the daughter of the Duke of Rennes, encouraging his subordinates to also take local wives.

He was baptised, learned Frankish and had his name Latinized into "Rollo".

Rollo soon gained influence in the Frankish court and politics. When King Charles was deposed, Rollo took an active role as the avenger of the King. The Norsemen killed the new Frankish usurper and helped Ralph, a legitimate heir, become the new King. To thank Rollo for his remarkable assistance, Ralph gave him more towns and fiefs around Rouen.

Numerous towns were also founded and many came from Norway and Denmark to establish themselves in Rollo’s lands. After a few years, his lands were called “Normandy”, a name derived from “Northman.” Many French towns were also named after these Scandinavians. Hauteville, for instance, is named after the fierce Viking Hjallt, one of Rollo’s toughest warriors.

Duke of Normandy

Norman knight attacking outside Antioch, by J.J Bassy

Hrolf the Walker, or “Rollo”, lived at peace until his death in 927. His son, William Longsword, and his grandson, Richard the Fearless, firmly established the Duchy of Normandy, and turned the duchy into a military-intensive region.

Normans, as they were called, would exert enormous influence over the continent. The union of Viking warlike aggression with the sophisticated military instruments of the Franks produced a remarkable breed of elite fighters. Normans were often hired as mercenaries to fight in Europe's toughest combats. The Normans, in turn, seized the opportunity to seize power. For example, Robert and Roger - two brothers who descended from Hjallt - were hired by the Italians to drive out Arab forces in Sicily. Having succeeded, the two ingenious brothers founded the Kingdoms of Sicily and Naples in 1031, and ruled it autonomously for centuries.

Normans were also the core strength of the First Crusade. In many occassions, it was the relentless charges of the Norman knights that granted the crusaders their victory.

But perhaps the most famous intervention of the Normans occurred in 1066. Duke William the Bastard, the great-great grandson of Rollo, crossed the English Channel to seize the throne of England. In the battle of Hastings, he defeated the Anglo-Saxons and successfully took power. William - now known as William the Conqueror - founded the Norman Royal Dynasty over England. This Norman dynasty still rules today. It became the uninterrupted British Monarchy.

Who would have known that the reckless Viking chieftain from Maere in Norway would become the founder of the British Monarchy and the direct ancestor of Queen Elizabeth II?

KINGDOM OF VIKINGS, the new book from Simon Vincent, is now available on Amazon WORLDWIDE.

It includes scores of stories, like the one of Rollo. It shows how the Viking Era not only created Norway - but left a major mark on all of Europe.


Also available in DE, ES, FR, IT, JP and shipping worldwide.

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