Ahhhh my friend, Ines Jager of Viking Aftermath and Outlander Aftermath groups on facebook, recently posted this picture. I was immediately reminded of our Vikings Rollo and a lesser known version of his history. We are all familiar with the traditional version of him as a Viking warrior who participated in raids of Paris and ended up founding the Duchy of Normandy. There is another version of his history though that connects him to the history of Scotland. So, in honor of those who are fans of Vikings and Outlander, or those are just interested in anything that pertains to Rollo, I am going to present the other version of Rollo’s history here.
This other version of his history comes from various Norse sagas and Norse legends. These legends give us a picture of his earlier history prior to becoming Robert I of Normandy. According to the Icelandic Sagas Rollo (died before 933; Norse: Hrólfr), known in as Ganger Hrólf, and baptised Robert, was a Norse Viking who was the first ruler of a region of northern France which would become Normandy. Rollo came from a noble warrior family of Scandinavian origins. After visiting Scotland and Ireland, he took part in Viking raids on northern France and emerged as a leader of the bands of Norsemen who were beginning to settle in the area around the city of Rouen. Charles the Simple, King of the Franks, granted them Rouen and lands in the Seine valley, likely around 911. Rollo is first recorded as the leader of these men in a charter of 918 and it appears that he continued to rule over the region until at least 927. After his death, his son William succeeded him and his descendants became the Dukes of Normandy. Following the Norman conquest of England in 1066, they also ruled as kings of England.
He is encountered in The Life of Gruffud ap Cynan, a 12th-century history, which refers to him as the youngest of two brothers to the first king of Dublin. The 13th century Icelandic sagas, Heimskringla and Orkneyinga Saga, remember him as Ganger Hrolf (Hrolf the Walker) but seem to offer a contradictory account of his parentage: both state he was the son of the Norwegian Earl Rognavald of Moere, who was known to be an enemy of the brothers given in The Life of Gruffudd ap Cynan.
For followers and fans of Michael Hirst’s Vikings Saga, it may be interesting to note that in the various Norse and Icelandic Sagas, Rollo and his family had a connection to a couple of upcoming characters… namely Harald Fairhair and Halfdan the Black.
According to Norse Sagas Rollo’s father, Rognavald of Moere was made the Earl of Møre by King Harald Fairhair. The Heimskringla recounts that Rognvald caused Harald Fairhair to be given his byname by cutting and dressing his hair, which had been uncut for ten years on account of his vow never to cut it until he was ruler of all Norway.[Rognvald then accompanied the king on a great military expedition. First the islands of Shetland and Orkney were cleared of vikings who had been raiding Norway and then continued on to Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man. During this campaign Rognvald’s son Ivarr was killed and in compensation Harald granted Rognvald Orkney and Shetland. Rognvald himself returned to Norway, giving the northern isles to his brother Sigurd Eysteinsson. Sigurd had been the forecastleman on Harald’s ship and after sailing back east the king “gave Sigurd the title of earl”. The Heimskringla states specifically that Sigurd was the first Earl of Orkney.
The Orkneyinga saga says that Rognvald was the son of Eystein Ivarsson, himself the son of Ívarr Upplendingajarl and was married to a daughter of Hrólfr Nose called Ragnhild, although in the Heimskringla she is called Hild. Their son Hrólfr “was so big that no horse could carry him”, hence his byname of “Ganger-Hrólf”, and he is identified by the saga writers with Rollo of Normandy ancestor of the Dukes of Normandy who signed the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte with King Charles the Simple in 911. In addition to Ivar and Hrólfr, both sagas also refer to Rognvald’s son Thorir the Silent, and three more sons “by concubines” called Hallad, Einarr and Hrollaug, all three being “grown men when their brothers born in marriage were still children”.
Most of the Sagas do agree on some version of Rollo of Normandy having had roots or some blood connection to the Orkney Isles prior to his raiding in France whether his descendants chose to promote that connection or not.
A separate look at Rollo history in Scotland involves a Lowland Clan of his name.
The chiefs of Clan Rollo are of Norman origin and can trace their roots to the feared Norsemen who raided the coast of Scotland during the 7th and 8th centuries. Sigurd Rollo was Jarl of Orkney and Shetland. His son, Einar, was a Viking who raided both Scotland and also his own Norwegian home. As a result he was harried by Harald Fairhair, the first King of Norway. Einar turned his attention to the north coast of France where his descendants became established as Dukes of Normandy and who came to England in the Norman conquest of 1066. Erik Rollo accompanied his uncle, William the Conqueror, in the invasion of England in 1066. It is believed that Erik Rollo’s son or grandson, Richard Rollo, later followed David I of Scotland when he left the English court and reclaimed the Scottish throne. The name first appears on record in Scotland in a charter of 1141 that was granted by Robert de Brus.
Some of this Clan history bears similarity to that of the Norse Saga accounts of Rollo’s supposed family links to the northern areas of Orkney and Shetland. It also links their surname as a blood tie to William the Conqueror, Rollo’s descendant.
To be honest, I personally like the idea and theory of Rollo having spent time in Scotland and I would not mind seeing Clive Standen dressed in a Kilt, if only to pay a bit of tribute to this other version of Rollo’s history! Not that he doesn’t look fine in his usual Viking garb, but my little fantasy could easily imagine him dressed as in some early Scottish warrior garb as well! Don’t be giving me that skeptical and doubtful look either… I am sure there are others out here in fan and fantasy land that would love to see you indulge us in this little dream!
So in honor and tribute to Rollo’s varied history, here is my one little wish for the day!