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Rollo
(c. 860–c. 932)

Rollo(c. 860–c. 932)

Rollo, baptised Robert, was the founder and first ruler of the Viking principality in what soon became known as Normandy.

The name Rollo is a Frankish-Latin name probably taken from the Old Norse name Hrólfr (cf. the latinization of Hrólfr into the similar Roluo in the Gesta Danorum, modern Scandinavian name Rolf).

Rollo was a Viking leader of contested origin. Dudo of St. Quentin, in his De moribus et actis primorum Normannorum ducum, 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 this Rollo with a son of Rognvald Eysteinsson, Earl of Møre, in Western Norway, based on medieval Norwegian and Icelandic sagas that mention a Ganger Hrolf (Hrolf, the Walker). 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 of that character came from being so big that no horse could carry him.

The question of Rollo's Danish or Norwegian origins was a matter of heated dispute between Norwegian and Danish historians of the 19th and early 20th century, particularly in the run-up to Normandy's 1000-year-anniversary in 1911. Today, historians still disagree on this question, but most would now agree that a certain conclusion can never be reached. n 885, Rollo was one of the lesser leaders of the Viking fleet which besieged Paris under Sigfred second official king of the Danes. 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 Rollo's forces were defeated at the Battle of Chartres by the troops of King Charles the Simple. In the aftermath of the battle, rather than pay Rollo to leave, as was customary, Charles the Simple understood that he could no longer hold back their onslaught, and decided to give Rollo the coastal lands they occupied under the condition that he defend against other raiding Vikings. 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. In return, King Charles granted Rollo the lower Seine area (today's upper Normandy) and the titular rulership of Normandy, centred 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 him to fall to the ground.

Initially, Rollo stayed true to his word of defending the shores of the Seine river in accordance to the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, but in time he and his followers had very different ideas. 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. With these settlements, Rollo began to further raid other Frankish lands, now from the security of a settled homeland, rather than a mobile fleet. Eventually, however, Rollo's men intermarried with the local women, and became more settled as Frenchmen. At the time of his death, Rollo's expansion of his territory had extended as far west as the Vire River.

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 pagan roots surfaced at the end.

Rollo is a direct ancestor of William the Conqueror. Through William, he is an ancestor of the present-day British royal family. The "Clameur de Haro" in the Channel Islands is, supposedly, an appeal to Rollo.


Jersey, 1982, Rollo and William the Conqueror

Jersey, 1987, Grant of Lands to Normandy

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