Rollo the Walker – The First Ruler of Normandy

Rollo the Walker (Norman: Rou, Rolloun; Old Norse: Hrólfr; French: Rollon; died between 928 and 933) was the first ruler of Normandy, a region in northern France.

He was a Viking warrior who established a permanent foothold on Frankish soil in the valley of the lower Seine.

After the Siege of Chartres in 911, Rollo the Walker agreed to end his attacks on Frankish territory and in exchange for lands between the mouth of the Seine and Rouen, he pledged his allegiance to the king of West Francia, Charles the Simple.

Origins and Historiography

Rollo the Walker was born in Scandinavia in the mid-9th century, but it is uncertain whether he was Danish or Norwegian.

The earliest historical event associated with Rollo the Walker is his part in leading the Vikings who besieged Paris in 885-886 but were fended off by Odo of France.

The medieval sources do not make clear the year of Rollo’s birth, but it is estimated that he was born in the mid-9th century based on his activity, marriage, children, and death.

Among biographical remarks about Rollo the Walker, it was claimed that he was from Dacia, and had moved from there to the island of Scanza.

Goffredo Malaterra, an 11th-century Benedictine monk and historian, wrote that Rollo sailed boldly from Norway with his fleet to the Christian coast.

Biography

Dudo’s chronicle about Rollo seizing Rouen in 876 is supported by the contemporary chronicler Flodoard, who records that Robert of the Breton March waged a campaign against the Vikings, nearly levelling Rouen and other settlements.

Eventually, he conceded “certain coastal provinces” to them. According to Dudo, Rollo the Walker struck up a friendship in England with a king called Alstem, who is now identified as Guthrum, the Danish leader who Alfred the Great baptised with the baptismal name Athelstan.

Rollo’s marriage to Gisela, the daughter of Charles III, was the seal of the agreement that Rollo and his associates would defend the realm.

Rollo the Walker took the baptismal name Robert – after his godfather Robert I, and divided the lands between the rivers Epte and Risle among his chieftains, settling in Rouen.

Rollo died between a final mention of him by Flodoard in 928 and 933, the year in which a third grant of land, usually identified as being the Cotentin and Avranchin areas, was given to his son and successor William.

Descendants

Rollo’s son and heir, William Longsword, forged the Duchy of Normandy into West Francia’s most cohesive and formidable principality.

The descendants of Rollo and his men assimilated with the French-Catholic culture and became known as the Normans, lending their name to the region of Normandy.

Rollo is the great-great-great-grandfather of William the Conqueror, the progenitor of the House of Normandy in England, although Charles III and the British Royal Family are not direct male-line descendants of Rollo as the House of Normandy ended with the death of Henry I.

The House of Plantagenet influences the Norman dynasty as Empress Matilda, the mother of Henry II of England, was the daughter of Norman King Henry I.

Legacy

Rollo the Walker - The First Ruler of Normandy
Image: Delusion23, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

After Rollo’s death, his descendants continued to rule Normandy until the fall of the French monarchy. Most of the Capetian kings of France were directly or indirectly his descendants, including Philip II of France, Louis IX of France, and Charles IV of France.

The Capetian dynasty continued to rule France until 1848, with a brief interruption during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic period (1792-1815). The Valois dynasty, which succeeded the main branch of the Capetian dynasty in 1328, was, in fact, a branch of the Capetian family itself, as were the Bourbons who later took power.

The legacy of Hugh Capet’s reign, as well as that of his descendants, endured for centuries to come. The unification of France under the Capetian dynasty, through its various branches, laid the foundation for the country’s development into a major European power.

*Feature Image: AnonymousUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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