Descendants of Rollo, Viking founder of Normandy, exhumed

Scandinavian researchers have exhumed the bones of two direct descendants of Rollo, the 10th century Viking founder of the Duchy of Normandy, in an attempt to answer the long-debated question of whether Rollo was Danish or Norwegian.

Historians have differed on the matter of Rollo’s national origins since at least the 11th century. Norman historian Dudo of Saint-Quentin (ca. 965-1043) said in his Historia Normannorum that Rollo was the son of a “Danish” king who was exiled and made his way to France, but at the time Dudo was in the employ of Richard II of Normandy who was allied to the Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard. He had a dog in the hunt, as it were, and cannot be considered reliable on this question. Goffredo Malaterra, a monk in Sicily writing in the late 11th century, said Rollo hailed from Norway. In the 13th Norwegian-Icelandic sagas Heimskringla and Orkneyinga, Rollo appears as Ganger-Hrólf, the son of Rognvald Eysteinsson, yarl of Møre in western Norway. (Rollo is a Latinization of Hrólf.)

With these conflicting and vague sources, historians have argued the point for centuries. It matters because of how important Rollo was to European history. His raids along the Seine so bedevilled Charles III, aka Charles the Simple, King of Western Francia, that he finally bought Rollo off with huge tracts of land between the city of Rouen and the mouth of the Seine in exchange for him switching from raider to protector. He appears in only one primary source: a charter from 918 which mentions the lands ceded to Rollo and his “Northmen on the Seine.” It seems Rollo ruled those lands as Count of Rouen until at least 927 after which his son William I Longsword acceded to what would become known during his rule as the Dukedom of Normandy, after the Norsemen who founded it. William Longsword’s son was Richard I of Normandy. Richard I’s son was Richard II. Richard II’s son Robert I was the father of William the Conqueror.

This January, French government and church authorities granted the research team permission to open the tomb of Rollo’s grandson Richard I and great-grandson Richard II. This is only the second time a French king’s tomb has been opened since World War II. On Monday, February 29th, Per Holck, Professor Emeritus at the University of Oslo, and University of Copenhagen geneticist Andaine Seguin Orlando, opened the two small ossuary coffins buried under the floor southern transept of the gothic church of Fécamp Abbey. Inside one of them were the skeletal remains of Richard II, known as Richard the Good, including a lower jaw with eight teeth.

They were hoping to find teeth because extracting ancient DNA is tricky and the genetic material inside teeth is well-protected by the outer layers. Holck and Orlando retrieved five of the teeth. They will be tested at the University of Oslo and the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen. If all goes well, the research team and French authorities will announce the results in the autumn.

The remains of the Richards have been moved before. Richard I, who rebuilt the church after it was destroyed in Viking raids, and Richard II, who made it a Benedictine monastery, were initially buried outside the church. Richard II’s great-great-great-grandson Henry II of England had his ancestors’ bones reburied inside the church. Remains that are not in their original location can be problematic to authenticate. I don’t know if this study plans to do anything specific to confirm first and foremost that they really are the bones of Richard II. Also, if the bones were treated at any point — boiled to remove the flesh and make them a clean fit for a small coffin — DNA extraction will be even more challenging, albeit not impossible. Teeth are the Fort Knox of the body.

Spoiler Alert!

If you’ve been watching Vikings on the basic cable station formerly known as the History Channel, Ragnar’s brother Rollo is very loosely based on the historical Count of Rouen. They had to conflate sagas and mess with the timeline to make them brothers, so who knows if he’ll wind up in Normandy on the series, but he’s in France and married to Charles the Simple’s daughter, who may or may not have existed and if she existed, may or may not have survived to adulthood, but is mentioned as Rollo’s wife in William of Jumièges 11th century chronicle Gesta Normannorum Ducum and in Dudo’s history which relied heavily on Jumièges’.

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7 Comments »

Comment by Mary Banks
2016-03-07 05:41:29

There are many of us who trace our lineage through Rollo. This is a very interesting article. If you don’t mind I’ll try to attach it to an online genealogical site that I use called geni.com

Thank you very much for your wonderful articles. I look forward to them every day.

Best wishes,
Mary Banks :thanks:

 
Comment by Aidan
2016-03-07 06:55:33

What timing! I’m currently researching for a book I’m writing about the origin of the Normans. This is a fantastic article. I’ll be watching this closely.

A

 
Comment by dearieme
2016-03-07 09:42:02

I’m not too bothered. But who will be declared the winner if he turns out to be half-and-half?

 
Comment by Sylvia Selurian
2016-03-07 12:01:19

Yeah, and Ötzi is from Italy (i.e. the one from AD 1919) – Don Rollo’s origin is almost certainly ‘Scandinavia via England’. Indeed, it might be unsure if he would have considered himself as being from ‘Denmark’ or ‘Norway’.

From a Roman point of view, there had always been pirates in the English Channel. With a greater Frankish Empire, folk settled in Britain and other folk moved once more from there to Brittany.

As the Frankish Empire was divided in what later would become Italy, Germany and France (+ everything in between), those Normans (were) settled in Eastern Armorica, seemingly to appease Brittany and to avoid further influx from Scandinavia.

The Rest: A number of dukes and counts, in conflict with one another for valuable territory, the Breton-Norman War (1064–1065) and later civil war in England and Normandy between 1135 and 1154, more or less resulting in the Angevin Empire …

——————–

Eunn alarc’h, eunn alarc’h tre-mor
Eunn alarc’h, eunn alarc’h tre-mor
War lein tour moal kastell Armor!
Dinn, dinn, daon! dann emgann! dann emgann!
Oh! Dinn, dinn, daon! d’ann emgann a eann!

Neventi vad d’ar Vretoned!
Neventi vad d’ar Vretoned!
Ha malloz-ru d’ar C’hallaoued!
Dinn, dinn, daon! d’ann emgann! d’ann emgann!
(etc.)

 
Comment by Bill
2016-03-11 16:16:03

Glad I’m just a nobody. Maybe people won’t dig up my bones after I’m dea

 
Comment by Peter Palmer
2016-03-12 19:25:52

David Hume in his History of England (below) states that the Normans were in fact Saxons, driven into Jutland by Charlemagne. They in turn, and vengefully upon his demise, invaded and conquored northern France west of the Seine, thus becoming the Normans. It appears then that Rollo is actually one of us.

“The emperor Charlemagne, though naturally generous and humane, had been induced by bigotry to exercise great severities upon the Pagan Saxons in Germany, whom he subdued; and besides often ravaging their country with fire and sword, he had in cool blood decimated all the inhabitants for their revolts, and had obliged them, by the most rigorous edicts, to make a seeming compliance with the christian doctrine. That religion, which had easily made its way among the British-Saxons by insinuation and address, appeared shocking to their German brethren, when imposed on them by the violence of Charlemagne: and the more generous and warlike of these Pagans had fled northward into Jutland, in order to escape the fury of his persecutions. Meeting there with a people of similar manners, they were readily received among them; and they soon stimulated the natives to concur in enterprizes, which both promised revenge on the haughty conqueror, and afforded subsistence to those numerous inhabitants, with which the northern countries were now overburthened. They invaded the provinces of France, which were exposed by the degeneracy and dissentions of Charlemagne’s posterity; and being there known under the general name of Normans, which they received from their northern situation, they became the terror of all the maritime and even of the inland countries.”

 
Comment by Mary Banks
2016-03-12 19:48:20

David Hume sounds very convinced in his rather unusual hypothesis, which means that the results of the DNA testing are going to be even more interesting than we might have thought!

 
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