By Laurel Fechner, Historian Clan Sinclair USA
Dedicated to the memory of Henry S. "Pete" Cummings, Jr.)

As the grizzled and aging Norsemen in 911 AD returned from an unsuccessful siege of Chartes, France, their prospects for further pillaging looked dim. Fifty years of Norse raids into France had decimated everything worth looting. But their long and bitter struggle had gained them much land in western France. The large and powerful leader of this band of mostly Danes was the Norwegian, Gangerolv (Hrolf, Gongu-Hrolfr, Hrolf the Walker-so called because his feet dragged when on horseback- Rollon, and Rollo. I suspect that in France, he was usually known as Rollon or Robert and the Latin form of Rollo did not appear until later when the English wrote about him.

Suddenly King Charles III, the Simple, also weary of fighting and being urged by Pope John X to Christianize the Norse, offered to sign a treaty at the town of St. Clair on the Ept River. This began his association with this name and veneration of the Saint, however it was from his later descendants living at St. Clair-sur-Elle that the St. Clair/Sinclair took their name. 

But Charles was not dealing with just a super crafty pirate that had risen from obscurity to regional fame. No, Rollo’s father was Rognvald, The Wise, jarl (Earl) of Møre, Norway, the first jarl of Orkney, and a near relative of King Harold Fairhair. Rollo’s mother was Countess Ragnhilda, daughter of the sea King Rolf Nefia.  Rollo's brother, Thorir, succeeded Rognvald to the jarldom of Møre and married King Harold's daughter, Arbota .  Harold bestowed the Shetlands and Orkneys on jarl Rognvald’s family. The jarl’s brother, Sigurd, the sea King Einar, and  one-eyed, ruthless and middling poet added, Caithness to their holdings and was the second jarl of Orkney. The house of Rognvald was one of the oldest lines of rulers in Norway with Rollo's brothers, Hallard and Einar also becoming the 4th and 5th Earls of Orkney. Einar’s descendant, Isobel, married William Sinclair, 11th  Baron of Rossyln, a descendant of Einar’s brother Gangerolv/Rollo. This connected the Norse lines of Einar and Rollo back to Rognvald again.

About 860, when Rollo was born at Ålesund in Romsdahl of Møre, Harold began his efforts to control all of Norway. In 872 he was crowned King of Norway at the Earl of Møre’s court. Young Rollo did not like the loss of freedom and the King’s taxes. He angered King Harald by stealing his cattle and was banished upon pain of death. Other Norwegian nobility were dispossessed as Harold continued to consolidate his hold on the smaller kingdoms.  Many of them went into commerce or to "Viking".  Rollo, using the ship his father gave him, soon drew others discontents and retaliated with raids against his homeland. He then moved on to Scotland and France. He accompanied the Danish Viking chief, Siegfried in an ill fated siege of Paris in 886 or 888. He also joined with Guthran, a Dane, in fighting King Alfred the Great in England. These Viking armadas were made up of several nationalities.

The Normans were camped on the right bank and the French on the left bank of the Epte River in preparation for the signing of  the 911 treaty which would make Rollo the Count/Duke of Rouen and secure the lands he had already gained.  (The title of Duke wasn’t used much until after 1006 AD. In return Rollo promised to defend the land against other Norsemen and be baptized.) Custom then required that Rollo demonstrate his loyalty and service by kissing King Charles’ foot. But, Rollo thought it beneath himself to kneel and kiss the King’s foot. Consequently, he told one of his men, Hastings, to do it instead. His man obeyed reluctantly but as he did so, he raised Charles’ foot so high that the King tipped over backwards.  Instead he pledged his fidelity by giving a bowl of water, a clod of earth and a stick and pressing the King's hands between his, gave Charles his pledge of obedience.

In 912 AD, Rollo and his followers using more political wisdom than inner conviction, were baptized and  his name was changed this time to Robert. Rollo quickly set down principals and regulations protecting each man’s person and possessions. He strengthened the towns’ defenses, gave the countryside peace and devoted himself to the interests of his fief, soon called Normandy after the Norsemen. From the beginning Norman society had an aristocratic and feudal character lacking in Denmark and the Danish settlements in England. In 1066 AD, Rollo’s great-great-great grandson, William the Conqueror, imposed this finely-tuned feudal system upon the Saxons of England.

Back in 886 AD, Rollo’s group attacked Bayeaux, Brittany and killed their Count Berenger. He then took the Count’s daughter, Poppa, as his "Danish Wife". This common practice was accepted by laymen. The two contracting parties knew that if better social or political prospects appeared, such a marriage could be ended without a complex church divorce.  Rollo possibly had about fourteen children but the four known to us today  were probably  Poppa’s, the aristocrate's, children: Gerlotte m. Wm. Earl of Pointiers; Adele b. 897 d. 962 m. Duke Guillaune III of Aquitaine; William 2nd Duke of Normandy b.c. 915 m. d/o Count Robert de Vermandon; and Robert m. daughter of Earl of Corbuell.  As part of the 911 treaty, Charles gave Rollo his daughter, Giselle, but there were no children from this marriage.  Now he was the son-in-law of the King of France.

Rollo’s great-granddaughter, Emma married two Kings of England, Æhelred the Unready and Knut who was also King of Norway and Denmark. Her son, Edward the Confessor, from the first marriage, was King of England from 1042-1066. Rollo’s descendants have ruled England almost continually from that time unto today. Most European rulers by the thirteenth century could trace their ancestry to Rollo also.

Rollo’s enemies probably considered him cruel and arrogant, but history also indicates Rollo’s intelligence, with exceptional skills in navigation, warfare, leadership, and administration. He deepend and narrowed the Seine at Rouen.  His work lasted almost 1000 years.  After WWII the US Army Corps of Engineers had few improvements to make.  Among his people, he was for hundreds of years, the personification of justice and good government under law. He was responsible for deepening the Seine at Rouen. Some of this project is still working today.  He abdicated to his son, William I in 927 then died in Bec Hallouin Monastary in 933 and buried at Notre Dame, Rouen, France.

In 1911, on the 1000th anniversary of the 911 treaty, the world acknowledged Rollo’s impact upon history. Statues of him were placed in Rouen, France; in Ålesund, Norway; and a year later, in Fargo, ND. In 2011, just 11 years from now, we, his millions of descendants, can celebrate Rollo’s eleven-hundredth anniversary.
&   (live camera at Ålesund, Nor.) &  World Book Encyclopedia; Genealogy of Prince Henry Sinclair by Pete Cummings; The History of the Vikings by Gwyn Jones; A Child’s History of the World by V. M. Hillyer; Harold by Ian W. Walker; Historical Atlas of the Vikings by John Haywood; Sons of Norway Pamphlet-Fargo, ND.

Rollo Points to Ponder & New Information Uncovered:

  1. Rollo’s birth date of 860 comes from the Fargo, ND Pamphlet about Rollo’s statue there. A death date of 931, at about the age of 72, comes from French records. The people of Ålesund believe that "Gangerolv" came from the island of Giske nearby.—Kristin A. Hussein.
  2. Nearly  650 years later at nearby Kvam, 300 men including George Sinclair  were slaughtered in the Battle of Kringen as they tried to get across Norway to join the Swedish forces to fight against Norway. There is a monument to the farmers of Gulbrandsdal Valley for their bravery in stopping the soldiers and a gravestone to Col. Sinclair who was in charge of the Scottish mercenaries. Seen by Donald Sinclair on his trip to Norway.

  3. It is believed that there were other men named Rollo just as there were several Halfdans (Half Danes) which was the name of Rollo’s great-great grandfather. This could indicate a nickname rather than a given name. Nine different Halfdans are listed in the index of "A History of the Vikings." The World Book Encyclopedia says "Rollo, a Viking chieftain, attacked Paris in 845 AD." If that were our Rollo, and assuming that this chieftain were at least 25 years old in 845, then he would have been born in 820, 40 years before the 860 birth date. This Rollo would have been about 91 years old when he signed the 911 treaty and 112 when he died. Also the Saxon Chronicles indicate that Rolf/Rollo had overrun Normandy in 876 but he would have been only 16 years old then which makes it appear that it was another Rollo. The other Rollo could even have been an uncle of Rollo’s who taught him his seamanship, and craft as a pirate and provided a leadership example, to which Rollo added his personal style of viciousness, political astuteness, and foresightedness in his administration in Normandy.
  4. After his 855 victory in Norway, Harold took possession of the Orkneys at which time Rollo’s uncle Sigurd became jarl there. Those who had been driven out of Norway by King Harold Fairhair set up a permanent center of Norse power in the Orkneys and the Scottish islands and in Caithness making jarl Rognvald  the 1st Earl of Orkney in about 870 and his brother Sigurd the Mighty following him. It was from there the renegade Norwegians  were able to launch raids against Harold that helped his enemies. This forced these raiders to move on to the Faroes and Iceland, which had not yet been explored. From this remarkable Norse colony they pushed on to Greenland to found another colony a hundred years later and from there it was a short way to Vineland in what is now Newfoundland. A Danish fleet appeared off Frisia in 810 and ten years later another reached the mouth of the Loire but the systematic and persevering assault did not begin until about 835. About 850 they began to establish island strongholds near the mouths of the rivers, where they could winter and store their booty and where they could retreat to safety. The Catholic Encyclopedia
  5. In 886, Rollo would have been about 26 years old. It is very likely that he already had had at least one "Danish Wife" (not married in recognized church ceremony which made the marriage easily dissolvable if other opportunities came along) before he met Poppa and maybe some of his children are not Poppa’s. The same can be said about any of the mothers. It might be hard to prove just who the father of their children was.  But since she was the daughter of a Count, and maybe very desirable, he "traded up". In 911, if she were still living, they would have been married about 25 years. Probably all the children were married by then and he had grandchildren. William Longsword became the second Duke in 927 when Rollo abdicated. Whether that was a forceful event, or one dictated by health, we may never know. However, the story is that Rollo lived at Le Bec-Hellouin Monastery after his abdication until his death in 933. Niven Sinclair, Sinclair de la Behottiere, Harold-The Last Anglo-Saxon King by Ian W. Walker
  6. New information indicates that Rollo might have had as many as 14 children. We assume that these other children were by concubines that did not rank on Poppa’s level so they did not marry into landed families and thus their names are lost to history. At that time in history it was an honor to be called a "bastard" of someone like Rollo. There were no children from Rollo’s marriage to Charles’ daughter, Giselle. Women in this situation must have felt more like hostages than willing wives. But please recognize, Rollo, oldest son of a Norwegian Earl and of Dutchess Ragnhilda, who could have been related as closely as the younger sister or niece to King Harold of Norway. Rollo's brother married the King Harold's son.  So Giselle didn’t marry too far below herself except Rollo, after years as a bandit, might have been a bit rough around the edges by French court standards and now he was the brother-in-law of the King of France. Pretty good for an old pirate!! Genealogy of Prince Henry Sinclair by Pete Cummings, History of the Vikings by Gwyn Jones, Sinclair de la Behottiere; Laurel Fechner 
  7. This marriage was part of a pledge connected to the 911 treaty that among other things confirmed the territory that Rollo had already conquered. But I believe that as far as Charles was concerned, there was more behind this treaty.

7. Following the murder of William, 2nd Duke of Normandy in 942, his grown son, Duke Richard I, 3rd Duke of Normandy, b.c. 930 , was taken (kidnapped?) King Louis IV's court. Richard married first, King Hugh Capet’s (s/o Hugh the Great) sister, Emma, who died childless. Queen Emma & Queen Edith by Pauline Stafford

8.  The order of Rollo’s children is not certain and his children had two or more names, which causes more confusion. His daughter had the Norwegian name of Gerloc or Geirlaug and perhaps also the Frankish name of Adelis. But Adelis could have been another daughter because two different husbands are recorded. Rollo, himself, was sometimes called by the French name of Robert. His grandson, Duke Richard I’s, Danish wife was named Gunnor (Gunnvor) and Albereda. Richard’s daughter was named Imme (Norwegian), Emma (Norman) but when she married King Æthelred, she was given the name of Ælfgifu which was Æthelred’s grandmother’s name. This was a common name in the English royal family. Even Æthelred’s first wife was named Ælfgifu. In Rollo’s biography the two names of this daughter are given with separate marriages. Perhaps there is an error. The simplest explanation is that she married twice but history many times is more complicated. Rollo’s Norwegian name was Hrolf or Gongu-Hrolfr. It is possible that the name change reflected the conversion of Rollon (Rollo Latin) to Christianity in 911. The Viking Guthrum changed his name upon conversion also. With these examples, we might draw the conclusion that a new name indicated a conversion for Gerloc and Gunnor also. . Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings by Amy Kelly; A History of the Vikings by Gwyn Jones
9.  We sometimes get the impression that R ollo had not been exposed to Christianity until the 911 treaty brought up the matter. But from the time he left Norway, he would have been exposed to manyChristian hostages and been aware of the Christian message and culture everywhere. Pope Paschal I sent Archbishop Ebbo of Rheims to evangelize the Danes. He was made the papal legate for the northern regions in 822. In 826, Ansgar and his companions were sent to the Danes. Pope John X promoted the Norman conversion in 910. (Could it be that either John X or Ansgar was actually responsible for suggesting or pressuring Charles to sign a treaty that required Rollo’s baptism? It would be a much easier task to convert the Normans if their leader were already a Christian.) Lives of the Popes by Richard P. McBrien

10. A g.g. grandson of Rollo’s, William the Warling (Ct. of Mortain perhaps born around 1006 s/o Mauger and brother to our Walderne), was exiled by William the Conqueror in 1055-56 to Apulia. By this time the Tancred de Hauteville, a somewhat dim knight in the service of the Duke of Normandy became the supreme Norman chief in central Italy. Of his 12 sons, 8 had settled in Italy, five were to become leaders of the front rank and Robert, nicknamed Guiscard (crafty) possessed something like genius. After Civitate papal policy changed in 1059, Robert was invested by Pope Nicholas II with the previously non-existent Dukedom of Apulia, Calbria and Sicily. The first 2 were controlled by Byzantium and Sicily by the Saracens. Descendants of the de Hautevilles went on to become the Counts of Apulia and Kings of Sicily and to come within a hair’s breath of capturing Constantinople in 1082. It was during this time the Normans again fought against the dispossess Anglo-Saxons who had fled England following the 1066 Norman Invasion. They were now in the mercenary army of Emperor Alexius. Oh how they wanted to defeat the Normans! Finally after most of the Saxons were dead, it was the treachery of Guiscard’s relatives paid off by Alexius that defeated the Normans. From their territory in Apulia, Crusaders found a friendly and easy access to the Holy Land by ships operated after the first Crusade by the Knights Templars. Niven Sinclair, William the Conqueror by David C. Douglas, Crusades by Terry Jones & Alan Ereira, Byzantium-The Decline and Fall by John Julius Norwich

11. The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings by John Haywood says: Rollo was made Count of Rouen as the rulers of Normandy did not use the title "duke" before 1006. This title was comparable to an English Earl. Rollo was granted further lands around Bayeaux in 924 and his successor William Longsword acquired the Cotentin peninsula in 933, but attempts to expand eastwards were defeated." It seems like Rollo didn't help Charles with this problem very well. Their activity continued through 1016. They were aided by the Flemish and the Normans where they found safe and friendly ports and markets for the spoils of their raids. Duke Richard II was considered the Viking chief by some.  So maybe Charles was more worried about internal problems than Vikings and wanted to keep Rollo closer to him. Queen Emma & Queen Edith by Pauline Stafford, Laurel Fechner

12.  Charles III had sons but if they should die, then their potential son would be the next King and they needed to be close to "arrange" for that take over in view of other more distant but older heirs. Could it be that Rollo was keeping an eye on Paris and the political events there. We do not know whether Giselle died early or whether there was still a potential for another heir to the French throne from Rollo.  At some point Charles the Simple was imprisoned. Pope John X confirmed the election of Count Heribert's five-year-old son, Hugh, as archbishop of Rheims. In return for this he secured the release of Charles whom Heribert had imprisoned. In 923 Charles III was deposed. The Historical Atlas of Vikings by John Haywood;

13.  Rollo had sworn his fidelity to the King, and the Vikings had a fierce code of honor to their chiefs. So Rollo might have placed himself as close as he could to protect his liege Lord. Examples of this Viking fidelity to their chief can be found among the Varanagian guards in Constantinople. Byzantium-The Decline and Fall by John Julius Norwich, and the treatment of the loyal Earl Godwine by King Knut in Harold-The Last Anglo-Saxon King by Ian W. Walker.

14. If some of Rollo’s family or Viking band visited St. Clair’s well to cure an eye ailment, they would have seen his vine covered decaying hermitage and walked among his fruit trees and abandoned gardens. Probably they worshiped at the chapel and touched the stone where St. Clair was decapitated. The 39-year-old hermit, who was martyred there, died in 884 when Rollo was about 24 years old. Rollo’s family lived among the Franks so long that when his grandchildren were growing up, it was necessary to send them to Bayeaux to learn their native language again. His grandson, Duke Richard I, resisted the loss of his ancestral identity. Richard’s second marriage to Gunnora, daughter of Danish settlers, probably reflected his useless struggle with the inevitable. The History of the Sinclair Family in Europe and America by Leonard A. Morrison.

15. Westward across the valley from St. Clair-sur-Epte the Seine River loops suddenly northward. There on the great heights of Les Andelys, the gateway to Normandy, is the ruins of the fortress of Chateau-Gaillard which was built in 1196 by Richard the Lion Hearted, King of England and Duke of Normandy two years after his return from captivity following the third Crusade. This was strategically placed to challenge King Philip of France but Richard was killed during the siege of Chalus in 1199.  Richard's mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was probably a descendant of Rollo’s, was once Queen of France, and then of England. Now at 77 years of age, Eleanor had outlived all but 2 of her 11 children, King John of England and Queen Eleanor of Castile. It was time to patch up the relations between England and France. So this wiry old lady journeyed down to Castile where she picked granddaughter, Princess Blanche, to marry King Phillip’s son, Louis VIII. On the way back Blanche stayed at Chateau-Gaillard, entertained by Uncle King John, until her marriage took place. In 1203 Phillip II laid siege to Gaillard which in 1204 ended the almost 300 year possession of Normandy by the English. During the 100 years war it exchanged hands but in 1450 the French fully recovered it. Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings by Amy Kelly; Sinclair de la Behottiere

16. But Eleanor craftily made sure that Rollo’s line lived on in Normandy through Louis VIIIs marriage with Blanche of Castle. I wonder, did Eleanor, Richard or John ever remember as they look out over the ramparts eastward towards St. Clair-sur-Epte their ancestor, Rollo, 1st Duke of Normandy? Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings by Amy Kelly; Laurel Fechner

List of Archbishops of Rouen
. 892 Guy
c. 911/c. 929 Franco
920s-930s Gonthard
940s-989 Hugh
990-1037 Robert s/o Duke Richard I
(St. Clair)
1038-1055 Mauger
s/o Duke Richard II (St. Clair)
1055-1067 Maurilius (appointed by Duke Wm. the 
                        conqueror-cousin to St. Clairs)

1068-1078 John of Avranches
1079-1110 William Bonne-ame
1111-1128 Geoffrey
1130-1164 Hugh of Amiens
1165-1183 Rotrou
1185-1207 Walter