Supposed father: Rognvaldr, jarl of Møre.
Supposed mother: Ragnhildr or Hildr.
The origin of Rollo is contraversial. There are several medieval sources which claim to give information about the origin of Rollo, the most widely repeated of which would make him a son of Rognvaldr, jarl of Møre by Ragnhildr or Hildr. As can be seen from the following brief notices, the various primary sources offer very contradictory information about Rollo's origin.
The earliest author to attribute an explicit origin to Rollo was Richer of Rheims, writing between 996 and 998, who called Rollo the son of another Viking invader of France named Catillus (presumably representing the Norse name Ketil) [Richer i, 28 (see PL 138: 35)]. Since Catillus appears to be a legendary individual, this account has generally been discredited, probably correctly [see Douglas 420-1].
According to Dudo of St. Quentin (writing early 11th century), author of the earliest history of the Normans, Rollo had a younger brother named Gurim, presumed to be the familiar name Gorm. Dudo states that Rollo and Gurim were sons of a man who held many lands in "Dacia" (Dudo's word for Denmark, following other authors), and that after the death of the (unnamed) father of Rollo and Gurim, the king of Dacia fought against the sons, killing Gurim and driving Rollo out [Dudo ii, 2-4 (pp. 26-7)]. Dudo later refers to duke Richard I as being related to a "king of Dacia" named Haigrold [Dudo iv, 84-88 (pp. 114-20 passim)], who must have been the Viking raider of France of that name [Flodoard's Annals, s.a. 945, see PL 135: 463-4, van Houts 51], and not king Harald "Bluetooth" of Denmark. Note that Gurim cannot be the famous Gorm "the Old" of Denmark, who survived Rollo by many years.
William of Malmesbury (early 12th century) appears to be the earliest author to attribute a Norwegian origin to Rollo [WM ii, 5 (p. 125)].
As is well known, the Orkneyinga Saga (late twelfth century) [OrkS 4 (pp. 29-30)], followed by other Icelandic sources (such as the well known Heimskringla and Landnámabók), gives Rollo the name Hrólfr, and make him a son of Rognvaldr, jarl of Møre, and brother of (among others) jarl Torf-Einarr of the Orkneys [OI 1: 187]. Earlier sources, such as Ari's Íslendingabók (early to middle 12th century), mention Rognvald of Møre and his son Hrollaugr who settled in Iceland, but not the supposed connection to the dukes of Normandy [Ari 49, 61]. A poem allegedly written by Einar mentions his brothers, including a Hrólfr, but does not connect Hrólfr to Normandy, and does not name a Gorm among the brothers. (See the page on Rognvaldr for more on this poem.)
Historia Gruffud vab Kenan (ca. 1250), apparently a Welsh translation and/or revision of an earlier Latin life of Gruffudd ap Cynan, gives Haraldr Hárfagri of Norway ("Harald Harfagyr") a brother named Rodulf (i.e., the Latin form of Hrólfr) who is called the founder of Normandy [HGK, 3-4]. However, this is evidently a corrupt version of the Scandinavian version, and the suggestion that Rollo was a brother of Haraldr Hárfagri need not be given any credence.
The most prominent argument of the case for accepting the Scandinavian account that Rollo was the same person as Hrólfr, son of Rognvaldr of Møre, was given by D. C. Douglas [Douglas 419-23], and those who accept this identification have generally followed the same arguments. On the other side, arguments against the identification were given by Viggo Starcke in his book Denmark in World History [Starcke 222-7].
Most of the argument of Douglas consists of accepting the tale of the sagas and rejecting evidence from the Norman sources which contradict the saga version, while explaining away the problems (on which more below). The evidence which Douglas puts forward as "a powerful, if not a conclusive, argument in favor of the identity of Rollo with Ganger-Rolf" concerns a passage in Landnáamabók that refers to a daughter of Gongu-Hrólfr:
"... Annarr son Óttars vas Helge; hann herjaðe á Skottland, ok feck þar at herfange Niðbiorgo, dóttor Beolans konungs ok Caðlínar, dóttor Gongo-Hrólfs" (Another son of Óttarr was Helge. He harried in Scotland, and won there as his booty Niðbjorg, daughter of king Beolan and Caðlín, daughter of Gongu-Hrólfr.) [OI 1: 66-7]
This passage, which Douglas attributed to "Ari the Learned" (who may or may not have been the author), is then compared with a passage from the nearly contemporary Plaintsong of Rollo's son William "Longsword" which was written soon after William's death:
"Hic in orbe transmarino natus patre
in errore paganorum permanente
matre quoque consignata alma fide
sacra fuit lotus unda"
(Born overseas from a father who stuck to the pagan error and from a mother who was devoted to the sweet religion, he was blessed with the holy chrism.)
[Douglas 422 (Latin); van Houts 41 (English translation)]
After explaining that the two stories are consistent with one another, Douglas then state that "[t]he suggestion of the Landnámabók is thus confirmed by an epic poem composed in Gaul in the tenth century." While it is true that the two accounts as they stand are consistent with each other and with the claim that Rollo and Gongu-Hrólfr were the same man (ignoring all other evidence), it is surely a gross overstatement to claim that the Plaintsong "confirms" the other account, for there is not a single statement in the passage from Landnámabók that is confirmed by the Plaintsong. This is a clear case of circular reasoning, for without first assuming that Rollo and Gongu-Hrólfr were the same man, there is no evidence that the two passages have any relation whatsoever. Douglas's case is further undermined by the fact that another source [Laxdla Saga chapter 32, see OI 1: 246] makes Niðbjorg's mother Caðlín a daughter of Gongu-Hrólfr, son of Oxna-Þórir, directly contradicting the thesis that Caðlín was supposedly a granddaughter of Rognvaldr of Møre. Yet, Douglas apparently regarded this as the strongest part of his argument.
There are three main strands of evidence (somewhat related to each other) against the identification of Rollo with Hrólfr son of Rognvaldr:
1. The discrepancies between the Norman and Icelandic sources.
Among other contradictions, the Norman sources give Rollo a brother named Gurim, while the Icelandic sources give Hrólfr several brothers, none of them named Gormr (the presumed Old-Norse form for Gurim). Although both of the sources have their problems, earlier native sources would seem to have a higher priority than later foreign sources. While many elements of the Dudo's account are clearly legendary, there appears to be no clear motive on the part of Dudo (writing less than a century after Rollo's death) to invent a younger brother for Rollo who is then immediately killed off.
2. The general unreliability of Norse source for the early tenth century.
For the period under consideration, i.e., the early ninth century, the sagas have a poor record for reliability, even for Scandinavian history. For example, consider the following words of Peter Sawyer (written with regard to a different matter, but true in general), a well known expert on early Viking history: "... These sagas cannot, however, be accepted as reliable sources for the tenth century. The only trustworthy evidence for the tenth century in those sagas are the contemporary verses around which the saga writers wove their tales." [Sawyer 42] None of these verses confirm the identity of Rollo and Hrólfr. The suspicion is made even larger by the fact that the Icelandic sources show no knowledge of Norman history other than the fact (well known throughout Europe at the time) that William the Conqueror was a descendant of the dukes of Normandy.
3. Rollo and Hrólfr appear to be different names.
The natural Latinization of the name Hrólfr would be Radulfus or Rodulfus. Yet, the Frankish and Norman sources consistently refer to the founder of Normandy as Rollo. Since these sources also include numerous individuals named Rodulfus, and consistently separate the two names, it appears that the names were regarded as different. Douglas explained this by suggesting a hypothetical hypochoristic form "Hrolle" of the name "Hroðwulf" as the basis for the name Rollo, and provides a single charter in which Rollo is referred to as "Rolphus" as evidence that the names were the same, acknowledging, however, that the charter itself was "not above suspicion." If the names were really regarded as the same, it would be expected that more convincing evidence to this effect could be offered.
Personally, I am inclined to believe that the identification of Hrólfr and Rollo has no basis in fact, that it was likely to have been invented by a saga writer who wanted to give the jarls of Orkney some famous relatives (i.e., the kings of England), and that whatever the confusing Norman sources say are probably about the closest we are going to get to Rollo's origin. However, based on the surviving evidence, it is not possible to come to any definitive conclusion one way or the other, and Rollo's parentage should be listed as "unknown" unless further evidence becomes available.
Supposed second wife:
Gisla, said to be daughter of Charles the Simple, king of France [Dudo, 46-7, 53]. She is unknown in the Frankish sources. The fact that Charles the Simple's kinsman Charles the Fat had a daughter also named Gisla who married a Viking (Godefridus) in the ninth century has led to the natural suspicion that this Gisla is an invention based on the earlier woman of the name. If she existed at all, there is no reason to believe that she was a mother of any of Rollo's children.
Supposed additional child:
Caðlin (Kathleen), said by Norse sources to have married a certain king Beolan, who is otherwise unidentified. As discussed above, the evidence for her is less than satisfactory.
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