The Historical Truth Behind Rollo

Rollo is one of the main characters in the Irish-Candian TV series ‘Vikings’ on History Channel who is played by British actor Clive Standen. Although portrayed in the TV series as the brother of Ragnar Lothbrok, in actuality, according to the Norse sagas, Rollo is completely unrelated to the 9th century legendary Norse chieftain.

While the producers and writers of the serial ‘Vikings’ accurately hint the fact that Rollo will become the Count of Rouen at some point in time, they also exceed (to a considerable extent) the artistic license regarding the depiction of his destiny throughout the three seasons of the series that have been released to date.

Rollo played by the British actor Steve Claven in History Channel's TV series Vikings.

Rollo played by British actor Clive Standen in History Channel’s TV series ‘Vikings’. Image source: Fanpop

According to the same Norse sagas, Rollo was likely born in the mid 9th century (in circa 846) in Møre og Romsdal, modern day western Norway. In spite of the fact that details concerning his ethnic origins remain quite obscure even to this date, it is known from his later social status of earl (jarl) that he was raised in a family of noble warriors. There is an ongoing controversy between Danish and Norwegian historians regarding Rollo’s ethnicity, with both sides claiming he was either Danish or Norwegian.

In most Old Norse texts, he is known under the name Hrólfr. His Norse name was subsequently translated in Latin texts as ‘Rollo’ and is sometimes referred to as ‘Rollon’ or ‘Robert’. In the Icelandic sagas, he is referred to as ‘Ganger Hrólf’.

What remains clearly known about his life is that he had become Count of Rouen, and that he was subsequently baptized under the name Robert. Prior to his arrival in the northwestern part of modern day France (where he would firstly take part in frequent raids along the Seine river), he had journeyed to both Scotland and Ireland where he had led his very first raids as Norse chieftain.

After he had set foot on the northern shores of modern day France, he and his crew raided the nearby settlements on the course of the river Seine and afterwards settled in the proximity of modern day Rouen. After hearing the news of the Norse raids that took place in the region, Charles III the Straightforward, the then king of Western Francia, decided to grant him and his men lands between Rouen and the Seine valley.

These lands have been granted by Charles III of Western Francia to him in exchange for his protection against subsequent incursions on behalf of other Norse war bands. Thus, Rollo became the Count of Rouen and so, far more important than that, the direct ancestor of William the Conqueror. In fact, the region where a certain group of Norsemen permanently settled under Rollo’s leadership became known as Normandy, given the fact the denomination actually stemmed from the Old French word ‘normanz, meaning ‘northman’.

Statue of Rollon in the city of Rouen, France. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Rollo continued to reign over the region of Rouen until at least 927. After his death, his descendants rose to be the Dukes of Normandy. Furthermore, after the conquest of both England and southern Italy at the hands of the Normans during the 11th century, his offspring along with his subjects started to reign in Norman England (the House of Normandy) and the Kingdom of Sicily respectively, from the 10th to the 12th century, as such marking a significant royal legacy in the history of medieval Europe.

Documentation sources and external links:

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40 Responses to The Historical Truth Behind Rollo

  1. Deborah Mckinney says:

    Love the Vikings, the characters are great. I wish I could just watch one live show being filmed, I’ve never been able to travel but that’s just one wish to be able to go to Ireland. It’s not only for that, it’s just breath taking beautiful. Thank you for letting me post my opinion.

    • Jo Anne Dreyfus says:

      Jo Anne Holcombe: Members of my family are also descended from Rollo via William’s illegitimate son Sir Walter de Holcombe. Walter went with William to England in 1066. William married him off to a Cornish princess to cement alliances with Cornwall.

      • Carolyn Alexander says:

        I am also a descendant of William the conqueror , and Rollo and Robert the Bruce .. hi cousins

      • Joshua Jenson says:

        I am a Direct decendant of Rollo aka Walking Hrolfson.. my Grandmother’s maiden name is Hrolfson.. So cool to be related to such a great historical figure. My Grandmother use to tell me stories of Rollo that were passed down through the ages..

        • Donnette Daly ( nee smith) says:

          I think thats amazing in New Zealand and my grandfather sailed from The Shetlands when he was 17. a specialist in Shetlands descendants told me im related to Vikings. ..absolutley nothing to do with Scotland. i would not of had a prob with Scottish ancestory but Vikings. excited and you are a descendant of Rollo
          Wow. Just wished i could find out more..I can go back to 16th Century mu Grandfathers middle name was Magnus and its just been mentioned in Vikings Seies 2 Ep 4.
          While Im emailing you ..a wierd coincidence

          • Katie Lea says:

            Wow this is really exciting I’m direct descendant from Rollo , also Gordon clan – Gardiner, Robert de Bruce. Hello to my family

        • Caryn Wickersheim says:

          My son just traced our ancestors all the way back to Rollo also. Apparently, he is my great grandpa x36. It’s quite interesting some of the stuff he’s found.

        • Sarah says:

          Interesting, I’m also a direct descendant of his so I guess we are cousins way back. I’d love to know your line on the family tree and share mine.

        • Michael Ray says:

          How cool is that…. I too am a direct descendant. So that would make the two of us related …. I however didn’t get the stories growing up….
          I only knew the name’s of a few relatives back a few hundred years… As you move forward thru time .. You can come to another descendant named Sir John Hawkins… He was a naval historical figure, and relative ; whom my dad was named after…
          I agree it’s pretty awesome to be able to trace your heritage back that far… Not many people can do that, so I believe we’re very fortunate … Anyway, I will say, ” Hello cousin “….

  2. Hello from Rollo’s great… grandson. Bonne Journee!

    • Michael Tauscher says:

      According to genealogical research, my mother’s family is descended from him as well so, .. Hello cousin.

      • Mary says:

        Supposedly my Bundy family too.

        • Aaron says:

          Supposedly I am too, cousins.. From rollo, to William the conqueror, down and down and down, to peregrine white the first baby born that survived the mayflowers voyage to Plymouth colony, MA born in 1621

          • Kellee says:

            My family also goes back to Rollo and William the Conqueror, down through the Teeples family.

          • Carolyn Alexander says:

            I am also a descendant of Rollo, William the conqueror and Robert the bruce

          • Sarah says:

            I wonder if we are from the same line as my Rollo ancestor, goes to William and they were also part of the first Mayflower voyages.

      • Lana Pennington says:

        If genealogy is correct I also am descended from Rollo via Pennington’s of Muncaster

        • Ray says:

          Figuring if you have 2 grand parents, 4 great grandparents 8 great great grandparents, 16…. in 30 generations you will have over 1 million great, great great great ect. grandparents. (do the math) so basically pretty much over 1/2 of Americans will have his blood in them.

          • gabriel morgan says:

            about 45 generations..rollo will have hundreds of millions of descendants

          • barry donovan says:

            yes there is very many. at ancestry dna I have a list accruing to beyond 40,000. My grandma was dulong of french acadia.. that is the only reason I found this rollo, longsword stuff. a real twist is the genetic divide. I have zero english DNA.. 600 years of irish, and half french. My irish surname is actually one the normans fought with. I laugh at my parents heritage. they combined a classic war.

  3. Peter says:


    I love that painting of King Rollo. Do you know the artist or have any other information on it?

    Thank you.

    • Joshua Jenson says:

      I am a Direct decendant of Rollo aka Walking Hrolfson.. my Grandmother’s maiden name is Hrolfson.. So cool to be related to such a great historical figure. My Grandmother use to tell me stories of Rollo that were passed down through the ages..

  4. Penelope Manderson says:

    I am descended from Waleran the Hunter friend of William the Conqueror – would love to hear from other descendants

    • Joshua Jenson says:

      I am a Direct decendant of Rollo aka Walking Hrolfson.. my Grandmother’s maiden name is Hrolfson.. So cool to be related to such a great historical figure. My Grandmother use to tell me stories of Rollo that were passed down through the ages..

      • Gudrun Dahl says:

        Rollo is often claimed to be the same person as Gånge Rolf, a person too big to ride a horse. His name is however not Rolfson, but Rolf. His sons would be referred to as Rolfson. In the next generation, their sons would take names after their own father, not after their grandfather. I.e. the sons of William would be Williamson. For the name Rolfson to be handed down for 40 generations would be very unlikely. This does not mean that your grandmother was not named Rolfson, but likely after some Rolf living substantially later. Again, the mathematics of how descendants and ancestors multiply means that you, your grandmother and I, and most western Europeans are highly likely to be descendants of Rollo/Rolf.. If Rolf (or for example Charles the Great) had died in measles at a young age, none of us would have existed, and other people would have been born.

  5. Raina says:

    My mums family ‘Tobitt’ are apparently descendants of Vikings and Rollo gets a mention in the family history. That might be why my mum never wears shoes and drinks beer from a handle every evening! Lol
    I identify myself as a modern day pagan. The pagan religion resonates a lot more with me than the bible. Love this series ❤️

  6. Chris says:

    We take a left turn two generations before William the conqueror and slide down the Sinclair (St Clair) line… the people who owned and built Rosslyn Castle and chapel. Full on Knights Templar, Lords, Barons and … oh my. This is super interesting.

  7. Teresa A Dudek says:

    I am a descendant of Rollo and am so excited to learn about him. Researching…

  8. Robert C Light says:

    I am a descendant of Rollo the Dane…one of his whatever grandsons…we have been to Normandy twice to tour various related sites…fascinating…

  9. Carlos says:

    According to wikitree, I’m related too him directely too, he’s my 36 great grandfather… 20 gen to John Drummond (clan chief of Drummond of Scotland) and from him to Rollo more 16 gen. Since the wikitree tool finds only links until 30 gen, I had to research in “steps”.

  10. Lana says:

    Yes I agree…makes sense to me that most Americans are related to some king queen or infamous person.
    You take a few hundred people from Europe and they populate North America. My dna and haplo group put me right dab in the Viking lineage and so much more…

  11. michael yeo says:

    For those interested in the ancestry of Gange-Hrolfr (Rollo of Normandy),my 31st great grandfather,here are some details:
    32,Regnvald. 33,Eystein Aanekas. 34,Ivar. 35,Hafdan Vanha. 36,Sveidi. 37,Heiti. 38,Gorr. 39,Thorri. 40,Snaer Vanha. 41,Frosti.
    42,Kari.43,Fornjotr.(The Ancient Giant, King of Kvenland)
    I hope this is helpful in your research.

    • J. Edwards says:

      My 14th great grandfather Richard Edwardes is rumoured to be the bastard of King Henry VIII. Agnes Blewitt was his mistress, my 15th great grandmother was also the descendent of Rolo, making him my 36th great grandfather.

      If the remors were fact, as my 14th great grandfather’s name was Edwardes out of shame and Henry Tudor acknowledged him, the name Tudor would have been passed down in my family.

      I’m greatful to my name,being Edwards as Henry VIII is the historian I dislike the most and even more so, after hearing the rumours about my ancestors.

  12. Jim says:

    Enjoy watching the TV series ‘Vikings’ What a thrill it is to hear my ancestor’s mentioned.
    Rollo Rognvaldsson was my 33G Grandfather.

  13. Ray Burgess says:

    on a visit to Jersey many years ago I was told by geanologist that my family was descended from Rollo the Viking and followed William 1st to England following the conquest settling in Sussex. On uploading my DNA to My Heritage from Ancestry I discovered many cousins in Norway,Sweden and Denmark and Northern France.

  14. There will be between 500 000 and 1 000 000 descendants of Gongu-Hrolf (Rollo) (not Ganger-Hrolf as per the text above), among them the entire native Icelandic population.

  15. Tracey Anne O´Brien says:

    Im also a direct descendant of Rollo( 37 generations) William the Conquerer married my direct ancestor Matidha or Flanders , most of my family were nobility right back to the mid 1500 when everything went pear shaped and we had all the manors and land confiscated due to being rebels, Some where put in the Tower and executed and some ended up in jail for the rest of their life. There are even some who ended up in the workhouse in 1760. What a come down! So far I have over 5000 on the family tree and according to my DNA have 10 ethenticities includin Russian, Baltic, Italien, Eastern European. The royals certainly got around!T

  16. Haydz says:

    Hi all you fellow cousins! I just discovered I am also a descendant of Hrólfr (Rollo)… 40 generations back I actually found 2 direct lines to him, so somewhere along the lines, about 10 generations beneath Rollo, they crossed over with the St Clair’s in France. Im ecstatic, as I have always felt closer to Paganism than anything else. I even toasted my wedding with mead, did the hand binding ceremony and the blessings of the 4 elements… it all makes sense now!

  17. Allan says:

    Rolfe is my last name must be some connection there some interesting reading among the comments and content of this page.

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