David Churchill on the Viking Heritage of the Normans

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Today I am delighted to be hosting Day 5 of ‘The Leopards of Normandy: Devil’ Blog Tour.

Please welcome to neverimitate the author, David Churchill, as he tells us more about William the Conqueror’s ancestors, the Vikings.

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Most schoolboys who know about the Vikings think they’re great. With the longships with the dragon prows; the horned helmets (even if they didn’t actually wear them); the gods of Asgard like Odin, Loki and, of course, Thor, what’s not to like? Me, I was also proud of them because my granny Ebba Roll was the daughter of a Norwegian shipbroker. So as far as my eight year-old self was concerned, I had Viking blood in me too and I thought that was great.

Granted, I am not exactly the Viking type. I don’t drink gallons of mead from horn goblets. I’ve never raped or pillaged in my life.  True, I do have some experience as an oarsman, but that was gained rowing in a college eight down the peaceful waters of the river Cam, not braving the Atlantic ocean all the way to Greenland and America, nor rowing down the Dnieper to the Black Sea and Constantinople beyond. The Vikings were warriors, invaders, explorers, traders, nation builders and among the many things they became, they were Normans.

The story of the founding of Normandy in 911 by the man variously known as Hrolf, Rollo, Robert or Rou is a classic piece of Viking swagger. After decades of rootless wandering and fighting, much of it in northwest France and up and down the valley of the River Seine, Rollo was finally defeated by a Frankish arm outside Chartres. One hates to indulge in cheap national stereotypes, but the French promptly surrendered – or as good as – to the man they had just beaten. King Charles the Simple conducted a bizarre negotiation on an island in the River Epte in which Charles offered Rollo first Brittany (too rocky, Rollo said) and then Flanders (too damp) before granting him the lands between the Epte and the sea, which would become a duchy known as Normandy, after the Norsemen who had founded it.

It is, I think, impossible to understand the Normans without appreciating their Viking blood and their Viking attitudes. But even Rollo, as with so much in this story, is shrouded in mystery. No one knows exactly who he was or where he came from. Among the more plausible candidates, however is Hrolf Rognvaldson, whose father was a Norwegian earl. He was known as Ganger Hrolf, or ‘Walker Rolf’ because he was so big that no horse could carry him … Or as I have chosen to translate it, Rollo the Strider, because a man that cool needs a name to match.

 

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I reviewed this action packed work of historical fiction here.

Don’t forget to check out the other great blogs taking part in this tour. Click here for links.

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One comment on “David Churchill on the Viking Heritage of the Normans

  1. I have read this book and I am looking forward to the next. It has even converted my husband into
    early English history!

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