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ROLF, THE FOUNDER 912-927

married -
  1. Popa, daughter of Count Berenger of Bayeux
  2. Gisela, daughter of King Charles the Simple
CONTEMPORARY PRINCES:
FRANCE: 896 Charles IV, the Simple; 922 Robert I; 923 Rudolf
NORWAY: 863 Harald Fairhair, to 934
ENGLAND: 901 Edward the Elder; 924 Athelstan

From The Normans in Europe:

ROLF, son of Rognvald, Earl of Moeri, by his lady Ragnhilda, daughter of Rolf Nefia, was a renowned sea-king. Named after his maternal grandfather, he further obtained from the restless activity of his movements the soubriquet of "Ganger", or "Walker". He made much warfare in the East. One summer when he returned from "Vikingry", or a raiding expedition in the East, he committed acts of depredation in Viken. King Harald Fairhair, who was then in that district, was very angry when be heard of this, for he had strictly forbidden robbery within his land. He therefore announced at a Thing [a general assemblage of Free men] that he made Rolf an outlaw from Norway. When Rolf's mother heard this she went to Harald to ask for pardon for Rolf, but the king was so angry that her prayers were of no avail. Then she sang: -

"Thinkst thou, King Harald, in thine anger
To drive away my brave Rolf Ganger,
Like a mad wolf, from out the land ?
Why, Harald, raise thy mighty hand ?
Why banish Naefia's gallant name-son,
The brother of brave udal-men?
Why is thy cruelty so fell ?
Bethink thee, monarch, is it well
With such a wolf at wolf to play ?
Who, driven to the wild woods away,
May make the king's best deer his prey"

[From Sturleson's Heimskringla]

Rolf then went westward across the sea to the Hebrides (the Sudreyar), and is described as following the calling of a viking in Gaul and England for nearly forty years before his final settlement at Rouen. He is said to have joined Guthrum in his wars against Alfred, but to have been persuaded by the Saxon King to leave England and seek richer spoil in France. In 876 he entered the Seine, and from then till 912 ravaged the unfortunate country. In 888, the fatal year which saw the final dismemberment of the Empire of Charles the Great, began the famous siege of Paris by Rolf. The town was, however, successfully defended by its Count, Eudes, who in reward was for a time chosen King of France.

Contemporary chroniclers are silent from 900 to 911, and when they speak again Rolf is found in possession of Rouen, and Gaul in a pitiable state. In spite of his repulse by the Count of Paris, Rolf continued his devastations, until at last Charles of France granted him by treaty the territories which were already his own, and thus, as Alfred the Great had done for England, gained a respite for his distracted kingdom. By this treaty of St.Clair-sur-Epte (912) Rolf secured the country from the Epte to the sea, and the overlordship of Brittany, with the hand of Gisela, the daughter of Charles the Simple; and with a nominal acceptance of Christianity as the price of the treaty, was led to the font by Robert, Count of Paris, who consented to be his godfather.

To the demand of Charles that Rolf should do homage to him, and kiss the royal foot, the independent Northman answered indignantly, "Ne si, by Got" (Not so, by God). When at last he consented that it should be done by proxy, it is said that King Charles was thrown backwards by the rudeness of the Norse soldier as he raised the foot to perform the prescribed salute. The tale probably points to an act of nominal homage done by Rolf; but the Normans of later date appealed to it to show that they held their country of no higher sovereign-in-chief, but of Cod alone, and were proud of an insult offered with impunity to a descendant of the great Emperor of the West.

In 922, when Robert of Paris broke out in rebellion, Rolf and the Northmen who had settled in the Loire, aided Charles at the battle of Soissons, where Robert paid the penalty with his life. The following year, however, Charles unwisely trusted himself to the plighted troth of Herbert of Vermandois, who faithlessly seized him and kept him prisoner, with one short interval, until his death. In revenge Rolf ravaged the country of the Duke of Paris, and a long war of four years ensued, generally to the advantage of the Norman Duke. This, though not successful in opening the prison of his royal father-in-law, resulted in two important acquisitions to the Norman territory. The Bessin, the district around Bayeux, was granted to Rolf, as well as the land of Maine.

The annexation of the Bessin was his last exploit. Shortly afterwards (927), at the demand of his people, he abdicated unwillingly in favour of his son. Five more years, it is said, he lived, and then the old man of four-score and odd years - years teeming with deeds of strange contrast, of stranger import to future times - disappears from history.

As we stand over his tomb in the chapel of St.Romanus, at Rouen, strange are the thoughts which flit across our mind. Here lies the once dread sea-king, the pillager of France; then one of the most powerful of her sons, a Duke, a legislator; the father of his people, the progenitor of a long line of dukes and kings. When all is told, we know but little of him. Many of the rolls which would have recorded his fame were probably burnt by his own hand. To recall all the events of his varied life is now beyond the power of man, but the best proof of his power and his genius is, that it was his life that inspired a Canon of his own town, Bayeux, to write one of the earliest romances of modern Europe; and that while all other settlements of the race in France and Germany rapidly disappeared, his alone has lasted on and deeply affected future ages.

By his second wife, Gisela of France, he was issueless, but by his first wife, Popa, daughter of Count Berenger, of Bayeux, he had one son, his successor William.

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