Archive for the 'Norway' Category

Was there a Norman/Viking conspiracy to attack England in 1066?

Listener Shane asked if William the Conqueror and Harald Hardrada had an agreement to attack England jointly.  This could after all explain certain curious behaviors by both William and Harald.  The Duke delayed his departure to England claiming a lack of favorable winds- was he instead waiting for Hardrada’s attack to draw away King Harold’s forces?  Along the same vein, did the Norse invader lower his defenses after Stamford Bridge because he was expecting Harold to be tied up at Hastings?  The Normans and Vikings had deep ties and a shared cultural background and it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that they would act together.

It’s an intriguing idea, but ultimately, I think unlikely.  While the close timing of the invasions was certainly mutually beneficial and Hardrada almost certainly knew of William’s plans (he hardly bothered to keep them secret), neither man’s personality was given to sharing.  William genuinely believed that he had the best right to the entire kingdom, and while his delay in crossing the Channel proved fortuitous it would be giving him too much credit to say that it was a calculated strategy.  Every day that passed with his army still in Normandy cost him in money, food and reputation, and he was as anxious as Harold to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.  The more opportunistic Hardrada may indeed have taken advantage of William’s threat, but he was no more likely to share authority than his Norman opponent.  He had just finished a fifteen-year war with the legitimate king of Sweden, fought for no other reason than a blatant power grab.  This was a man who clearly didn’t tolerate rivals.

If indeed there was an agreement- something like the partition of England that Cnut and Edmund Ironside had concluded a generation earlier- it’s interesting to speculate what would have happened.  It would clearly have been a partnership headed for disaster, as neither man would have trusted the other an inch.  Only a matter of time and they would be at each other’s throats.

One response so far

Was Hrolfr Granger Rollo?

Listener Eric asked if there was any truth to the medieval rumor that the legendary Hrolfr Granger- a man so enormous that no horse could support his weight- was actually Rollo of Normandy.

Believe it or not this was a question of such fierce debate in the early 20th century that it spilled into national newspapers and became the subject of several angry diatribes.  1911 was the 1,000th year anniversary of the founding of Normandy and there was much Scandinavian pride in this native son made good.  The trouble was that no one was exactly sure where Rollo came from and both Denmark and Norway claimed him.  Norway especially was proud of its distinct national character (they had just broken away from Sweden in 1905) and wasn’t about to let Denmark steal their thunder.

What made the argument particularly fierce is that there is so little reliable information about Rollo’s origins.  The earliest source (Richer of Reims- circa 996) gives Rollo a Danish origin, but he makes no distinction between any Vikings, referring to all of them as Danes.  Where exactly each roving band of raiders originated was not that important to those who had to fend them off.  The Norse sagas on the other hand (circa 12th century) all claim that Rollo (whom they call Hrolfr Granger) was from Norway as does the French Chronicon de gestis Normannorum and the Welsh Historia Gruffud vab Kenan.  The Normans themselves were split on the subject.  Dudo of St. Quentin (1030) gave Rollo a Danish father while Geoffrey Malaterra (1090) gave him a Norwegian one.

The truth unfortunately is that we will probably never have conclusive proof either way.  I tend to think that the Norse account of Hrolfr Granger contains a healthy dose of legend but that it can loosely be connected to Rollo.  The medieval sources, when they bothered to distinguish between different groups of Vikings, usually came down on the side of a Norwegian ancestry.  Hardly an airtight case, but most likely the best we can do.

No responses yet