By Terry Welshans
Allow me to begin by saying first of all, this article is not about me. It is about us, all of us. I am going to relate this story from my perspective, which is really your perspective as well. Much of what I am writing about is speculation and is quite controversial as little documentation survives. There is great debate among scholars about many of the details and facts, so be warned, what I am writing may not be bound by proof that will withstand legal scrutiny. This may look like a history lesson, but there is an important point at the end.
My 29th great grandfather was a Viking named Göngu Hrólfr whose name was later Latinized as Rollo Rognvaldsson.
Rollo was an adventurer, and after plundering England with boat-loads of his friends, he found his way to western Europe sometime before 900AD according to some accounts. This was much to the dismay of Charles III (later known as Charles the Simple) the King of of West Francia. Rollo and his followers began raiding Frankish territory, including Sens, Étampes and Chartres, south of Paris and Blois on the Loire. Charles was pretty smart for a fellow known as “the Simple.” He and Rollo negotiated an agreement wherein Charles offered Rollo land in exchange for Rollo’s pledge of peace and loyalty to the King of the Franks.
Rollo agreed, settled down, and married Poppa of Bayeux, thought to be the daughter of Berengar II, the Count of Bayeux and Rennes and Margrave of the Breton March. Through her, Rollo converted from Viking Paganism to Christianity, was baptized under the name “Robert” and styled himself as the Duke of Normandy. Normandy was the name Rollo had given to the part of France west of Paris.
Rollo and Poppa had a number of children, one of whom was William I known as “Longsword.” William I also styled himself as Duke of Normandy after his father abdicated. William I had a son known as Richard I “the Fearless.” Richard I had a son known as Richard II “the Good.” Richard I died and was succeeded by Richard II who battled the Saxons in England. After Richard II’s death, his son Richard III succeeded him, but died shortly after taking the title. Richard III’s brother, Robert I “the Magnificent” succeeded him. Robert I was the father of William I, known as the “William the Conqueror” making him the 4th great grandson of Rollo.
Rollo’s great-granddaughter, Emma, sister of Richard II and the daughter of Richard I, married two kings of England, Æhelred “the Unready” and Cnut ,who was also king of Norway and Denmark at that time. Her son from the first marriage to Æhelred was Edward “the Confessor,” who was the King of England from 1042 to 1066. Edward was Rollo’s 2nd great grandson and William’s 2nd great uncle.
Cnut’s sister Estrid Svendsdatter was married to Ulf Thorgilsson, a Danish Earl. Gytha Thorkelsdóttir was Ulf’s sister. She married an Anglo-Saxon nobleman named Godwin of Wessex. Their sons, Harold and Tostig, faced each other at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, where Tostig was killed by Harold’s army. Emma was Tostig’s and Harold’s aunt and Rollo was their 2nd great uncle.
King Edward died in 1066, passing his kingdom to his nephew Harold. Harold’s cousin William I claimed that Edward had promised the kingdom to him, and became very angry, saying that Harold had stolen the kingdom from him. He gathered his army and crossed the channel intending to take England from Harold by force. Less than a month after the Battle of Stamford Bridge, three of Gytha’s sons, Harold, Gyrth, and Leofwine, were killed at the Battle of Hastings fighting against their cousin William I, who was the victor. History is written by the victor, and this is William’s version. This complete scenario is drawn on the 225 foot long Tapestry of Bayeux, and is on display at a museum there. The Tapestry was first described in an inventory of the Bayeux Cathedral taken in 1476.
William I is my 25th great grandfather. Thirty generations could generate more than a billion people. The One Trillion Principle website has a study on how many ancestors we have, I just inverted the spreadsheet. If you have ancestors from western Europe or Great Britain, the probability that you are one of those billion is pretty much in your favor, and in all likelihood, he is your twenty-something grandfather as well.