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Normandy’s Other Founder Who History Forgot

Normandy’s Other Founder Who History Forgot

The first ruler of Normandy, the mighty Viking Rollo, did not accomplish all that he did alone. Described as a tall, powerful man, he made a most surprising transition from sea rover to the monarch, and in so doing transformed himself from a pagan marauder into a legitimate Christian ruler. Normandy is an interesting case because the Vikings who settled there as rulers recognized the need to adapt to their new home to maintain legitimacy. Rollo, by example, married into French royalty and played the game of politics well. Norman rule over the region would eventually become the guiding hand of Europe’s future.

The story of the Normans and their first ruler is undoubtedly one of the most incredible success stories in history, but there is one man who was present and heavily involved who everyone seems to have forgotten. Rollo had a relative, and to illustrate how little we know of him, we are unsure if he was Rollo’s brother or uncle. All we have is a name.

His name was Malahulc.

In 1158, Fulk Paynel, a herald and a historian, put together a family tree of the Norman line from alms housed at Servon-sur-Vilaine Abbey, as well as from records of Tithes paid to the church. His aim was to trace back the family of Robert D’Avranches (the knight who was paying him) to find a connection between both William the Conqueror and Rollo of Normandy. He successfully found a connection to both, but he also found a direct line to Malahulc, a man who history appeared to have forgotten already. Yet from his research, it appeared that a major portion of the nobility in Normandy (up to half) could trace back to this man. From the genealogical record, we know nearly nothing, and the only other attestation to Malahulc is from William of Jumièges who described him simply as a relative of Rollo.

Why did this man disappear from the historical record? He was evidently present and involved in the early Norman kingdom as well as a relative of the new ruler, so how can it be that he is not more widely known or attested to? We will likely never know, but the fact remains: by virtue of his relation to Rollo, he must have played a major role in the early Norman kingdom. As a matter of conjecture, it is possible that he and Rollo had a falling out at some point, perhaps over religion (Rollo converted to Christianity via baptism, but perhaps not Malahulc). This may explain his rather suspicious absence from history—he may have been the victim of political sabotage, purposefully omitted by chroniclers of the time for his refusal to be Christian. The reality here is that we simply cannot know, but it’s always fun to speculate.

Christophe Adrien

A bestselling​ author of Viking historical fiction for young adults.

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