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Thorfinn the Skull Splitter

Thanks to receiving a large number of old family photographs from my cousin Mike, I've at last got round to investigating the family tree on my mother's side of the family.  Up till now my father's side had provided sufficient entertainment to keep me busy for a few years, including the subject of my  book 'The Chieftain'.  This time however, literally and metaphorically, I've hit the mother lode! Tracing the ancestry of one of my 3x great-grandfathers yesterday afternoon has led me back to the Vikings. Apparently I'm 29 generations removed from a friendly Viking from Orkney called Thorfinn Skull Splitter, and also a few more generations removed from another Viking, Rollo, who fathered William Longsword (William I of Normandy), who himself fathered 'Richard the Fearless'.

How did I find  that out in a single afternoon you may ask? Online searches of course.  Having built my family tree online, the host website's search engines voraciously whirl round and select possible matches between the various family trees that it hosts. I must admit that checking some of these links makes one a bit uneasy when one comes across an ancestor in the middle ages whose birth location according to another 'tree' was apparently in an American township that had not been founded at that time....a sign perhaps that some considerable editorial checking will be needed to ratify my new findings.

However, having decided to check up on Thorfinn and Rollo etc. on other websites I'm pretty convinced that there are enough similarities between us to justify my likely Viking ancestry.  Firstly, I understand that Rollo was known as 'The Walker', apparently because he was so big that no horse could carry him.  That definitely sounds like me. Secondly, it  appears that the Vikings were not without a sense of humour in the nicknames that they bestowed upon people. There was, apparently, a Thorfinn the Short who was actually noted for being very tall, and it is therefore within the bounds of possibility that Thorfinn 'Skullsplitter' was so named because he was a gentle old soul who wouldn't hurt a fly. That I hope provides the definitive proof.  We apparently share the same sense of humour.

I'm a bit worried about the 'Richard the Fearless' connection.  But I suppose being a Viking means that one can 'walk tall'. So just remember - don't mess with me!

18 thoughts on “Thorfinn the Skull Splitter

  1. Frances Tornese

    Hello. I too am related to the skullsplitter. He is one of my 30th great Grandfathers. [Thorfinn I Rollo (Brico) "Hausakliffer" (Skull-Splitter) (Earl of Orkney) Einarsson (890 - 977)]
    There is a story about him that explains his name. It tells of him splitting the skull of another boy while "playing" . His mother was proud of what a strong and ruthless boy he was. Their sensibilities and morality were certainly different than ours today.

  2. Robin

    Greetings son of skull splitter :). Yes, I too am a descendent of this guy. You are my distant cousin. Have you continued going back after the skull splitter to his ancestors? It is very interesting what you will find!!!!

  3. Rob Russell


    Yet another family member surfaces, vikings never die they spend their days lounging in Valhal, recounting their numerous battles. My own family history has been traced back to Rollo, since I am Scottish by birth yet living in Norway, I can claim to have a great deal of interest in my family origins. Rollo is a family name in Scotland, obviously descendants of Rollo. However there has been a certain amount of discussion as to the true identity of Rollo, some claim that Thorfinn and Rollo are one and the same while others claim otherwise. I include copy's of some of the debates regarding the two, but before I do I would like to point out that Einarsson was Thorfinns surname and Ragnvaldsson was Rollo's, just so that is made clear.

    Thorfinn I Rollo (Brico) "Hausakliffer" ("Skull-Splitter") Einarsson
    born about 0890 Orkney Islands, Scotland
    died after 0977
    buried Burial Mound, Hoxa, Ronaldsay, Scotland

    *Einar "Turf" Rognvaldsson Jarl of Orkney
    born about 0852 Maer, More og Romsdal, Norway
    died 0910 Orkney, Orkney Islands, Scotland

    Rollo Ragnvaldsson
    West Norwegian Viking chieftain. Parents: Ragnvald Jarl and Hild Rolv Daughter. The sources don't say if he was married or not. Half Brother of Einar Ragnvaldsson (d. ca. 910).
    Rollo has historical significance, above all because he has been identified with Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy. 911 joined the French king, Charles the Simple and Viking leader Rollo a deal that was that Rollo and his men were going to get the area around the mouth of the Seine towards defending the country against other Vikings.
    About Rollo as a Norwegian chieftain, we have not much information. He was the son of Ragnvald Jarl and Hild, the daughter of an otherwise unknown chief, Rolf Nefia, whom he named. The saga explains his nickname since he was so big that he could not ride a horse (Old Norse Gongu-Hrólfr, 'admin that goes'). Otherwise, it is said that he was often out in Viking (Norse explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates who raided, traded, explored and settled in wide areas of Europe), and that Harald eventually made him an outlaw after he had raged in Norway. His mother should have complained about this in a skaldic stanza preserved.
    The question of who Rollo was, can never be definitely answered. But among both Norwegian and French and British historians, it is now common to think that judging from the sources - and the choice between the two possibilities present - it is after all the most in favor of a Norwegian origin.

    Very little is passed on government Rollo of Normandy. The sources can tell that he baptized 912, and he died probably sometime between 928 and 932 Rollo descendants set as dukes of Normandy until 1202, and his grandson grandson Guillaume (d. 1087) was King of England 1066 (William the Conqueror).

    25. september 1911 in the town park in Ålesund during a major event unveiled a statue of Rollo / Rollo. The statue was a gift to the town from Rouen in Normandy. It is a bronze replica of the original statue in marble of 1863, standing outside the cathedral in Rouen.
    I sincerely hope that this has either created enlightenment or caused greater confusion as to the identity of Thorfinn and Rollo, were they one and the same or were they two totally different entities, I will leave it for you the reader to decide for yourselves as I have made my own decision on what I believe to be correct.

    Robb the Viking

  4. Jason

    Nice post. My wife and I have done lots of research and also have a direct line to Grandpa Skullsplitter.

    We have found a few things you might enjoy:

    1) Orkney Brewery has a craft brew named in his honor -
    select country, your year of birth then "skullsplitter"

    2) There is a great book on the whole line of vikings and THE historical record of the Viking line he was part of available on Amazon -


  5. Jodi

    Hello cousins,
    Add me AND my husband to the list of descendants of the Skull Splitter! We are Americans of Scottish descent. 🙂
    You realize, don't you, that if you continue to follow the "online" family tree back far enough it says we are descendants of Odin and Frigga, right? 😉

  6. Peggy

    Count me in! 30 generations removed, which would make us somewhat 'distant cousins' but what fun it was to trace this part of the family back! Not done, yet ...

  7. Scarlett

    hi! i recently discovered i am likewise a descendant of thorfinn's, living now in australia, via my maternal great-grandmother, who was descended from both james 1st of scotland and his sister mary, and william the conqueror in another line - another king of oppland in norway called rognvald eysteinsson appears to be the common link, and the ancestor of both the kings of orkney and dukes of normandy - it has certainly been a fascinating history lesson tracing it all back, and wouldnt the old chap be proud to know how far his genes have spread across the world! cheers and maybe i'll be serving you a beer in valhalla some day! 🙂

  8. George D. Jepson

    Like the rest of you, cousins, I recently discovered Thorfinn (my 29th great grandfather), while researching and building our family tree. I live in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and have a long line of Scottish descendants on one side and a similar line of Swedish ancestors on the other. This is all pretty interesting stuff, realizing that we all came from somewhere far in the past.

  9. Janice Heatlie Pell

    Hello cousins Thorfinn, the skull splitter is my 36th grandfather, I came upon this website while researching and found it very interesting, I thought I would add also. George, I also live in Michigan, Lenox Twp about 30 miles south of Detroit. small world lol. I have Scottish descendents. I have been amazed at what I have found about our ancestors. All so very interesting and fun to discover.

    1. George D. Jepson

      Hi, Janice:
      Many thanks for your note. The online ancestry services have brought a whole lot of us together. I'm dumbfounded at the lineage from the Vikings forward. Ultimately our branch of the tree morphed into the surname Alexander with my great-grandmother in East Jordan. I'm still trying to process all of the offshoots from Thorfinn the Skull-Splitter and his immediate family. I'll bet family get-togethers were something in the day.

  10. Nan Talbot

    My husband just learned that Rollo is his 30th g. grandfather and we're just amazed. It was cool enough when he learned his ancestral grandfather, George Soule, came over on the Mayflower, but the wonderful discoveries just keep coming. He discovered Rollo while going back from George Soule's wife, Mary Beckett. We had NOT heard of old Skull Splitter but I'm still giggling. I'm a bit jealous now but was thrilled to trace some of my ancestors back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Its so much fun. Love your blog. Thanks. Oh, one more thing, you have to wonder if the head writer of the TV show Vikings might not also be related to Rollo since there is a character on the show named Rollo and his brother is Ragnar. Ragnar...Ragnvaldsson...hmmmm.

  11. Paula

    Hello, cousins! Thorfinn I Rollo Brico Hausakliffer Skull Einarsson is my 35th great-grandfather. Great reading about him! Thanks for the original blog post, Chris!

  12. Cherie Splitter

    My father was from Aachen Germany and he told us his name descended from skullsplitter I was curious how could I find out if there were many named skullsplitter or if thorfinn was the only one? My father was Kurt Slitter born 1927.

  13. Angela McDowall

    Hi all - Thorfinn is my 27 x grandfather. I live in New Zealand but was born on Niue Island. My fathers parents have scottish ancestry and the link is through my fathers mother. One of my brothers lives in Perth, Western Australia and was very excited to find some SkullSplitter Lager! I've asked him to try and smuggle some into NZ for me!

  14. Eldon David Nelson

    I descend from The Skull Splitter and Rollo the Viking and King Robert Stewart III of Scotland, and so on. My DNA says 40% Irish, Scottish, Welch and 33 % Scandinavian, 22% Western European. So that's most of me. you can see my tree at Glad to be a part of this Heritage. EDN

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