Follow the footsteps of Five Frisian Kings
We plotted the exact locations of the whereabouts of the five Frisian kings Finn, Audulfus, Aldgils, Redbad and Poppo. We might have even hit some royal DNA samples. GPS, ready, go!
Just follow and click the blue pins on the map below.
Plotting the Frisia Coast Trail hike
When shaping the Frisian Coast Trail we are especially interested in historical Frisian locations. Where well known medieval Frisian kings lived is a vital part of the Frisia Coast Trail. In this blog post you will find all there is to find about geography and locations.
For over a year we studied the whereabouts of five Frisian kings Finn, Audulfus, Aldgils, Redbad and Poppo. We separated facts from legends and pinpointed where the Frisians most likely have been hanging out.
Yet, it’s only a start. Suggestions are more than welcome!
To be a king, or not to be a king
First a note on the word ‘king’. Kings as we know them are hereditary blood lines of monarchs. Frankish kings were exactly that. Not the Frisian kings.
As the ancestors from the Frisians migrated from current Scandinavia, kings were defined very differently. Frisian and Anglo Saxon societies were pretty much a meritocracy. See Frisian kings as successful warlords who earned their merits at the battlefields or showed natural leadership in other events.
For this reason we doubt that Redbad was son of Aldgisl, although it is very likely that Redbad was Aldgisl’s successor. Frankish sources even mention this fact seen from their own paradigm: “(..) and Radbod, whom they say to be the son of king Aldgisl, but we have no knowledge of that.”
Likewise we doubt that Poppo was son of Redbad. Poppo lived in a different area of Frisia. The documented Frisian law’s from those times, Lex Frisionum, splits the Frisian territories into three parts (p68).
West-Frisia, from Belgium to Vlieland
Mid-Frisia, from Vlieland to Lauwers
East-Frisia, from Lauwers to Weser
Frankish sources situate Aldgisl and Redbad mainly West-Frisia, whereas Poppo is to be found in Mid-Frisia. Also Finn and Audulfus are probably linked to West-Frisia, but solid evidence is missing.
Also, in the sources we explored, Redbad is called King as well as Duke. So what is he really? Richard Broome, from the University of Leeds, shows in his article, Rebel Duke and Pagan King, that it lies in the eyes of the beholder. If the author is describing the great deeds of a saint, then it is worth making Redbad to a king. If the author of the source is an enemy (read: Franks) who conquered the Frisian territory then the title of Duke seems more suited.
The whereabouts of Finn Folcwaldin, AD 450
Finn, son of Folcwald, is the first Frisian king mentioned in history. He is commonly assumed to have lived around AD 450. Rock solid proof Finn ever lived is not present.
However, two early-medieval texts tell us about the famous battle (Beowulf and the Finnesburg Fragment) between Fin and Hygelac. His opponent is indisputably historical and recorded by Latin historians in the sixth century AD. Read all about Finn here.
An important battle takes place in the citadel of Finn, or Finnsburgh. The exact place where Finnsburh was situated will probably stay unknown forever. Finnsburgh could have been be located northern in Germany, the Dutch coast or the lower river Rhine area, at a place called Rijnsburg.
According to historian Gregory of Tours, Hygelac was killed during a raid at the (old) mouth of the river Rhine in AD 521. This might be around the present-day town Rijnsburg in the province South Holland in the Netherlands.
According to other sources Hygelac was killed by the Franks between AD 516 and 534, more upstream the Rhine basin near the present-day city of Nijmegen in the province Gelderland in the Netherlands.
The whereabouts of Audulfus, AD 600 Audulfus is the only Frisian whose portrait we have. It is also the king about whom least has been written. Exactly 4 words.
AVDVLFVS FRISIA or VICTORIA AVDVLFO.
The explanation for the short text and portrait is that we only known about Audulfo him because he is mentioned on coins.
At four different locations his coins were found.
Netherlands at Escharen nearby Arnhem
Netherlands at Wijnaldum nearby Harlingen
Netherlands at Wiuwert nearby Leeuwarden.
Most are dated between 600 and 630. At Wijnaldum a coin stamp of Audwulf with the words AUDWULF FRISIA was found.
The coins at Escharen were part of a hoard consisting of 12 golden solidi and 54 tremesses dating between 491 BC - AD 630. Therefore, the hoard must have been buried at AD 630 latest and places the reign of Audulf at the end of the 6th or the beginning of the 7th century AD (even between AD 534 - 628 according to some).
Since these places are sites the coins were found, but not necessarily where Audulfus was, we did not include them in the map.
Read more about the Frisians re-introducing currencies after the collapse of the Roman empire.
The whereabouts of Aldgisl, AD 650
Aldgisl is mentioned in relation to an exceptional event in Frankish history.
Also in the Frisian history he made his mark. “The reliable sources mention, in 677 king Aldgisl made Frisia free, and so Frisia was not under the authority of kings Dagobert II and Tedderic II, despite the wars with the Franks.” What is referred is mainly the Rhine delta. The Netherlands looked very different back then. The coastline is basically a combinations of islands, marshlands and swamps.
Aldgisl plays a pivotal role as an outsider in a quarrel between Frankish and Anglo christians. He grants a persecuted Anglo priest, Wilfried, asylum in Frisia. Read about the event here.
While describing the quarrel and events, it becomes apparent where Aldgisl lived and reigned. To ask for asylum Wilfried had to visit Aldgisl. Wilfrid passed by Utrecht to go on to the international commercial hub of Dorestad. They mention, “And so, comrades, when they first began the crossing the Utrecht castle, if Alcvini rightly reported.”
“The Frisians won Dorestad, which is on the border of the Frisians and the Franks, and situated at the passing of the Rhine, at Utrecht.”
It is likely that Aldgisl lived and reigned in the former Roman castle near Dorestad, Levefanum. Due to the changing currents of the Lek river, the castle has been washed away or is under water.
“The Frisian castle in Utrecht was destroyed and recovered as a religious assembly (church) by the Franks when West Frisia was not subject to the kingdom of the Franks.”
The location of the castle must be found at the oldest part of Utrecht. The place where the crossing of the river Vecht was situated. This is where the current Dom church is located.
To get a very good idea of how the place must have looked like please download the app called “DOM under”. It allows you to walk the place and have a good 3D experience.
The whereabouts of Redbad, AD 719
Redbad is the most described Frisian king in historical sources. About him also the most legends have surfaced. Redbad shows up in the Dutch regions, as well as in Germany and Denmark.
As a kid, I guess this is what puzzled many people and prevented them from giving me a clear picture as to where Frisian Kings lived. And so we did a deep dive especially in the life of Redbad in a number of articles. We explored contemporary articles as well as biographies of Redbad.
We now are able to establish a rudimentary picture of where Redbad lived for sure and where most likely not. We almost can touch his DNA.
Rhenen is the place where the legend Saint Cunera takes place. Redbad plays a role in this legend. Cunera lived around 340 AD and Redbad died in 719. In the three centuries after his death the Frisians were christianized. It would have been close to impossible to find a Christian Frisian in the 4th century, let alone a king.
Dorestad and Utrecht
What applies to Aldgisl, applies to Redbad too. He reigned and lived in the areas of Utrecht and Dorestad. But there is a difference. Redbad had to Dorestad between 689 and 714, as he lost it to the Franks. It is unsure if Utrecht was lost together with Dorestad or was held longer.
According to Alcuin Willibrord visited Redbad in Utrecht after the loss of Dorestad in 689. Beda shows that Willibrord founded in the same period his seat in Utrecht, enforced by Pepin, the Frankish ruler.
In that time the evangelist Boniface seeked for permission to evangelise in Frisian territory and visited Redbad in Utrecht via Dorestad.
”Redbad defeated the young Charles Martel and took once more possession of Frisia at the cost of the Franks and the English inhabitants, and possessed it until he died in 719. (..) In the description of Boniface’s life, it shows that in the year 717 pagan Redbad ruled Durestadii and Utrecht.”
Read all about the battles of losing and reclaiming Dorestad.
Here is the intriguing part. In 2014 a number of coins were found, also known as sceatta’s and tremisses. Scientists discovered these coins were put in the ground around at the end of the 7th century. On top, these coins we made of gold, while in 675 the Frisians moved to silver coins. It looks like this has been a royal treasure. It is not unlikely this treasure was owned by Redbad or his aristocracy.
Vreeswijk is located right in below Utrecht and West of Dorestad. Redbad is never mentioned to have been here. Not even in legends. But as he travelled up and down between Utrecht and Dorestad he could not have missed it.
Besides, the name of the place refers to his people, the Frisians. It was first mentioned as Fresionouuic in the 9th century as property of the Utrecht bisdom. Fresionouuic means Frisiansborough, in Dutch Friezenwijk, a hood where the Frisians were.
Nifterlake (Vecht area)
Nifterlake is not one place. It is an area that follows the river Vecht. The Vecht connects Utrecht with the IJsselmeer (called Almere back then). Luit van der Tuuk argues that after the loss of Dorestad and Utrecht the Nifterlake region continued to be Frisian territory (Radbod, p 105).
This entire region, also stretching to the North Sea coast (Amsterdam and Haarlem region) was originally Frisian judging by the originally Frisian names, like Muiden, Aldermuideweide, Meynevelt, de Goog, Kerke- Middelregawech. Abcoude, right under Amsterdam, is derived from an old Frisian name ‘Abbako’.
Closer to the sea, right above the Hague, you will find Oegstgeest. Around 500 AD, a Frisian gentleman called Oosugeer set foot at this place and settled there. From his name the city derived its name Oegstgeest.
Attengahem is currently called Breukelen. The old name derives from the Frisian name Atto. Boniface built there a church called Saint Peter.
Only after Redbad’s death this region became under rule of the Franks (Radbod, p 152).
Velsen is situated West from Amsterdam. It is mentioned by Liudger. In his hagiography of Boniface he describes that the evangelist used Velsen as his home base. Reason being that it was close to the Frisian territories. Redbad had died just recently. Still it looks like that this areas remained under Frisian influence at least until 734.
Some historians, e.g. Halbertsma, argues that Redbad withdrew to Velsen after his defeat at Dorestad. No sources have been found that support that fact.
Kennemerland is the region north of Velsen. After Redbads death this area remained under Frisian influence. From this period no Frankish coins have been found in this are (Radbod, p 154). Yet only Frisian sceatta’s surface in this area. In this looks like that this areas remained at least until 734 under Frisian influence.
Some historians, e.g. Halbertsma, argues that Redbad withdrew to Kennemerland after his defeat at Dorestad. No sources have been found that support that fact.
Egmond is where allegilby Redbad was buried. This is due to the fact that burial place is called Radboutskerkhof. But conclusive evidence is not available.
According to van der Tuuk it is not impossible that Redbad frequented Egmond.
Medemblik is situated close to the former sea, Zuiderzee. In the city of Medemblik a castle is called Radboud. However it is only two centuries old, it might have been built upon older remains. This has never been researched (Radbod, p. 89).
Please our in depth blog post on Medemblik.
Stavoren, a.k.a.Staveren, is allegedly the burial place of Redbad. The source itself that makes this claim refers to Medemblik as the burial place for Redbad (p 86). The source makes several wrong assumptions. No proof has been supporting this claim.
Cologne is for sure a place that Redbad ‘visited’. When his Frankish opponent died, he reconquered Utrecht and Dorestad and marched on to Cologne. Read all about this campaign here.
Forseti island, Germany
Forseti island, a.k.a. Helgoland, is mentioned by Alcuin to have been visited by Redbad. Alciuin is known to be the biographer of the evangelist Willibrord. Willibrord defied the pagans rites on Helgoland (sacred or holyland) and had to face Redbad.
According to Alcuin Redbad ruled and stayed on Helgoland. Some historians doubt this (Radbod, p 91 and 126). Others like Halbertsma (P 229) believe indeed that Redbad was on Helgoland the same time as Willibrord and went on to Denmark.
We believe it is not an unlikely propaganda trick of Alcuin in the same degree Redbad was baptised by Wulfrum 16 years after the evangelists death. Bummer.
Dunum is the place where, according to a legend, Redbads grave can be found. It is situated at the Radbodsberg in Dunum, Ost-Friesland.
Many other claims are made that Redbad had a castle or was buried in Radbodsholz Berumerfehn, Radbodsberg on the lost island of Bant, Hasselberg en Leer (Radbod, p89). Litle to no documentation is available.
The whereabouts of Poppo, AD 734
Poppo was a Frisian leader after the times of Redbad. He died in 734 in a battle against the Franks. The battle took place close to the village of Irnsum. If you are interested in the original sources, please read the blog The Boarn Supremacy.
Further reading and sources
Radbod, Luit van der Tuuk 0 Jul 31, 2018
Frieslands Oudheid, het rijk van de Friese koningen, opkomst en ondergang van het koninklijk Friesland, H. Halbertsma - 1999
Redbad. Koning in de marge van de geschiedenis - Sven Meeder- 2018
Redbad, Rebel Duke and Pagan King, Richard Broome