The Castles of Denmark are truly remarkable! We visited five of them on our recent trip to Denmark. My motive for visiting these Castles was mainly historical. I was searching for two royal women who were imprisoned in two of the Castles to see how they survived and how history has remembered them.
Two Royal Women of Denmark
The first is Leonora Christina (1621 – 1698), daughter of King Christian IV by his morganatic marriage to Kirsten Munk. In 1648 she was married to Corfitz Ulfedt. Although her marriage was a happy one, she was imprisoned in a dungeon in the Blue Tower of Christiansborg Slot for 22 years, for presumed knowledge of her husband’s treachery against her half brother King Frederick III. She was not released until after the death of his wife, Queen Sophie Amalie who remained her bitter enemy. She is famous for writing her memoir, A Memory of Lament (Jammers Minde), a sad and often humorous account of how she survived her ordeal. This is one of her portraits on display in Frederiksborg Castle.
The second is Queen Caroline Matilda (1751-1775), sister of King George III of England, and wife of the schizophrenic King Christian VII. She was arrested and imprisoned in Kronborg Castle for her alleged affair with Count Streunsee. He planned to reduce the power of the aristocracy and alleviate the suffering of serfs, but both himself and the Queen paid dearly for this ambition. She died at the tender age of 24 years, exiled to her brother’s Hanoverian Electoral Kingdom in Celle, Germany. He was punished with a grizzly execution. This small portrait of her in Frederiksborg Castle is one of the few portraits of her that I found in Denmark.
Queen Caroline Matilda suffered the same fate as her great grandmother, Sophia Dorothea, who was imprisoned in Ahlden in the Electorate of Hanover for 32 years for her alleged affair with Count Königsmark. Her husband ascended the throne of England as King George I.
Frederiksborg Castle is situated in Hillerød, Denmark, a pleasant 2 hour train trip north of Copenhagen, with lovely views of Danish countryside. It is a short walk from the station to Castle. And then, entering the cobblestone plaza of Hillerød, the first vista of the Castle appears. It abounds with fairy-tale magic seemingly floating on its lake.
The Castle was built by King Christian IV (1588-1648) as his royal residence. And, it was the largest Renaissance Castle in Scandinavia. It took only 10 years to build from 1610 to 1620 and is situated on 3 islets in Castle Lake. The red bricks and high stepped gables are Dutch Renaissance in style. Entering the forecourt Neptune greets the visitor announcing Nordic dominance, and the power of its King.
The Castle was destroyed by fire in 1859. But, it was rebuilt and restored in 1882 and became the Danish Museum of National History. However, the Chapel and the Audience Rooms were spared the fire preserving their sumptuous decorations. The Chapel lies to the left of the forecourt and its Renaissance style decorations are magnificent. It was consecrated in 1617 and its most amazing features are the palisade grisaille frescoes of biblical figures and the vaulted stucco ceiling born by pillars rising from the galleries and highlighting the magnificent organ.
Equally as opulent is the Great Hall!
Outdoors the grounds were glowing with colours of autumn! Here is a view of the Baroque Gardens seen from one of the rooms in the Castle.
Looking at the magnificent Baroque Garden resplendent in a multitude of autumn colours, I can so easily visualise Queen Caroline Matilda riding through the grounds, hunting with the King, Streunsee and their retinue. This Castle was her favourite, and she used to dress in men’s clothing to go riding seated straddled on her horse and was an excellent shot and horsewoman. I found this drawing of her in the Celle Ducal Palace in Germany where she ended her days. She is dressed in men’s clothing ready to go riding. It is a sketch prepared for a formal painting at her husband, the King’s request.
In many ways she was a woman ahead of her time making her unpopular with the aristocracy. Today there is little evidence of her in Frederiksborg Castle. I found one small, unattractive image her of in a tiny corner of one of the rooms, and nearby were the Counts Streunsee and Brandt who suffered a grizzly execution convicted of ‘lese-majesty’. However, there are lovely portraits of her daughter and son, who became King Frederick VI.
On the other hand, Leonora Christina is well represented in this Castle, with several lovely portraits of herself, her husband and two of her daughters. There is a poem written on silk and signed by her in a display cabinet. In a nearby miniatures room, is a collection of religious objects relating to her, reminiscent of her time spent in Maribo Monastery for 12 years after her release from prison in 1685.
Our visit to this Castle was all to brief and after a few hours we again head to the train station to visit Kronborg Castle! But I would recommend taking a whole day to visit the Castle exploring it more thoroughly and wandering in the grounds. The restaurants in Hillerød, with lovely views of the Castle, are also very inviting for a leisurely lunch. I have since discovered that the Castle has amazing exhibitions. I would love to have seen the portraiture exhibition by my favourite artist, Jonathan Yeo. Currently there is an exhibition of clothing across the ages. This week Baroque fashions are exhibited with torturously long, small waists for women!
This Castle well and truly satisfied my love of history and accidental cultural discoveries!
King Christian IV needed a break from the old medieval Copenhagen Castle, so in 1606 he bought land outside the Nørrevold wall to build a pleasure palace with a park and kitchen garden. By 1633 the humble summer palace was completed and looked just like the picture above which also shows some of the King’s Garden. He loved the Castle so much that on his deathbed he was transported by sleigh to Rosenborg to end his days there. This Castle is now a Museum housing the Crown Jewels and Danish Regalia, amazing swords and military items, the Royal thrones, portraiture, and vast collections of royal household items. These collections are brilliantly dazzling making a visit to this Castle a stand alone journey into the opulence of Danish history. My favourite is this crown which was made for the coronation of King Christian IV. It weighs 2895 g and its jewels are arranged into a variety of images, each one symbolising an attribute needed by a worthy king. The crown is only rivalled by the Coronation thrones!
The Knight’s Hall is as magnificent as the Crown Jewels! It was completed in 1624 and was used as a ballroom, audience room and for banquets. The thrones seen above are guarded by three life sized silver lions. The white throne known as the Throne Chair of Denmark, was made at the request of King Frederick III (1648-1670), half brother of Leonora Christina. Legend has it that it was made from the horns of unicorns, but it is really made of Norwegian Narwhal tusks. It was used for coronations between 1671 and 1840 when the King was crowned and anointed. Next to it is the Coronation Chair of the Danish Queens. It was made for the anointing of Queen Sophie Magdalene in 1731. The Throne below was made in 1740 for King Christian VI’s Audience Chamber at Christiansborg Slot. Silver furniture was a symbol of power and great wealth and indispensable in the baroque quarters of any prince.
Three life-size fearsome silver lions guard the Throne! The Throne and the three silver lions were inspired by the Biblical ivory throne with gold overlay of King Solomon which was guarded by twelve lions. Each lion weighs 130 kg and has eyes, mane and rump covered in pure gold.
Rosenborg Castle is not to be missed when visiting Denmark! There is so much more to see in the Castle than I can describe in a limited space. We did enjoy eating our lunch in the King’s Garden and it is a very relaxing place to enjoy a picnic. My hopes of finding evidence of the two royal women I am researching will have to wait for another visit because the floor with portraiture was closed when we visited. But I do hope to return to follow their journey.
King Frederick II constructed Kronborg Castle where the medieval castle Krogen once stood. When he married Sophie of Mecklenburg in 1572 he had it constructed as a gift to her and by 1584 the magnificent renaissance royal court was completed. Visiting the Castle today none of this opulence remains and it is hard to imagine that it was once a splendid royal palace.
The royal bedrooms were small like this one making it easy to keep warm using a blazing fire. I was surprised to learn that sleeping apart was a sign of opulence, compared to the cheaper option of keeping each other warm in bed.
Much of the Queen’s time was spent in this chamber with her children and ladies in waiting. They ate here, managed the household, read or embroidered.
The Great Ballroom, shown below,was the largest royal hall in northern Europe (6 x 12 metres).
King Frederik II built a magnificent renaissance chapel in 1582 with many-coloured wood carvings and the lovely organ shown below. In 1629 the castle was destroyed in a fire, but the Chapel was spared. In the 18th century it was stripped bare and used by the military for fencing, gymnastics and ammunition storage. But was restored to its present state in 1840 and has been used on occasion for princely weddings. This carving and the organ in the Chapel are typical of the brilliantly coloured splendour that once characterised Kronborg.
This statue of Holger the Dane fascinates me the most. Legend has it that the slumbering giant rests with arms crossed and supported against his sword, to recover from his mighty deeds in distant times. But he will be awakened whenever Denmark is threatened by a foreign enemy.
Holger the Dane can be found in the musty, damp Casemates of the Castle. This gloomy area served as soldiers’ quarters in times of war. It could accommodate 1000 men with enough supplies to withstand a six week siege. The large stone vessels for storing supplies can still be seen.
The sleeping giant is only rivalled by the ghost of Prince Hamlet who haunts the passage ways. This castle is Shakespeare’s ‘Castle of Elsinore’ and today Hamlet is performed on site in summer months. There is a display of all the famous actors who have performed Hamlet at Kronborg Castle. My favourite is this one of Richard Burton in the graveyard scene gazing at Yorick’s skull!
As Queen Caroline Matilda passed through the Dark Gate of Kronborg Castle, seen above, she uttered these words in despair,
‘To be, or not to be: That is the question’
Like Hamlet, she was searching for meaning in her life after being betrayed by the dowager Queen Juliane Marie and Count Gulberg, orchestrators of her arrest. These famous lines from Hamlet express the feelings of despair experienced by those who have lost power and control over their lives and decided that to choose death is the only power left to them. These words,
‘Something is rotten in the State of Denmark!’
although written around 1600, were as relevant in the 18th century. Interred in this tiny, cold octagonal room in Kronborg Castle, she had plenty of time to contemplate the meaning of her life while she awaited her trial.
As she sailed out of the Sound six months later to her exile in Celle, Germany, she was forced to gaze upon the skull of her lover Struensee, whose right hand, beheaded skull and body were displayed for all to see upon a wheel. Perhaps, like Hamlet, this was a turning point for her, when gazing at the skull of Yorick , his father’s jester who he was fond of, Hamlet realized that death eliminates the differences between people. What we do know is that her numbered days in Celle were lived in elegant simplicity and restraint with a deep sadness for the loss of her husband, children and kingdom.
There is so much to see and do at Kronborg Castle it warrants a full day’s visit. And I would love to visit again especially in summer time for a performance of Hamlet!