Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen

From the 19th of June to the 12th of July 2016 a fellow W.U.HSTRY contributor and I travelled around eight countries in the space of three weeks. We both shall be writing posts on our favourite memories, moments or monuments from the trip which included Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Berlin, Prague, Florence, Bern and Paris. This particular post of mine will cover the stunning castle of Rosenborg, one of many truly spectacular European royal residences that I dragged Laura around during our trip. Rosenborg Castle sits to the north of Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark, which like many well-known cities was surprisingly smaller than expected. The castle, or slot in Danish, is a picturesque seventeenth-century structure with distinct renaissance architecture. The architects are believed to be Bertel Lange and Hans van Steenwinckel the Younger. Built as a pleasure palace by Christian IV at the beginning of the 1600’s, its use as a royal residence only lasted until the early eighteenth century but still stands in its entirety today. The castle was used as a royal residence only twice after 1710 after Christiansborg Palace burned down in 1794, and the second during the British invasion of Copenhagen in 1801. Christian IV built many beautiful Danish slots but Rosenborg was his favourite and became the holder of hundreds of the oldest and rarest of treasures cultivated for years by the royal family. Copenhagen is also home to Christianborg Palace whose intention was magnificence and a small library that sparked a stronger drive in me for books. Others still included Amelienborg and Charlottenborg which on this visit I did not get to observe, but hope to one day.

Christian IV of the House of Oldenburg ruled both Denmark and Norway from 1588 to 1648. He is significant partly due to having been the longest ruling Danish monarch and of all Scandinavian monarchies in fifty-nine years. His initial reign began as a minority before beginning his personal rule at the age of nineteen in 1596. He was an ambitious king in engaging within the Thirty Years War and losing Danish conquered territory. Proactive in that Christian IV established a stable economy (when not at war) for Denmark and established a further hold of Lutheranism in Scandinavia. He married twice to Anne Catherine of Brandenburg and Kirsten Munk, he fathered twenty-eight children via both wives and mistresses. Christian IV’s first marriage was one of state that produced the heir Frederick III of Denmark, but his second was a morganatic marriage to a noble. Munk’s mother insisted that the king married her daughter due to being a member of the nobility instead of having the suggested dishonour of being mistress. The marriage to Munk inevitably created disgrace, not through being an unwise choice, but through her infidelity with German officers. Christian IV’s legacy was general popularity with the Danish people but he is most well-known for his prolific building activities across Denmark and Norway, and having a glacier in Greenland named after him.

Rosenborg was opened as a museum in 1838 and is designed to portray a journey through the rulers of the Danish-Norwegian joint kingdoms. The guidebook begins your exploration on the ground floor, up through to the second floor and then back down deep into the basement where the treasury lies. Each room belongs to a respective king or queen, except for the Great Hall and tower rooms, and are still occasionally used for ceremonial circumstances along with the treasury by the current Queen Margrethe of Denmark. The rooms were typical of a royal residence in one leading onto another in a long loop, with each room decorated in unique style to suit the owners. The Lacquered Chamber, fitted for Princess Sophie Hedevig in 1665 in the Chinese design on the first floor, was dark but etched with gold and intricate Japanese/Chinese inspired china, furniture and art. The entrance on the ground floor, known as the Stone Corridor, featured a large wall mural that depicted the genealogical chart of Christian IV. My favourite part was the corridor on the first floor that spanned the length of the house between Frederik II’s room and Frederick IV’s Hall which was filled from floor to ceiling of portraits. Several other portraits were situated on the walls around the house but this corridor held a curious mix of Danish royalty alongside their Scandinavian relatives. One such portrait was of Ulrika Eleonora of Sweden, daughter of Ulrika Eleonora of Denmark, who was both Queen Regnant and Queen Consort of Sweden after abdicating in favour of his husband. The most strange part would be the wax models of a few Danish rulers which were most disconcerting when I came across them. (The image shows a the wax figure of Queen Sophie Amalie).


I have seen several treasuries on my travels but the Danish treasury was beautiful and outshone the Swedish collection in The Royal Palace of Sweden. The first floor of the basement held barrels of wine, collections of ivory and amber, and the coronation riding gear of Christian IV. As you descend further into the ground, the items become increasingly costly. The Crown Jewels of Denmark include the perceived oldest British Order of the Garter outside of Britain and the entire set of jewels owned by Queen Sophie Magdalene who bequeathed it all to ‘the crown’ and not to be owned by any one person in 1746. The Rosenborg jewels consist of sets of jewellery mounted with pearls and others with rubies, emeralds, rose and diamonds. The most expensive and internationally note-worthy is the set mounted with emeralds. The treasury never leaves Denmark and can only by used by the Queen and typically are only worn on such events like the New Years Banquet. It is remarkable the condition of these jewels especially with having been in use for over four hundred years – particularly the baptismal collection which was first used in 1671 and is still in continuous use in all royal baptisms today. The collection includes a silver dish and pitcher alongside two solid gold candle sticks.

The two crowns featured are those of the absolute monarchy each dating from 1671 and 1731. They were used for each coronation from Christian V to Christian VIII and they both weigh approximately two kilos. The queens crown was created in the eighteenth-century for Queen Sophie Magdalene but the precious stones date from 1648. The original sixteenth-century sceptre, orb and ampulla also lie in the treasury vault.


Rosenborg was a truly beautiful place with gorgeous gardens, which are Denmark’s oldest royal gardens, surrounding it. Considering its size you cannot view it sufficiently from the road and trees hide it from view until you approach the slot directly. You can visit the entire castle within the space of a few hours and I could have easily brought several books from the gift shop…if the best ones weren’t all in Danish! I highly recommend viewing Rosenborg – the Copenhagen Card will gain you free access to most castles and palaces in the city – and Christiansborg, but be prepared to wear protective blue socks over your shoes.


(All pictures are my own)

The Role of Greenland in WW2 and The Cold War

Although Greenland has always been one of the more remote places of the world, its position leaves it with a potentially very significant role to play in any world-wide conflict. The Geographical location of Greenland is important for three reasons, the first being that it is part of the land that forms the ‘GIUK Gap’ which is an important naval choke point in the north Atlantic that is between the landmasses of Greenland, Iceland and the UK. Secondly Greenland is the perfect place for weather stations that are necessary for detecting conditions that may affect weather farther south and East. Finally radar stations are needed in Greenland in order to track aircraft due to it being on the shortest route between Europe and the United States.

Obviously the biggest examples that could include this region are World War Two and the Cold War. But before WW2 in 1934, the importance of the region was first discussed by the USA. In this year a mass flight of US bombers from Washington D.C to Alaska was undertaken in order to demonstrate the capabilities of the U.S. Army’s latest long-range bomber, the B-10, but it did something else: It demonstrated the importance of the Arctic to aviation. At this point the USA was most concerned about Japan and the potential for their attacks on Alaska as Anchorage, Alaska is almost exactly equidistant from Tokyo, New York City and London. That’s part of the reason it’s one of the world’s largest air cargo hubs today. Once WW2 was underway however, they soon saw a similar significance to Greenland as If you fly between the eastern United States and eastern Europe or Russia, or between the western United States and western Europe, you will need to pass over Greenland.

In April 1940, Nazi Germany occupied Denmark on its way to an invasion of Norway, and almost a year later, the United States signed the US-Danish Agreement on Greenland, which permitted the United States to establish military bases in Greenland. Despite its remoteness from densely populated areas, Greenland is considered part of North America and thus falls under the Monroe Doctrine, which states efforts by European nations to interfere with North American issues will be opposed by the full ability of the United States. In July 1940, the foreign ministers of the Americas declared that “any attempt on the part of a non-American state against the integrity or inviolability of the territory, the sovereignty, or the political independence of an American state should be considered an act of aggression.” This was aimed at Nazi Germany, which had by then occupied several European countries that had possessions in North America and the Caribbean. Nevertheless, the Germans were undeterred and  in the summer of 1940, German ships, apparently on scientific or commercial missions, landed people on the eastern shore of Greenland. German submarines secretly landed other parties. These were all attempts to establish weather stations on Greenland (similarly attempted in remote areas of Canada as well) in order to help forecast the weather for Germans submarines at sea and for continental Europe. In the autumn of 1940 and again in spring 1941, German long-range aircraft flew over Greenland. This led to the belief that the United States had the authority to act to establish bases in Greenland to provide for its defense. During the course of the war, thousands of American aircraft flew over Greenland on their way to Europe. American soldiers were stationed in the icy territory as a defense mechanism, and American civilians and soldiers manned weather stations to assist the war effort farther east.

Perhaps one of the least well-known campaigns of World War II was the hunt for these German weather stations. The United States began doing this in 1940 and the job fell mostly on the shoulders of the US Coast Guard who patrolled with ships and aircraft, looking for German weather ships, or supply boats attempting to reach weather stations the Germans had set up. They were also assisted at this point by native Greenlander trackers who assisted in spotting. On top of these efforts there was also the ‘Sledge Patrol’ which was a 15 man mixed force of Norwegians, Danes and Greenlanders supported by the US who spent much of the war patrolling the coast and hunting Germans as well. On dog sleds, 2 and 3 man patrols would head out for a few months and attempt to find German weather stations in a game of cat and mouse, with the Germans Generally the mice and having to pack up their station and flee if discovered. The Germans did strike back however, in an attack on the Sledge Patrol’s base camp, killing one member of the team, Eli Knudsen, the only loss they endured.

The last land based weather station of the Germans was knocked out in October of 1944. Spotted by the USS Eastwind during a patrol, a landing party of Coast Guard sailors (Who, as part of this role, underwent special training under the supervision of commandos), made a nighttime landing and caught the Germans by total surprise, and were able to capture most of their documents. No more German land based stations were attempted after that, although offshore trawlers were still utilized.

Even before the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb in 1949, some in the USA were looking ahead for what they saw as the next global conflict: The war between the United States and the Soviet Union. After WW2 the USA offered to purchase Greenland from Denmark for $100,000,000 but was rejected. For several years Denmark was under pressure from its citizens to get rid of the American military bases, while constantly in a back and forth with the USA who would not drop the issue. Events elsewhere in the world in 1948 and 1949 quickly overtook these events. The Berlin Blockade, Soviet pressure on Finland, the coup in Czechoslovakia, and the detonation of the Soviet atomic bomb in 1949 all pushed the Cold War into high gear. It became politically impossible for the Danes to evict the United States from Greenland altogether.

By 1950, the United States was putting nuclear capable bombers into its base at Thule in northwest Greenland. The following year in 1951, Denmark and the United States signed an agreement that overwrote the 1941 deal where Denmark would keep sovereignty over Greenland, but the United States would be allowed permanent military bases. In the years that followed, the American presence spread. From Thule and other air bases, the United States and Canada built radar stations as part of the Distant Early Warning Line designed to detect Soviet bombers. In 1960, the United States activated the world’s first Ballistic Missile Early Warning System radar in Thule. Greenland throughout the Cold War was used as a vital position from which to defend its North and Eastern borders from potential air, missile and submarine attacks.

The 1951 agreement lasted until 2004, when the United States and Denmark signed a new Greenland defense agreement.

Icons of Danish Heritage (pt.2) – Trelleborg

This is the continuation of . As you may remember, October 2015 was the time when I went off to Denmark and consumed history and culture with every meal of the day – quite literally. So, today we are off to pretty much the other side of Zealand. We leave lovely Copenhagen, to take an hour train journey, followed by a 20 minutes bus ride that will leave us in the middle of nowhere – for real – to go down some country roads for half an hour, up until the moment we reach the incredible site that is Trelleborg.

Entrance to the historical center
Entrance to the historical center

Now, if you remember the point of this update is to highlight this site as an icon of Danish heritage and history, but more importantly, a site of power. Trelleborg, like Kronborg, was in its day a Viking Age fortress. There are only 3 others in all of Denmark, and Trelleborg is, by far and large, the best preserved of the lot. There are no contemporary written sources that mention these fortresses, so the most accurate way to date them, is by archaeological methods, as well as by using dendrochronological dating of the wooded remains found on site. The results suggest that these date back to the 10th century, which is crucial for the recognition of Trelleborg as a sign of power. Why you ask? Well, this is the time when Harald Bluetooth, King of Denmark was trying to establish his authority over his lands. Potentially, one could argue that these ring-shaped bastions were used by the king as means to keep the locals under control, therefore avoiding struggles with neighbouring magnates, or rather sending a very clear message: here be a Norse lord of might. Certainly, the message was not received with arms wide open…We all know that his own son Sweyn Forkbeard decided he did not like his father’s attitude much and led a rebellion to overthrown him. Sweyn thus succeeded and Harald was killed in battle. now, I realise that this may leave the story in a fairly gloom tone and it may seem defeatist, but I think it does nothing but reinforce the point. Trelleborg was a commendable effort for a great king to show, that even in an area full of quarrels and tension, one could establish some order, even though temporary. More importantly – and this is something your should be able to admire in the pictures – this site left a very visible mark in the landscape. Harald’s legacy was to stay put as if carved in stone.

There are maps dating from the 17th century and later periods in Danish history, where the fortress is clearly delineated. The excavations and investigations on site begun in 1934, lead by Poul Nørlund. The work carried for 9 years, where the completed the full rehabilitation of both the inner and outer circle. They left cement markers as well for the original standing place of the buildings and wooden structures that would have been visible a thousand years earlier. Then, in 1942 the proceeded with the recreation of the long house that still stands today and that is currently used by the re-enactors that populate the historical center.

The reconstructed long house from 1942
The reconstructed long house from 1942

This construction is highly regarded amongst academics in the field as the first accurately and scientifically built structure from the distant past. I cannot emphasise enough how the work in Trelleborg is not only conservation, but preservation and perpetuation of living history, within its original context – and still in the middle of nowhere. I would like to point out that the house was restored in the 1980s, and has been considered to be now not as accurate as originally thought, but for a first effort, I think we will let that one go.

So what does currently happen in Trelleborg? Essentially they have turned it into a reenactment park. Therefore you have the interpretation center, where the hold a small but very informative and well presented exhibition of the fortress, the archaeological excavation, its finds and the its context.

Displays of the exhibition contestualising Viking Age every day life - as an example are the garments
Displays of the exhibition conceptualising Viking Age every day life – as an example are the garments


They also have one of the most amazing finds of all Denmark – the only preserved Viking shield from Denmark. This completely round wooden shield was found during the excavations of 2008. The results suggest that it was made in Norway during the 900s. I was amazed of how remarkably similar this was to Alex’s shield – wooden plate made out of different layered planks of pine wood and dimensions of the artefact (85 cm of diameter). Interestingly enough, the oxide they found on the surface of the shield suggest it would have been painted white and red, and evidence of a boss in the middle of the planks, suggest this would have been used in battle and not for ceremonial or decorative purposes.

The shield preserved and exhibited at the Trelleborg interpretation center
The shield preserved and exhibited at the Trelleborg interpretation center

Outside in the grounds of the site, you find the reconstructed buildings where a Viking community lives, and where they let you explore different aspects of everyday Norse life. There I bought some Viking coins and went to try to be a Viking.


Here is where I found out I would have been an awful archer and I ate some porridge inside the long house in the way it would have been traditional for the locals at the time of Harald Bluetooth. I also had the chance to see the recreation of a shield wall – after my archery failure, I decided to just document the wall rather than to participate.

In addition, I saw the villagers crafting Nålebinding to keep themselves warm, as well as different embroideries to decorate their garments.




Finally, I took a long moment to walk through the fortress. It was pretty magical.


The cement posts visible from every angle really help bringing things alive in your head. The two roads that give the ring the shape of a cross are recreated from the original wooden paths that would have helped moving goods, people, cattle and men at arms. Just so you get an idea of the dimensions of the place, the inner circle has a diameter of 136 meters, with an inner rampart that is 17 meters wide by 5 meters high.


The fortress would have held 16 houses in this ring. Access to the inner fortress is provided by a timber bridge stopping you from falling into the 4 meter deep ditch that encircles the moat. This was the most essential defense mechanism the fortress depended on. Then in the outer circle we would have found 15 extra houses, with more space between them.

Recreation of the fortress from the interpretation center
Recreation of the fortress from the interpretation center

We also find here the funerary site, where the archaeologists unearthed 135 graves, containing a total of 157 individuals. In total, the estimates advise that a total of 500-800 warriors could have been garrisoned in the settlement in bellicose times. If we think that Kronborg could have provided for 1000 soldiers standing siege for 6 weeks, some 500 years later, I think that can be considered as remarkable.

Recreation fo the fortress defense
Recreation of the fortress defense
How the garrison would have worked
How the garrison would have worked

Now, what is even better is that, if you go during the summer, and not in the middle of the low season like I did, you can enjoy Trelleborg at is best due to the Viking festival. Re-enactors of all over Europe come for the festival, where the amount of people and activities to take part in triplicate. Moreover, you can even camp in the grounds of the site, and feel just a little bit closer to 10th century Viking Age Denmark.

Yet, I must now depart. But we will have more of Denmark soon, for Denmark was not powerful only because of its fortresses…If you want to find out more of the history of this country, and explore more of it with me, then keep your eyes open for my upcoming post on the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum and the Domkirke!

Icons of Danish Heritage (pt. 1) – Kronborg Castle

Right, I know, I have gone down the rabbit hole, I’m never getting out of Wonderland now, but…Denmark was truly excellent and full of amazing things to see and visit!! Therefore, I have decided to do this blog post about two of the most emblematic places in Zealand that I visited. I think both of them hold great historical value, because both sites are internationally renown, but also because they represent the importance of this country within Europe. In addition, I believe they also symbolise important moments in the history of the area. Kronborg and Trelleborg reflect strong places of power for Denmark. Therefore, let me give you a quick tour of these amazing locations.

Kronborg Castle: Royal Palace, Hamlet’s Home and Site of Legend:

Kronborg Castle is around 50 minutes by train from Copenhagen. The town where it is located, Helsingør, is small but cosy. Right by the coast, this is an important stop for many ferries, and the spot has always been important for shipping but also for international relations – from here you can easily get to the Swedish post of Helsingborg…The names are not that similar as a coincidence…There seems to have been a strong connection between the inhabitants of both places, and in fact toponymy science suggests that the Danish port became a way for the to control the strait between the two countries. Anyway, Helsingør is lovely, but the castle is even better.

Covering an area of 16000 squared metres (including attics and basements), the bastion appears like an arrow piercing the sea. The fortress has been dated back to the 1420s, when Eric of Pomerania ordered for it to be erected. Back then, Denmark owned portions of the south of Sweden. So it was very important to keep these key locations secure. Ever since, the Danish kings took care of the castle: King Christian III supplemented the wall with bastions in 1558-1559. However, the castle could have not become the astonishing site that it is nowadays without the imput of Frederick II (1574-1585). He was the one who rebuilt the medieval fortress, and got it to evolve into the diamond-shaped bastion that it is nowadays (I’ll tell you all about these fortresses some other time…got an upcoming blog post about this soon!). But in essence, you may be aware of the military revolution taking place in Europe during this period and the prowess of the Swedish army back then…Frederick knew he had to step up his game if he wanted to keep his coastal assets safe. So he hired Hans Hendrik van Paesschen for this pursuit. And it is due to this shape developed in the Renaissance that the castle took the name of Kronborg, meaning Crown Castle. Now you know a bit more of the history, let’s get to know the building.

The tour of the castle takes you through ten different areas of the castle that are open to visit. I’ll talk you through them.  You go in through the Dark Gate: from here you can see a long dark tunnel that used to lead to the original entrance of the castle located at the Four-Gate Courtyard. Then, you enter the courtyard, where the statues of Neptune and Mercury guard the entrance. This is an allegory to the nature of the edification of the palace, as these were regarded as the gods of the sea and trade respectively.

The Four-Gate Courtyard Entrance
The Four-Gate Courtyard Entrance

Finally we get to the Castle Courtyard, where the work of Frederick shines, and where one can admire the fantastic architectonic features of the Northern European Renaissance, which is fairly different from the examples in mainland Europe  and the Mediterranean.Charming, nonetheless. In the middle of the courtyard there is a modern fountain that was put there to replace the original one from 1583. Unfortunately the 16th century creation was spoiled in 1658 when the Swedes seized the castle. From the courtyard you get access to the inside of the palace. Ahead await now the Telegraph Tower, the Chapel, the Royal Apartments, the Ballroom, the Little Hall and the Trumpeter’s Tower.

The Telegraph Tower is a flat-roofed, squared building on the side of the castle that used to serve as a cannon tower. It seems once it had a dome and a spire, much more fitting of the style and taste of Frederick II, however this seems to have been destroyed and then reconstructed during the siege of Kronborg (1658). Kronborg has been victim of many incidents – not only war, but also fire. In 1629 a fire damaged the vast majority of the interior of the castle. One of the few survivors was the Chapel, consecrated just a few years earlier in 1582. The Royal Apartments suffered greatly. They were first built by Frederick II, but the fire ruined them. However king Christian IV has them recreated for the inhabitation fo the palace as a royal residence.

Royal Appartments
Royal Apartments

The Ballroom, is now decorated with paintings made originally for the Great Hall of Rosenborg Castle (Copenhagen 1618-1831). Yet I think they suit well what used to be the largest royal hall in all northern Europe! Its dimensions are 62 x 12 meters.

The Ballroom
The Ballroom

Then we move on to the Little Hall, were the 7 surviving tapestries with the portraits of a hundred of the Danish kings survive. These were commission in 1580, and only handful more remain our of the original 40 commended by the king, currently exposed at the Nationalmuseet. And finally, we reach the highest point at Kronborg – the Trumpeter’s Tower. The name is pretty self-explanatory, but in case there was any doubt, the 62 meter tall tower was used for the announcement or warning of fanfares by trumpeters. Impressively enough, the spire has been destroyed by fire and rebuilt twice.

Telegraph and Trumpeter's Tower
Telegraph and Trumpeter’s Tower

Of course, one can then understand that such an impressive building would have captivated the imagination of any artist, and this is in fact what inspired Shakespeare to set Hamlet in Denmark, at Kronborg, or better known to the English folk as Elsinore. Currently, the castle holds a couple of spare rooms with small exhibitions of Hamlet and its performance at the castle, as well as holding a portrait of the British author. But, hold that broody moment of to be or not to be… just until we get outside, and start wandering the Casemates…These used to be the soldiers’ quarters while at war. The dark and damp vaults could hold up to 1000 men, capable of holding a siege for 6 weeks. But if you thought this could not get more atmospheric…You were wrong. As you walk through the gloomy corridors, full of spiderwebs, dust and barely illuminated by oil lamps (yes, still functioning), we find the statue of the legendary Holger Danske. The epic statue in commemoration of the mythical hero, is located in the very same spot where legend has it he rested after walking all the way from France, where he had aided the French to keep the country safe by might only known to Arthurian knights.  According to legend, Holger is taken to Avalon by Morgan le Fay herself, and after his return from the mist, he rests at Kronborg, awaiting the day when his country will desperately need a hero of old. Holger, king under the mountain – almost in the same fashion custom to the dwarves of Erebor in Tolkien’s mythology…See a theme of English literature involving Kronborg? Interesting fact is that, during the Second World War, the largest resistance group in Denmark against the Nazis took their name after this legendary figure.

Holger Dansk
Holger Dansk

So if after this quick tour of the place the might and glory of Kronborg is not apparent to yourselves, then, I can only say, Go And See It For Yourself. Nevertheless, and in case you thought I went up to Kronborg just to see the castle…As it happens, during my visit a Renaissance fair was taking place in the ground of the palace. And of course, I took pictures. So with my photographs, I say farewell for now, but nor forever…Our next stop is Trelleborg where we will visit the roots of the power capable of erecting Kronborg, the Crown of the Baltic Sea.

Renaissance Fair Cavalry
Renaissance Fair Cavalry


Lilly’s “Copenhagen Cultural Rave” Continued – Rundertaarn and SMK

Ok, more from my trip to Denmark – yes, I do enjoy my cultural raves…- Today is just a walk through/review of the Round Tower and the National Gallery of Denmark. The reason why these 2 have been chosen – aside from the ones I have already talked about – is because they were in a way or another formative or educational from my point of view. I got to experience a part of history I was not familiar with and this gave me more insight into the country I was visiting and its culture. So, I hope that with my pictures and quick explanations, you get a hint of this!


The Round-Tower is located in the city center of Copenhagen and is one of the most symbolic monuments of all Denmark.

It is a pretty impressive building, you cannot miss it.
It is a pretty impressive building, you cannot miss it.

The building is 34.8 metres high, and the only way to access the top is a spiral ramp, which is 209 meters long and twists 7 times and a half around its hollow core. This is a unique feature, unmatched in European architecture. The venue is both an exhibition hall, cultural centre as well as the oldest working observatory in Europe. It was erected by King Christian IV between 1637-1642. The objective was for this structure to hold a university library, a student church – to which it is still attached, and the astronomical observatory. The library fit its purpose up until 1861. This university library must have been one of the largest in Denmark. Opened in 1657, it used to host a collection of 10000 books. After the collection was moved elsewhere, this section of building was used for various purposes, including an art studio as well as the depot for the Zoological Museum. Nowadays it has been restored to its original function as a learning environment – exhibition hall. Right above this room, is the Bell-Ringer Loft – currently holding the bells for the Church of the Trinity – annexed to the Rundertaarn. Instead it is used as another gallery with artefacts related to the building, as well as providing a look into the 1729 dated pinewood beams that form part of the structure. This part of the building is older due to its reconstruction after the great fire of Copenhagen (1728). On the way up to the observatory one can find the planetarium – a 20th century replacement for the original 3 dimensional model by Bayer from c.1740.

The new planetarium

Finally, we reach the observatory – it wasn’t until I was up there that it occurred to me how important feature of Danish history this was. Since Peder Nightingale in the 13th century, Denmark has had a long history of astronomers. The most famous of which are Tycho Brahe and Christian Longomontanus – in honour of whom the facility appears to have been built. Brahe however died before its completion, yet Longomontanus seems to have been one of the first people to observe the firmament from this location as the first professor of astronomy as the university.  Perhaps Brahe’s most important work – multiple instruments aside – was the star-table that explained in accurate ways the movement of the moon and position of certain planets. Many say this work was crucial for Kepler’s laws later on. Ever since, the Rundertaarn has been

SMK – National Gallery of Denmark

The second part of todays post is regarding the SMK – National Gallery of Denmark.Again, like with the Nationalmuseet, I have been in many great galleries (NG in London, El Prado, Le Louvre, Uffizi), so in that sense I’m not inexperienced with big visual collections. And in that sense, perhaps the SMK cannot rival with the quantity of brilliant pieces that others may. However, what I think was the highlight of the exhibition was the opportunity to learn about some Danish and Northern European art! Europe is so prolific, with great artists all over, that somehow, somewhat, I was ashamed that the art historian in me couldn’t name a single Scandinavian artist that I genuinely knew – or liked! So this was rather enlightening. Pictures to come – In addition, the actual building itself was magnificent 19th century built with 3 levels – reminded me a lot of the Kunsthistorische from Vienna.

The facade of the SMK

Yet this building is in itself a modern art revelation. As the collection grows, it is obvious the space within becomes smaller. Many have been the museums and historical buildings I have seen butchered by a clumsy modern addition or that have been dismembered in different buildings forming a complex where to hold the exhibition. Here however, Scandinavian design shines – Instead of breaking a wall or attaching something to it, they have expanded the back of the SMK with glass panels and metallic beams, opening the space and bringing in the bigger picture, the outside world that inspires these paintings. In fact, the display is rather artistic as it opens into the botanic gardens. I couldn’t think of a better way of creating a gallery for modern art than this. It just felt right.

In any case – the building is pretty big and it hold several collections. Time was precious so I had to choose. So I decided the way forward was: European art 1300-1800, Danish and Nordic art 1750-1900, and Scandinavian art since the 1900s. The European art gallery walked through works from Italy, Holland and the Flemish artists, France and its impact on Danish taste and culture, and a general overview of Scandinavian artists around this period.

In no particular order, here are some of the pictures I took - again no spacific reason for why these peices and not others, some because I like the artists, some because due to lighting issues the pictures would not look good. One thing that deeply surprised me was how close you could actually get to the pieces. At the National Gallery in London I was told off once for being at 50cm distance from a Rembrandt!
In no particular order, here are some of the pictures I took – again no specific reason for why these pieces and not others, some because I like the artists, some because due to lighting issues the pictures would not look good.
One thing that deeply surprised me was how close you could actually get to the pieces. At the National Gallery in London I was told off once for being at 50cm distance from a Rembrandt!

Andrea Bregno (1418–1506) – John the Baptist and St Jerome

Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s St John the Baptist c.1337-1342

Pieter Brueghel den Yngre (1563-1637/8) – The Way to Calvary

Peter Paul Rubens – The Ascent to Calvary c.1634 Noticed a theme in here with John and Calvary…Absolutly not intentional!

Loved this room with the space in the middle to sit down, look, enjoy and learn as the sits are also bookshelves with reference material!

The gallery on Danish and Nordic art 1750-1900 has a pretty self-explanatory name, but I will elaborate a bit more. The way they have designed this section is by contextualisation. Therefore you get introduced into Danish art and its context within Northern Europe and other Scandinavian work. This is not divided in sections with only Danish, Swedish, Norwegian or Finnish art pieces, but rather it displays them all together, allowing the viewer to see the different artistic developments and influences across this area of Europe. Finally, there is also a smaller section which reflect on the borrowings from mainland Europe and the dialogue between Danish art and the input of other countries. Personally, I preferred this arrangement better than the one from the European gallery – I think it really helped seeing the cultural associations and trends, so for the ignorant I was, this was a much easier way to get tuned into Northern art.

Immediatedly became my favourite. By Peder Balke - Mount Stentind in Fog c. 1880
Immediately became my favourite. By Peder Balke – Mount Stentind in Fog c. 1880

Bottom right: Julius Paulsen -Midsummer Night at Tisvilde Beach 1886. Prins Eugene - Ships at Anchor.Winter 1908 and Gustav Fjaestad - The First Breath of Cold on the Water 1895 (left and top respectively)
Bottom right: Julius Paulsen -Midsummer Night at Tisvilde Beach 1886. Prins Eugene – Ships at Anchor.Winter 1908 and Gustav Fjaestad – The First Breath of Cold on the Water 1895 (left and top respectively)

Not only paintings but also sculpture...unable to identify this one as the names were on the walls away from the actual pieces
Not only paintings but also sculpture…unable to identify this one as the names were on the walls away from the actual pieces

These 2 are by the Danish artist Willumsen (1863-1958)
These 2 are by the Danish artist Willumsen (1863-1958)

This is the extension of the gallerywith view of the botanic garden
This is the extension of the gallery with view of the botanic garden

And with these, I close my third post on Denmark. Watch out for more to come!

Nationalmuseet: Middle-Ages to Early Modern Danish History

Right, this is part 2 I guess! This one is much lighter than my previous walk through the Prehistory Gallery. There are several reasons for that: a)time was pressing, b)my phone was running out of battery and so was the camera, c)the collection is being re-evaluated and some interesting items are not on display, d)the museum is aware their Pre-history collection is their forte. Therefore, I’ll through as much context as possible and when I can, but this is going to be a mostly photographic run through the second floor and several galleries of the National Museum of Denmark.

Medieval to Modern – through the lens of a camera

You like medieval polychrome art? Here is a room full of religious panes, all from Denmark.


Did you say you also liked to see some medieval furniture? Here are some wardrobes and cupboards! I have Never seen anything like them!
St. George and the Dragon – international medieval figure. The woodcarving was originally located in the north aisle of Husum church (Slesvig). However the church was demolished in 1807, thus the statue lives now in the museum. The group was carved around 1520 by Hans Bruggermann

St. George again, from the Stokkemarke church in Lolland.c. 1500. In the museum I learnt that apparently, the Danish leper hospitals located outside many cities were indeed called St. George houses…

Another medieval favourite: St. Martin. The relief dated from around the year 1500 and it was originally located in Bjaeverskov church (Sjaelland).

The workings of a medieval clock!

Ever wondered about the process of gilding? I have! I was deeply grateful for finding this panel showing the different stages and the method used. Another handy resource.
This, my friends, is how crossbowmen of the 14th and 15th centuries protected themselves. It is called a “storm wall”. You may notice that the shield has some spikes at the bottom to ground it while the person firing the crossbow took refuge behind it and loaded safely, firing then through the triangular incision at the front. The museum interpretation indicated that the paintings on the shield may reflect that this had the emblem of a town in southern Germany.

Yes, this is a drinking horn. This one in particular belonged to Henrik Christiernson Tornekrans, abbot of Soro. He died in 1538, so the museum estimates the horn probably dates c.1400.
In the museum they had an entire cabinet full of reliquaries. This one however was the one that really grabbed me. It is believed to have been from Soro abbey, and dated from somewhere between 1200-1250. The representations are the flight into Egypt, the visitation and the annunciation, as well as the nativity scene and the shepherds in the field (image above). The Second image which is the other side of the reliquary represented the Three Magi (image below).


Golden altar from Lisbjerb church, near Aarhus.

One of the few surviving stained glasses from the Danish Middle Ages. It was explained in the display that stained glass would have been widespread, but for some reason it has not been very well-preserved and few remain. This one represents St. Martin. It belongs to the church of Bjerreby (Tansige), c.1200-1250.
Display representing how the museum used to look and approach their representation of history. This is because the museum effectively is composed of several collections. According to the museum’s own text, the Nationalmuseet is in fact an arrangement of museums within a museum. The display represents the arrangements in the 1800s.

  It is worth explaining this in a bit more of detail. It seems that prior to the Nationalmuseet, the collections were part of the Kunstkammer. So effectively the rooms represent displays from the Oldnordisk museum, the Royal Ethnographical museum, the Royal Coin and Medal Cabinet, and the Royal Art museum. In addition, it counts with rooms from the Danish Folk museum. So a museum of museums…Interesting concept! I hope this explains to you a bit better the odd assortment of items so far, and those to come.

Armillary sphere. Model of the universe signed by the German cartographer Vopel (1543).

Bourgeois interior from Aalborg

German crossbow from 16th Century Saxony
All of these are Danish and German hunting weapons from the 16th and 17th centuries

And I am afraid here is where the fun ends in the Nationalmuseet!…However, more to come for I am a dedicated person and I got to many places in little time. Please stay tuned for more of my trip to Copenhagen!

Nationalmuseet: A Walk Around the Danish Prehistory Gallery at National Museum of Denmark

Hello everybody! I was very recently in Denmark exploring the land, trying to be a Viking and all that. Me being museum girl, I obviously ended in the Nationalmuseet…And I didn’t want to leave! This place holds the Best (and I meant that, truly) collection of pre-historic finds I have ever seen. Yes, I have been in the British Museum. Yes, I have travelled through France countless times, and yes the Altamira Caves are in my home land…Yet, I was blown away by this exhibition. The displays were fantastic. The information was neat, clear and well put together. There were handouts for those who wanted them, and the items were just amazing –  we are talking of things I had even study and seen in Powerpoint slides in my Undergraduate and Masters lectures. And I tell you, the pictures do not make them justice. So, with the information I gathered, some pictures I took (apologies if the quality is not at its very best) i will give you a walk about of why going to the Nationalmuseet is a must!…And you know the best part of this particular site? Yeah, It IS Free.

Entrance to the exhibition - clear and illustrative display pannels. Very well done in my modest opinion!
Entrance to the exhibition – clear and illustrative display panels. Very well done in my modest opinion!

The exhibition looks to walk through the highlights of Danish Prehistory, from the 13000 BC to the 1050AD. That means, technically from our point of view, that the include the Viking Age into their “prehistory”. This makes sense if we consider the lack of written sources, and the fact that there is a prolonged and sustained continuation of traditions and cultural patterns in the Old Norse, stretching from dare I say the Stone Age, up to our concept of the Early Middle Ages. Scandinavia was relatively isolated from the rest of Europe and that allowed for this status quo to continue for as long as possible…Some would argue that this changed with the appearance of the ruling dynasties of Northern Europe. However, my stand point is that the actual cutting point of old/ancient/whatever you want to call it Scandinavia is represented by the official adoption of Christianity as their religion – this is really what shook their world. Therefore, I am happy with this category and approach that the Nationalmuseet provides. In any case, the whole exhibition is composed of 24 rooms. I do not have pictures that necessarily follow this pattern, but I did a walk through the entire thing, so it should be well enough represented – if not room by room, nearly.

Starting in the Stone Age, the most striking and important archaeological find in the museum is the burial below.

The Vedbaek burial of a woman with her child. She must have been around 40 years old, and the child around 3. The flint knives on the child's body suggest it may have been a male.
The Vedbaek burial of a woman with her child. She must have been around 40 years old, and the child around 3. The flint knives on the child’s body suggest it may have been a male.

It has been dated from around 7000 years ago. The reasons of their deaths are unknown. However the skull of the woman presents and earlier injury on her neck – but it is difficult to determine if this actually killed her or not. She is also buried with a hair pin and the beak of a grebe.

More examples of the display pannels
More examples of the display panels

The following polished flints really grabbed my attention. If you have been in the Museum of London, you’d have seen similar things to this display. However the sheer quantity and clearly amazing craftsmanship sets them aside. The ones of the left of the picture were found in Maglehojs Vange, at the west of Copenhagen in 2001 during a drainage dig. The set on the right comes from Hagelbjerrggard near Ringsted. They were found in the 70s, while ploughing.

Hoard of flint finds 3700-3500 BC
Hoard of flint finds 3700-3500 BC

All the amber in the world: there were 5 display layers in total with amber found in Denmark
All the amber in the world: there were 5 display layers in total with amber found in Denmark

The next item is a beautiful piece of pottery (I could have photographed every vase in that case, because they were all brilliant, but this one is special).

Funnel bowl from Skarpalling, Himmerland c. 3100 BC
Funnel bowl from Skarpalling, Himmerland c. 3100 BC

The Skarpsalling Vessel, is one of the finest example of complex pottery design from the Neolithic. It was discovered in a burial mound, and its decoration is believed to have had ritual significance for the interment or the trip into the afterlife.

Moving on to the Bronze Age now – This picture was taken particularly for Alex! 🙂

2 swords from either Romania or Hungary. Dated from c.1600 BC, and found in Stendsgard and Torupgarde
2 swords from either Romania or Hungary. Dated from c.1600 BC, and found in Stendsgard and Torupgarde

The Egtved Girl is out next stop. This was a very important find for the understanding of textiles in pre-historic times. I am sure the picture I took shows why!

The Egtved Girl Burial

The oak coffin contained the remains of a young woman, aged between 16-18. It is believed that she was buried during the summer of 1370 BC. The archaeologists even found some skin, hair and teeth. Her dress was composed of a knee-length skirt made of cords and a short woollen bodice (very “modern” in current fashion terms). She was buried with some yarrow plant too, which is one of the factors that determined her burial must have taken place during the summer season. She was also accompanied by the charred boned of a young boy, aged 5-6. Recently, she had been subject of controversy as it seem that the analysis of strontium of her hair and teeth, the experts have determined she was born in the area of the Black Forest (Germany). So we could be looking at the burial of someone special. She had would have travelled to get to Denmark, but for what reasons? Was she a slave? Perhaps a young bride? Or maybe some sort of seer or healer? The interment of yarrow may be indicating that this woman had some sort of otherworldly connection.

Now the next item is one of the reasons why I went to the museum. And you should too! I have studied this piece, and now that I have seen it close, I can confirm it is the symbol of an era.

Solvognen - The Sun Chariot
Solvognen – The Sun Chariot

The Sun Chariot. I remember a cold Winter afternoon, sitting in a lecture room hearing Dr. Nick Thorpe talking about the Bronze Age and bringing this up on the screen. There is no wonder this item has instigated curiosity in the heart of archaeologists, as there is no other like it in the world. The bronze, gold-plated disk dates from around 1400 BC. It is the epitome of Celtic believe: the Sun being pulled by a horse. These were the two biggest cults through the Bronze Age and that have been found all over Europe.

Moving on, the following is another controversial find. And one that clearly influenced the Viking myth of horned helmets.

Horned helmet from the bog Vikso Mose, near Ballerup (Northern Zealand). c. 900 BC
Horned helmet from the bog Vikso Mose, near Ballerup (Northern Zealand). c. 900 BC

No. I know what you are thinking, and no, these were not taken into battle! They were rather ritualistic items! In fact, it is believed that as they represent they horns of the bull (another important cult animal within Bronze Age believe), these would have been worn by a priest for ceremonial purposes. It is likely they would have been adorned by feathers at the ends of the horns, and perhaps horsehair in the middle like a crest. Also, consider how inconvenient horned helmets would have been while fighting! Particularly when made out of Bronze! – If you do not believe me, speak with Alex, and he will tell you everything you need to know about them.

Found in 1926, in Fardal (central Jutland). Supposedly women's ornaments: horses heads, bird figurine, kneeling woman and a snake. Dated from c. 800 BC
Found in 1926, in Fardal (central Jutland). Supposedly women’s ornaments: horses heads, bird figurine, kneeling woman and a snake. Dated from c. 800 BC

More displays of Celtic/Bronze Age believe. The Sun always leading the way. These two stones found in Zealand and dating from around 1100-700 BC, are an indicator of the long-lasting practice of this cult. The one of the left is from Jaegersborg Dyrehave, depicting the sun on a boat. The one of the right is portraying a dance in honour of the sun, and was found in Engelstrup.

Sun images

Display indicating the journey of the sun and its symbolism
Display indicating the journey of the sun and its symbolism. It was very nicely done, and never seen something so neat for this explanation, so I thought it may be appreciated.

Still in the Bronze Age, another epic (for the lack of other word) display in room 13.

Lurerne - Bronze Age Lurs c. 1700-500 BC
Lurerne – Bronze Age Lurs c. 1700-500 BC

These musical instruments are from the later end of the Bronze Age. They may not seem like much in this section of the picture, but the entire display case was as big as my bathroom – honestly, there was loads of them and in top condition. Their shape is probably modelled after an ox horn. It seems that in Danish finds, these instruments come in pairs, and are always found in bogs, where they were probably interred as sacrificial offerings. We know from Swedish rock carvings that lur players took part in processions, and it is likely their music was fundamental for ceremonial purposes.

Bronze-Age display of shields - almost perfect state of conservation!
Bronze-Age display of shields – perfect state of conservation!

Rune stones : they had a collectiong or like 4 or 5 of them. All dating from Pre-history up to the Viking Age.
Rune stones : they had a collection or like 4 or 5 of them. All dating from Pre-history up to the Viking Age.

Another big player in the Celtic world – The Dejbjerg Wagon. Again, in a lecture with Dr. Thorpe we had a vivid discussion about these artefacts. There have been several burials across Europe involving wagons. Therefore one can assume their sacrificial purpose is obvious, and in fact this one was dismantled and buried in a peat bog for that purpose. However, these items could be indicating more than just ritual. These would have been genuine methods of transport, even if locally – and this comes across as a certainty after having visited Trelleborg (I’ll talk about that in another post), where the settlement had a cross of wooden paths used to transport goods from side to side and out into the surrounding villages! I believe there are further studies relating to this concerning some wagon findings in Yorkshire that would suggest the same hypothesis. Moreover, these are great displays of power by the magnates of the settlements. So it is likely they may have been used in rituals of gift giving, carrying their master across the settlement while giving away treasure. In any case, they are truly remarkable.

The Dejbjerg Wagon
The Dejbjerg Wagon

Next, and jumping into the Iron Age, we have a fantastic piece, of international renown, and one of the master pieces of the museum. The Gundestrup Cauldron.

The Gundestrup Cauldron
The Gundestrup Cauldron

It weights nine kilos! And it was made c.100 BC in the Balkans, and then exported to Denmark. It was found once again in a bog burial, as a sacrificial item. Due to the great craftsmanship and incredible wealth, it is supposed this was offered to the gods rather than just buried with its owner. It is a pity I could not take a picture of the inside of the item (it is protected by a very thick glass), but the carvings are simply mind-blowing. It is decorated with all sorts of animals, mythical creatures, and deities.

Skin shoes found in the Ronbjerg Mose bog. In western Jutland, c.2-1 century BC
Skin shoes found in the Ronbjerg Mose bog. In western Jutland, c.2-1 century BC

Continuing with our Iron Age trip, we encounter this!

The Warship from Hjortspring
The Warship from Hjortspring

The vessel was unearthed in the 1920s out of the bog known as Hjortspring Mose, on the island of Als (Sonderjylland, south Denmark). It was built between 400-300 BC, and it is 18 meters long. It is the oldest find of wooden plank ship in Scandinavia. It contained several weapons, armours and war gear, indicating that its sinking may have been for ceremonial purposes (notice a trend?). A boat of these dimensions would have required a crew of at least 20 men, and it is supported that before it was sunk, it would have been in battle. The interpretation of the museum is that an army of around 80-100 men would have come to the island on a fleet of 4-5 of these boats. the launched the attacked but they failed, thus the victorious native population buried the ship with the belongings of their defeated enemies.

Finally, my last stop in the Danish Iron Age – the burial of a clearly wealthy lady.

The Woman of Himlingoje
The Woman of Himlingoje

It has been estimated that the deceased was around 40-50 when her life came to end. She was buried with a brooch inscribed with the name widuhudaR, which is male. So it is contested whether this is the signature of the smith that made the fine item, or a gift from a man to this female. Interestingly this burials presents a clear sign of Roman influence: a Charon’s coin was found in her mouth, as a way to pay for her passage into the afterlife. There are several pieces that are of Roman made in her grave: drinking vessels, beads and arms rings. The question remains whether she was of Norse or Mediterranean origin. Perhaps she was a native with clear connections with the empire, and that may have been the source of her power and wealth.

Ok so we are nearly finished now. I would just like to incorporate, and end this post as the museum does: with the Viking Age. To my surprise, there was a considerable lack of Viking artefacts on display. However, these is a legitimate reason for this. Many of you may know that currently there is an exhibition about the Vikings organised by the Nationalmuseet going around. It stopped at the British Museum in 2014 under the name Vikings: Life and Legend. So a few of these items are currently on loan elsewhere for different displays. Nevertheless, I captured a few things… These are of importance to me. Why these and no others. Well first for the lack of certain items as I just explained. Secondly, because they relate to my research! 😉

Explanation panels of the Vikings

Recreation of a typical Old Norse woman dress

Yet another wonderful panel explaining the different art styles of the Viking Age. Nice and easy point of reference.

An entire display showing the image of the Vikings in popular culture…Were you expecting me to miss it?

2 traditional gilt bronze brooches. Interesting find this one from Lerchenborg, as they found inside the brooches beads of silver, glass and rock crystal, a Frankish costume brooch made of silver, another silver pendant with silver chain, as well as Frankish, Scandinavian and two Arab coins!

More jewellery from the Viking Age – featuring more common pendants, and coloured beads. These would be part of anyones attire.

Well, this is all for me now. But there are more reviews and travel posts from my trip to Denmark coming up, so…Keep an eye out! Hope you enjoyed it, perhaps even as much as I did!

World War One’s impact on Scandinavia

In 1918, the first world war ended in Europe, and it had claimed millions of casualties, the war also changed the face of the European map from being dominated by three big empires in the East, to a Europe with new states such as Czechoslovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Finland and The Kingdom of Yugoslavia (which before the War had been consisting of Serbia alone, but now included Montenegro, Slovenia and Croatia as well as Bosnia.)Although these developments and consequences of the First World War are fairly well-known, this paper will look at the impact of the first world war in Northern Europe, and by this we’re not talking about the impact it had on Germany or Poland, but on the three kingdoms Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and what became the republics Iceland and Finland.

Between 1800 and 1914 the map of Northern Europe and Scandinavia changed drastically, with the states of Norway appearing, and Finland shifting from being a part of Sweden to becoming an integrated part of the Russian Empire. In 1914, the independent kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden were all facing the question how to deal with the military conflict developing elsewhere in Europe. Scandinavia had over the course of the late nineteenth century grown more and more used to a certain element of imported goods to feed its populations. The Norwegian, Danish and Finnish Merchant navies were all heavily involved with the shopping of goods throughout the world. This meant that when the First World War broke out, the three Scandinavian kingdoms were faced with a problem of how to stay out of the war, and still maintain their economic interests. The three kingdoms Denmark, Sweden and Norway joined in a neutrality union, and attempted to maintain their neutrality throughout the conflict. This neutrality was not without complications, Norway and Denmark were heavily dependent on Britain and USA for most of its shipping orders, and to supply them with grain as well as being their main markets for some products. However, Denmark also faced another challenge, with a shared border with Germany, and a considerable Danish minority in the then German South Jutland, Denmark knew that it could not afford a repetition of the 1864 war against Prussia and Austria. Sweden, like Norway exported enormous amount of iron, steel and copper to Germany, which meant that these countries could not afford to cut its financial links with the German Empire. Sweden and Norway also shared borders with Russia, and had good economic links with the Romanov Empire. Norway could for example not afford to oppose Russia, as the Russian Pomor trade from Archangelsk kept the North Norwegian fishing villages alive through bringing grain to the Northern Norwegian counties who were unable to sustain themselves with corn, and the Russian traders bought some of the fish products which were produces along the coast of Troms and Finnmark County. With these important connections, Norway, Sweden and Denmark could not afford to go into the conflict on either side of the war, especially as the outcome of a war could have dramatic impact on the territories of these kingdoms, just like the Napoleonic wars had 100 years earlier. The Scandinavian kingdoms stayed neutral throughout the war, although external pressure caused Norway to lean more and more towards the British and American cause. This sympathy led to the mining of the Norwegian waters and a blockage of trade with Germany. Sweden on the other hand turned favourable to Germany b 1918, but this did not jeopardise the Swedish neutrality.

Even though the neutrality were maintained for all there kingdoms throughout the war, all the kingdoms experienced lack of resources, and increasing cost of living for the population and social unrest based on these things. The main impact of the First World War on Scandinavia did however come on the eastern and southern borders of it. Finland which since the Napoleonic war had been a part of the Russian Empire, were in 1914 drawn into the First World War against Germany. The Finnish navy and Merchant navy were damaged and its troops took part in the conflict on behalf of the Russian Empire. But as the war turned into revolution in Russia, the Finnish parliament first established a degree of extended autonomy in the spring of 1917, followed by full Independence in the fall of 1917. The Soviet takeover of Russian government initially was favourable towards an independent Finland, and the Finnish parliament declared it independent and elected a German Prince as its King. The outcome of the First World War in Europe, and the abdication of the German Emperor caused the German prince that was appointed king of Finland to withdraw, and the Finnish parliament declared the state a republic. Yet, the growth of Communism in Russia also impacted the working classes in Finland, and soon after the War a civil war broke out between the Whites (landowning farmers, educated middle class and the elite) and the Reds (the workers and landless farmers) this conflict resulted in open war and thousands of dead on both sided, and is still a taboo in Finnish society. The Finland soon became an internationally recognised state, and became a 1920 a member of the League of Nations.

When the war was over, a clause was added to the Treaty of Versailles, that Southern Jutland should be divided into two sections, which both should be allowed to vote over their future, to stay as a part of Germany, or to return to Denmark as they had been prior to 1864. The northern section of south Jutland, which had a Danish speaking majority, said yes to return to Denmark. Whereas in the southern section, although it contained the Danish speaking city of Flensburg, the majority vote were in favour of a continuous relationship with Germany. This created the current borders between Denmark and Germany. And still to this day, there is a German minority on the Danish side of the Denmark-Germany border, and a Danish minority on the German side of the same border.

The submarine attacks by German submarines on British and American ships lead to a massive destruction of the Norwegian Merchant Navy, and the loss of over 2000 civilian seamen, the loss of these ships gave the shipping companies the financial capacity to renew their fleet of ships, which would be instrumental in the battle against Nazism under the Second World War as it would help to deliver supplies to both the UK and the Soviet Union.

For Iceland, the years of War had given a slow economic growth as they could sell the fishing products to reasonable prices. Iceland regained its ‘independence’ in 1918. Iceland was with this a fully sovereign state which only shared its king with Denmark. Thus Scandinavia in 1918 had consisted of 5 different kingdoms, although the Finnish and Icelandic kingdoms did not survive long. Iceland became a republic as a consequence of the Second World War, and Finland following the German defeat in the First World War. Thus after the First World War, Scandinavia had, like much of Europe, seen its borders shift and new states appear. But most significantly did the Soviet Communism in Russia inspire the Socialist movements in Scandinavia which started years of social unrest leading up to the Second World War.


Norwegian Encyclopedia online, The History of Denmark,

Norwegian Encyclopedia online, World War One,

Norwegian Encyclopedia online, The History of Sweden,

Norwegian Encyclopedia online, Norwegian History from 1905-1939,

Wulfstan and his journey

In the late ninth century was communication routes in Europe not quite what they are today, ships were often the easiest way to get from a to b (provided a or b was somewhere near water). The sea was the highway throughout Europe, a way that transported people, goods, Gods, and stories. This was the case in the late ninth century when Alfred the Great of Wessex had two traders visiting his court, both telling stories about their journeys. The first and perhaps most famous was Othere, a Norwegian merchant who sailed from Northern Norway into the White Sea before returning to the Norwegian coast and sailing to the British Isles through Skiringsal and Hedeby. The second visitor who is perhaps not as famous, but who’s story is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon version of Orosius’s description of Europe.

The second traveller was Wulfstan, a presumably English or Flemish merchant who sailed into the Baltic sea from Hedeby and visited (if we are to believe his story) the Baltic region and told the story of the Ests that lived in the area that today lays between Gdansk and Kaliningrad. Yet the story from Wulfstan’s is not as easily understandable as that of Othere. Like Othere’s story does this text provide a geographical and ethnic account of the lands east of Hedeby. Wulfstand points out that there are many towns in this land, and each town has its own king, and between the different tribes and kings were there a great deal of warfare. Wulfstan notes that the land has plenty of honey and fish, and that mare milk is the drink of the rich, whereas the poor drink mead. He also notes that the people drink no Ale, this suggest a great difference from the lives of the Anglo-Saxons at Alfred’s court.

It has been suggested that these stories that was added into Orosius’s to increase the knowledge of the world surrounding the Anglo-Saxons, as a part of Alfred’s drive for the resurrection of knowledge. Although the food and the governmental system described by Wulfstan is a bit different from that found in Anglo-Saxon England, it is perhaps the burial and funeral costumes that are most different from those known in the Christian World. ‘When a man dies, he is put on display for a month or two [says Wulfstan] after that the dead man’s wealth is distributed in several piles some miles from the city, and the quickest riders in the land rise to take it. When all the wealth has been taken (distributed) the body is burned, until nothing is left. For if anyone finds a bone unburned then the finder would be fined a considerable amount.’ These observations suggest firstly that these practices were those that Wulfstan was not used to himself, for it is easier to point out the differences in a society than the similarities.

Furthermore does this suggest that the social, political and cultural system of the Ests were considerably different from that of the Danes and the Anglo-Saxons, but also that the Est society were a well-developed cultural unit that had its own religious and cultural ideas about how to deal with death and burials. In this context the society of the Ests is a frontier in the Anglo-Saxon world. Wulfstan’s journey also illustrates how the Anglo-Saxon court was linked to other European cultures through trade, and how different cultures in the 9th century could be. It also shows that the trade routes of the late middle ages, which was dominated by the Hanseatic league in the Baltic sea, already might existed in the Viking age, and that Denmark, with the city of Hedeby was the linking point between the Anglo-Saxon, Frankish, German, Norse, and Slavic areas of North Europe.

Wulfstan’s journey also gives, although not extensively, information about the lifestyle and livelihood of the Ests in the 9th century, a period from which the sources of this region are not extensive. So we need to work with what we got.

If you want to read more about the Journey of Wulstan then a recommended book is:

Trakadas, Athena: Englert Anton, Wulfstan’s voyage: the Baltic sea region in the early Viking age as seen from shipboard, (Oxford, 2008).

Christian II of Denmark, Sweden and Norway

When one learns about the history of Scandinavia there are many names, dates, kings and politicians that one learn about, just like in all other histories, but today I am writing to you about a man who was a king. In fact he was the King in Scandinavia, ruling areas stretching from Finland in the East to Iceland in the west, from the Barents Sea in the north to North Germany.  He was the last king to unify these areas under one rule, but also the one man to cause its breaking apart.

So who was he? Well as you who have read out blog for a while know that we this month are doing a: Monarch’s you don’t often hear about month. And I’ve already written to you about Kristina of Sweden. As the Scandinavian history so rarely are brought to the attention of the World, well with the exception of the Vikings, and a few battles and kings from the 15thcentury onwards, then I feel it should be right to outline to you what happened to the once Unified Kingdoms of Sweden, Denmark and Norway that caused it to break apart.

The answer is simple, well it’s not simple at all like in all history, for there are many factors taking part in these events, but in this article I’ll do the one thing that I hate, I’ll follow the bigger lines… I apologize in advance.

The key to the end of the Scandinavian commonwealth is the son of King Hans (John in English) and Queen Christine of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, namely Christian II. Christian were born in 1481 as a Prince of the three Kingdoms which formed the Kalmar Union (Denmark, Sweden and Norway). And he died in 1559 imprisoned at Kalundborg Castle; his crime was attempting to re-establish himself as King of Norway in 1531-2, after years in exile at his sister in law’s court in the Netherlands. But why exile? What had Christian done? And what were the consequences of his actions. Well we have already swiftly mentioned the consequences; for his actions and policies during his short reign and prior to his coronation, especially the act that followed his Swedish coronation caused his kingdom to fall apart, and the individual countries to reestablish themselves independently.

Christian’s actions were his policies towards the governing powers in the three countries, for instance he favored Danes in the most important political and administration positions in Norway, contradictory to his promise when he were elected King, a policy that lead to tension between him and the Local nobility. He inherited from his ancestors a political problem in Sweden, with the country’s nobility not being easily pleased, and as all the three countries were de facto electoral kingdoms the nobility and the estate assemblies of the three countries had to elect the king separately. This allowed each of the three countries to separately establish its own relation to the King, and negotiate the basis for his reign in that specific country. Christian inherited the Crown to the Kalmar union after his dad in 1513, yet Sweden which his dad had lost in 1501 were outside his reach until 1520. It is Christian’s actions to regain control over Sweden that gives him his most significant mark upon history. His policies in Norway and Denmark were all financial preparations for the big campaign to become king of Sweden, but his actions against the Norwegian nobles in the late years of his father’s reign had given him a reputation of being ruthless.

It is not his champagne that’s vital, it was a normal late medieval campaign, but when the widow of his opponent, the steward of Sweden, surrendered Stockholm in 1520, he was finally made king of Sweden. Although his revenge sparked another uprising, not only in Sweden, but it also sparked what is later known as the Count’s feud. A war about the Kalmar crown and Swedish independence, and all this due to Christian breaking his promise to hold an Estate assembly, but rather to hold the ‘Bloodbath of Stockholm’, which was a series of executions of about a hundred leading Swedish nobles and clergymen between the 7th and the 9th of November 1520 as a punishment for their revolts against his dad many years earlier. This sparked as mentioned above a new conflict, one that ended in Christian II going into exile and all the three counties converting from Catholicism to Lutheran Protestantism.

Although Christian’s legacy in history is mostly bound to ordering the Bloodbath in Stockholm, but we should remember that he like so many other monarchs ruled according to their geopolitical surroundings. I am by no means defending his attacks on the Swedish leaders, but I am saying that his actions were not that different from those by the Spanish during the Dutch revolts. And just think about it; what would the world have looked like if he had not done it? Well that is something I’ll leave for your imagination. Take care and keep on reading! 🙂