The 12th century, erstwhile abode of the Bishop of Roskilde in Denmark is not what I would describe as a fairy-tale castle, but I rather like its eerie, bleak setting, which would make for a fantastic crime novel or, naturally, a haunted house thriller.
Acquired by the Bøttger family in 1939, the castle was converted into a fine hotel, so should you find yourself hankering for a castle setting for your latest work of fiction, you could do worse than staying for a night or two…you never know, a ghost or two might appear and cure your writer’s block for good!
Dragsholm Castle in Zealand is shared by the Bøttger family, their hotel guests and several apparitions that haunt the corridors and even the forecourt at irregular intervals. Two of the ghosts are female, while one is male…and the other ghostly goings-on are provided by horses and carriages outdoors.
If you want to find out more about the ghost stories, head over to Willow the Vampire’s own blog (http://willowthevampire.com), where I’ll be discussing the various issues ghosts have with the living, taking Dragsholm Castle’s shadowy inhabitants as an example.
You can find out more about the hotel at the official website: http://www.dragsholm-slot.dk/en, a multi-lingual site with lots of pictures of the interior and the immediate surroundings of the castle grounds. For a potted history head to Wiki’s page at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragsholm_Castle but here are some highlights:
The name of the castle dates back to Viking times, when the word “drag” described a small stretch of land sandwiched between water. Viking ships were designed in such a way that warriors could drag the ship across a flat stretch of land – useful in Nordic lands criss-crossed by Fjords, lakes, melt-water rivulets and streams – and thus the islet on which the 800-year-old castle stands got its name “Drag”…while the castle became Dragsholm.
Before those of you who have seen the Werner Herzog epic “Fitzcarraldo”, starring one of my all-time favourite mad-cap actors, Klaus Kinski, in the title role, get carried away and imagine a huge ship being dragged, pulled and leveraged across a complicated set of rails, Viking ships only really held a small number of warriors, probably a maximum of 60 men, but usually less than that and their ships were not huge steamers but light wooden craft perfect for island hopping in Scandinavia. Later, Viking ships became a little more substantial to enable raids in Ireland and England, but on the whole the essential idea was that warriors should be able to carry the darn thing around with them, should they need to.
Before the stretch of land known as Lammefjord received its own dam, the islet of Odsherred was connected to the remainder of Zealand by a narrow stretch of land, the aforementioned ”draugh” or ”drag”. This “drag” was situated just east of Dragsholm where the Dragsmølle mill is located today.
Dragsholm Castle’s bleak and romantic location is encircled by meadows and lakes, which for my writer’s mind conjures up a Victorian adventure of dastardly, but impossibly handsome villains abducting an heiress damsel to force her into marriage, with an equally handsome, but impecunious hero coming to her rescue.
Naturally, my story would be set in autumn or winter, with the icy winds blowing from the East that I know so well from my childhood. Along the way there would be a few Gothic murders (drownings), the odd moor corpse or two, any number of ghostly apparitions and there’d have to be a great chase at the end of the adventure, where the hero and revived and far more plucky heroine pursue the villain across the endless stretches of icy cold waters, frozen meadows and fields, where frost-covered sheep try to scratch a living.
What would your story be, if you had such a background for your adventure?
The castle’s turbulent history provides a plethora of excellent starting points for historic adventures. As a result of the Reformation causing massive changes in the fortunes of ordinary as well as “high-born” citizens, Dragsholm Castle was turned over to the Danish Crown. Belonging to the crown between the years of 1536 and 1664, Dragsholm Castle became a prison for aristocratic and ecclesiastical prisoners. The cellars and large tower at the castle’s northeast corner housed various prison cells.
Dragsholm’s prison register clocked up quite a list of famous miscreants, one of them being the former owner of the castle, Joachim Rønnow, who was the last Catholic Bishop of Roskilde. A Reformation allegory in the making, methinks…something about poetic justice given the Inquisition’s excesses?
However, the most famous of them all is the 4th Earl of Bothwell, who was the unlucky third husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. Queen Mary, as we know, also came to a sticky end during the reign of her half-sister, Queen Elizabeth I.
The Earl of Bothwell was kept in solitary confinement for some five years, after which he was found dead in his cell. Did he succumb after a long spell of madness brought on by the solitude and hopelessness of his situation or was he murdered? He’s getting his own back, though, as he’s reputedly still haunting the castle today…and if I were an aristocratic English traveller, I’d think twice about staying at the hotel!
After a turbulent history, during which the castle passed from the hands of a king to the hands of a grocer – and what a fabulous story that would make for a comedy film script – Dragsholm Castle was eventually purchased by the aristocrat Frederik Christian Adeler in 1694, who had the fortified palace rebuilt as the Baroque castle still standing today.
If you don’t wish to stay overnight – be it because you can’t stretch your writer’s holiday budget to cover the room rate or because the thought of bumping into several ghosts on your way back from the bar is just too much for your hot toddy-addled mind – it is possible to join a conducted tour, which takes place during the day, so no risk of meeting disgruntled former residents that can walk through walls.
During the winter tours start every Friday at 16.00 hours, Saturday and Sunday at 14.30 hours and during the Danish summer vacations, tourists can join guided tours daily at 10.30 hours, 12.00 noon, 14.30 hours and 16.00 hours. Note how the management have carefully chosen day light hours for their tours?
Ghost repellent is optional, but for writers a notebook and pen are essential!