Today’s candidate for homely Nordic castles only made the list because
a) I stumbled across it by accident while I was researching ghost-related places for my blog site willowthevampire.com and it’s got ghostly goings-on AND
b) because in a round-about way it relates to Merlin and the Arthurian legends…AND
before you ask…no, I haven’t had a chance to rewrite the ending for my Merlin fan fiction thanks to my lovely clients all wanting their work ASAP the last couple of weeks; hopefully, I should be able to finish the story over the next few days (famous last words!).
Kronborg Slot on the Zealand peninsular in Denmark – or Castle Kronborg – is situated a mere 4 km from the Swedish coast, just a hop and a skip from Helsingborg. Serving as the focal point for the Danish town Helsingør, Kronborg Castle is famous for a number of things, including spooky things, but mostly for being the inspiration for Elsinore, Hamlet’s legendary castle in William Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
As one of the most important Renaissance castles in Northern Europe, Castle Kronborg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the early 1400s, when the first stronghold called Krogen was built on orders of King Eric VII.
It was part of a number of coastal fortifications that served to protect and control the entrance to the Baltic Sea. It wasn’t until 1574 and the reign of King Frederick II that the fortress was transformed into Kronborg Castle, a splendid Renaissance residence fit for a moody princeling like HAMLET.
But we’ll forget what’s above ground for a moment and have a peek under the casements, where one of Denmark’s most important national symbols resides: one Holger Danske or as he’s also known, Ogier le Danois – a name that dates back to the crusades and the Song of Roland, a French poem that describes the gruesome derring-dos of knights and Saracens.
Deemed to be invincible, Holger or Ogier the Dane returned to Denmark after the crusade and a major battle in France. Upon arrival at Kronborg, he promptly fell into a long and deep slumber. Legend has it, should anyone threaten the Danish kingdom, Ogier or Holger will awake instantly and set out to fight for this country and king. Sound familiar, my loverly Merlinians?
Oddly, this Nordic hero is linked to the Arthurian legends and just like Arthur, he became a king of the mountains, a protector who would awake when his country needs him most. I’ve been all over Denmark and I’ve yet to discover mountains…so where does this medieval error in map reading spring from, I wonder?
Is this our friend Merlin trying to befuddle our brains with a bit of Camelot magic? Is this reference to mysterious mountains an attempt to hide his beloved ARTHUR’s real resting place until it’s time for Arthur to wake and have his breakfast after a millennium of sleep?
According to legend, Ogier the Dane was also taken to Avalon by Morgan le Fay, which makes the link to Arthurian folklore even more interesting.
The 11th century Song of Roland – or Chanson de Roland – is part of wider rhyming chronicles that chart the times of Charlemagne and is known to be the oldest surviving major work of French language literature. It was so popular during its own time that several different versions survived in manuscript form throughout the 12th and 14th centuries. The oldest of these manuscripts (dated to between 1140 to 1170) can be found in Oxford (UK) and is usually referred to as the “Oxford manuscript”.
In around 4,004 lines the poem describes the notorious battle, spawning many more heroic adventure stories of its kind throughout the middle ages. Therefore, the Song of Roland and our bearded friend Ogier have to be seen as part and parcel of the Arthurian legends we know and love today.
The Chanson de Roland or Song of Roland is essentially a heroic poem that relates the Battle of Roncesvalles in France in 778, which took place during the reign of Charlemagne. There are various references to Olgier/Olger/Holger that date back even earlier than the Chanson de Roland, such as a chronicle held at St Martin’s monastery in Cologne, where a reference to pillaging Saxons in 778 links directly to an Olger, Leader of the Danes, who helped – in the words of the monkish chroniclers – to rebuilt the monastery after the Saxons burned it to the ground (756 to 1021, Chronicon Sancti Martini Coloniensis).
The monastery, incidentally, served as a Benedictine monastery for monks from Scotland and Ireland and was once Cologne’s main church (Groß St Martin), but it had been erected on a much earlier place of worship that dates back to Roman times.
What the Song of Roland also demonstrates is the power of story telling…if told well, a story can survive against all the odds.
Just think, minstrels all over Europe braved the ravages of Black Death, boils, starvation, plague and constant medieval warfare to turn up at whatever manor or castle would pay for their keep – and in return they recited their poems about heroic deeds and beautiful maidens…capturing our imagination more than 1,200 years after Olger the Dane allegedly threw a bucket of water over the smouldering remains of St Martin’s monastery.
It convinces me good storytellers are here to stay, no matter how hard Amazon seemingly tries to destroy the booktrade and deprive authors of a decent wage!
Should you ever find yourself at Kronborg Castle be sure to visit the enormous Knights’ Hall. At 62 metres length it is one of the longest in Europe and contains a statue of Holger Danske/Ogier the Dane. If you’re a Merlinian at heart, why not indulge in a little daydream of minstrels singing at Arthur’s court…
…and if you’re Shakespearean at heart…RUN, for Elsinore’s moody owner Hamlet is bound to have another murderous temper tantrum soon.