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From Romantic Castles and Palaces, As Seen and Described by Famous Writers, edited and translated by Esther Singleton; New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1901; pp. 199-209.
THE walks in the neighbourhood of Elsinore are charming, particularly that along the Strandvei, by the shore of the Sound — a succession of country houses and fishing villages, and well-kept gardens bright with flowers: they have a well-to-do prosperous air, as everything has in Denmark. An hour’s walk brings you to a maisonette called Dahlsborg, beyond which you turn to enter the forest of Egebæksvang, a favourite summer drive of the Elsinorians.
A ten minutes’ walk, avoiding all dusty roads across the common or waste land which runs down to the seashore — in England it would have been the paradise of geese, cricketers and donkeys, but here it is deserted, except by the sharpshooters, who keep up a cross-fire, practising their targets from eight o’clock till six of an evening — brings us to the Castle of Kronborg.
THE CASTLE OF KRONBORG, DENMARK.
The road lies between two dirty stagnant pools, dignified by the appellation of Holger Dansk’s Spectacles: if they fitted his face, he must have had one eye considerably larger than the other. Instead of snoring away his time within the dungeons of Kronborg — his beard growing into the marble table — he had far better employ his leisure moments in cleaning out and sweetening his “brille”; but he only 200 appears, they say, when Mr. Sorensen (the Danish John Bull or Brother Jonathan) really requires his services. Effectual drainage and sanitary reforms are sadly behind-hand, and looked upon as new-fangled vagaries by the inhabitants of the island of Zealand.
If in your early youth you have devoured the Fabliaux et Contes, King Arthur and the Knights of his Round Table, and other legends of old Romaunce, you will recognize in Holger Dansk,1 or rather Augier le Danois, an old and favourite acquaintance. Some few years since I brushed him up when I visited the ruins of La Joyeuse Garde and the classic sands of Avalon, on the coast of Brittany. The French romancers assert him to be still confined at Avalon, together with King Arthur, held in durance vile by the enchantments of the fay Morgana. Occasionally she removes from his brow the Lethæan crown, when his services are required to fight against the Paynim for the good and welfare of Christendom.
Morgana, she of the Fata, was own sister to our good King Arthur. With other mighty fairies, she assisted at the birth of Holger the Dane; later she loved him. Seduced by her blandishments, he espoused her: no good ever comes of marrying an old woman, be she mortal or fairy. Holger the Dane slumbers in the dungeons of Kronborg, not at Avalon, as the French would have it, no more than King 201 Arthur, who we all know received Christian burial at Glastonbury; but French romancers do tell such wicked stories. Endless are the traditions, numerous the ballads, of the exploits of this the favourite hero of Danish story: when invoked, after much pressing, and, I must own it, exacting first the promise of “a good dinner and plenty of drink,” he has frequently come to the assistance of fair maidens in their trouble and distress, and fought their battles with his enchanted sword, mounted on his good steed, “Papillon.” Morgana, the fay, has never deserted entirely the country of her beloved: she still sports and exercises her witcheries to favoured mortals, when least expected, among the barren heaths and wide-spreading moors of the ancient provinces of Jutland.
I have no intention, however, of visiting his prison down below: the wind is cast, my limbs are rheumatic — let younger people be more adventurous. But we pass the drawbridge and enter the second gate of the castle. Verses in the Danish tongue by the Scotchman, Bishop Kingo, and the more illustrious pen of Tycho Brahe, adorn the portals and celebrate the erection of the buildings. There is one thing sure in this world — monarchs never allowed their good works to be hid in secret: on every side you see inscriptions, in letters of gold, announcing how Christian V. restored this, and Frederic IV. whitewashed that. But I must give you some account of the history of the castle.
There is no doubt but, from the earliest period of history, a castle of some kind, built for the protection of the Sound, existed on the site or near where the Kronborg now stands. 202 In the year 1238 the preceding fortress of Flynderborg — situated at the other end of the town, near the Strandvei, named after the flounders, of which quantities are taken in front of the batteries — was in a state of excellent repair. This fortress being found unsuited to the exigencies of the times, King Frederic II. determined to rebuild it on a scale of unprecedented grandeur: the whole of the expenses were to be discharged from his privy purse, and the building was to cost his subjects “not one penny.” This was more easy of execution to Frederic, first crowned Protestant sovereign of Denmark, than it would have proved to later monarchs. He had made a good haul of suppressed monasteries, church lands, plate, and treasure — was flush of money, and did not mind spending it. The existing castle was then commenced in the year 1577, and completed in the course of nine years. Bishop Kingo and Tycho Brahe both sung its praises, and the talents of Rubens were called into play — somewhat later I imagine — for the decoration of the chapel. The castle is strongly fortified with double-bastion, moat, and rampart, after the manner of preceding ages.
Kronborg possesses one great advantage over the other Danish buildings of the Sixteenth Century: it is built of fine sandstone, the only specimen in the kingdom. Though quadrangular and four-towered, it is relieved from all appearance of formality by the quaint onion pagoda-like minarets by which its towers are surmounted. The lofty clock turret2 too, rising from the centre, higher than those 203 which flank the corners, adds to the dignity of the building. Few castles in the space of three hundred years have suffered so little from modern additions and improvement: one tower has unfortunately been destroyed. In an old engraving from Puffendorf of 1688, I see the original had already been altered: it was an eyesore, but, in accordance with the style of the remainder, capped and ornamented. It, however, fell into decay during the reign of Frederic VI., at that unfortunate epoch when taste was bad taste, and art atrocity: it was repaired — square and hideous — a fearful monument of the age. Formerly it served as a telegraph, now as a powder magazine; and unless it be blown up, or the powder becomes damp, will, I fear, remain untouched. You enter the interior court through a richly ornamented gateway, guarded by statues and overhung by a beautiful oriel window, enriched with the arms and ciphers of the founder. Opposite to you stands the chapel (the works of Rubens have long since disappeared); the fittings of the time of Christian IV. have been lately restored, but not too carefully. It is curious to trace, as you can by the turret to the right of the clock, the gradual transition from the Gothic to the Renaissance. The whole of the ornaments 204 are of the latter period; but there is still occasionally a sort of feeling as if the architect was not quite decided in his views: whether he was or not, Kronborg is one of the most perfect specimens of its era — unspoiled, untouched, and unrepaired — to be met with in Europe. It has long ceased to be occupied as a royal residence. One side is alone retained for the use of His Majesty; the rest is occupied by the General Commandant, the officers, and the garrison. Above the entrance of the clock-tower, surmounting the ornaments, appears the head of a huge mastiff, holding in his fore-paws a heart-like shield, with the cipher of Frederic II., and below the favourite device of the King, “T. I. W. B., Treu ist Wiltbratt.” The same Wildbratt, whose portrait is above, was the favourite of King Frederic, and bit everybody save his royal master. Over the other door appears the device of his good queen — good Queen Sophia of Mecklenburg — “Meine Hoffnung zu GoT allein” (My hope is in God alone). Within the dungeon of the corner tower, that of the restoration — adjoining the wine-cellars of Christian IV., where a jolly fat tun carved in stone above the entrance leaves no doubt of its identity — was situated the torture-chamber in days gone by: none of your papistical virgins, who enticed you to their arms, and larded like a fricandeau, then stuck you brimful of penknives, but good wholesome Protestant thumbscrews, boots, and wooden horses, and scavengers’ daughters, such as Queen Bess of glorious memory, and our earlier Tudor sovereigns, to say nothing of later Stuarts loved to employ on their rebellious subjects who refused to convict their 205 masters, rightfully or wrongfully, and bring them to the block — and very persuasive implements they were, I doubt not. In the centre of the court once stood a fountain, tossing the water high in the air: judging from the old engravings, it must have been very ornamental. Some thirty or forty iron hooks, fastened into the wall, remain, once the larder of King Frederic, hung, when game abounded, with deer, hare, and capercailzie — like Bolton Abbey in the olden time — a pretty scene, only too near the torture-chamber. After the peace of 1659, when Skaane was lost to Denmark forever, the windows of Kronborg Castle, which commanded a view of the Swedish coast, were walled up, to exclude a sight which caused so many heart-burnings.
In 1588 was celebrated in the Castle of Kronborg the marriage by procuration of King James VI. of Scotland with Anne, daughter of King Frederic II. of Denmark. Anne was then in her fifteenth year. Marshal Earl Keith acted as proxy. This marriage settled the vexed question of the Orkney and Shetland Islands, pawned to Scotland when the Princess Margaret married King James III. Christian III. meditated an expedition against Mary of Guise, then Regent of Scotland, for their recovery and later offered to repay the 50,000 florins for which they had been pawned; but Dantzay, by order of Catherine de’Medici, put a spoke into the arrangement, and they were never redeemed. We all know the history of King James’s adventures, and how the real marriage took place at Agershuus, in Norway. The royal couple then visited Denmark and passed a month in the Castle of Kronborg, where they 206 assisted at the nuptials, 19th April, 1590, of the queen’s elder sister, the Princess Elizabeth, with Henry Duke of Brunswick. Which were the apartments occupied by King James and his bride during his residence no one can say — the interior of the building has been much altered since that period, the stories divided for the occupation of the garrison — but in all probability it was the suite called the apartments of Christian IV., now set apart for his present Majesty. They are not remarkable for their size, but contain fine chimney-pieces, with the cipher of the sovereign, and the doorways are ornamented with marble and richly-carved ebony. Tales are still current in Elsinore of the drinking-bouts held by King James and his brother-in-law, Prince Christian in the halls of Kronborg — how they fell intoxicated under the table, rolled into the ditch, etc.
On the exterior of the castle, called Frederic III.’s battery, under the windows of the upper story, runs a cornice richly ornamented in the style of the earlier part of the Seventeenth Century, in the divisions of which are represented medallion portraits of certain personages of the royal family of Denmark. Among them that of King James himself, with his peaked beard side by side with the full features of his consort Queen Anne: in the divisions of each side are sculptured two Tudor roses, and in the ornamentation of the cornice is constantly introduced the portcullis of the same family. The date of this cornice is unknown; but it was in all probability put up to commemorate the nuptials of the King of Scots with the Princess Anne of Denmark.207
Luckily for James was it that the embassy of Lord Willoughby to Kronborg took place some few years before his marriage, and that this Scottish assumption of the English badge came not to the ears of the Virgin Queen. Tudor he was in all right by his ancestress Margaret, in the female line, and nearest heir to the English throne; but Elizabeth, when the succession was mooted, brooked no child’s-play. How she would have stormed had she known it, and sent a fleet perchance to intercept the return of James to his dominions! and the youthful Anne might have found a prison in Fotheringay, and a jailer in that exceedingly unpleasant individual Sir Amyas Paulet. Such are the souvenirs of King James I have met with in the chronicles of Kronborg.
One day, when on an excursion to the back slums of the town of Elsinore, I came on a small narrow lane, dignified with the appellation — in honour, I suppose, of the royal marriage — of Anna Queen Street.
Having finished with pompous pageants and royal nuptials, we come to a sadder period of Kronborg story. Scotland still mourns the fate, and proclaims the innocence of Mary Stuart, the murdered Queen; had she not been a Papist, England — yes, intolerant England — would have long since done her justice. France, who, in the last century, vented her venom, her calumny, against the Autrichienne, now exalts the memory of Marie Antoinette to that of a saint and martyr. So, in Denmark, all voices proclaim together the innocence, and deplore the fate, of the youthful Queen of Christian VII., our English princess Caroline 208 Matilda. Here in Kronborg she was confined a prisoner, torn from her palace in Copenhagen, half-dressed, in the middle of the night, expecting daily to suffer the fate of Struensee and Brandt, until the arrival of a fleet from England effected her liberation. Accompanied by the Commandant one morning (General Lunding, the hero of Fredericia — military men will tell you all about it), I visited the apartments in which she was confined on her arrival — two small rooms on the ground-floor, one overshadowed by the bastion, the other looking on the courtyard of the castle. Later, I believe, the Commandant placed his own apartment at her disposal; and in the small octagon closet of the lighthouse turret, which terminates the apartments of Christian IV., it is related how the captive queen passed hours and days with anxious brow and straining eye, gazing at the waters of the Sound, in momentary expectation of the appearance of the fleet from England, she having received some secret tidings of its coming. No relics of her incarceration here remain: the ancient furniture of the palace was unluckily removed, destroyed, and neglected in Frederic VI.’s reign. He detested Kronborg, and never visited Elsinore; these recollections of his mother’s imprisonment were odious to him, and the royal apartments fell into decay.
The ramparts of Kronborg are charming: before them the fishers everlastingly ply their trade — flounders, and a fish called “green-bone,” a horn-fish, are their prey. Had Shakespeare searched the world round he never could have selected so fitting a locality for the ghost-scene. I 209 can see the ghost myself — pale moon, clouds flitting o’er her, frowning castle, and the space necessary to follow him; but the romance of Kronborg is over; her bastions are redolent with deep purple violets, and the roseate buds of a statice — Krigskarl, or the Warrior, they here call it — which looks as if it should be something better, but will, I dare say, turn out common thrift after all. When the fishing-boats return at sunset, a little girl runs down to the shore side, and waits; as they pass by, a small flounder is thrown to her from each boat; she gathers them up in her apron, and then returns to the castle.
1 Oluf, called God-dreng, who reigned before King Ring, is by Adam of Bremen supposed to be the real Holger Dansk: he accompanied Charlemagne to the Holy Sepulchre, and helped to place Prester John on the throne of India.
2 In 1538 the citizens of Lund received orders to pull down the stone churches in disuse since the Reformation, and forward the materials to Copenhagen to be employed for the building of the new castle; and again, in 1552, a second supply was sent. Even Laura Maria, the big bell purchased with the legacy of Bishop Absalom, was not spared; she got cracked on the journey, was melted down and recast into two little ones, which still hang in the clock-tower of Kronborg. Laura Maria was looked upon almost as a saint, and Valdemar Atterdag, who believed in nothing, when on his death-bed is said to have roared out in a paroxysm of pain, “Help me, Soro! help me, Esrom! help me, Laura Maria, you big bell of Lund!”