Jelling kirke, Gorms grav

Jelling kirke, Gorms grav
Jelling kirke, Gorms grav

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Royal Weddings in the Middle Ages

In fairy tales the poor boy gets the princess and half the kingdom - and the poor Cinderella gets the prince, because she is beautiful and good - and they lived happily ever after. In the real world royal weddings happened in quite another way in the Middle Ages. It was about cool calculations based upon dynastic and political interests. It is something else today. The royal families have no active political role, foreign affairs-alliances are sealed by the ministers, not by arranged marriages between children of ruling dynasties. Today an ordinary young woman from a far away country can become crownprincess and once upon a time queen of Denmark, because the crownprince falls in love with her and she with him. A modern romantic fairy tale.

A royal marriage in the Middle Ages was not a private family event, but a politicial act, an expression of an alliance between two families and usually also two countries. The purpose might be to secure the borders of the kingdom, if it was about to give support in fighting enemies or a peace treaty with a marriage agreement, but often it was just about confirming existing alliances. Daughters of princes were important pieces in the diplomatic game, and although the dowry was expensive, it was worth the price to marry off the girl to some ruling princes. She came to her new country both as its first lady and as its most distinguished hostage, her presence had to secure that her family did not offend her new country. She had to say goodbye - maybe forever, to her homeland, her parents and siblings, and she often had to learn a new language and a new culture.

In the Viking Period and the Middle Ages the royal bride was usually very young, maybe still a child, but she was brought up to this fate. She was not just a poor victim - everywhere in society, where estate had to be secured, were arranged marriages a rule. The peasant and the civilian might eventually compromise, but a prince could not. If he did not succed in establishing a suitable match for his daughter, the alternative for her was to live a life as an unmarried woman, either in the house of her relatives or in a kloster. Most girls probably chose the splendor and high position in a marriage to a prince, whom she had possibly/probably never met, and whose country and language were unfamiliar to her. The interest for this young bride was great, and the festivities around her departure from the homeland and her arrival to the new country was a competition between the two parts about representing the most magnificent splendor. Her entourage and her trousseau had to be rich and splendid and thereby bringing lustre to her homeland, and the reception had to show that the bridegroom and her new country awaited her eagerly.

The first medieval royal weddings in the Danish kingdom are only described in folksongs; the first historial information about a wedding in the royal family was in 1406, when Erik of Pommerania, the 24 year old king of the North was married to 12 year old Philippa. She was a daughter of Henry 4. of England, and since much more written medieval documentation have been kept in England than i Denmark, it is known that the little princess was a white bride - the first known white bride in Denmark's history. She was dressed in a long tunic and a cape with a long train in white silk with trimmings of velvet and furs. Henry 4. was the first of the Lancasters on the English throne, and he wanted to demonstrate that he was first among equals. In Philippa's royal luggage were among other things eleven beautiful suits of clothes, of which three in gold brocade, one in red and one in blue velvet. Her entourage was equipped with beautiful clothes too. The bride furthermore brought bed linen and clerical textiles for furnishing a chapel.

In 1445 Christoffer of Bayern was married to 15 year old Dorothea of Brandenburg. The wedding was held in Copenhagen, and it lasted for eight days like a fairy tale wedding. The festivities began with her parents, margrave Johan of Brandenburg and his wife Barbara of Saxony arriving in two gilt waggons and with a large entourage. Outside the city they were recieved by the king, high on horseback, in the lead of 24 men on beautiful white horses. After only 2 1/2 years of marriage Christoffer died and Dorothea was now queen dowager at the age of 18. There were no children, and since she at her wedding had got large land areas, which income went to her, it was obvious that the new king, the 22 year old Christian I, married the queen.

About 100 years later, in 1548, was by Christian 3's queen Dorothea of Saxony-Lauenburg negotiated an agreement with duchess dowager Katharina of Saxony about a marriage between the royal couple's eldest daughter, Anna and the duchess' youngest son August. A queen's finest duty, after having secured the succession, was to arrange suitable matches for her children, and Anna was now almost 16 years and more than marriageable ; the queen herself was only 14 years, when she in 1525 was married to the 22 year old prince Christian. The king and queen resided during those years at Koldinghus. The bethrothal was the first special celebration, for a wedding of a king's daughter was an important event of foreign affairs. On such an occasion kept the foreign countries an eagle eye on the Danish court, and the royal house had to put every ounce of energy into it. The bethrothal was celebrated 11 March 1548. The walls of the banqueting hall at Koldinghus were covered in Flemish cloth and silken-spærlagen ( silken lengths which hang from the ceiling to the floor).

On 12 October the wedding had to be held in Torgau in Saxony. The departure from Denmark started from Kolding and was celebrated with great splendor. Before this letters were issued to the finest nobles of the country, who were instructed to come with family, servants and a number of horses. The caparison of the horses had to be in velvet, and they themselves, their servants and boys had to be dressed in black velvet. Not too many folds, were the instructions, and the sleeves must not be too wide. It had to be pretty and uniform, but not unneccessary extravagant. Furthermore were nine vasals and all the courtiers, who had to accompany the wedding procession to Torgau, asked to participate in the tournament, which had to be held in connection to the wedding celebrations. The king had seen to that the tournament place at Koldinghus was ready for use if the noblemen had to practice before the departure. Some tournament weapons were bought (halberds etc.) but the noblemen had to bring helmet, gloves and armour themselves.

The departure from Kolding was a splendid scene; in front rode the nobleman Peder Oxe and after him followed 13 rows with each three nobles on horseback. Then came the king's halfbrother duke Hans the Elder's stablemaster and pages followed by two horsemen, who rode in front of the wedding carriage, a gold coach with the young princess. Then came the councellors of state, then the queen's gold coach, escorted by stablemaster and two rows of young women of court on horseback. Two new gold coaches, a gift for the bride, each drawn by eight horses. A total of 650 horses were in the procession, which also included a priest, a doctor, a pharmacist, several tailors, writers and barbers, some messengers and people from the treasure silver chamber, from kitchen and cellar , people who were responsible for the gifts and the brought along supplies.

In a waggon were two bird cages with a grey and a green parrot, which were some of the gifts from the royal couple to their dear daughter, who now had to leave her home. In the procession were lute players and trumpet players and finally the artist Jacob Binck, who might have been the one who had organized the whole thing. This magnificent entourage were increased by still more participants - and the purpose was of course to show that the Danish king was not inferior to the princes in the countries where the procession went through on its way to Saxony. 13 years later, when Anna's younger sister, the 15 year old Dorothea had to marry duke Wilhelm of Braunschweig-Lüneburg-Celle, a similar wedding procession went out from Koldinghus. One of four magnificent gold coaches made for the occassion still exists.

The large feast Christian 4. held for his 31-year old son prince Christian in October 1634 surpasses without doubt everything seen before or after at the Danish court. The bride was the 17- year old Magdalena Sibylla, a daughter of prince elector Johann Georg of Saxony and the wedding preparations lasted a year. The feast was named "bilager"; it was a ceremonial act, where the bride and groom after the the wedding ceremony, attended by all the guests were guided to a ceremonial bridal couch by 24 nobles. Here they were partly undressed and brought to bed, whereupon a representative of the prince elector of Saxony formally gave the bride to the prince . Wine and chocolates were served, and after that the newly-weds got up and were dressed for the following wedding reception . Not until the banquet was over at midnight, the young couple was left to themselves, and they were now expected to consummate their marriage without audience.

The wedding ceremony and the large feast banquet took place on 5. October. The finishing tournament was held on the 27. October and each day was a feast. There were riding at the ring, knigths' tournament and fireworks, and ballets and plays were performed, built upon scenes from the classic mythology. The roles were played by nobles, who before the wedding had been instructed in taking dance lessons. A large proccession of triumphal cars with mythologic and historic figures had to pay tribute to the king as a keeper of peace, but it went a little down the drain,because a violent storm the day before had tipped over the splendid triumph arches at Amagertorv. Not until some days later Copenhagen was told that the same storm had broken through the dikes at the west coast of Sønderjylland and thousands of people and animals had been killed in what later was named " the second large man-drowning". On the last day of the festivities was a knights' tournament at Gammeltorv (Old Square ), where people were dressed as heroes from the Nordic mythology . The guests had to see that the Danish antiquity compared with the classic.

Travels were both long and difficult, there were no foreign princes present at the wedding, but all important persons were represented by envoys, and this showed to create insoluble problems. The French envoy considered himself the most important after the German emperor's envoy, but so did the Spanish, and since he would not risc to be placed worse than the Frenchman, he left the party and went away. When the Swedish envoy discovered, where he had to sit during the banquet, he became that offended that he chose to be in his room and have the food brought up. Neither Cristian 4. took part in the banquet. In an attempt (in vain) to avoid diplomatic complications, it was decided that the king had to eat in a room by himself - so that no one was especially favoured by sitting next to him.

Source: Article Vivi Jensen, Brudefærd; SKALK, nr. 2 April 2004.

photo Koldinghus/Rosenborg 2002/2008/translation : grethe bachmann ©copyright

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