Jelling kirke, Gorms grav

Jelling kirke, Gorms grav
Jelling kirke, Gorms grav

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Knud Lavard, ab. 1096-1131, ~ Ingeborg Mstislavsdatter

Knud Lavard's Kapel

Knud Lavard, o. 1096-1131,
Hertug, a son of Erik Ejegod and queen Bodil, was
born in Roskilde shortly after his father became king,
probably 12. March (maybe in April) 1096. The parents
wanted to call him Hugo, but a farmer from Balstrup
claimed that he according to a revelation from Knud den
Hellige had to be named Knud. When Erik and Bodil went
on their pilgrimage in 1102, they let the mighty Jarl of
Sjælland, Skjalm Hvide bring up the boy. At the election
to king in 1104 some wanted the little Knud to be king.
Later he was sent to hertug Lothar of Sachsen who became
his second fosterfather. The long stay abroad extended
Knud's knowledge and gave him a sense for foreign culture.
At his homecoming Knud found bad conditions in Denmark.
King Niels, who lacked ability to govern the country,had
even taken his sister's son, the Wendic prince Henrik's
maternal inheritance, whereafter Henrik harrassed the
border areas and sent Wendic vikings to the Danish waters.
The bad luck also hit Knud, when some captains during the
Wendic attacks had to sink his treasure into the sea. This
loss did not impress Knud much, but king Niels, who liked
money, was very annoyed. Knud took now part in an
unsuccessful expedition against Henrik; in the fight at
Ljutka he fell injured to the ground, but was saved by one
of his resolute men. After his victory Henrik attacked more
and more the Danish borders, where everything became
chaotic, but the bad luck urged Knud to use his power, and
with his father's brother king Niels he finally obtained
to become Jarl in Sønderjylland, which no one alse dared
to take over. (in 1115).


Knud used all his abilities in this difficult task as
a guardian of the border. He decided to secure property
and peace and hunted down many thiefs and robbers who
wanted to exploit the common disorder. He was ruthless
in his hunt for justice. A nobleman, who for a long
time had been robbing people, was sentenced to death,
and when the man wanted to befriend Knud , Knud just
mocked his noble descent by hanging him in a higher
gallow. In this way the enemies within the borders were
soon exterminated. He gained an even greater reputation
as a warrior.He beat off the enemies, and he surrounded
Schleswig, which was his usual residence, with strong
banks and moats. Shortly after his death the city was
during a whole winter able to resist a mighty army.
Besides this city fortification, which was unique in
the North, he built several towers as a protection of
Slien and was thus ground-breaking for the development
of the defence.  But also in another field of warfare
he obtained a great importance for the future: he
developed a total chavalry. It was about - contrary
to the Danes' usual slowness - to make quick and
unforeseen attacks on the dangerous Wendic prince, and
this was only possible with fast horsemen. Knud now
took the enemy by surprise when he attacked as quick as
lightning. Once Henrik only got away by swimming across
the Ejder, and his border castle was destroyed. The
arrogance of the Wendic prince had changed into fear,
and when Knud offered peace, he accepted gladly. Knud
showed his chivalry; although he was the victor, he
saw to that Henrik got his maternal inheritance. From
that time the two men were friends and it is said that
both Knud and other Danes could stay in Henrik's
country as well as in their own. No wonder that Knud was
honoured as Denmark's rescuer and was given the byname
"Lavard".   The word is of Anglo-Saxon origin (English
Lord) and means Herre (Master).Knud replaced his Nordic
title as jarl with the title as hertug, he appeared in
magnificent German dress and introduced grand court
customs from abroad. In spite of his authority he was
very popular, and he showed his sense for the people's
interests by being elected Oldermand for Schleswig
Borgeres Gilde ( a union of citizen), the socalled
"edslag" (giving an oath). He was a friend of the clergy
and equipped the churches with books and altar pieces,
and the granite churches began replacing the old wooden
chapels  in Sønderjylland. He also saw to that his
priests behaved well and he went on a crusade to the
still heathen Småland (in Sweden). Finally he was so
generous to the poor, that he even once gave a beggar
his overtunic. (!!!)

Schleswig Cathedral

Knud took up an important position in his homeland. As a
guard of the border he was the governor of Sønderjylland,
but he was also the leader of Denmark's defence and could
send his brother Erik (Emune) to protect the islands
against the Wendic vikings. He had inherited several
castles from his father, and when he married the Russian
princess Ingeborg, her maternal aunt queen Margrethe gave
her large parts of her estates in Vestergötland (in
Sweden) as a dowry. Knuds' power was later increased
considerably. After the Wendic prince Henrik and his
family had died, Knud bought from his fosterfather Lothar,
who was now German king, the prince title over the
western Wends and was by his new feudal overlord crowned
as king of the Wends or "Knés". (1129) The Obotrits and
Vagirs rebelled against him, but after he had forced
their chiefs Niklot and Pribizlav to surrender,he had
secured the control and consolidated it by supporting
"The Wendic Apostel" Vicelin in his missionary work
and by building the castle Alberg (later named Segeberg),
which however was demolished by the Holsteiners.


He was at that point more powerful than any of his fellow-countrymen. His upright and handsome figure , his chivalrous and dignified behaviour, his eloquence , courage and cleverness as a warrior caused common admiration, and it was as if luck followed him whereever he went. During a famine he had abundance and helped the needy. His authority was so strong in all the kingdom that he was able to summon his feuding brothers Harald Kesja and Erik to his court of law , and he could with approval from the army free the Pommeranian prince Vratislav, when king Niels treacherously had taken him prisoner. The weak king Niels could not assert himself compared with his brother's son, and this created envy, especially in Niels' hot-headed son Magnus, whose prospects of the throne became very doubtful during these circumstances, but also envy in Knud's cousin, the spiteful Henrik Skadelaar. Queen Margrethe Fredkulla (Magnus' mother and Ingeborg's aunt) had seen the danger , and she had tried to prevent it by being like a mother to Knud; she let him, although he was still a kid , be the godfather of Magnus and she equipped his bride Ingeborg with riches, but after her death the storm came on.

Schleswig Cathedral

Henrik Skadelaar ,whose evil sarcasm only gave him Knud's superior derision in return, was the most eager in wanting to kill Knud; and Knud, who had an immensely difficult position both as a Danish hertug and as a Wendic prince under a feudal overlord in Sachsen, was probably careless and relaxed his guards; at a meeting in Schleswig, inside the Danish borders, he even behaved as a Wendic king, equal to king Niels. The men, who envied Knud gossipped to king Niels, who steamed up and blamed Knud at a meeting in Ribe, why he had taken a king's name and had introduced new customs. Knud replied that he was not a king he was Knés, and he claimed with pride that the new custom he had introduced was peace and quiet contrarily to the former insecurity. With this he had disarmed his enemies. Magnus had also to put a good face on it; he had earlier sworn brotherhood to Knud, and apparently they were more united in the bonds of friendship, since Knud became the godfather of Magnus' daughter. But Henrik Skadelaar formed a conspiracy against Knud; his followers were Magnus, Niels' son-in-law Ubbe and his son Hakon Skaaning, in the beginning also Knud's own brother-in-law Hakon Jyde.
(Hakon Jyde was married to Ragnhild, a halfsister of Knud; Henrik Skadelaar was a grandson of Knud den Hellige)

The murder plot speeded up, when Knud in spite of Ingeborg's warnings accepted Niels' invitation to Christmas feast in Roskilde (1130). During the Christmas days Magnus looked several times for an opportunity to kill Knud, but still in vain. Then he pretended, as if he wanted to go on a pilgrimage and asked Knud for a secret meeting , where they could negotiate about his business during his absence, and Knud accepted this. King Niels knew about the murder plot, and on parting in Roskilde he asked Knud to swap rings. Niels thought that Knud's ring hid a talisman. Knud stayed for some days in the Ringsted-area, first in Balstrup, then in Haraldsted with his relative Cæcilia and her husband Erik Jarl.

On the morning of 7 January 1131 he was awakened by a German singer Sivard, who was sent by Magnus in order to fetch him for the arranged meeting in the forest. (Haraldsted skov). His men warned him and asked him to be his followers, but according to the arrangement with Magnus he only took two hirdmen (housecarls) with him and only his sword as weapon. Sivard felt compassion for Knud and tried secretly to warn him, among other things by humming the song about Grimhild's deceit against his kinsman, but Knud refused all suspicion. Magnus waited in the forest, appearantly alone, and therefore Knud went to him without his followers. Magnus greeted him friendly, but when he had drawn him away from the road and was sure to be in control, he suddenly explained: "To whom belongs Denmark?" Hearing this question Knud astonished drew back, and simultaneously Magnus drew his sword , and his men came out from the thicket where they had been lurking. Knud's hand dashed in vain after his sword, but Magnus was in the lead, he grapped him in the cloak cap and cleaved his head, and Henrik Skadelaar and the others came running and thrusted their spears into his breast. This murder was the beginning of bloody throne fights, which brought Denmark into terrible conditions, until Knud's son Valdemar brought a new time for the country and its people.
Haraldsted kirke

At Erik Jarl's request Knud's body was first buried in Haraldsted kirke, but soon after brought to Ringsted klosterkirke. The compassion with the murdered and his avengers' wise politics soon made a martyr of this chivalrous man of the world. Revelations were seen at his grave, a well was said to have sprung close to the scene of the crime and a chapel was built there. After Valdemar I's powers had grown by victories abroad and by reconciliation with archbishop Eskil, he had his father canonized (1160), and his Helgenben (Saint's bones) solemnly placed in a reliquary in Ringsted. (1170). Here was made a biography of the saint, but already in Erik Emune's ruling period an English monk, Robert of Ely, had described Knud's life and martyr death.
Ringsted kirke

Knud was a sympathetic personality, brilliant in his behaviour, open and bold, of course ambitious and proud, but always noble. In somes respects raised above Denmark, and as a pioneer for a higher culture he pointed beyond his narrow-minded contemporaries.

He had three daughters with Ingeborg: Margrethe, married to Stig Hvide, Kirsten and Cathrine, who probably was married to the Wendic prince Prizlav. Eight days after Knud's murder and probably before the tragic news had reached Schleswig, his son Valdemar was born.

Monumenta Germaniæ, Script. XXIX.
H. Olrik, K.s Liv og Gærning (1888).
Jahrbb. f. d. Landesk. Schlesw., Holst. u. Lauenb. X.
Danske Helgeners Levned, ved H. Olrik.
From Hans Olrik's Danish text: grethe bachmann
Dansk Biografisk Lexicon
Carl Fr. Bricka
Project Runeberg

Ingeborg, –1131–, daughter of the Russian prince Mstislav and Christine , a daughter of the Swedish king Inge; she married Knud Lavard (ab. 1116). The legendary story about Knud's courting her via the merchant Vidgaut is not historical; the marriage was due to Ingeborg's aunt, her mother's sister queen Margrethe Fredkulla, who even gave Ingeborg a part of her own Swedish paternal estate as a dowry. Ingeborg advised Knud against going to the Christmas feast in Roskilde (1130-) -, eight days after his murder she gave birth to the son Valdemar (January 1131). She and Knud had also three daughters, Margrethe, Kirsten and Cathrine. When the høvdingen (chief) Christiern Svendsen after king Erik Emune's kill wanted to make the little Valdemar king, Ingeborg opposed strongly. From this time she is not mentioned anymore.

H. Olrik, Knud Lavard.

Dansk Biografisk Lexicon
Carl Fr. Bricka
Project Runeberg

translation grethe bachmann  ©copyright