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

Friday, January 8, 2010

Estrid Svendsdatter from Dansk Kvindebiografisk Leksikon 2003.

Estrid Svendsdatter born bef. 1010, died after 1057, was a Danish princess, daughter of Sweyn Forkbeard and Sigrid Storråde and sister of Cnut the Great. She was married to Ulf Jarl and the mother of Sweyn II Estridsen and Asbjørn Jarl. The dynasty that ruled Denmark in 1047-1412 was named after her. She was known in Denmark as dronning Estrid (queen Estrid), despite the fact that she was neither married to a king nor a queen regnant.
Estrid Svendsdatter from Dansk Kvindebiografisk Leksikon 2003:
Estrid was one of the great woman figures in the transitional period between the pagan Viking period and the Christian Middle Ages. Her mother was said to deny converting to Christianity, while Estrid when a widow saw to that the first stone church was built in Denmark. It was a chaotic period where the kings had enough to do just trying to keep the throne. The most obvious pretenders might suddenly have died or been killed - and this might give high ranked women like Estrid the chance to take power. Especially if they had a promising son - and she had. She also had the title of queen without having been married to a king. The best evidence of her royal importance at that time is the fact that her son Sven took name after her and called himself Estridsen. It was not in her cards that she had to live her life in Denmark. The first part of her life she was a more or less passive tool in an inconstant game about the power in northern Europe. The marriage plans for her meant probably that she alrady as a child had to take residence in her husband-to-be's homeland. She probably reached to stay in such various places like at the Russian rivers, in Normandy, England an finally at Zealand.
Estrid was a daughter of Sweyn Forkbeard who ab. year 1000 conquered Norway and a little later also made an attempt to subject England together with his son Cnut, the later famous king Cnut the Great. When his father died in 1014, Cnut, who was Estrid's half brother, became her guardian. She was very young, maybe only a child, but she was as a daughter of a king and a good card for the ambitious Cnut. Marriage agreements were one of the most important tools to create permanent alliances during the changeable power conditions. A single source claims that Estrid first was married to a young Russian prince, and if so most probably to one of Vladimir the Holy's four sons, who all fell in the civil war after Vladimir's death in 1015. But already ab. two years later Cnut the Great again used Estrid for new alliance purposes. He had succeeded in taking over the power in England, sealing it by marrying the widow Emma after his main opponent, the English king Aethelred. Queen Emma was a sister of duke Richard of Normandy, and Cnut now needed to strengthen the bands to his new brother-in-law. An agreement was made with Richard that Estrid had to marry his son Robert.
Something went wrong. Maybe Estrid was repudiated by Robert or the agreement fell to the ground for some reason before they got married. Robert died young, but he became the father of the later William the Conqueror, who in 1066 definitively brought England out of reach from the Nordic kings.
But one generation earlier Cnut was in solid power in England. And he now gave his half sister to one of his most trusted men, the English Jarl, Ulf. It looks like an attempt from Cnut to create a larger loyality around himself. But in the long run this alliance was a complete flop. Maybe Ulf was no longer loyal to Cnut - who else once after 1023 appointed him to govern in Denmark. Cnut must in any case have been affronted by the behaviour of his brother-in-law, for in 1026, when Ulf joined mass in Roskilde domkirke, he was killed by Cnut's men.
We know nothing of how Estrid took her fate. She lost the father of her sons by the mighty half brother's hand. It is even possible that the killing happened with her acceptance. Ulf's supposed conspiration against Cnut did not mean that Estrid disappeared in the dark. She got large estates in Skåne and Zealand as a compensation. And now being a rich widow she gave estate to Roskilde domkirke and built another church in Roskilde in remembrance of her husband. It was probably the first stone church in denmark. (gb: Estrid replaced the wooden church her father Sweyn Forkbeard had built beside the royal residence with a stone church). Her church-involvement also showed when she saw to that her promising son got a proper education, which at that time was equal to an international church education. This was positively noticed by pope Gregor 7 and others. Another son Asbjørn is not wellknown, other than he made an attempt in vain to conquer England in 1069. As a rich widow Estrid was in a place of her life and in a situation where it was possible for a woman to put power behind her will. She supported Sweyn in his long and difficult fight to gain supremacy over Denmark. This was her best opportunity in order to secure herself continuing influence. But her ambitions had often a hard time. For long periods Denmark was whole or partly under the Norwegian king Magnus' rule. When the place was getting too hot for her son, he went to live with his grandmother's Swedish family. The Swedish king Anund Jacob was Estrid's nephew, and Sweyn often took refuge at his cousin on several occassions.
Considering the circumstances of the Middle Ages Estrid reached a high age. She was born before 1010, and she died not until after 1057. This is known because her gift to Roskilde domkirke was sealed by Vilhelm who was a bishop in the years ab. 1057-73. Estrid was buried in Roskilde domkirke in one of the pillars of the choir. But the archaologists are not sure if it is her skeleton still being there.
John Carmi Parsson (red.): Medieval Queenship, 1993.
Optaget i Dansk kvindebiografisk leksikon 2003/translated January 2010 grethe bachmann
Addition from Magasinet Viking 2004: Two skeletons from burials in Roskilde Domkirke: Sven Estridsen and a woman's bones: It was believed that Sweyn Estridsen's mother was buried in the third of the pillars, the grave inscription said that it was "Margrethe also named Estrid", but a new DNA-test shows that she is not his mother. Much indicates that it is his daughter-in-law, who was buried opposite him. The skeleton is from a young woman. Museum's inspector from Roskilde Domkirkemuseum has published a book about Roskilde Domkirke's history, and her examinations indicate that it is Sweyn Estridsen's daughter-in-law in the grave. She was named Margrethe, and she was married to Sweyn's son Harald Hen. She gave the church some farms in Skåne, and the church showed its gratitude by through many years celebrating mass for her soul on her date of death 9. May. Therefore, says Annette Kruse, there is a good argument for believing that she had deserved to be buried in the church opposite her father-in-law Sweyn Estridsen. (Translated January 2010 from article in Magasinet Viking 2004) 
translation grethe bachmann ©copyright.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Estrid Svendsdatter & Ulf Jarl/ from Dansk Biografisk Lexicon

Dansk Biografisk Lexicon
Carl Fr. Bricka
Project Runeberg

Estrid Svendsdatter, –1020–, Ulf Jarl's wife. E., who was also named Margrethe, was a daughter of Sweyn Forkbeard in his 2. marriage to Sigrid Storraade, Erik the Victorious' widow. She was married (probably bef. 1015) to Ulf, the son of Thorgils Sprakalegg, who took part in king Cnut's expedition to England in 1015 and was given high posts by him. He was - probably in Cnut's expedition to the Wends in 1022 - appointed chief of Jomsborg. Later Cnut installed his brother-in-law as governor in Denmark and guardian for his son. In this job Ulf seemingly was guilty of treacherous or suspicious relations to the Swedish king Anund Jacob. For the sake of his sister Cnut might have forgiven him, but during a gathering at Roskilde and caused by a dispute the old rage broke out and Cnut let Ulf kill by one of his men during the matins in St. Lucii Church (29 Sept. 1026). Cnut became reconciled with Estrid by giving her considerable estate, which she then gave to the church; E. also built a stone church instead of the old wooden church at Roskilde. Later E. was married to Robert (le Diable), duke (from 1028) of Normandy. He soon repudiated her and went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land (where he died in 1035). From her first marriage E. had the sons Sweyn, Bjørn and Asbjørn. (Bjørn Jarl and Asbjørn Jarl). Sweyn - whose last name was after his mother because she was of higher rank than his father - became king of Denmark. The sources show however several uncertain details in Estrid and Ulf's history.

Johannes C. H. R. Steenstrup.
Ulf, –1026, Jarl, son of Thorgils Sprakalegg, joined king Sweyn Forkbeard on his expedition to England (1013-14); he had married Sweyn's and Sigrid Storraade's daughter Estrid. U. and his brother Eilif are mentioned as jarls (earls) in England in letters from Cnut the Great's period. On Cnut's expedition to the Wend (1023) U. was appointed governor of the Danish estate there, but some years later, when the governor in Denmark Thorkil the Tall had died, U. took over this post. Ulf soon contracted Cnut's anger however. He was the guardian of Cnut's and queen Emma's son Hardicanute, and when an attack from the Norwegian king Olaf and the Swedish king Anund Jacob was expected , he proclaimed - with a secret consent from queen Emma - Hardicanute king at Viborg Thing, which made Cnut furious. The Sagas describe the story in this way, but Saxo says that U. treacherously had excited the two kings to attack Denmark taking their side during Cnut's unlucky fight at Helgeå; but it was said that king Cnut quickly forgave his brother-in-law on his sister's intercession. U. and the king stayed late summer the same year at Roskilde, and one day it came to a feud between them about a move in a board-game; in his rage Cnut blamed U. his behaviour during the figth at Helgeå, while U. on the other hand reminded Cnut about his unluck. Next morning Cnut ordered one of his men to kill U. whereever he met him, and when he met him at matins in the Holy Trinity Church, he thrusted his sword through him. (29 Sept. 1026). Cnut gave his sister and the church large estate in order to atone for the kill. Estrid and Ulf had the sons Sweyn, Bjørn and Asbjørn.

Johannes C. H. R. Steenstrup.

translation grethe bachmann  ©copyright

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Three Queens Named Gunhild.

Dansk Biografisk Lexicon
Carl Fr. Bricka
Project Runeberg


–1000–, Sweyn Forkbeard's queen, was a daughter of the Polish duke Mstislav or Miesko. When Sweyn in Grønsund was caught by Sigvald, chief of Jomsborg, he had to promise to marry Gunhild, with whose sister Sigvald was married; their brother Boleslaus Chrobry should in return marry Sweyn's sister Thyra. Sweyn had in his marriage to Gunhild two sons Harald and Cnut (b. ab. 995); later he repudiated her; Gunhild returned to her home, and Sweyn married Sigrid Storraade. After Sweyn's death (1014) his sons fetched their mother back to Denmark.
Johannes C. H. R. Steenstrup.
(see my article about Swietoslawa(Gunhild) in this blog).

Gunhild, ab.1020-1038, Cnut the Great's daughter. In his marriage to Aethelred's widow, Emma of Normandy, Cnut had 2 children, Hardicanute and Gunhild. In June 1035 Cnut and emperor Conrad II arranged a marriage between Gunhild and the emperor's son king Henrik, the later Henrik III, but Cnut never saw the marriage take place, he died 12. November 1035. The marriage took place in great splendour in June 1036 in Nimwegen, where Gunhild also was crowned and took the name Kunigunde. Gunhild is described as a delicate and sensitive woman, with a body and mind like a child. In weak health she died after two years of marriage "like on the threshold of Life" 18 July 1038; she only had one child, the daughter Beatrix, who became an abbess. The legend and the folktale have wrongly referred to Gunhild a tale about a queen, who in front of her husband, who accussed her of infidelity, proved her innocence by letting a dwarf be her defender in a fight with a giant, whom he defeated.

Steindorff, Jahrbücher des deutschen Reichs unter Heinrich III.
J. Steenstrup, Normannerne III.
Johannes C. H. R. Steenstrup.

Gunhild, -.1050–, Sweyn Estridsen's queen. Gunhild was a daughter of the Norwegian jarl Sweyn Hakonson (+ 1016); she was first married to the Swedish king Anund Jacob. After his death (ab. 1050) she married Sweyn Estridsen, which relation awoke much indignation in the clergy; Sweyn and Gunhild were closely related, since her mother Holmfrid was a halfsister of Sweyn's mother Estrid, and Gunhild was a widow after Sweyn's cousin. On archbishop Adalbert's order Sweyn finally repudiated Gunhild, who took up residence in Vestergötland, where she lived in silence and sacrificed herself to charity and other pious deeds.

Johannes C. H. R. Steenstrup.

translation grethe bachmann  ©copyright