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Man has always attempted to protect himself and his possessions against attacks and assaults by building defences. In the Iron Age and the Viking Age, fortresses provided shelter for the local population. In the late 900s, the Crown built the so-called Trelleborge, circular forts whose exact role and function are still under discussion. In the Middle Age, the building of defensive castles was at its highest, and over 1000 castles were built all over Denmark.

The Castle in the Middle Ages

The medieval castle appears in Denmark from the late 1000s or the beginning of the 1100s. The castle was closely connected to the medieval standards of society and system of war and it served two purposes. It was partly used as a fortress to protect against outside enemies as well as to maintain the power over subjugated or rebellious parts of the population, partly as a residence from which the King, the bishops or the magnates could run and administer their estates, collect taxes and uphold law and order. A few royal castles were used as prisons in the Middle Ages and up until the 17th century, while Kalundborg Castle served the purpose of public record office until the Late Middle Age. During the Middle Ages, more than 1000 fortified constructions were built in Denmark, the majority of which were constructed in the years 1250-1400.

Placement and layout of the castle

Because only very few places in the Danish landscape, like at Hammershus on Bornholm, provided the opportunity to construct castles, where the terrain served as the most important defence, most of the Danish castles were water castles, i. e. castles built in lakes, on forelands or as a construction surrounded by a moat. The eldest of the Danish castles were constructed on top of a high, steep hill shaped as a truncated cone. On top of this was a tower or a small house, which still in the 14th century consisted only of wood. The hill was surrounded by one or more encircling ramparts, which were strengthened by stockades, and a moat. The residence belonging to the castle would have been in other buildings at the foot of the hill, at time surrounded by banks, as an enceinte.

The builder of the castle

The majority of the castles that were constructed during the 12th century, were built by the King or magnates close to the King, and were erected in strategic places. They worked as the seat of royal representatives with administrative and military responsibilities connected to coastal defence as well as trade control. In many of the cases, a town community emerged around these castles of the state, e.g. in Kalundborg and Copenhagen. Around the more important castles, like the ones in Vordingborg and Nyborg, they constructed proper living quarters that were in the nature of a palace and with that could also serve representative purposes.

During the 13th century, the growing tensions within the royal family and between the Crown and the Church determined the construction of castles. The castles were erected, besieged and captured by the contending parties, because the fiefs and estates were more than often administrated from the castles, and tariffs and taxes were paid to the castle. A significant number of castles in the Danish market towns date back to this period.

Private castles

Only in connection with the decline of the Crown during the first decades of the 14th century, private castles emerged everywhere in the country. The Crown itself ordered the construction of castles, e.g. at Kalø, in order to keep down rebellious subjects, while the squires and the various mortgagees, who in return of borrowing money to the King had received parts of the Kingdom as security, erected castles in order to protect themselves against attacks. The layout of these castles varied greatly from constructions of wood and half-timbering to fully equipped rectangular stone castles surrounded by water and with a stone house for residence.

The castles of the Late Middle Age

King Valdemar IV captured and tore down many of the private castles during this struggle to recreate the unity of the realm, and at the same time he regained control over the pawned royal castles. In 1396 Queen Margrete I issued a statutory instrument, which altogether forbade the construction of private castles, and it seems like this ban was obeyed for almost 100 years. In contrast, the manor houses of the 15th century were built on a kind of hill surrounded by a moat, but without other defensive measures such as ramparts or towers. Stone houses were rarely seen at these manor houses, while half-timbering was most common.

The Crown itself only constructed a few new castles, such as “Krogen”, built by Eric of Pomerania, which would later become Kronborg and control the marine traffic through Øresund. During the 15th century, as the canons became larger and more powerful, several castles were equipped with large ramparts and turrets. Aside from playing an important defensive role, the royal castles in the Late Middle Age also performed the important function of administrative centres for the large castle fiefs including more than one district. The vassals, who were noblemen appointed by the King, collected taxes, issued fines and passed sentences. Thus, the citizens also worked as physical manifestations of the King’s political, social and financial position in society. Even though in 1483 the nobility was once again allowed to fortify its estates, only a few were able to afford constructing new stone castles and these few new constructions were therefore rather an expression of the nobility’s fear of an uprising amongst the enervated peasants.

The military role of the castle weakens

During the Renaissance, the majority of the nobility’s castles lost their defensive importance and turned into castles of decoration with large windows and surrounded by water filled moats. After the Reformation, the Crown only upheld about ten of the costly castles that were converted into the fortresses of the new time. However, the majority of these were captured and partly destroyed during the war against the Swedes 1657-1660, after which most of them were partly torn down and the building materials reused in other connections. The castle had outplayed its military role.

Om artiklen

Forfatter(e)
Stefan Pajung
Tidsafgrænsning
900 - 1660
Medietype
Tekst
Sidst redigeret
8. august 2011
Sprog
Dansk
Litteratur

la Cour, Vilhelm: Danske borganlæg til midten af det 13. århunderede (1972).

Liebgott, Niels-Knud: ”Borge og befæstninger”, i Dansk middelalderarkæologi (1989).

Olsen, Rikke Agnete: Borge i Danmark (1996).

Rasmussen, Carsten Porskrog og S. Madsen, Lennart: Herremænd og Borge, i Middelalderens Danmark (1999).

Udgiver
danmarkshistorien.dk

Om artiklen

Forfatter(e)
Stefan Pajung
Tidsafgrænsning
900 - 1660
Medietype
Tekst
Sidst redigeret
8. august 2011
Sprog
Dansk
Litteratur

la Cour, Vilhelm: Danske borganlæg til midten af det 13. århunderede (1972).

Liebgott, Niels-Knud: ”Borge og befæstninger”, i Dansk middelalderarkæologi (1989).

Olsen, Rikke Agnete: Borge i Danmark (1996).

Rasmussen, Carsten Porskrog og S. Madsen, Lennart: Herremænd og Borge, i Middelalderens Danmark (1999).

Udgiver
danmarkshistorien.dk