Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen

From the 19th of June to the 12th of July 2016 a fellow W.U.HSTRY contributor and I travelled around eight countries in the space of three weeks. We both shall be writing posts on our favourite memories, moments or monuments from the trip which included Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Berlin, Prague, Florence, Bern and Paris. This particular post of mine will cover the stunning castle of Rosenborg, one of many truly spectacular European royal residences that I dragged Laura around during our trip. Rosenborg Castle sits to the north of Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark, which like many well-known cities was surprisingly smaller than expected. The castle, or slot in Danish, is a picturesque seventeenth-century structure with distinct renaissance architecture. The architects are believed to be Bertel Lange and Hans van Steenwinckel the Younger. Built as a pleasure palace by Christian IV at the beginning of the 1600’s, its use as a royal residence only lasted until the early eighteenth century but still stands in its entirety today. The castle was used as a royal residence only twice after 1710 after Christiansborg Palace burned down in 1794, and the second during the British invasion of Copenhagen in 1801. Christian IV built many beautiful Danish slots but Rosenborg was his favourite and became the holder of hundreds of the oldest and rarest of treasures cultivated for years by the royal family. Copenhagen is also home to Christianborg Palace whose intention was magnificence and a small library that sparked a stronger drive in me for books. Others still included Amelienborg and Charlottenborg which on this visit I did not get to observe, but hope to one day.

Christian IV of the House of Oldenburg ruled both Denmark and Norway from 1588 to 1648. He is significant partly due to having been the longest ruling Danish monarch and of all Scandinavian monarchies in fifty-nine years. His initial reign began as a minority before beginning his personal rule at the age of nineteen in 1596. He was an ambitious king in engaging within the Thirty Years War and losing Danish conquered territory. Proactive in that Christian IV established a stable economy (when not at war) for Denmark and established a further hold of Lutheranism in Scandinavia. He married twice to Anne Catherine of Brandenburg and Kirsten Munk, he fathered twenty-eight children via both wives and mistresses. Christian IV’s first marriage was one of state that produced the heir Frederick III of Denmark, but his second was a morganatic marriage to a noble. Munk’s mother insisted that the king married her daughter due to being a member of the nobility instead of having the suggested dishonour of being mistress. The marriage to Munk inevitably created disgrace, not through being an unwise choice, but through her infidelity with German officers. Christian IV’s legacy was general popularity with the Danish people but he is most well-known for his prolific building activities across Denmark and Norway, and having a glacier in Greenland named after him.

Rosenborg was opened as a museum in 1838 and is designed to portray a journey through the rulers of the Danish-Norwegian joint kingdoms. The guidebook begins your exploration on the ground floor, up through to the second floor and then back down deep into the basement where the treasury lies. Each room belongs to a respective king or queen, except for the Great Hall and tower rooms, and are still occasionally used for ceremonial circumstances along with the treasury by the current Queen Margrethe of Denmark. The rooms were typical of a royal residence in one leading onto another in a long loop, with each room decorated in unique style to suit the owners. The Lacquered Chamber, fitted for Princess Sophie Hedevig in 1665 in the Chinese design on the first floor, was dark but etched with gold and intricate Japanese/Chinese inspired china, furniture and art. The entrance on the ground floor, known as the Stone Corridor, featured a large wall mural that depicted the genealogical chart of Christian IV. My favourite part was the corridor on the first floor that spanned the length of the house between Frederik II’s room and Frederick IV’s Hall which was filled from floor to ceiling of portraits. Several other portraits were situated on the walls around the house but this corridor held a curious mix of Danish royalty alongside their Scandinavian relatives. One such portrait was of Ulrika Eleonora of Sweden, daughter of Ulrika Eleonora of Denmark, who was both Queen Regnant and Queen Consort of Sweden after abdicating in favour of his husband. The most strange part would be the wax models of a few Danish rulers which were most disconcerting when I came across them. (The image shows a the wax figure of Queen Sophie Amalie).

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I have seen several treasuries on my travels but the Danish treasury was beautiful and outshone the Swedish collection in The Royal Palace of Sweden. The first floor of the basement held barrels of wine, collections of ivory and amber, and the coronation riding gear of Christian IV. As you descend further into the ground, the items become increasingly costly. The Crown Jewels of Denmark include the perceived oldest British Order of the Garter outside of Britain and the entire set of jewels owned by Queen Sophie Magdalene who bequeathed it all to ‘the crown’ and not to be owned by any one person in 1746. The Rosenborg jewels consist of sets of jewellery mounted with pearls and others with rubies, emeralds, rose and diamonds. The most expensive and internationally note-worthy is the set mounted with emeralds. The treasury never leaves Denmark and can only by used by the Queen and typically are only worn on such events like the New Years Banquet. It is remarkable the condition of these jewels especially with having been in use for over four hundred years – particularly the baptismal collection which was first used in 1671 and is still in continuous use in all royal baptisms today. The collection includes a silver dish and pitcher alongside two solid gold candle sticks.

The two crowns featured are those of the absolute monarchy each dating from 1671 and 1731. They were used for each coronation from Christian V to Christian VIII and they both weigh approximately two kilos. The queens crown was created in the eighteenth-century for Queen Sophie Magdalene but the precious stones date from 1648. The original sixteenth-century sceptre, orb and ampulla also lie in the treasury vault.

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Rosenborg was a truly beautiful place with gorgeous gardens, which are Denmark’s oldest royal gardens, surrounding it. Considering its size you cannot view it sufficiently from the road and trees hide it from view until you approach the slot directly. You can visit the entire castle within the space of a few hours and I could have easily brought several books from the gift shop…if the best ones weren’t all in Danish! I highly recommend viewing Rosenborg – the Copenhagen Card will gain you free access to most castles and palaces in the city – and Christiansborg, but be prepared to wear protective blue socks over your shoes.

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(All pictures are my own)

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