Friday, December 31, 2010

Amleth or Hamlet. Events at Jutland. Sonderborg? Certainly not Zealand; at Kronborg. Vet the idea.

 Hamlet was a Jute

Shakespeare finds plot lines in many other sources.  Hamlet came from the Amleth of Saxo Grammaticus, or later other sources referring to Saxo.  Saxo who wrote 'chronicles' of Danish "history".  In Saxo, Hamlet, or Amleth, was by specific reference from Jutland.

Hamlet, if he was from Jutland,  was a Jute.

A Jutish person. Jutland.  Jute tribe.  See their role, and participation in invasion of Great Britain along with the Angles and Saxons, at
Shakespeare never sited his castle, except to say "Denmark," (is that so?  still looking).  That seeming clear, see below, it is time to move the ersatz Hamlet grave stone (hokey) to Jutland,  somewhere.  Where? So far, we vote for Sonderborg, Jutland, Denmark,


If this is so, despite popular hearsay support for Kronborg Castle in Zealand, Denmark, being "the castle", we must move Hamlet's commemorative stone.  Get the van and take it from the so-called Hamlet's Grove, Helsingor, Zealand; near Kronborg.  We must move it to somewhere in Jutland. But where?

Where on Jutland shall we take it?

  • First, why must we move it?
We must move it because it is in the wrong place.

Kronborg, or Elsinore, on Zealand, was not the setting for the "real" Hamlet of Shakespeare. It is only said that Kronborg Castle inspired a setting for Shakespeare's Hamlet, as it was an admired Renaissance construction-du-jour, see

We are looking for any evidence that Shakespeare actually had Kronborg in mind.  Let us know if you find it.  Kronborg was insignificant in location. It was built in 1420 as a small fort for tolls on the Oresund (Sweden was just across by a few miles), then expanded in the late 1500's to be glamorous, by Frederik II.  There was no prior history of a "castle" on the Kronborg site at the time that Hamlet was sited, as far as we can find.

Outside the box.  Sonderborg site.

Why is it not equally feasible that Shakespeare used Sonderborg Castle, which is actually on Jutland, as Saxo provided, as his inspiration.

No one minds representing Kronborg as inspiring Shakespeare, because that is what tourism does.  But where is the information.  Look for any documentation that Shakespeare himself thought "Kronborg."  With that failing (will it?) can we also let the tourist industry say that our Hamlet is indeed here, buried, as well?

Hamlet's grove.  For the gullible.
  • Second, we need to move it because the earliest sources are far from Denmark.  
  • The earliest sources appear to be Icelandic Sagas, with mythical elements. 
  • That leaves the issue:  Why site Hamlet at Kronborg.  Site it in Jutland, somewhere, and so far the best candidate, for location, strategy, royalty, intrigue, is Valdemar II's Sonderborg site.

1. Hamlet for Shakespeare, if he read Saxo (as he appears to have done, to get the story and crib it) had to know that the events were sited by Saxo in Jutland.

The original Hamlet story (the story farthest back we can find, that does not mean historical actual single figure, is an Amleth figure), puts a similar story in Icelandic sagas, and mythological.

So despite the humanity in the events, responses, interactions:  there was probably no specific Hamlet for Saxo and then Shakespeare.  Rather, perhaps a conglomeration, cultural baloney if you will,  happened, as best its events can be referenced, but in Jutland as to Saxo, not Zealand as to the tourist industry.  See

There are also events between Kings and marriages and events in Britain, Scotland, Germany areas in the Hamlet story, and a range of events far exceeding and differing from the Shakespeare focus, but it was Jutland for the main events of the story. See
a.  Saxo.  Page 139.  In the Saxo tale, Hamlet goes to Britain, then returns (all emphases for Jutland added)

"On reaching Jutland, he (Amleth or Hamlet) exchanged is present attire for his ancient demeanor, which he had adopted for righteous ends, purposely assuming an aspect of absurdity." 

 The same reference to Jutland is found in the Ashliman translation, so we did a "find" thereafter and found other examples. Jutland. But a "find" cannot be done easily in the Saxo, so will wait to specifically find each of these from the Ashliman:

b.  Ashliman.  King Wiglek, who succeeded King Rorik over all Denmark, accused Hamlet of usurping the Kingdom of Jutland.

c.  Ashliman.  Eventually Wiglek slays Amleth in battle in Jutland

d.  Ashliman.  And "a plain in Jutland is to be found, famous for his name and burial place."

2.  When in Jutland, for the inspiration of Shakespeare and corroboration for Saxo?

Look for a historical fortress-siege-castle-site, that evolved over time from Hamlet's era.  What is the year of Amleth? The story did not originate with Saxo with his writing in 1185.

Look back to Icelandic Sagas, 900 or so? See

There are more primordial resemblances back to early civilizations, see a 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, at

So it seems clear that the really, really original "Hamlet" archetype is not definable by Scandinavian sources.

The events in the story may help.  The end of the Viking age is said at this site to be when Haraldr was defeated in Britain, and the Saxo story has Hamlet in Britain (after feigning madness at home at the suspicion of the murder of his father), marrying there, and also marrying a Scottish queen (and bringing them both back to Denmark apparently, see Saxo).

That would indeed put the story after the Viking age, and about the time of Valdemar, a little earlier perhaps? See p.266 generally, at\

 3.  Where in Jutland?

Weigh Sonderborg.


One problem is that it is on an island, Als Island.  It passed to Germany in the 1860's, then back to Denmark in the 1920's; and straddles both sides of the Sound. See

Pro.  The water distance is small, however; and would have been an easy ferry ride over.  By now, of course, it is connected by full roads.  And the water is a plus:  Amleth walks the beach, finds the rudder of a shipwreck, see page 109 at Saxo, by Frederick York Powell

Default.  Where else is there on Jutland, but a place with proximity to Britain and events at the close of the Viking era:  Medieval Sondeborg Slot, Sonderborg Castle, Soenderborg; we are looking for drawings of the castle before the Renaissance changes. Is Viborg in the running, founded 1000, see

Look closer at Sonderborg as a site:
Valdemar, first substantial builder, but the area has been populated since the Stone Age. Start with Valdemar, biography at . He built several towers, as defenses against the Wends. See medieval tower uses, living quarters upstairs, a prison perhaps, at

  • And there is a plain, a battle plain, just west of Sonderborg itself at Dybbol, that is the site of other battles, including civil wars, wars with Germany over Schleswig-Holstein, etc. 
Battle plain, Dybbol, near Sonderborg DK
Written sources cite Sonderborg in 1256. See at (click to translate)


We will look there.

c.  However, there are other options. Still looking. Need bones. Off to Iceland.


*   We need a reference, a comparison, because Sonderborg does not have the websites we are looking for: its archeological history, overall map.  Bergenhus in Norway looks very like Sonderborg - read the progression of uses, incorporation of the old medieval tower, he entry into the medieval castle, into a bigger tower, and uniting all the function buildings.  See

So how the complex looks now, is not what it was as an original medieval construct.

Other medieval royal seats in Denmark:  near Roskilde, Lieth (that is on Zealand where Kronborg is); or old Arhus.

Sonderborg - Jutland's Last Stand. The Castle, The Fortress. Hamlet?

Sonderborg, DK; Jutland's Last Stand

This 13th Century Castle, refurbished later as a Renaissance fortress, is out on a peninsula, an island called Als, off the regular track. It is now well connected by motorway, and the earlier ferry across the small width of the sound (Sonderborg straddles it) would not be much hindrance. Sonderborg is less "interfered with" than other castles more on the mainland, that are refurbished for commercial reasons.

Civil War.  World War.  Hearts and bodies were broken here, or near here. Just off the big peninsula where the fortress here is located (its island is out at the end of a peninsula), is the border of Teutonic Germanic tribes and the Norse, back and forth, back and forth. It dates from the 1200's, was remodeled as a Renaissance castle in 1550-1570, and commemorates numerous wars or related events:
  • 1848-1850;
  • 1864; and
  • 1914-1918; and
  • the referendum of 1920 by which substantial territory of Schleswig-Holstein, taken by the Germans earlier; remained German. Too much time had passed, and identities shifted. See ://
 Denmark's land after those battles, once vast and including at one time parts of Sweden and even Norway, and Northern Germany, remained vastly reduced. Empires. Temporary.

    Mighty  Sonderborg today.  See how Sonderborg is presented, however: a nice family outing. See ://

    The more we let pass the guts of history and the inevitable passing of empires, the less we can learn. Go there. Don't read about it. The Castle, Sonderborg Slot, now a museum, has been at the center of territorial conflict for 800 years.

    In 1864,the Germanics (Prussians?) to the south claimed land that Denmark had dominated for years; and in a fierce war, Denmark lost most of its area in Southern Jutland, south of the line beginning roughly where Sonderborg lies (think latitude here) in the Battle of Dybbol, against the Teutonic (Prussian) armies from the south. Schleswig-Holstein area at war.

    Sonderborg Castle, Denmark. Exterior

    Germany occupied that land thereafter, for some 56 years. Finally, as late as 1920, there was a referendum about where the land should tilt: to the Norse or the Teutonic, after all the centuries of back and forth; and the Teutons won. By that time, after 56 years of German occupation, the die had been cast. It pays to invade and take and hold long enough. Too late to undo. Is that so?

    This fortress, garrison town, was the place of alliances, then civil war as the Teutonics sought to sever from the Danes, and back and forth and back and forth. What is the destiny of places and people without a natural boundary to hide behind, as each and the other invaded trying to gain advantage. Like Poland, the absence of natural boundary means back and forth, back and forth.

    Sonderborg. Out on a peninsula, a natural visit for people heading south after Horsens and the rest of Jutland. But apart. with its own battlefields, its own series of deaths.

    Because it is off the usual tourist path, however, it has preserved elements in its fortress-castle-chapel that may otherwise have been ripped apart with new takers.

    Take time to go to Sonderborg. First, the civil war, with the more Germanic tilting group vs the Danes, then the second installment, where the Prussians from the Teutonic side joined in with their military might, and overcame the outnumbered Danes. The Danish fight to retain their territory is still revered: the bravery, if not the victory. It sounds like our South: the bravery revered, the victory lost; but in Denmark, there was no countervailing moral principle of slavery to be overcome. Just turf, and conquest, so it seems to this tourist.

    Sonderborg Castle, courtyard, DK

    Brick fortress architecture. No mountains for rocks, boulders, stone masons to ply their trade. Cobbles, but then brick and brick. Over the years as needs changed, so did architecture: but always, the brick.

    The Castle, the Fortess, is now a museum.

    Sonderborg, DK. The view.

    Saturday, December 25, 2010

    Schleswig Holstein area: Danewerk. Danes' Rampart. Dannewerk. Defend Against Charlemagne and Christians


    German-Dane border
    Land lost to Germany in Danish Civil War 19th Century

    A.  Route

    A circle trip in Scandinavia for us meant flexibility in timing.  We had no idea what time we would want there.  We traveled in four stages:

    1.  Denmark.  First line through Denmark, starting at Copenhagen; drove through Odense and over to Jutland, then south to Germany.

    2.  Germany. Second line through Northern Germany, to the ferry at Rostock; and then the overnight ferry from Rostock to Trelleborg, Sweden.

    3.  Sweden.  Third line from Trellenborg around Kalman and up to Vaxjo, over to Stockholm, and across back through Kinnekulle to Goteborg, and the ferry from Helsingborg, Sweden, to Helsingor, Denmark.

    4.  Denmark again. Fourth line became a loop.  With some days still available, we filled in with the rest of Denmark that we missed on the first loop. Kronborg and Northern Denmark, through Copenhagen, do another loop to Jutland and back, and back north for more, and then to the Copenhagen airport.

    B.  Schleswig Holstein:  Part of Denmark for centuries. A flat drive.  There would be nothing to stop an invading army.

    It was here that Denmark blocked Charlemagne and successors, held back the "Holy" Roman Empire with constructed bulwarks, see

    What difference did it make to Danish development, that it was in the direct line of invasions, including religious.
    • All Norse are not alike.  Sweden's history, and its Vikings, seem different from those of Denmark and even Norway.  
    • Geography holds clues.  Denmark is connected by land to the lands of the Germanic tribes being conquered by Charlemagne; they could see what was happening as the Christians moved north. Sweden was never threatened by Charlemagne; Christian proselytizing took place more peacably.
    Christians on the march to Scandinavia, and elsewhere.  Was it really "belief" or was it a baser motivation, power and territory? Was it both.

    One viewpoint:

    Christians had no easy path in converting the pagan Norse (why the pejorative? we prefer multi-deists, a more neutral, respectful category).

    But the Christians were "backed by the power, wealth and army of Rome". The Roman church for centuries had been buying, selling, inheriting lands and wealth. See an unsympathetic view at Is there merit to the viewpoint.

    Charlemagne, not touted as ethereal but for his actions as a "Vatican warlord" (new slant) in killing and making war, refugees streaming, but never got to Denmark. Danes were alert, seeing him in Saxony (see Germany Road Ways, post on Sachsenhain, near Verden. The Danes blocked their roads, and then responded:  attacks on the Roman Church outposts, like Lindisfarne in 793 AD. 

    The rampart of Jutland. It worked, for a time.