Friday, April 5, 2013

Sonderborg Castle: The Wars, the Castle Evolves

A Handle on Danish History. So many memorials, so little background.
Updated to 2013

Denmark has endured / participated in numerous wars, as have all other European and other countries. Its castles and the decor preserve periods in time.  Sometimes the preservation is not optimal.  Take, for example, portraits in great halls that leave much to be desired.

Pick a pose like a peck of pickled peppers.  Is this Claes Ralamb, as shown below in the thumbnail -- Claes Brodersson Ralamb, the Swedish diplomat at a time when Denmark was under Sweden's thumb? At first look, we though so.  Visit Sonderborg castle,and see this commemorative portrait. It looks much like the pose of one Claes Brodersson Ralamb, Swedish diplomat.

Wrong.  Went back to my log, however, and had written that it was one Christian August of Lubeck 1673-1726, Herting Frederick IV's younger brother, and First Bishop of Lubeck by Anton Gunthen Hertig of Oldenburg or something, writing bad. Go to Images and find him there.  Note his pose, but the Sonderborg impossibly distorts the the right arm, the left hand so huge,  Somebody redid, or the original artist was inept.

Portraits:  Wealth does not always buy quality. Who knows the peculiar story behind this oil portrait, a seeming photo-shopped-looking travesty?

Keep careful notes.  This looked so like Claes. His real portrait (we believe from credits in Saudi Aramco World's article by Jonathan Stubbs, The Ralamb Mission, March-April 2013), hangs in the Nordiska Museet in Stockholm.

Fair use thumbnail of Claes Brodersson Ralamb:

Even the facial features look similar.  Perhapas someone could fund a proper copy of the Christian August portrait, after seeing Images and also at Wikipedia.  The absurdity at Sonderborg should be replaced. 
  • This Ralamb was a baron, a diplomat, one serving his Swedish sovereign(s) in the mid-17th Century, when Denmark was under the thumb of the Swedish Empire in the Baltic. He engaged in a fruitful mission to Constantinople when the Ottoman Empire was looming, got what Sweden needed;  and deserves better, even in Denmark when Denmark was under the thumb of Sweden.  Do read the article, and do a Google Images search.
  • So Ralamb was not a victim of malpractice by portrait, but Christian August was. Whoever copied this, or executed a very bad life-sitting, should be historically throttled. Whoever hung it in Sonderborg should be closely questioned. Revenge by portrait?
Or is it Johann Mathias Schulenberg, just found serendipity at, public domain at

The hand position must have been a favorite.

2.  Tracking history in castles.

Several stand out after the Medieval Era, however, as pivotal to their history in relatively modern times. For Danish Medieval History, customs, laws, see  Note especially in the culture area, the transition from blood feud revenge, to fees in law.  Not murder for murder any more, but one must pay the price.  When did capital punishment take over again?

1158:  Valdemar the Great began the castle structure with a Fortified Tower.  Later, the Blue Tower was added, King Christian II was imprisoned at the Castle, legend says in the Blue Tower, see  The Blue Tower was demolished, in 1755. Renovations? Why was it called the Blue Tower?

1538 -- Imprisonment.

A tower at Sonderborg was used as a prison.  Probably King Christian II, seen in the painting, was not kept in a place like this during his 17-year imprisonment here starting in 1538, and enjoyed mobility and fitting quarters, while being closely guarded. We were told not to believe the tale about his circling a table repeatedly, and wearing a groove around its top with his finger. 

3.   Sonderborg Castle by location was pivotal to the outcomes of important wars.

Two eras in the 19th Century stand out as relevant to Sonderborg, on the Southern Jutland peninsula, with German borders now nearby.

The old Schleswig-Holstein region disputes, there at the base of the Danish peninsula and with no natural boundary against Germany, were in 1920 resolved by referendum.  The referendum fell to Germany's favor.  There were years of invasions and counterattacks, with time passing, and a mixed population pulled both ways, finally just wanting resolution.

It was only with that referendum after WWI that lines were firmly redrawn, the invading forces from years ago getting what they wanted, with so much time passing.  People get tired. This buffer zone of mixed nationals, however, could have meant a less severe treatment of the Danish population and its Jews in WWII.

3.1. The first is the First Schleswig War, 1848-1850.

Look at a map: the peninsula that made up southern mainland Denmark is known as Schleswig-Holstein, with a border with Germany that ebbed and flowed with powers. Southern Jutland.

1848. Napoleon's wars seem to have sparked nationalisms elsewhere, and these areas got caught in the Pushmi-Pullyu of Germanic identification or Norse. The Germans to the south wanted a united area, united with Germany. The Prussians joined with the other more rural German identifiers, and this led to the war against Denmark holding those areas, see details at :// Denmark temporarily prevailed, but with conditions that left vague obligations with open doors to later changes.

How many were housed inside these domes with raised roofs. 

The ramparts are extensive, and the different areas are connected by below-ground open trenches, and also tunnels, for dashing about. Some have some sound effects on as you move about.

It is important to take pictures of things you don't understand.

3.2. Battle of Dybboel, or  Dybbel

1864. Without the 1848 war resolving anything seriously, issues arose again about boundaries and nationalism in 1864. After back and forth, the Second Schleswig War ultimately came to a head at the Battle of Dybboel, near Sunderborg. See :// The Danes lost, but celebrate the courage of their soldiers still.  Fine summary of the role of this suburb of Sonderborg, and the Castle itself -- see ://  Denmark lost all of Schleswig-Holstein but recovered the northern section after WWI, as part of a referendum.

4.  The Museum:  The Castle now is a huge museum.

Renovations often leave old useful structures in place. Water supply well, or oubliette for leaving unwanted prisoners to die, as in a dungeon far below? See  From the French, oublier, to forget.

Nineteenth Century Military uniforms and equipment to fit the thin and the portly.  The fashion for caps spread to the American Civil War, apparently.

GPS.  Be sure to get the actual address of any attraction before arriving near the place. Guide books, even the glossy ones, are in the Dark Ages on this issue.  Internet carries site addresses, but not enough of the planning materials do.  You need the address to use your GPS and save yourself some time.  Sweden and Denmark do not like signs to help tourists. Not even the "Centrum" or its variation road sign, to guide you to the old town.

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