Category Archives: Castles and Palaces

The Ungrateful (Royal) Dead of Denmark

Now I’ve heard the ultimate First-World problem:  what if a man married a queen, naturally expecting that would make him  a king, and had to settle for being a Prince Consort? Not even a King Consort? Horrors! That is what happened to poor Prince Henrik of Denmark. 


Among other places, the prince is prominently featured in the spectacular series of seventeen wall-sized tapestries created to celebrate the 50th birthday of Queen Margrethe II in 1990. They actually took ten years to make, so they were finally hung in the Great Hall on her 60th birthday, in 2000. 


The prince gets to wear any number of medals and attend elegant events in the Great Hall. The photo is from a poster in the hall–sadly, my invitation to the event must have been lost in the mail. 


I wasn’t invited to eat in the adjoining dining room, either.


Among other royal perks, there’s a royal yacht. We happened to be in Stockholm last spring when the Crown Prince of Denmark, son of Henrik and Margrethe, sailed in for a visit. 


We stood around for quite awhile so that my granddaughters could lay eyes on an actual Prince and Princess. They duly emerged and waved to the small crowd.


The Danish artist Bjørn Nørgaard painted the “cartoons”–the full-size color plans for the seventeen tapestries in the Grand Hall of Christiansborg Palace.


A gift from many Danish businesses plus the state of France, the homeland of the prince, the tapestries depict the entire history of Denmark. They throw in some guesses at the future to boot.

All through 50 years of marriage, the prince has been grousing about the slight he suffered. Now he’s 83, and he’s fed up. So the Prince Consort is refusing to be buried in the specially designed sarcophagus waiting for him and the Queen in Roskilde Cathedral.


As resting places go, Roskilde is pretty nice.


The medieval cathedral has been the burial place for Danish royalty for hundreds of years.


There’s a King’s Door which can only be used by the King and/or Queen to enter. Now, it’s not clear to me whether the Prince Consort can enter through it, but I don’t want to add insult to injury. So I’ll assume he can. In any case, he and anyone else is allowed to LEAVE through it after attending a wedding, confirmation, or funeral (obviously, not his own funeral). The bronze doors, polished and patinated to look like gold, replaced carved-oak ones from the late 1800s, were newly designed and installed in 2010. 


Royalty and nobles occupy beautiful chapels. I especially like the ceilings.



The memorial sculptures range from medieval times to the 1950s or so.


Bjorn Norgaard was commissioned some years ago to design a modern-yet-traditional monument for the future burial chapel of Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik. Instead of the typical stone effigies of the great and good, it features their images sandblasted into a large gleaming egg of glass. 


What’s not to like? But Queen Margrethe will apparently occupy this resting place alone. I wonder whether the Prince might still get a promotion, and if so, whether it will change his mind. On the other hand, my egalitarian, practical mind has to wonder why a lifetime of royal luxury wasn’t enough. Maybe I’m missing something.

A couple of articles about the brouhaha are at:

http://m.startribune.com/denmark-s-french-born-prince-causes-a-stir/438498423/

http://www.theguardian.com › world › … › royal-snub…

Plas Newydd: Royalty and Green Skilly 

I admit to being a hopeless Anglophile. I can easily see myself sweeping down a grand staircase to greet visiting royalty, as the  Angleseys of Plas Newydd in Wales did for centuries.


The house has Tudor origins, but much of it was built in stages beginning in the 1700s. According to a docent, it was more or less a summer cottage, so costs were kept down. The stone walls and pillars in the entry hall? Faux painting. Works for me.

Royals attended Anglesey weddings as a matter of course. And royals stopped by Plas Newydd to play cards in the saloon (toffspeak for the main living room, where everybody gathers. If there are children, this is where they play checkers and race around on tricycles).


Show me a drawing room or saloon, any room where my betters relax, and I’ll head straight to the obligatory black-and-white framed photos, casually strewn on the grand piano or the museum-quality writing desk.


I love faded chintz, tastefully worn Persian rugs, and slightly shabby velvet.


I asked whether this little ceramic pair represented any couple in particular. No, the docent said, it’s just a prince and princess. This figurine was probably mass-produced, but somebody liked it enough to set it on a table alongside family heirlooms.


In another lifetime, maybe I was a British aristocrat–not a snooty one, but a slightly eccentric one who welcomed artists of all stripes. The artist Rex Whistler would have a permanent room in my mansion.


I’d look over Rex’s shoulder as he worked on whatever he wanted, maybe costumes and stage design for a production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” I think this is Alonso, Prospero’s brother.


Caliban is spiky and green.


Miranda looks lovely, and remarkably like Caroline, a daughter of the family (to whom the artist was devoted).


The 6th Marquess of Anglesey had a fine sense of humor. These are his photos of his four daughters. I’m guessing that none of these daughters inherited any of the property. British families kept their estates intact by passing on everything to the oldest son. Most of them still do. But growing up as an aristocratic daughter looks like a pretty good life all the same.


In the breakfast room, there’s a special side table with a screened box to keep the family dogs away from the sausages.


The bedrooms were completely redecorated in the epitome of 1930s country house comfort and style. I’ll take the pink one, please.


I’ll be down for dinner when the gong sounds. Just let me fuss a bit more with my hair…

In the kitchen far below, servants bustle with pots and pans and silver platters. They sit down to their own dinners. Do they say grace after the meal instead of before? Sounds like it:

We thank the Lord for what we’ve had,

It wasn’t good, it wasn’t bad.

The sodduck was stale, the skilly was green,

But thank the Lord the plates were clean.


I’m blessed with a husband who likes old stuff as much as I do. We celebrated our 49th year of wedded bliss at Plas Newydd. This year, we made it to 50! I’d like to go back to Plas Newydd for a nice cup of skilly (tea), green or not.

Lord Anglesey, A Man of Parts


Henry, the dashing 7th Marquess of Anglesey, came to mind this morning. In a burst of fall energy, I started madly cleaning out drawers, cupboards, closets and even the dreaded garage. I thought of Henry.


After a couple of strenuous hours of pitching and organizing things I had forgotten I owned, I sank into my softest chair and thought admiringly of Henry’s study at Plas Newydd in Wales. Henry was Marquess from 1947 until he died in 2013. In 1976, he gave Plas Newydd–“New Mansion”–to the National Trust, but still lived upstairs with his family. I think his heirs still live there, too. So would I.


Henry’s study, used daily during his lifetime, is a magnificent jumble of books, papers, drawings, photos, magazines, and who knows what else.


Another part of Plas Newydd displays stuff from the family’s colorful history. Henry was a distinguished historian, and well he might be. His ancestors included the first Marquess, Henry “One-Leg,” whose leg was shot off by cannon fire at the battle of Waterloo in 1815, while he was right next to the Duke of Wellington himself. On the occasion, Henry coolly said, “By God, Sir,    I’ve lost my leg.” The Iron Duke replied, “By God, Sir, so you have.”


The Marquess had what remained of his leg amputated, with a stiff upper lip and no anesthetic, and was fitted with a wooden leg. Afterward, he fathered ten children and walked nine miles a day for the rest of his life.


But back to the 7th Marquess. He must have been something of an artist as well as a politician and a writer. He kept a special drawing table, under a window with good light. Of all the rooms in grand homes that I’ve seen, Henry’s study is one of my favorites.


I can see him happily puttering around, going from one table to the next. The jumble made perfect sense to him. He just kept a separate place for each one of his many projects. If only I had the space to do the same.


The other unforgettable room at Plas Newydd is the dining room. In 1936, the 6th Marquess commissioned Rex Whistler to paint the entire long wall as a mural.


The artist was happy to spend endless hours on the mural, partly because he was in love with one of the daughters of the family, whom he also painted. Tragically, Rex Whistler was killed in action in Normandy in July 1944, having insisted on fighting rather than serving in some less dangerous way. He had just arrived at the front.


I could spend hours taking in the detail of the Whistler mural, which is full of gentle humor and family references.


If I get to return to Plas Newydd, I’ll try to find time to look into the grounds and gardens, another interest of Henry’s.


Meanwhile, I’ll dream of having a room all my own, like Henry’s. “A man of parts” is the British term for a multi-talented Renaissance man.Henry is the best example I know of. Now, about my basement storage room…

There’s an article about the 1st Marquess at:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/11682406/The-Battle-of-Waterloo-is-this-the-most-British-conversation-ever-to-be-held-on-a-battlefield.html

Art Nouveau Vikings at Frederiksborg 

Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerod, Denmark houses tons of fine historic art, but one of my favorite pieces is pretty humble: it occupies a long lower-level hallway leading to the exit.

From 1883-1886, Lorenz Frolich painted a commissioned piece: a 37-meter frieze depicting the Danish conquest of large chunks of England. It was to be a Danish counterpart to the embroidered Bayeux Tapestry, which documented the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. The style of the frieze was from the very early years of Art Nouveau,  also known as Jugendstihl, also known as Skonvirke in Denmark.

The Danish Vikings began sailing their shallow-depth longboats across the sea and up the rivers of England in the late 700s. Before that, they had only ventured as far as the Baltic countries on their raids. The trouble was, the Baltics were almost as poor in resources as Scandinavia. Pickings were slim. But England had rich soil where Danish settlers could grow much more food than in their own rocky soil. English monasteries were crammed with gold and silver candleholders, crosses and chalices.

Raiding was wearying work, but somebody had to do it, right?


After a couple of centuries of striking fear into the hearts of the Brits, and much bloody axe-swinging, the Dane Swein Forkbeard was crowned King of England in 1013.

When Swein died, his son Canute the Great took the crown, and in due course Swein’s grandsons Harold Harfoot and Hardecnut had their turns at ruling the rich land of England. The printed information at Frederiksborg skips over the period when the Danes lost their grip on power in 1042 after the death of Hardecnut. But we’re informed that 1066 was all about the Danes: the Normans were direct descendants of the Danish Vikings who had conquered the part of France that became Normandy.


The Frederiksborg frieze is at pains to depict the conquering Vikings as reasonable, law-abiding fellows willing to sit in orderly rows and debate issues like gentlemen.


There’s also emphasis on their domestic qualities. And it’s true: they were fine farmers and they had domesticated animals.

Travis Fimmel as Ragnar Lothbrok, photo from review in “Variety,” Feb. 21, 2014

 

All the qualities of the Vikings are on display in the History Channel’s TV series “The Vikings.” I’m anxiously awaiting the 5th season. A disclaimer: yes, I know the show is full of appalling violence. Don’t even ask me what a Blood Eagle is. But for the first time, I begin to understand the Vikings, their world view, and the elaborate mythology that guided their behavior.

The series tells the story of Ragnar Lothbrok, an early Viking of song and legend, and his descendants, who eventually became the Normans of 1066 fame. Following the time-honored traditions of TV showrunners everywhere, real events are compressed and characters invented. But historical research is said to be quite accurate as far as clothing, houses, community organization, laws, and religion.

Travis Fimmel, pictured above, plays Ragnar. He is a former Calvin Klein model, but he has real acting chops to go along with his fierce blue eyes and intimidating tattoos. I’ll watch him do anything, from his early daring voyage to pillage Lindisfarne monastery, through adultery and divorce, and right on into the murderous madness of his old age.

Katheryn Winnick and Travis Fimmel in “The Vikings,” photo from review in “The Telegraph,” May 3, 2014

 

Another big selling point of “The Vikings,” for me, is the depiction of strong women. Lagertha is Ragnar’s brave and loyal wife, a formidable “shieldmaiden.” Even after their messy separation after he takes up with a tall, graceful, ladylike beauty, Lagertha graciously returns again and again to bash heads alongside Ragnar and their sons. Axe, sword and shield in hand, she’s ready save Ragnar’s bacon when he finds himself in trouble. What a woman!


I like the kinder, gentler version of the Vikings depicted in Frolich’s frieze paintings. But I’ll take my Vikings at their fiercest, too.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe, Scandinavia and the British Isles!

Frederiksborg Castle: Renaissance in Knitting Needles

Frederiksborg Castle in Denmark is a riot of Renaissance elegance. A recent exhibit featured a jaw-dropping collection of hand-knitted ensembles based on the costumes in royal and noble portraits in the castle.

I love the idea of knitting, but I’m terrible at it. A simple scarf from my hands turns into a lumpy mess. So I was in awe.

The source portraits were hard to identify in Danish, so I gave up and just enjoyed the knitted versions of the costumes. How about an artfully ruched sleeve on a simple gray sweater?

Or an elegant dress based on two portraits from the 1500s? I’d cheerfully wear this if I had an occasion fancy enough.

Perhaps an elaborate lace collar?

I’d wear this dress too, if the artist knitted me one in a different color combination. Maybe subtle blues and purples?


The same goes for the pantaloon-turned-skirt number, based on a portrait of one Captain Sir Thomas Dutton. I’ll take one in grays and blues, please.

Two of my favorite colors, and an Elizabeth vibe…

A peplum number in deep blue.

Textures and colors fit for a long-ago princess…


I’m not sure of the inspiration for this creamy white wool coat. It kind of looks like a gentleman’s long-sleeved undershirt, lovingly sewn by his lady. Whatever. Just ring it up. I’ll wear it home!

Join me next time for more explorations in the art, past and present, of Europe and the British Isles.

Kalmar Castle Doorways

img_4443

Kalmar is a pretty town on the Swedish Baltic coast. It has a spectacular Renaissance castle on a site that was of strategic importance for many centuries, starting about 800 years ago.

img_4474

Naturally, it has spectacular doorways, beginning with the dry-moated entrance.

img_4494

Some of the doors are clearly defensive.

img_4461

Some are more decorative, but still formidable.

img_4909

Some are meant to impress and possibly intimidate, like the one just past the drawbridge.

img_4456

This door features the regal lions of Sweden.

img_4705

Inside, doorways reflect the luxurious tastes of kings and queens.

img_4863

The doorways of Kalmar Castle are all worth entering.  Everything is more spare than Renaissance castles and palaces in England, Austria, Germany, France or other European countries.  But that very spareness has its own Nordic elegance. The castle is a fascinating look at the unique ways that Renaissance ideas played out in Scandinavia.

The shop has books about Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, apparently because most of the major rebuilding and decoration of the castle was done during their lifetimes. And at least one Swedish prince was known to have courted Elizabeth I. Of course, we all know that she said “No!” to marriage. But at the time, Sweden was a great naval power.  I wonder if Elizabeth gave some serious thought to a Swedish alliance. How might history have been different if she had said “Yes!” to a Swedish prince?

Castle doorways always lead me to questions like this.  It’s why I travel.

Palatial Bathrooms

I’m about to get on a plane, so naturally my thoughts turn to bathrooms. The bathroom is one of my main concerns when booking a place to stay.  I’ll be in Scandinavia, a part of the world  I’ve never visited. While I wonder what my luck will be on bathrooms, I’m looking at pictures of bathrooms in the stately homes of Great Britain.

IMG_4105

I like a nice hot bath after a long day tramping a city or country lanes. But the owners of Erddig in Wales were proud to own one of the first showers, a newfangled and somewhat alarming contraption in the late eighteenth century.

IMG_4114

They commissioned an artist to depict family members lining up for showers, and looking none too happy about it. Why the dunce caps?

IMG_5014

At Plas Newydd, a palatial country home on the water in Wales, the Marquis enjoyed his leisurely baths with his valet in close attendance.  His bathtub had a handy window to the hallway, so the valet could hand him a fresh drink every now and then.

IMG_5026

But at some point, the plumbing failed, as the rubber ducky warns visitors. (Once when I was a houseguest, I got up early to use a bathroom off the host’s kitchen, thinking I wouldn’t wake anyone. It turned out that the tap should have had a warning.  It had not been used in years, and I caused a flood).

IMG_1072

Still, I’m not alone in wanting my hot bath.  When Lord Curzon took over Montacute, a grand Elizabethan house in the early 1900s, he appreciated the ancient architecture.

IMG_1068

But he found a way to shoehorn a secret bathtub behind the priceless old panelled bedroom wall. (His mistress, the beautiful and accomplished novelist Elinor Glyn, was happily decorating and refurbishing the house when she received word that Lord Curzon was engaged to Grace Hinds, an equally beautiful but also very rich American. She packed up and left in a hurry, but I like to think she enjoyed one last bath).

IMG_6923

I think the ultimate in luxury would be a hand-drawn bath in front of the fire, like the one at Standen, an Arts and Crafts mansion built in the late 1800s as a family retreat for a wealthy businessman. Life for the servants who had to haul the water was not so pleasant, of course.  In this house, a maid left a recorded account of the day she finally was allowed “upstairs.” It was the day the house was opened to the public by the National Trust. She had toiled “below stairs” in the scullery for her entire working life, not even allowed to haul water upstairs.

FFEAF282-CBA4-4719-9CDB-F4D6337E406F

I hope this hard-working scullery maid at least had a foot bath for her aching feet, like this one below stairs at Wimpole.

As for me, I’m hoping for the best when I check in on my travels!