Monday, February 28, 2022

Territorial Coats of Arms in the Chapel at Kronborg Castle

Having already seen the lesser arms of Denmark surrounded by the arms of its territories, found in the Chapel at Kronborg Castle, as part of our post from a week ago, on February 21, today we're going to look at some of those same territorial arms as found on the ends of pews in the Chapel.

A sign there in Danish and in English gives us some helpful information about the history of the Chapel:

Kronborg Chapel

In 1577, the building of the Chapel was commenced by Frederik II, and the grandiose inauguration took place in 1582. However, the many-colored wood carvings that lend a special Renaissance luster to the room were still under completion in the following years.

The castle fire of 1629 left the Chapel virtually untouched. As Kronborg was handed over to the military in the 18th Century, however, the furniture was removed. The space was needed for fencing, gymnastic exercises, and ammunition storage. In 1840-43, the Chapel was restored and the original furniture returned.

The "original furniture" restored to the Chapel include territorial arms include the pews, each of which has on its end carved and painted coats of arms, supporters, and a profusion of other decorative elements, perfectly matching the style of the display of the lesser arms of Denmark we saw last week.

In some instances, I have included a photo of more of the pew end to give you a better idea of the overall context, as well as close-ups of the arms themselves. Taken as a whole, it's quite an impressive display of heraldry!

(Many of the territorial arms seen here can be identified as being the same as those found in the Rose Room of Frederiksborg Castle, in my post of July 12, 2021, at

Thursday, February 24, 2022

The Greater Arms of Denmark in Kronborg Castle

Not surprisingly, after finding several depictions of the lesser arms of Denmark at Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, I also found the greater arms of Denmark there.

Surprisingly, they were found in the gift shop!

And here they are, available for purchase, on a small shield, on display and surrounded by great helms.

We have seen this particular version of the greater arms of Denmark before. See, for example, my post of July 19, 2021, from Frederiksborg Castle, at

I have to admit, I was somewhat tempted to purchase this shield, but I wasn't sure how well it would survive the trip back home jammed into my suitcase, and besides, we were already spending a fair bit of money in the gift shop on Hamlet-related items, like the throw pillow cover of a skull wearing a crown (made in France!) and a fabric Christmas tree ornament of Hamlet holding a skull in one of his hands. ("Alas, poor Yorick!")

Plus, I'm not sure where I would have hung it here in the house even if it had survived the trip home. I mean, there's only so much room on the walls for heraldry, and they're all pretty well covered with arms as it is.

Still, it was tempting, though I managed to manfully resist it.

Monday, February 21, 2022

The Smaller Arms of Denmark at Kronborg Castle

Continuing our armorial look at Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, Denmark, we were not especially surprised to find depictions of the arms of Denmark, given that Kronborg was a royal castle.

Today, we're going to look at the depictions we found of the lesser, or smaller (that is to say, the plain, unquartered), arms of the kingdom.

Here on a stone frieze we find the three lions and nine hearts of Denmark on a crowned shield.

Next, we came to this very impressive doorway in the inner courtyard surmounted by the arms of Denmark surrounded by thirteen shields of the arms of its claimed territories.

Inside, in the Chapel at the castle, we find this same motif, the arms of Denmark surrounded by arms of its territories, only this time gloriously carved in all of its Baroque splendor and painted in full color.

We’ve seen this armorial layout before, at Frederiksborg Castle. For example, in my post of June 24, 2021, at

Many of the territorial arms surrounding the lesser arms of Denmark can be identified from those found individually in the ceiling of the Rose Room in Frederiksborg Castle, in my post of July 12, 2021, at

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Royal Ciphers on Kronborg Castle

Looking for heraldry and heraldry-like items at Kronborg Castle in Denmark, we found a number of royal ciphers. In this post, we're going to visit them in chronological order by reign:

King Frederik II (reigned 1559-1588) was the man who had the medieval fortress radically transformed into a magnificent Renaissance castle. His cipher can be seen over a couple of different doorways in the Castle courtyard, here:

And again, here (with my ever-patient wife waiting for me to finish taking pictures so we can both go and see more of the castle):

A more detailed view of the above, where you can see the crown over the shield and the elephant emblem of the Order of the Elephant more clearly:

King Christian IV (reigned 1588-1648) had it rebuilt following the fire in 1629 which destroyed much of the castle.

Here we see his cipher inside the castle, crowned and encircled by the arms of the Danish territories:

King Christian V (reigned 1670-1699). The Swedish conquest of Kronborg in 1658 demonstrated that the castle was not impregnable. Under Christian V, from 1688 to 1690, an advanced line of defense was added called the Crownwork. Shortly after that, a new series of ramparts were built around it. At their completion, Kronborg was considered the strongest fortress in Europe.

King Frederik IV (reigned 1699-1730) over a gatehouse. (You may wish to click on the image below to see a larger version where many of the details of this display can be seen more clearly.)

From 1739 until the 1900s, Kronborg was used as a prison. The inmates were guarded by the soldiers billeted in the castle.

As Kronborg's importance as a royal castle diminished, the armed forces came to play a greater role. From 1785 to 1922, the castle was completely under military administration. During this period, a number of renovations were completed.

I believe this is the cipher of King Frederik VI (reigned 1808-1839) (again, you can click on the image below to see a larger, more detailed photo), but the cipher on the sinister (right-hand, as you look at it) side of the shield, A S or S A, do not match the initials of his wife, Marie of Hesse-Kassel. 

And finally, the cipher of King Christian IX (reigned 1863-1906).

Monday, February 14, 2022

Today: History; Next Time: Heraldry

And now we come to the primary goal of our trip to Helsingør, Denmark: Kronborg Castle.

But instead of just jumping right in and looking at the heraldry that is there, I thought it might be good to discuss some of the history of the castle and why it is so worthy of a visit.

Situated on the coast of Denmark and adjacent to the town of Helsingør, Kronborg Castle is a fairly classic "star fort", so-called because their defenses when seen from above are reminiscent of a star.

Here's a picture of a model of the castle to give you a better idea of what I mean.

The site of Kronborg Castle was originally a stronghold, Krogen, built by King Eric VII in the 1420s. Along with the fortress Kärnan in Helsingborg on the opposite coast of Øresund, the sound between present Denmark and the provinces of present Sweden, 2.5 miles wide at this point, it controlled the entrance to the Baltic Sea. After the conclusion of the Northern Seven Years' War in 1570, King Frederick II initiated an extension of the advanced bastions to relieve the medieval curtain wall. And from 1574 to 1585, King Frederick II had the medieval fortress radically transformed into a magnificent Renaissance castle.

Frederick was a keen patron of theater and players performed at the castle when he held court there in 1579. (Remember this point; it’s relevant later.)

James VI of Scotland (later also King James I of England) stayed in the castle in 1590 after his marriage to Anne of Denmark.

In 1629, a fire destroyed much of the castle, but King Christian IV had it rebuilt. In 1658, Kronborg was besieged and captured by the Swedes who took many of its valuable art treasures as war booty. In 1785 the castle ceased to be a royal residence and was converted into barracks for the Army. The Army left the castle in 1923, and after a thorough renovation it was opened to the public (that is, people like you and me!).

Kronborg is known to many as "Elsinore", the setting of William Shakespeare's famous tragedy Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, though "Elsinore" is actually the anglicized name of the surrounding town of Helsingør. It is widely believed that the celebratory party held by King Claudius in Hamlet is based on the celebrations and plays performed at the castle for King Frederik II in 1579.

Hamlet was performed in the castle for the first time to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, with a cast consisting of soldiers from the castle garrison. The stage was in the telegraph tower in the southwest corner of the castle.

The play has been performed fairly regularly in recent years in the courtyard and at various locations on the fortifications. In one of the rooms of the castle, they display photographs of some of the famous actors who have played in live productions of Hamlet at the Castle.

How many of these actors do you recognize? A few, like Fu Xiru, were completely new to me. But many of the others (e.g., Derek Jacobi, Michael Caine, Richard Burton, Kenneth Branagh, Laurence Olivier, and even Jude Law) felt like old friends.

Be sure to notice the various parts of the Castle in the backgrounds of all of these photos.

In addition, it is still possible to find 1964's Hamlet at Elsinore, a production of the play starring Christopher Plummer in the title role and filmed at Kronborg Castle.

Anyway, that's your introduction to Kronborg Castle. Next time, we'll look at some of the royal ciphers and heraldry that appear there.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Ship Heraldry at M/S Maritime Museum in Helsingør

In one display case at the Maritime Museum in Helsingør there were a number of plaques with coats of arms on them. A sign in the cabinet explained (in Danish and in English):

Many of the ships whose crew[s] visit the church in Rotterdam show their appreciation by giving the church a plaque. These are from the 1969-1985 period. Some 1,000 Danish vessels call at Rotterdam each year.
Some additional research elicited the following information regarding heraldry in the Royal Danish Navy:

The tradition of Naval heraldry in the Royal Danish Navy, can be traced back to the 17th century, where ships had elaborate decorations on its Transom. With the introduction of steel ships, the tradition fell out of favor. There was a renewed interest in the heraldry in the 1930s, however, the outbreak of World War II halted any work. Following a visit to Rotterdam in June 1950, Danish sailors expressed wishes to reintroduce heraldry to the Navy's ships for easier recognition and to increase cohesion on the ships. Following a number of work-groups to determine design and use a standard was produced on 26 April 1957 and approved by the King on the 15 June 1957. On 15 April 1959, the first 15 ships' badges were approved by the King. In 1961, designs for other naval institution badges were approved.
The following photographs are some of the plaques of naval heraldry found in that display case.

The glass of the case and the angle at which I as shooting unfortunately threw off my camera's focus, so not all of the names on the plaques are readable. Those that I could later identify, I have, but there are still two for which I lack the names. Sorry!

F347 HDMS [His/Her Danish Majesty’s Ship] Triton, a Triton Class Corvette, commissioned 1954, decommissioned 1981. The plaque bears the date 5 February 1978.

F344 HDMS Bellona, a Triton Class Corvette, commissioned 1957, decommissioned 1981. This plaque is dated 28 April 1973.

Unidentified. I can neither read the name nor find the coat of arms.

Unidentified; ditto.

HDMS Sjælland (English: Zealand or Sealand). These are canting arms, with three seals between ten escallops, mimicking the arrangement of charges in the Danish lesser arms of three lions between (usually) nine hearts.

And finally, a non-Danish (but still Scandinavian) ship:

This is the Norwegian ship Christian Radich, a steel-hulled sail training ship and one of Norway's well-known sailing ambassadors. The Christian Radich was built in 1937 and functioned as a sail training ship until 1998. Nowadays she serves as a tour ship based in Oslo, and you can book any one of a number of cruises on her.

And thus ends our heraldic tour of the Danish National Maritime Museum. Should you ever have a chance to visit, be sure to stop for lunch in their café, and just soak up some of the atmosphere while you eat.