Not many know this, but the Danish monarchy is the oldest continuing line in the world. On paper, it dates back to Gorm the Old in the year 900 and Harald Bluetooth in the year 940 (yes, this is whom Bluetooth® is named after). This long legacy considered, Denmark have tons of manors, estate and castles, meaning we also have tons of ghosts. Let me introduce you to the two ghosts I know best….
VOERGAARD CASTLE – Ingeborg Skeel: Den Hvide Dame (“The White Lady”)
Before we delve into Voergaard’s Hvide Dame (“White Lady”), the castle itself deserves a quick run-through. I’ve visited a handful of times, and each time I’ve been gobsmacked. The castle has immeasurable treasures and artefacts. In 1955, the Danish Count Ejnar Oberbech-Clausen brought his private art collection from four French castles to Denmark to all be accumulated in Voergaard. He later died in 1963. Childless, he established a private fund designed to maintain the castle and its inventory for the future – and what an inventory that is.
In Guldsalen (“Hall of Gold”), paintings by Rubens and Goya hang side by side. The adjacent Musiksalon (“Music-salon”) holds Napoleon’s private clock and dinner plates. Three tapestries from the Vatican adorn the chapel, gifted by Pope Pius IX. The castle also holds the letters of Marie Antoniette and the last French King, Louis XVI, that they wrote right before they were guillotined. Lastly, one of the oldest Chinese artefacts in Europe stands within the castle: a 1000-year-old incense stove (that probably should be given back to China). The finest treasure of the castle, however, may be the legacy of Ingeborg Skeel. It’s certainly fine enough to have been granted a reputation – a reputation for the paranormal, that is.
The oldest part of the castle is from 1481. In 1521, Ingeborg Skeel took over the estate and turned it into a renaissance castle. She commissioned the Dutch builder, Philip Brandin, for the project. Stories have it that she pushed him off the bridge and into the moat, drowning him, after he finished the project, so she’d never have to pay him. Stories also have it that she used her embroidery scissors to cut the fingers off a child who stole a spike from her, and that she cut off the arms of another child who stole timber from the castle woods. In the north-eastern tower, a boy is said to have been murdered where a bloodstain had soaked so deeply into the floor that continuous cleanings can’t remove it. None of these stories are verified. In fact, most verified stories portray Skeel in a positive light, caring for the elderly and the poor. Her reputation suffered under her entrepreneurial spirit and her skills as a tradeswoman. She was disliked and villainized for not conforming to the expectations for a woman of her time, resulting in her paranormal legacy.
So, what is this spooky legacy?
Much like when Ingeborg Skeel was alive, her ghost does not lie idle. At the very beginning of her sightings, she appeared outside the windows on the 2nd floor where there once was a gallery in the 1600s. Her carriage would come riding into the courtyard, and she would aimlessly wander the hallways of the castle. If the door to the east-wing, top-floor corridor was closed, she was at her angriest; this was her final destination. At one point, the sightings got bad enough that a priest was summoned. The ghost was forced into a nearby swamp and speared to the ground with an oak stake, keeping it in place – or so everybody thought. Nowadays, her ghost is said to take one step closer to the castle on every New Year’s Eve, advancing on the castle from the spot in the swamp where it was staked in place. On the day that Ingeborg Skeel’s ghost finally reaches the castle, the castle will burn to the ground.
SÆBYGAARD CASTLE – Karen Skeel: Den Grå Dame (“The Gray Lady”)
Privately lived in as late as 1988, Sæbygaard Castle is a funky mix of modernity and restoration. It has a fully functional kitchen from the 80s, yet also a Knight’s Hall (Riddersalen) done up in full the restored glamor of the past. Although smaller and cheaper than Voergaard, Sæbygaard is not cheated from having a ghost of its own – Den Grå Dame (“the Gray Lady), also known as Karen Skeel (yes, same surname as Ingeborg Skeel).
I grew up here. Sæby is my hometown. The first time I heard of Den Grå Dame was when my older brother and his classmates did a school trip to the castle, spending the night learning about the local history and hoping to catch sight of Den Grå Dame. Like a true older brother, he returned to tell his gullible little sister the horrifying tale of how he met Karen Skeel. I should probably ask him to recount that story now…
Karen Skeel’s ghost is said to haunt the front-facing tower of the castle, which is adjacent to the Knight’s Hall. A tall, stately woman has been sighted, entering the hall from the tower at precisely 12 am, dressed in black with a white pipe collar. The sounds of chains follow her. She carries a knife in her hand, arm raised in preparation to strike. She drops the knife, however, when she reaches two particular chairs in the room, after which she crumbles to the ground with a tearful shout.
The style of clothing makes for the evidence that this ghost is Karen Skeel who died in 1601. She lived a childless marriage of 34 years, leading to the assumption that she was a witch. Needless to say, this assumption laid the groundwork for her paranormal legacy.
None of these tall tales are on the level of Charles Perrault’s Bluebeard, but there is a bloodstain, at least, so who’s to say there can’t be more, yet to be discovered?