The Myths of “Nørre Vosborg” – black dogs, murderers and toilets

Nørre Vosborg

Last week I visited Nørre Vosborg, a herregård (“manor house”) from the 1300s in West Jutland. I was on a road trip and didn’t mean to go there, but my husband came across a book that accounted for the many myths of Nørre Vosborg, and we promptly decided to spend one of our nights there.

Nørre Vosborg is one of the few manor houses of old that dot the west coast of Denmark. Indeed, it’s one of the few things that dot the rural west coast at all; the flat and barren bleakness of that coast is akin to the English moors, only with sand dunes and the roaring of the violent sea.

Story has it that the Devil himself (who, as you may recall, is a recurring character when it comes to Danish castles and manor houses) once wandered Denmark, generously sowing manor houses. Unfortunately, his sack of seeds punctured somewhere around South Funen, dumping a giant load of manor houses in that region, so when finally he got up to West Jutland, he had precious few castles and manor houses left. Nørre Vosborg is one of them.

Let’s see what Nørre Vosborg has to offer…

Entrance to Nørre Vosborg
The Contractor’s Curse

The original manor house was a farm built on a meadow at the banks of Nissum fjord, although it was rebuilt farther inland in 1532 after a violent storm surge. Word has is that when Nørre Vosborg was originally built in the 1300s, the owner and knight, Niels Bugge, doubted the skill of his contractor. As the contractor rode away from the farm/manor house, believing a job well done, Niels Bugge sent a vassal after him, ordering the vassal to tell the contractor that the tower of the castle was leaning. If the contractor turned around to look at the tower, thus showcasing doubt in his own skill, he was to be beheaded immediately per the order of Niels Bugge – but the contractor did not turn around. Instead, he answered: “Ikke hælder tårnet, thi trofast har jeg bygget det, men sig din Herre, at engang skal der komme en mand fra vest indsvøbt i en blå kappe, og han får vel tårnet til at hælde”.  He claimed that a man cloaked in blue would come from the West and make the tower lean. In the end, it was not a man who came, but the blue sea itself. When a violent, westerly storm surge passed in 1532, it flooded the meadows near the fjord, necessitating that Nørre Vosborg be rebuilt farther inland.

Let that be a lesson to trust your contractor.

Niels Bugge, knight and original owner (photo credit here)
The Gardener’s Herbs

Continuing with the thread of Niels Bugge, he had spent too much money on the manor house itself, thus resulting in him going easy on the landscaping. When an urtegårdsmand (“herb gardener”) offered to do the landscaping for a sum of money, Niels Bugge turned him away. The gardener promised, however, that if he was hired, he would sow three types of special seeds. These seeds would never waste away, no matter the circumstances, but would prosper forever. Niels Bugge hired him on the spot, unable to justify declining such a prosperous offer. The three seeds were caraway, garlic and red cloves. To this day, they still prosper all over the Vosborg fields. When they die in one place, they quickly flourish in another.

The fields (and forest) attached to Nørre Vosborg
The Black Dog and the Altar Stone

In the 1500s, Skærum Church had an altar stone that was later moved to Nørre Vosborg (and then eventually lost somewhere on the grounds). The altar stone itself is not of much interest. Rather, it’s the ghostly guardian of the altar stone that turns heads: a black dog. The story goes that a Corporal from Svenskekrigene once visited the region. He was a most boastful man, so upon hearing of this guardian dog, he decided to have a look at the dog, bringing his daughter along. When he found the dog, he tried to kick it, but his foot went right through its body. The dog then grew in size, so large that it coiled its snake-like body around the Corporal, choking him. He prayed to God, but the dog did not stop. It was only when his daughter prayed that the dog let go of her father. She was rewarded with a new dress the following morning, appearing mysteriously in her bedchamber, and the Corporal himself went from a most boastful man to a God-fearing one. 

Current Skærum Kirke (photo credit here)
The Ghost of Knud Gyldenstjerne

In the immediate years after Knud Gyldenstjerne’s death (1528), nobody dared sleep in Nørre Vosborg for fear of his ghost as it roamed the halls of his old home. A house was built in a nearby field. The inhabitants of the house retreated to this house at the first hint of sunset, leaving Knud free to haunt his home on his own during nighttime. Eventually, two priests and a priest-in-learning were called in to help. The three men set up station in the Knight’s Hall. The two priest lit candles on the table, but the priest-in-learning lit a candle above the door. He also cut three wooden pegs that he squeezed into a crack in the dining table. When the first peg shot loose, he claimed Gyldenstjerne had risen from his grave. When the second peg shot loose, he claimed Gyldenstjerne had reached the bridge over the moat. When the third peg shot loose, the door opened to the Knight’s Hall, revealing Knud’s ghost. The gust of wind that followed his entrance snuffed out the two priests’ candles on the dining table – but not the priest-in-learning’s candle, the one above the door. When Knud could not extinguish its flame, the priest-in-learning could easily abolish him to the swamp.

Such was the power of a correctly placed candle.

The buildings attached to Nørre Vosborg – former stables now functioning as a gourmet restaurant and a conference/party/wedding/etc. venue

The Murderer Henrik Johan de Leth & his Blasphemous Wife

(TW: mild animal abuse)

Henrik Johan de Leth was, as the myths go, the cruelest owner Nørre Vosborg had. Supposedly, he was both a murderer and enjoyed animal cruelty. One of his victims was a young vassal from Kyttrup. After discovering that the silver spoons of the manor house had gone missing, Leth blamed the young vassal. When the spoons were found in the pigsty, Leth still blamed the vassal. He forced him to run in circles, bound to one spot with a rope, while Leth whipped him as punishment. The young vassal died later that same night. When the nearby Ulfborg Church underwent renovations centuries later, the unidentified body of a young boy was found in the Gyldenstjerne chapel (the predecessors to Leth). At the time, it was widely agreed that this boy was the vassal Leth had whipped to death. Supposedly, Leth also killed a gardener of the estate and enjoyed mistreating animals. He would capture dogs, cut off their ears and paws, and have them bleed to death. The ghosts of these dogs can be heard howling at nighttime. When Leth himself died, he did so by falling off a horse that dragged him along the ground (good riddance). He now haunts the manor house alongside his predecessor, Knud Gyldenstjerne. Leth’s wife also haunts the house, although she is an affable ghost. Perhaps because her greatest living crime was to turn the family’s private chapel into a chicken coop?

Current Ulfborg Church (photo credit here)
Frederik VII and the Nørre Vosborg toilet

When Nørre Vosborg was visited by Frederik VII (mid-1800s), the owner was the Tang family. Rumor has it that both the king and Mr. Tang had to visit the restroom at the same time, so they went together. This, of course, meant they ended up doing their private business together. In the middle of the deed, the king realized he could not do his private business alongside a man of no rank. He promptly, while sitting on the toilet, appointed Tang etstatsråd, a Danish/Norwegian honorary title of 3rd rank that allowed daughters access to nunneries and remained valid until 1909.

The toilet seen from the outside
H. C. Andersen’s Summer Vacation
H. C. Andersen’s Parasol

With all this myth shrouding the manor house it’s no wonder that H. C. Andersen decided to pay Nørre Vosborg a two-week visit during the summer of 1859, documented by his many diary entries. During his visit, he wrote poems, engaged in ornate paper cutting, and fantasied about the ghosts that haunted the place. He slept in the private chapel of the house, which had been refurbished for this purpose. Using a wordplay in Danish, he claimed in his diary that ”en hvid Dame viser sig på dette Sted, men hun har ikke besøgt mig; hun ved vel, at jeg lider spøg, men ikke Spøgeri.” (“a white lady rests here, but she has not visited me: she must know I like fun, but not hauntings”).

A parasol that H. C. Andersen used to shield himself from the violent winds of the west coast still remains at Nørre Vosborg, as does some of his paper cuttings.

(H. C. Andersen’s paper cuttings, photo credit: Lars Bjørnsten)


Sources:
Myself & Husband
“Sagnenes Danmark”, by Gorm Benzon
https://nrvosborg.dk/besoeg-os/historie-h-c-andersen/
https://www.hcandersen-homepage.dk/?page_id=9350
https://www.toppenafdanmark.dk/toppen-af-danmark/se-oplev/skaerum-kirke-gdk599888
https://viborgmuseum.dk/jubel-paa-viborg-museum-bevis-paa-at-niels-bugges-borg-er-fundet
http://ulfborgsogn.dk/kirkerne/ulfborg-kirke.html

“Den Hvide Dame” & “Den Grå Dame” – Danish Castle Hauntings

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”)
credit: Christoffer Håkansson, 2017

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.

Paintings by Goya and Rubens (credit: Bitten Holmsgaard, 2017, http://www.stedkender.dk)

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.

A Vatican tapestry gifted by Pius IX (credit: Bitten Holmsgaard, 2017, http://www.stedkender.dk)
Chinese 1000-year-old Incense Stove (credit: Bitten Holmsgaard, 2017, http://www.stedkender.dk)
The Blood Stain (right above the stain, on the wall, there is a depiction of Skeel drowning Philip Brandin)
(credit: https://politiken.dk/rejser/ferieidanmark/art5934976/Bes%C3%B8g-slottet-med-den-enest%C3%A5ende-kunstsamling-og-den-mystiske-blodplet-i-T%C3%A5rnv%C3%A6relset)

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”)
Sæbygaard Castle (credit: Sæby Turistbureau)

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…

The castle seen from the back (credit: http://www.kroneborg.dk)
The back-facing courtyard and the stone stair turret (credit: http://www.kroneborg.dk)

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?

Sources:
http://www.masterpiece.dk/UploadetFiles/403/68/102-103(4).pdf
http://www.stedkender.dk/det-hemmelige-skatkammer/
http://www.nordjyske.dk/nyheder/den-sorte-dame-med-kniven/bc1e8a1b-8cdf-4a7f-8dbb-6152669fdc9e
http://www.toppenafdanmark.dk/toppen-af-danmark/se-oplev/historie/slotte