Sunday, May 02, 2010

An Italian in Denmark in 1627

There is a World outside Verona


"It is a very cold country with a strong wind. People are sowing in April and May and harvesting in August and September, they sow that late because of the eternal snow and ice. There are only two seasons, winter and autumn. The autumn rules in the spring and the summer, only four months, the rest is winter." Thats what an Italian soldier Torquato Recchia said in a letter in 1628, where he wrote about his impression of Denmark to a friend, an Italian prince.

In 1627 Jutland was occupied by the German emperor's troups, a result of Christian IV's unfortunate participation in the Thirty Year's War. The foreign soldiers caused much havoc during the few years they stayed in Denmark. The commander-in-chief, an Italian general, stayed in Haderslev in South Jutland with his entourage, where was also his fellow-countryman Torquato Recchia.


The letter about the Danish weather leaves no doubt that the writer was used to something much better in Italy. The weather has always been a good subject, and the Danes talk a lot about the capricious Danish climate. It is a probability that it might have given the Italian soldier a more or less mild depression. Actually he also tries to be objective. "The country is very fertile and well suitable for trade, both because of the seafaring since the country is washed by the North Sea and the Baltic and because of the fat soil, which is cultivated in times of peace."

Torquato Recchia is not blind for the suffering of the population. Many have escaped, and he thinks that "if the conditions will not improve, they will all take flight because the soldiers use them as slaves." It is not known how much contact the Italian had with the Danes, but the language was certainly a hindrance. "When they talk, it sounds as if they cry!" he says. And their clothes were strange. "Inside they wear a thick fur and then a shirt and other clothes, the women are dressed in the same way. They all wear clogs, very well made. The women are just as ugly as the men, and their clothes only reach the knee." Both peasants and noblemen are said to be intelligent, and the noblemen are emphasized for their generosity, nice look and blond curly hair. " They are so gigantic that I'm sure that the holy Christoffer came from this country. Your Excellency can imagine how big they are, if you imagine the holes they made in Colosseum."


Torquato is astonished by many things. He thinks it strange that the Danes use peat and manure for fuel and built half timbered houses. He also mentions a strange wedding custom. "When they get married, the bride and groom race to a certain place, where a bundle of hay has been placed. The one who first touches the bundle will be the master in the house. The wife becomes the husband, and the husband becomes the wife. From this hay is later made a pillow, which is brought to the church, where the bride and groom kneel on it."

Some of the things the Italian soldier tells must be second-hand knowledge, and not everything is truthful, especially when he describes things and events far from his Jutland quarters - like in Norway, which then was a part of Denmark. "Up there they sell the wind to the sailors. It is wrapped up in a handkerchief, and if the buyer wants a stronger wind, he can get it by loosening the handkerchief. I think it is the Devil's tricks, but it is certain that it is absolutely true."

Source: Archaeological Magazine Skalk, nr. 4, 1988, "Andre øjne" af Troels B. Wingender.

photo: grethe bachmann


Kittie Howard said...

Love these fun customs, which, I suppose weren't fun Back Then. Racing to the hay may have been the beginning of women's liberation, sorta! And in two weeks I'll be in Italy, near Verona, where they serve horse meat in restaurants, yuck! So will order seafood!

Thyra said...

And you are sure to have fine weather in Italy on this time of the year. I didn't know they serve horsemeat. I would not eat horse meat either. Seafood is very healthy!