Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Prince Hamlet's Grave, Kongshøj, Ammelhede

The Viking church. Moesgård. Museum,
Hamlet's grave is one of few preserved hills at Ammelhede. Inside 1 km distance were 15 others, now disappeared. The hills were on the top of a hillside along an old sound, which in Stone Age was a fjord. A long arm of the fjord stretched from the village Auning to Ammelhede, and south of Hamlet's grave the flat sea bottom is still visible. A brook has its spring in the moors downside Hamlet's grave. When the hill was built, big parts of the surrounding land were fertile meadows. They were an extremely important ressource for the agricultural expansion in Bronze- and Iron Age and the associated settlements.  A setttlement like this was found by Kulturhistorisk  Museum in Randers at a place named Stavnsager, only 1,5 km south of Hamlet's grave. This settlement delivered some rich and valuable material, like house sites, sunken roads and more than 2.500 metal objects from especially late Iron Age. The area had a special high status in the antiquity, which has been proved by the finding under the present Hørning church of the wooden church from Viking period 2,5 km to the south and the finding of the Hørning grave, one of Denmark's finest Viking graves at the same place.

south of the hill

The hill was in 1950 excavated by the National Museum, which noted that it had been digged out and plundered several times, but in the middle of the hill were traces after a stone-lined coffin. Beside some claypot pieces were no significant findings. However is the local story that a guy from a nearby farm "Ammelhedegård" earlier had found urns, bronze-jewelry, weapon and amber pearls. Besides this the archaeologists have nearby found a Frisian rune stick from ab. 700 with an inscription: "Upon a hill Amled defended himself " ("På en klint satte Amled sig til værge").

The reason why Hamlet's grave was known, is the name of the hill which it achieved in the beginning of the 1930s via Shakespeare's play Hamlet, who had the inspiration  from the Danish chronicle Gesta Danorum, written down by Saxo about year 1200, after having been handed down orally through centuries. In this chronicle is also the legend about Amled, who according to Saxo ruled Denmark in the 6-7. century AC (Iron Age) . Saxo describes that King Amled after many internal feuds had regained the throne, but was killed in a battle against the King of Lejre Rørik's successor Viglet upon a "campus" (field/heath) by his name. The place name Ammelhede north of Hamlet's grave is the only place name in Denmark, which can be transferred to the legend. Kronborg at Elsinore cannot -  like 6 other places which through times have claimed the story -  document such a connection to a local place name. The story of Ammelhede was the reason why a 10 tons heavy memorial stone was raised on the hill on the initiative of Randers Turistforening in 1933. This is a place for memory, no one knows for sure where the real Amled was buried.

Here is a shortened version of Saxos story about Amled:


Laurence Olivier
A son of the chief Ørvendel was by King Rørik employed as guard of Jutland together with his brother Fenge, and ørvendel marrried a few years later the king's daughter and had with her the son Amled. Ørvendel's marriage and prestige awoke the envy of Fenge, and some day he murdered his brother and forced his widow to marry him. The murder could not be held secret, and Fenge had to spread the rumor that he could not stand witnessing this beautiful mild woman to be the slave of her husband's tyranny. The young Amled knew that his days were also numbered, if Fenge feared that he would avenge his father's death. Amled chose to play mad. He lay by the fireplace, rummaging in the ashes, smeared dirt in his face  - and what he said was just as crazy as his actions. He cut hooks from wood, hardened them in the fire and told that these hooks were weapons meant to avenge his father with.
Fenge was however insecure about this crazy Amled, and he tried repeatedly to find out what was going on with him. Since Fenge presumed that Amled would be honest to his mother, he arranged that one of his people had to secretly watch a conversation between mother and son, while Fenge was away. The spy hid under a heap of hay in the room, but as soon as Amled saw the heap, he suspected the mischief. He crowed like a cock and jumped around in the pile, until he felt where the guy was hidden, and he stuck through the hay with his sword and killed the spy. He hacked up the corpse, cooked the pieces and threw them to the pigs. Not until then his mother entered the hall, and she reproached him loudly of his foolishness, but now Amled could talk freely: "Shameful woman! You married your husband's murderer and threw yourself affectionately in the arms of the man, who killed your son's father. I play dull with good reason. He, who murdered his brother, would also kill his brother's son. The role of stupidity hides me untit better times come. You, my mother, should be shedding tears, not because of my dullness, but because of your own disgrace". These words made a great impression on Amled's mother, who now felt shame over her marriage to Fenge.

When Fenge returned, he asked for the guy , but no one knew where he was. Amled was asked too, and he replied that he had seen him being eaten by the pigs. Everyone laughed at the idiot. Fenge's fear of his stepson grew, and he decided to send him to England to visit the king. Fenge's intention was to instruct the Anglo-Saxon king to kill the young man at his arrival. Amled accepted in going to England, but agreed secretly with his mother that she one year after his departure should keep a wake for him as if he was dead  - and that the walls on that occasion should be covered in blankets.

Christopher Plummer - Hamlet,  Michael Caine - Horatio, Kronborg 1964.
Fenge pointed out two trusted men to accompany Amled.  The message to the Anglo-Saxon king about letting Amled kill had the form of a rune-stick. En route Amled succeeded in finding the rune-stick, while his companions were asleep and changed the message into a request to the king of England to give Fenge's clever nephew his daughter as wife and let his two companions hang. Amled was well received in England; he submitted his dullness and distinguished himself by so much cleverness that the king did not hesitate to give him his daughter as wife. Fenges' two men were hanged. Amled felt no sorrow about this of course, but he however required penance from the king. He got some gold and melted it into two hollow sticks.

After almost a year Amled spread a rumor in Denmark that he was dead, but a year after his departure he was back on the Jutland castle, as agreed with his mother. They had begun his wake. When he entered the hall, he was alone with his two golden sticks in his hands. And now he was again acting as crazy as ever. When they asked where his two companions were, he said happily "one here the other there" and pointed at the two sticks. During the drinking he fumbled with his sword and cut his finger. In order to prevent the idot from repeating this they drove a nail through the sheath of his sword so it was impossible for him to draw it. Finally everyone was so drunk that they tumbled about and fell asleep on the floor. Amled fetched his old wooden hooks, tore the blankets down from the walls and fastened them to the sleeping men with the hooks, so they could not get free. Then he put the hall on fire, and all the men were all burned.

Jude Law, Kronborg 2009.
King Fenge had gone early to bed in his chamber, and he was now being contacted by Amled. Ealier that evening Amled had replaced his own nailed sword with Fenge's. He cried to his stepfather that he had returned with his wooden hooks and that Fenge's housecarls had burned. Fenge grabbed for his sword, but could not draw it from its sheath and he was cut down by Amled. When people the next morning gathered around the downburnt castle, where they found the charred rests of Fenge and his men, Amled announced what had happened and how he for many years had been forced to pretend in order to get his revenge. People felt that Amled had acted correctly, and they elected him chief instead of Fenge. When King Rørik died and was succeeded by King Viglek, a big fight broke out between him and Amled. In one of these battles Amled was killed, and Saxo tells that his gravehill was situated upon a heath in Jutland which is named after him - Saxo meant probably Ammelhede in Virring parish, southeast of Randers.

  Front page of edition 1605:

Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh as Hamlet and Ofelia, Kronborg 1937.

Shakespeare built his story on Saxo Grammaticus' story of the Jutland prince Amled which origins from the work Gesta Danorum which was finished ab. 1200. Today Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet is the most cited play in the world, and it is said to be the most performed play world wide. Some say that Shakespeare has made Hamlet the most famous Dane in the world.

But who was the original Hamlet whom Saxo describes? He wrote 16 volumes and in the past the first 9 volumes were considered legends, they were almost considered free imagination, but not any more. The opinion today is that Saxo told real stories, especially from volume 3, added something tendensious and  some embracing of the stories, since he himself was a Christian, who wrote about heathens. Hamlet in Saxo's version is named Amled, and he's from volume 3 and 4 - thereby he is today considered a real person by serious scholars. It was Shakespeare who came up the version about Hamlet living at a castle in Elsinore, but the real Amled lived in Jutland, probably between year 400 and year 600 A.C. He was the son of a chief who became king of Jutland and had his castle at Kongslund nearby his gravehill at Ammelhede south east of Randers.

Inscription on the stone:
Amled Ypperste
Teed sig taabe
Til Hævnens time
Kaaret paa ting
Af jyder til konge
Højsat han hviler
Paa Ammel Hede


photo Ammelhede November 2012: grethe bachmann. 


Haverose said...

Spændende læsning! Jeg må huske at ta til Ammelhede næste gang jeg er i hjertet af jylland. Det er meget smukke billeder du har taget derfra.
Kronborg har jeg ganske tæt på hvor jeg bor, og har oplevet Derek Jacoby spille Hamlet der.

Thyra said...

Har du set Hamlet på Kronborg med Derek Jacoby? Det må have været en skøn oplevelse.
Kronborg er så imponerende. Jeg har kun været på selve slottet én gang. Jeg er jo en Jyde der bor i Jylland!!
Ammelhede er en anden slags oplevelse. Det har noget at gøre med at man kan tænke sig til at Amled måske boede her for mere end 1000 år siden. Det er godt nok et spring i tiden! Men stemningen kan godt være der.
Ha' en god jul og tak for din interesse, Haverose.
Grethe ´)