Home DH-Debate

37. Erik Ploughpenning

39. Christoffer 1.

Denmark's History

38. Abel

1. Abel 2. Abel as King of Denmark
3. Abel's Family 4. Death and Burial
5. Literature

1. Abel

Abel is the Danish king who has ruled for the shortest time. He is well known for his responsibility in connection with the murder of his brother Erik Ploughpenning in a boat on fjord of Slien. Through his wife Mechthilde of Holstein, he maintained close ties to Holsten and many German princes.

Abel Valdemarsen on one of Frederik 2's royal tapestryes in Kronborg

Abel Valdemarsen on one of Frederik 2's kings tapestries in Kronborg. There is most likely no portrait likeness.

Throughout Erik Ploughpenning's reign, there was more or less open civil war between him and Duke Abel of Slesvig.

Abel's position as Duke of Slesvig was a continuation of the Viking Age frontier earl in Slesvig, whose duty was to guard Denmark against enemies from the south. But like his predecessor, Knud Lavard, well over a hundred years earlier, he stood with a leg in both camps.

As border duke for his brother, the king, he represented Danish interests, but at the same time he was the effective ruler of Holsten, as Mechthilde's father Adolf 4. chose to join a monastery and appointed his son-in-law, Abel, as guardian for his two minor sons, Johan and Gerhard, which made Abel the real ruler of Holstein as well.

The Sjælland Yearbook describes the reasons for the civil war between King Erik Ploughpenning and Duke Abel: "There was a great disagreement between him and his brother Duke Abel, which lasted a long time. For Abel was married to a sister of the Counts of Holsten, and these the king wanted to bring under Danish rule in one way or another, but to defend them Abel set himself against his brother and fought many times against him, aided by a German army."

Family tree for the Valdemars from Valdemar the Victorious to Christoffer 2.

Family tree for the Valdemars from Valdemar the Victorious to Christoffer 2.
Erik Plovpenning, Abel and Christoffer 1. were sons of Valdemar the Victorious and Berengaria and they all became kings, one after the other. Erik Klipping, who suffered death in Finnerup Lade, was the son of Christoffer 1. and the famous Margrete Sambiria. His sons with Agnes of Brandenburg were Erik Menved and Christoffer 2, who both became kings. Of these seven kings, only three died a natural death.

Abel is the only Danish king who has fallen in battle. After hardly two years as king, he was killed on Husum Bridge in a battle against the Frisians.

Despite his rather early death, Abel became the ancestor of the Abel lineage, which put the Duchy of Slesvig in opposition to Denmark, and which maintained close ties with the Counts of Holsten and thus founded the division of the original Denmark into the kingdom and the duchies.

Royal houses through the history of Denmark

Royal dynasties throughout Denmark's history. But, all kings - except Magnus the Good - are descended from "Hardegon, son of a certain Sven", who captured a large part of Jutland around 917 as told by Adam of Bremen in his section about bishop Hoger. The line of kings and stories of war and peace are the backbone of history - not so that accounts of culture and ordinary people's living conditions are not important and interesting, but without the line of kings the history can easily become a kind of unstructured fireplace passiar that are not easily and intuitively allow it self to be organized and fixed in time. It gives a good overview of dividing the line of kings - and thus the history of Denmark - into manageable sections.
The Knytlinge lineage derives its name from Hardecnudth, most likely son of Hardegon. He is also called Knud 1. and was the father of Gorm the Old as told by Adam in the section about Unni. Magnus the Good, who became king in 1047, was the son of the Norwegian saint king Olav; his reign constitutes a transitional period to the time of Sweyn Estridson and his sons and grandsons.
The rival kings, Svend, Knud and Valdemar, from 1146 to 1157, all descended from Sweyn Estridson; their time forms an interregnum to the time of the Valdemars.
Many historians, probably most, include only Valdemar the Great, his son Knud the Sixth and Valdemar the Victorious to the Valdemars. But one can not have a patent on such a definition, and it seems appropriate for the author to include their less successful descendants - including Erik Ploughpenning, Abel and Christoffer 1. - until Christoffer 2. who was the last king before Denmark's kingless time from 1340.
Valdemar Atterdag was not king of the Kalmar Union, but his grandson, Olaf was, and his daughter Margrete 1. became the reigning queen of the Scandinavian Kalmar Union. One can say - with a little good will - that Valdemar Atterdag re-established Denmark and thus the possibility of the Kalmar Union with Norway and Sweden.
The first Oldenburg kings were also Union kings but only for short periods.
The Civil War, the Count's Feud, 1534-36 was a decisive turning point in Denmark's history. As a consequence of the Lutheran Reformation, which took place at the same time, the kings confiscated the third part of Denmark's agricultural land that belonged to the church. This fantastic wealth made it possible for them to subdue Denmark's old nobility and after some time to establish autocracy, which became an important reason for Denmark's historic deroute. In 1848, a democratic constitution was introduced without civil war or other violent events.
The Oldenburg royal lineage died out in 1863 with the childless Frederik 7. The throne was then given to Christian 9. of Glücksborg.

Abel was the second of Valdemar the Victorious' three sons with Berengaria. The sons were Erik, Abel and Christoffer, and they were all to become kings

Already in Valdemar's lifetime, when the eldest, Erik, was crowned co-king in 1232, the fourteen-year-old Abel was appointed "Duke of Jutland" , which means the province of Slesvig, probably the original land of the Jutes. The youngest son Christoffer, thirteen years old, was at the same time appointed Duke of the islands of Lolland and Falster.

The Valdemars

The Valdemars. It is common to count only Valdemar the Great, Canute the Sixth. and Valdemar the Victorious to the Valdemars. But in this way their less successful descendants become pedagogically homeless, even though they are really direct descendants after the first and more famous Valdemars, and they are not separated from these by any natural period of transformation. Therefore, I would suggest that the whole group until the kingless time to be called the Valdemars.
Erik Ploughpenning, Abel and Christoffer were sons of Valdemar the Victorious and succeeded each other as kings. Abel most likely killed his brother, Erik, and immersed his body in Slien. However, 24 knights swore that Abel was innocent, and therefore he could be elected king anyway. However, he was soon killed in battle during a campaign in Friesland, and then his younger brother Christoffer was chosen as his successor, and the eldest son of the late Abel was thereby bypassed. In the following decades, this led to a long-standing rivalry between the descendants of Abel and Christoffer, respectively, and contributed to the contradiction that developed over the course of history between the kongdom of Denmark and the duchies.
Christoffer's son, Erik, who was later bynamed Klipping, became king only 10 years old with his dynamic mother, Margrete Sambiria, as guardian. The chieftains limited his power with a charter at Nyborg Castle, which among other things decided that this meeting of king and great men, which was later called the Dane Court, should be the country's highest court. In addition, it was decided that the Royal Court could only deal with cases which had not previously been treated by another court and that it could only impose standardized fines. Erik Klipping was killed in Finnerup Lade near Viborg with 56 stab wounds - it is still one of the great mysteries in Danish history. His son Erik Menved sought to create goodwill and increased influence in northern Germany by holding some magnificent - but expensive - knight tournaments. He was succeeded by his brother, Christoffer II, who had to take over his brother's large debts, while at the same time the possibilities of increasing the royal revenue by increased taxes were blocked by a charter. When he died in 1332, no new king was elected and the country was for a period without king.

The brothers' father, Valdemar the Victorious, and his son with Dagmar, Valdemar the Young, were captured by Count Henry af Schwerin during the catastrophic hunt on the island of Lyø in 1223. After the battle of Mölln in 1225, it was agreed that they should be released against that the king gave up all his possessions south of the river Eider, paid a huge ransom in silver and gold and other valuables, and delivered hostages as security for the payment of a remaining sum.

These hostages were the king's two youngest sons and 40 Danish men - probably Abel and Christoffer together with sons of Danish great men. Their big brother, Erik, was also held hostage in Schwerin, but for a shorter period.

The historian Palle Lauring writes that the king's son and 10 Danish men were to be held hostage for 10 years as a guarantee against revenge.

The county of Schwerin

The county of Schwerin around 1250 (shown in light green). Schwerin was not a very large county. It was created in 1161, which was the year after Henry the Lion had conquered the Slavic castle Schwerin. He gave the area to the knight Gunzelin of Hagen. The map is not true as Fehmarn belonged to Denmark and only became German, when Erik of Pomerania resigned in 1439. Foto Gustav Droysen - Allgemeiner historischer Handatlas - Wikipedia.

Upon their arrival at Schwerin in 1225 or 1226, Abel must have been about 8 years old and Christoffer perhaps 7 years old. Their mother had already died. We should probably not imagine that the hostages were sitting in a cell on water and bread. They have probably been able to move around freely in the castle like other residents in exchange for taking the oath that they would not flee. The young princes have thus stayed 5-10 years of their childhood at the castle in Schwerin and have probably been cared for with loving care - but also exposed to significant German influence in these critical years of their upbringing.

Valdemar gained his freedom on Christmas Day 1225 and immediately began working to win back what he had lost. He got the pope's accept that Count Henry of Schwerin had broken his oath of allegiance to him by capturing him, and therefore he did not owe this count any honesty in relation to the promises he had made to achieve his freedom - moreover, the promises were given under duress. As early as the spring of 1227, he crossed the Eider at the head of an army of armored knights, who were mainly recruited in Slesvig.

But what are hostages for? - This development must necessarily have created a considerable nervousness among the 40 Danish men and the two little princes who sat in Schwerin. Although the princes were probably too young to fully understand what was going on.

However, Valdemar suffered a decisive defeat in the battle of Bornhøved.

The battle of Bornhøved

The Battle of Bornhøved 22 July 1227. Bornhøved is located south of Kiel about 10 km east of Neumünster and about 70 km from Schwerin. It is said that the battle was very hard and was fought with great bitterness on both sides. Valdemar Sejr lost several horses during the fights and lost an eye, but he did not give up and the outcome was uncertain to the end. The battle was decided by the Ditmarsk people changing sides in the middle of the battle and going over to the German counts, which created confusion among the Danes. Image from the almost contemporary Saxon World Chronicle from around 1250.

Valdemar must have firmly believed that Count Henry, for fear of the pope's anger, would not kill the hostages - moreover, if he had killed the hostages, he would never get the money they guaranteed.

The history hears nothing further about Abel before he in 1232 - perhaps 14 years old - is appointed "Duke of Jutland" at the same time as Christoffer becomes "Duke of Lolland and Falster". But if Palle Lauring is right that one prince should remain in Schwerin for 10 years, then at least one of them must have been a hostage in Schwerin at this time. The appointments may thus have been in absentia.

But in 1237 Abel married Mechtilde of Holstein, and he must have been present at the wedding.

The three kings in Skibby church

The three kings on fresco in Skibby Church, Hornsherred on Zealand. Orf3us Wikimedia Commons

Valdemar the Victorious was very much against this marriage. Ryd Monastery Chronicle for 1237 says: "Duke Abel married Count Adolph's daughter - Mechtilde - but it was very much against the will of his father - King Valdemar - as he really feared that a quarrel would arise between the brothers. And so it became, and from then on there was no shortage of strife between countrymen in Denmark and between kings and dukes in Denmark, and it all came from these counts, who always want Denmark the worst."

One can not say much about Abel's personality.

Clergymen did not call him "Abel" but "Babel" because of his firm episcopal insertions, which are said to have caused "confusion". Which, however, suggests determination - he trumped his solution despite the protests of the monks and bishops.

He married against his father's will, which demonstrates great independence - perhaps downright stubbornness.

A chronicle refers to him as "Abel after the name but Cain after the deed".

But it must be said with certainty that he must have been unusually ambitious, going so far as to let his brother kill so that he himself could become king and carry out his plans..

2. Abel as King of Denmark

It is striking that the Danish great men refused to choose Abel's son, Valdemar, as king in 1252 after Abel's death in Husum - probably because they did not want a son of a brother murderer on the throne - but the brother murderer himself, Abel, was elected two years before, in 1250, without very big problems as Ryd Monastery Chronicle writes about "The year of the Lord 1250": "In addition, Duke Abel was elected and crowned king that same year."

Re-created Romanesque frescoes in Jelling Church

Re-created Romanesque frescoes in Jelling Church. Photo Pinterest.

Huitfeld gives a possible explanation in his "Chronicle of the Kingdom of Denmark", saying that it took some time before the king's destiny became known: "For when Erik Plovpenning had been murdered, the crime was supposed to be a secret; they spread the rumour that he had an accident on Slien, and only when the abused body came to light did it become known, what had finally been prepared for the king." We can believe that it took a long time for news to spread in society, so that Abel could let himself be proclaimed king before Erik's destiny became widely known.

It is also a mystery what was actually Erik Plovpenning's purpose with the visit in Slesvig in 1250 - at the brother with whom he had been at war for most of his reign - without sufficient bodyguards.

A possible explanation may be that Erik already had made his brother his co-king to satisfy his ambitions, and thus he believed he had created reconciliation and peace in the country. Therefore, on his way south to the fortress of Rendsburg to rescue the besieged there, he dared to visit his brother without bodyguards to discuss the affairs of the kingdom and demonstrate his trust and brotherly love.

Erik Plovpenning on Romanesque fresco in Tømmerup Church

Erik Plovpenning on Romanesque fresco in Tømmerup Church near Kalunborg. Photo kalkmalerier.dk

Both Valdemar the Great and Valdemar the Victorious had appointed their eldest sons co-kings, thereby ensuring the continuity of the royal line and averting potential unrest in connection with a royal election after their death. Erik had four daughters but no sons. It is easy to imagine that he had made his brother, Abel, co-king to ensure peace and continuity.

The language historian Lis Jacobsen wrote an article in Berlingske Aftenavis in 1938, in which she pointed out that there are three letters signed by Abel - all dated 1250 several months before Erik Plovpenning's death, in which Abel titles himself as king of Denmark.

In a letter to the citizens of Ribe, which is dated six months before Erik's death, it is stated "Abel, by the Grace of God the King of the Danes and Slaws, Duke of Jutland, to all who see this letter, greetings with God". In the letter, he exempts the citizens of Ribe from several taxes: "to be free and in all respects exempt from the payment of customs duties, market-duties, forband (which is a merchandize duty) and for the right to wrecks".

In a similar letter to St. Johannes Monastery he exempts it for "leding payments, the Ombudsman's requirements and all other burdens and expenses", and in a third letter to the inhabitants of the city of Vä they are exempted from "leding payments of pity for their poverty. Furthermore, we have exempted the inhabitants of Vä from the payment of duties throughout our kingdom"

The letters may be incorrectly dated, it has been seen before. But as many as three incorrectly dated letters from the same year are not likely. It is more likely that Abel really was Erik's co-king in the first half of 1250, and thus could sign as "king".

Kain og Abel i Ballerup Kirke

Abel and Cain on fresco from around 1250 in Ballerup Church west of Copenhagen. Abel presents his sacrificial lamb with his face turned up, and is blessed by God, while Cain, on the other hand, looks down disappointed with his sheaf of grain.
The lined coats and knee-length suits were the highest fashion in Erik Plovpenning's time. Photo Ballerup Kirke.

Some have argued that these tax exemptions are an indication that Abel was interested in a modern liberal trade policy. It is assumed that with the help of a partial demolition of the customs walls that surrounded the Danish market towns, he would give the merchants the right to shop from town to town without paying taxes.

But it must be noted that all the letters are about the reduction of the royal revenue, which apparently was already scarce. One can easily imagine that Abel simply used his position to seek to make himself popular at the expense of his older brother - and in the long run Denmark.

After Erik Plovpenning's tragic death on the fjord of Slien St. Laurentii night on August 10, 1250, an ugly suspicion spread that his brother and possible co-king, Abel, had caused his death. There were many who thought so. Ryd Monastery says about "The year of the Lord 1250": "By treason, Duke Abel captured his brother in Slesvig on the night of Saint Laurentius, and one of Duke Abel's knights, named Laue Gudmundsøn, took him aboard a ship. He then killed him and immersed him in Slien."

Iron chain used to weigh down Erik Plovpenning's body

Iron chain used to weigh down Erik Plovpenning's body. In Slesvig Cathedral, among the church's many treasures are still stored a piece of an iron chain. Tradition says that this link was found on Erik Plovpenning's body. Drawing Jacob Kornerup. Photo Danmarks Historie Erik Kjersgaard.

Although Abel energetically denied being responsible for the crime, Erik was, after all, his guest when he was caught and taken out on the fjord to his death. And, as a host, he was responsible for the safety of his guest.

He succeeded in being acquitted by means of the so-called "double twelfth oath" which consisted of 24 knights at the County Council in Viborg swearing that Abel was an honest man and innocent. He was then crowned king on November 1. 1250.

When Erik Plovpenning paid a visit to his brother in Slesvig, he was on his way to the besieged fortress Rendsborg with a rescue army.

Fresco with the theme Wheel of Life in Udby Church

Restored Romanesque fresco in Udby Church north of Holbæk with the theme "Wheel of Life". Foto Wikimedia Commons.

The fortress of Rendsborg was very important to the German counts. We must remember that an explicit condition for Valdemar's release from captivity in Schwerin was that he should hand over the fortress of Rendsburg to the Count of Holstein. But during the civil war it had again come into the possession of the Danish king, and Erik did not intend to give it up.

Erik's possession of Rendsburg put a plug in the connection between Abel's Slesvig and his friends and allies in Holsten and possibly other German principalities - and it may not have been that kind of reconciliation and cooperation that Abel had imagined, and this may have made him furious.

The Stade Yearbook tells that one of Abel's first actions as a king was to reconcile with his father's enemy, Count Gunzelin Henrikson of Schwerin.

In the time of Erik and Abel, German merchants increasingly brought their goods to the Danish market towns - they later should organize themselves as the Hanseatic League with Lübeck as the leading city.

Cog in Stralsund's city coat of arms

Cog in Stralsund's city coat of arms. During the the 1200's, north German merchants took over a larger share of trade in the Danish port cities. One explanation may be that they had developed the ship type cog, which was built with a wide, flat bottom, and which was therefore suitable for carrying much larger volumes than the Viking ship. It became possible to transport many other merchandises than luxury goods. But the cog was less seaworthy than the Nordic ship types, so a storm could cause stranding and shipwreck. Photo Herrick Wikipedia.

Under Abel, foreign merchants in Denmark were largely granted extraterritorial law. This means that even if they stayed on Danish soil, they still had to be judged according to the law that applied in their hometown. Such rules were to make safe the stay of foreigners in Denmark.

It is said that Abel promised the Germans "that if they suffered shipwreck anywhere in our kingdom, they were allowed to save as much of the wreckage as they could wrench from the barbaric and rebellious sea and keep it for their own use and disposal. For it would be inhuman and wicked if strangers should rob the goods that others had acquired by their work."

By modern standards, it seems inhumane. But the provision represented a breach of a historical principle - namely that wrecks and goods from wreckage belonged to the king - which had given the kings of the past good incomes. It was a further reduction of the royal revenue.

The Kollerup Cog

In 1978, a 20.5 m long cog from around 1150 was found at Kollerup by Jammerbugten. Foto Museet for Thy og Vester Hanherred.

Abel also promised the Norwegian merchants compensation for the losses they had suffered in Denmark during the civil war.

An important factor in Erik's fall and Abel's exaltation was the Hvide lineage's irreconcilable enmity against Erik Ploughpenning. The mighty Hvide family had loyally supported Valdemar the Great and Canute the Sixth in Denmark's reconstruction and the conquest of the land of the Slaws, but for inexplicable reasons they turned - in collaboration with Abel - bitterly and irreconcilably towards Erik Ploughpenning.

The first known sign of the Hvide family's enmity towards King Erik was the king's break with his chancellor, Bishop Niels Stigsen of Roskilde - who was a Hvide - who had to flee the country. The king then seized the city of Copenhagen, which since the time of Absalom had belonged to the bishop of Roskilde. Erik deprived Peder Ebbesøn - who belonged to the Hvide family - of his bailiff's office, which led him becoming very hostile to the king. Lave Gudmundsøn, who was married to Esbern Snare's granddaughter, and Tyge Bost, who according to his weapon belonged to the Hvide family, were Erik Plovpenning's special mortal enemies and they were in Abel's service. When Abel became king in 1250, he immediately appointed Anders, a son of Esbern Snare's daughter, Mrs. Ingeborg, as his marshal.

Fresco in Fjelie church in Scania with cog from around 1250

Fresco in Fjelie church in Scania with cog from around 1250. Foto Danmarks Kalkmalerier.

Not as soon as Erik was dead, a future enemy of Denmark and the Danish king appeared in the country. It was Jacob Erlandsen who was to become the banner bearer for the church in the attack on the power of the king for the next many years.

Jacob Erlandsen came from a family of rich and powerful men. His mother was a Hvide. For a time he resided in the Vatican in the service of the pope. It is quite probable that during this period he worked for the Bishop of Roskilde, Niels Stigsen, in his case against Erik Ploughpenning. After Niels Stigsen's death in 1249, and after Erik Ploughpenning's death in 1250, Jakob Erlandsen took over as Roskilde bishop, possibly directly installed by the pope. He immediately returned the city of Copenhagen from the king to the Bishop of Roskilde. This would not have been possible without the understanding of King Abel.

For generations, Sweden had been an electoral kingdom where the kings had been alternately taken from two prominent families. But now this custom had been swept aside by the kingdom's most powerful man, Birger Jarl, who in 1250 had his son Valdemar crowned king, while retaining real power for himself. This coup created strong resistance among many Swedish nobles, who sought help in Denmark from King Abel to overthrow Birger Jarl. Abel complied with their request and sent the desired military assistance - but it was not strong enough, for Birger crushed the revolution and then united with Norway in alliance against Denmark. This threat from the north was inherited by Abel's successor, Christoffer 1.

A great advantage, however, was attached to Abel's takeover, namely that the dispute between king and duke ceased, as they were now united in Abel's person, and Denmark was again united to the river Eider.

3. Abel's-Family

As mentioned above, Abel was married to Mechthilde of Holstein. It is said that she often showed her enmity towards Denmark. Ludvig Holberg tells in his Danish history from 1711 that she destroyed Denmark's letters of the right to govern Northern Albingia (Holstein - North of the Elbe).

Widow Queen Mechthilde as depicted on her grave in Varhem Church

Widow Queen Mechthilde as depicted on her grave in Birger Jarl's family grave site in Varhem Church in Axvall in Sweden. The sculpture is damaged. Photo Jacob Truedson Demitz for Ristesson Wikipedia

After Abel's death on Husum Bro, Mechthilde went to a monastery, but left it again after some time. In 1261 she married the Swedish king-maker Birger Jarl. But he died in 1266, after which she moved home to Holsten.

Abel's descendants - the "Abel lineage" - ruled Slesvig until 1375, very often in collaboration with their relatives in Holstein, and this circumstance created a permanent problem for the Danish kings. Their rule meant the division of the original Denmark into the kingdom and the duchies. The duchies consisted of Friesland, Holsten and Slesvig.

Mechthilde and Abel had four children, namely: Valdemar, Sophie, Erik and Abel.

The same year that Erik Plovpenning was killed on Slien, Abel's eldest son Valdemar Abelsen - about 14 years old - was on his way home from a study stay in Paris. But in Cologne he was taken prisoner by the archbishop, who demanded ransom. He was still sitting in Cologne when Abel fell in Husum, and therefore he could not seek election as king of Denmark after his father in 1252.

The Kingdom of Denmark and the Duchies

The Kingdom of Denmark and the Duchies. The kingdom included North Jutland, Funen, Zealand, the South Funen islands except Ærø, Lolland, Falster, Møn, Rügen, Samsø, Læsø and Anholdt, Skåne, Halland, Blekinge and Estonia.
The duchies included Slesvig, Holsten, Friesland, Ærø, Fehmarn, Als and Heligoland. Lauenborg was part of the Valdemar North German empire, which was lost in 1223 along with Pomerania and Mecklenburg. But it came again under the Danish king in 1816. Photo Danmarkshistorien.

Mechthilde and her sons Erik and Abel then mortgaged the area between Slien and the Eider and the fortress Rendsborg to her brothers, the Holstein counts, to raise money for Valdemar Abelsen's ransom. It was in this way that this area first time became connected to Holsten and Germany.

In 1253, King Christoffer 1. appointed Valdemar Abelsen Duke of Slesvig, which re-established the division of the original Denmark into respectively the kingdom and the duchies, after the country had been briefly united under Abel. Ryd Monastery Yearbook says: "The year of the Lord 1253" - "In Kolding, King Christoffer gave King Abel's son - Valdemar - a duchy in Jutland with banner"

Sophie married Bernhard 1. of Anhalt-Bernburg.

After many disputes with King Christoffer 1, Valdemar Abelsen died already in 1257, and the duchy was taken over by his brother, Erik Abelsen.

Abel Abelsen is buried in Svendborg, which belonged to his possessions, it is said.

4. Abel's Death and Burial

In the time of Erik Ploughpenning and Abel, the west coast of Slesvig was inhabited by Frisians, who lived along the entire coast of the North Sea south over Ditmarsken north of Elbmundingen and all the way to Holland. They built dikes that protected their fields from the sea. Their farmhouses lay scattered across the landscape on artificial hills called "warfs", which were supposed to protect them from storm floodings. They were cattle breeders, as their whole land is a large fertile meadow criss-cross cut through by ditches and canals. In the Middle Ages, they came around using long spring sticks with which they could pass even the widest canals. As a side-profession they extracted salt from seawater. Many were mercenaries.

Schiffbrücke in Husum

Schiffbrücke in Husum, where Husum Bridge once lay, where King Abel found his death in 1252. Photo Mapio.net.

The Slesvig Frisians were divided into two groups. One consisted of the Frisians who lived on the dry land along the coast, they were under the Dane Law, which was the Jutland Law. The other part of the Frisians lived in "Utland", by which one understands the actual marshland. They had their own law, the Frisian Law.

The Frisians on the dry land traditionally recognized the Duke of Slesvig, while the peasants in Utland from very ancient times were called "the King's Frisians" because they were under the king and not the Duke of Slesvig, and they zealously guarded their autonomy. They even chose their priests.

Husum town in 1593 by cartographer Braun

Husum town in 1593 by cartographer Braun. Husum Bridge - still visible - now Schiffbrücke, can be located with the Gothic Marienkirche in the middle of the picture, which was demolished in 1807, but replaced with the current Marienkirche - and Husum Castle in the background, which still exists. A line of sight over the bridge roughly hits the castle and the church is located to the right of such a line.

In 1252, King Abel fell in battle against the Frisians. Ryd Monastery Chronicle for 1252 says succinctly: "King Abel went to Ejdersted to fight, but there he fell. His brother - Christoffer - became king."

Binnenhafen in Husum with Schiffbrücke. Google Maps

Binnenhafen in Husum with Schiffbrücke from Google Maps. Husum Bridge no longer exists, but it is said to have been located about 50 meters east of the modern pedestrian bridge at Schiffbrücke as shown by a dotted line. A line of sight across the imaginary bridge roughly hits the castle, which still exists with Sct. Marienkirche to the right of such a line as in the old picture above. Sct. Marienkirche was built in 1833 on the same site as the former church.

Arild Huitfeldt tells in 1609 in his "Chronicle of the Kingdom of Denmark" that Abel was killed by a certain Henner Wheelmaker: "In 1250, Abel killed his brother Eric and became king. In 1252, Abel was told that the Frisians, who lived along the North Sea coast, refused to pay taxes. Then he raised an army, King Abel marched to the sea, where he met a opposing force of Frisians organized by Sicko Sjaerdema, who gave allegiance to William of Holland. King Abel's army was defeated at the bridge to Husem (Husembro), and it is reported that he was killed by a wheelmaker named Henner".

King Abel's grave in the forest at Gottorp Castle

King Abel's grave in the forest at Gottorp Castle with the inscription "König Abels Grab 1252". Photo Slesi Wikipedia.

Abel was buried in Slesvig Cathedral. But in the 1600's, complaints emerged that the cathedral was haunted, and therefore his body was taken up and sunk in a bog hole in the forest (Tiergarden) at Gottorp Castle in the southwestern part of Schleswig city. As a precaution, a pole was hammered through his chest so that he could not haunt anymore.

In the forest today there is a memorial stone with the inscription "König Abels Grab 1252", but some believe that the stone is not placed in the right place.

It is said that the original burial site still in the 1700's should have been marked by a pole.

5. Links og Literatur

Erik Plovpennings Strid med Abel - Kr. Erslev Historisk Tidsskrift, Bind 6.
Abel, af Guds Naade de Danskes og Venders Konge Lis Jacobsen - Diplomatarium Danicum
Bidrag til belysning af Valdemarssönnernes tidsalder Hans Olrik
Kalkmalerier.dk Kalkmalerier.dk
Abel Salmonsens Konversationslksikon
Tronskiftet 1250 og dets følger Danmarkshistorien Lex.dk
Abel - konge Dansk Biografisk Leksikon Lex.dk
Abel Den Store Danske lex.dk
Ryd Klosters Krønike Heimskringla
Jakob Erlandsen Dansk Biografisk Leksikon
Danmarks Historie 4 "Kirker Rejses alle Vegne" af Ole Fenger - Gyldendal 1989.
Danmarks Historie bind 4 "Borgerkrig og Kalmarunion" af Erik Kjersgaard - Politikens Forlag 1963.
Til start

Passed W3C Validation