A. Sutherland - AncientPages.com - Holger Danske, also called Holger or Ogier the Dane was a fearsome Viking warrior. His entire life, from birth to death is shrouded in mystery. According to ancient legends, Holger Danske never died. Instead, he sleeps in the dark cellar of Kronborg Castle at Elsinore, the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
The history of Holger Danske is very difficult to trace because almost nothing is known about him. The information we possess is based on legends and myths.
The first mention of the sleeping hero Holger Danske comes from the Chanson de Roland (Songs of Roland), an epic poem based on the Battle of Roncevaux in 778, during the reign of Charlemagne. It is the oldest surviving major work of French literature and exists in various manuscript versions, which testify to its enormous and enduring popularity in the 12th to 14th centuries.
There is a prophecy related to the birth of Holger Danske. He was apparently destined to become one of the most valiant warriors, never to be vanquished.
Hans Peder Pedersen-Dan's statue of Holger Danske at Kronborg castle, Denmark
According to French and Scandinavian myths, Holger Danske was the son of Geoffrey who was the first Christian king of Denmark during the eights century. He was trained to become a great warrior from an early age. He was very tall, about 213 centimeters (7′).
Legends tell he possessed an enchanted sword that was given to him by the fairy Morgana. His magical sword was a great weapon that helped him become invincible. When Muslims invaded Danish territory, Holger joined forces with Charles Martel (c. 688 – 22 October 741), the Duke and Prince of the Franks.
Kronborg, the castle of Hamlet. Image credit: hamletscenen.dk
Together with Charles Martel he fought against the Muslims at Poitiers in AD 732. At one point in his life, he was captured and became a hostage of Charlemagne. Holger eventually became Charlemagne’s vassal and developed a fearsome reputation. Yet, Holger could also be merciful. On one occasion, for example, he even forgave Charlemagne’s son for killing his own son, Baldwin, with a chessboard.
The legend of Holger Danske became popular much thanks to Hans Christian Andersen, who said that Holger never died. Instead, he is a sleeping hero residing in the dark cellar, where no one ever goes, of Kronborg Castle at Elsinore, the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Dressed in full armor made of iron and steel, Holger sits before a table, resting his head on his arm. His beard has grown long into the table as he slumbers and dreams of Denmark.
Holger Danske a sleeping hero residing in the dark cellar, where no one ever goes. Image credit: hcandersen-homepage.dk
Every Christmas Eve an angel of God comes and assures him that what he has dreamed is true and that he can safely go back to sleep because Denmark is in no real danger. But if danger ever does come, then old Holger Danske will arise, breaking the table in pieces as he pulls out his beard! And then he will come forward and strike out and be heard in all the lands of the Earth.
Written by – A. Sutherland - AncientPages.com Senior Staff Writer