Legend Of Sleeping Hero Holger Danske: Viking Warrior Who Never Died

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.

Legend Of Sleeping Hero Holger Danske: Viking Warrior Who Never Died

How the Fairies Came to See Ogier the Dane by Henry Justice Ford (1921) "And then the sixth fairy, the youngest and the most beautiful of all, who was none other than Morgan le Fay, the Queen of Avalon, caught up the child, and danced about the room in rapturous joy."

Holger Danske's history is 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 destined to become one of the most fearless warriors, never to be vanquished.

Legend Of Sleeping Hero Holger Danske: Viking Warrior Who Never Died

According to a legend linked to Arthurian myth, a Danish king known as Ogier the Dane was taken to Avalon by Morgan le Fay. He returned to rescue France from danger, then traveled to Kronborg castle, where he sleeps until he is needed to save his homeland.  Image credit: Luis Antonio Carrasc - CC BY 3.0

According to French and Scandinavian myths, Holger Danske was Geoffrey's son, the first Christian king of Denmark, during the eighth century. He was trained to become a great warrior from an early age. He was very tall, about 213 centimeters (7′).

Legends say Holger 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.

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.

Hans Peder Pedersen-Dan's statue of Holger Danske at Kronborg castle, Denmark

Hans Peder Pedersen-Dan's statue of Holger Danske at Kronborg castle, Denmark

For example, he even forgave Charlemagne's son for killing his son, Baldwin, with a chessboard.

Holger Danske's legend became famous 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.

Every Christmas Eve, an angel of God assures him that what he has dreamed is accurate 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

Updated on March 1, 2023

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