Spøttrup Castle. Sorce: Facebook

Christmas Party at Aagaard in Denmark in 1496

Today, Aagaard is an insignificant farm located down to the Limfjord. Its history, though, reaches back into the Viking Age and the fortress at Aggersborg. In 1496 it was home to a famous Christmas party

Location of Aagaard at the time of Mourids Nielsen Gyldenstjerne. Source: Google Map
Location of Aagaard at the time of Mourids Nielsen Gyldenstjerne. Source: Google Map

The history of Aagaard reaches back into Danish prehistory. However, between AD 970-80, the largest of the ring-fortresses, Aggersborg, built by Harold Bluetooth was constructed on a small island sloping down into the Firth of Lime. It occupied a strategic location ideal for the control of ships, which had access from the north via a channel as well as from the east and west through the firth (which at this time was a belt offering a quick route from the sea of Skagerrak and into the North Sea.) Today the excavated site lies between the medieval church to the north and the manor, which partly covers the wall around the Viking fortress. Although soon demolished, it appears to have been a place of power. In the 14th century it belonged to one of the magnates central in the royal endeavour of Valdemar Atterdag (1321–1371) to reetablish the Danish Kingdom.

The continued history of the place is revealed in the archaeological remains of the castle, which was built in the late 15th-century at Aagaard. Here a moated site with two mounds surrounded by a former lake (now bog), which surrounded the island, on which the castle was built. According to history, an earlier construction burned down in the mid-15th-century. This complex was rebuilt by Mourids Nielsen Aagaard, one of the ruling scions of the Danish nobility at this time.

The southern mound measures 5,5 x 33 x 33 meters, while the northern mound is lower and wider, 2 x 40 x 40. Both square, they were divided by a canal leaving them separated except for a bridge. Never excavated, we know of the layout from a later inventory, which tells us about a courtyard on the southern mound surrounded by four wings of buildings and fitted with small towers on at least three corners. In the northern wing was a gateway leading to the stables and the great hall on the northern mound. At the bottom level of this building, a servant’s hall, kitchen and scullery were located, while the feast hall was on the top level. Other living quarters were likely located in the side-wings of this complex.

Rye House - gatehouse from the time of Andrew Ogard mid 15th century. Source: wikipedia
Rye House – gatehouse from the time of Andrew Ogard mid 15th century. The house is generally considered to be the first house built by bricks in Britain since Roman times. Source: wikipedia

Whether these buildings were constructed out of wood, stones or bricks is not known. We do know, however, that an uncle to Mourids – Sir Andrew Ogard – built the first brick castle at Rye in Hertfordshire in the mid 15th century. Andrew Ogard, who became a naturalised Englishman, was friend and companion-in-arms to Sir John Falstaff. A precious letter proposing a marriage between descendants of the two families tells us that the two sides of the family kept in contact.

Precisely when these buildings at Aagaard were constructed is also unknown. However, we know from some preserved bits and pieces of Mourids’ private archive that at least 50 persons belonged to the household of the castle. Some of these would have lived at the curia, while others would have been close at hand on the castrum part of the complex. It must have held ample accomodation.

At the Christmas party in 1496, 110 people were listed, some of which were servants. These members of the household as well the guests belonged to the following groups: The lord of the manor, his wife, daughter and son-in-law as well as grandchildren; secondly, were listed the bishop from Børglum, the brother of Mourids and other close relatives. These were followed by the relatives of his wife, clerics and priests from the shire, as well as local dignitaries and gentry. Some people came from afar, for instance, the bailiffs from other castles owned by Mourids in Seeland and Scania (Bregentved and Markie).

Not all these people were housed at Aagaard. We hear that several were “taken in” by locals living in the neighbourhood. It appears the party was so large it stretched the possibility for accommodation to the limit. To house this number of people, the castle must have been impressive. Perhaps looking somewhat like Spøttrup.

We don’t know what was served at the Christmas party. Nevertheless, from another list (from 1495) we hear about stores of barley, malt and hops as well as grain for baking plus ample amounts of bacon, oxen, sheep; and no less than 300 salted geese. To this should be added barrels of fish, gammon, and spare ribs as well as butter, honey, salt, vinegar, and pure fat. Further, the cellar held 108 barrels of beer, five barrels of old beer, some strong German beer, and barrels of “melske”, a mixture of mead and beer (or wine).

Probably, the menu looked much like the one served a few years later in Linköping in Sweden


The nearby Castle at Spøttrup from ca. 1500. Likely Aagaard looked somewhat like this. Source: Facebook


Mourids Nielsen Gyldenstjerne, the Owner of Aagaard, and his house.
By Connie Jantzen and Rikke Agnete Olsen.
In: Château Gaillard (2002), Vol. 20 pp. 123–129.

Mourids Nielsen Gyldenstjernes regnskaber. Rejseregnskaber 1493–94, inventarium 1494, julelagsliste 1496 og mandtal 1499.
By Troels Dahlerup, Jeppe Büchert Netterstrøm, and Bjørn Poulsen.
In: Danske Magazin (2006-08), pp. 303–342