Libraries Round the World: Seashells, Bones, and Books at Denmark’s Egeskov Castle

Egeskov castle in Denmark dates from 1554 with a library collection of seashells, animal bones, and books. The owners over the centuries went to great lengths to be well prepared for unwanted house guests and attacks.  

Undated painting. Despite modernized guardhouse, still much the same

Today Egeskov castle is the home of Count Michael Ahlefeldt-Laurvig-Bille and his wife, Princess Alexandra of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg (part of the German Rhineland) and the niece of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark. 

Egeskov castle and moat, complete with swans

The castle, still surrounded by a protective moat, is open for tours during half the year. But this is still a residence, and some rooms on the tour were blocked off as private. More small collections of books probably hide behind the closed doors. 

Part of the library below a shell collection in the hunting room

The castle’s existence and historic security procedures were fascinating. In the Middle Ages, people went to great lengths to avoid unwanted visitors and attacks. Particularly during the Count’s Feud, a civil war, that began in 1534. 

Placed on a deep lake with the only access point on left

Better security was exactly what Frands Brockenhuus had in mind and accomplished when he built Egeskov castle in 1554. Past owners of an earlier Egeskov date back another 150 years.

Edge of the old banqueting hall

The castle was intentionally built in the middle of a deep lake. The five-story brick castle was positioned and anchored on top of boulders and the trunks of oak trees. And if that wasn’t enough, they built a large guardhouse to monitor the access point across the moat. 

Two buildings, connected by a thick walkway, also provide additional defensive procedures.  If someone reached one door and couldn’t fight them off, they could escape to the other building.

Lots of entry points to protect

A well, accessible inside the castle compound, guaranteed their water supply. Mission-critical in the event things got nasty, and the enemy lay down a siege. It’s not like you run out to borrow from the neighbors or get a delivery. Other alternative defense systems included outer walls with embrasures and machicolations.  You may be wondering what that means: to fight back with boiling water or tar. 

The knights almost look ready

And as if all that wasn’t enough, the castle occupants also worried about supernatural threats. In the wooden cross-beamed attic, a little wooden doll still to this day lays on a pillow under the tower. Legend has it, if he moves from his pillow, Egeskov castle will sink on Christmas Eve. Previous residents left town for the holidays, but the current owners are brave and solution-oriented. They put out a bowl of Christmas rice pudding, a traditional Danish dessert during the holidays, and stay put!

The formal “yellow room” in a Baroque style from early 1700s

After all these threats and precautions, the bookcases surrounded by dead animal skins, bones, and horns on the walls, appear almost peaceful in comparison.

Count Greger’s old study in the hunting room with some books

Karen Stensgaard is a novelist and frequent traveler to Denmark. She finds fascinating libraries and collections of books everywhere she goes. 

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