Esbern Snare, army commander, chief, magnate, was the eldest son of Asser Rig. He was born on 30. Octobre 1127. Like his brother Absalon he early joined their fosterbrother Valdemar (den Store) in the conflicts about the throne. It seems that he achieved his byname Snare (=resolute) because of his youthful audacity and resolution during the rows. After 'Blodgildet i Roskilde' (see the story about this in the section Asser Rig) in 1157, he lead Valdemar in safety to Jutland in a dramatic journey during a terrible storm, and in the following battle on Grathe Hede he distinguished himself and played a leading role in helping Valdemar to the absolute rule as king of Denmark.
Tømmerby church , portrait of a building master
In the expeditions to the Wends Esbern Snare is often mentioned as a fearless and indefatigable warrior. He was also one of the king's most confidant friends and advisers, and although he was a daring person, his advice to the king were cautious and wise, like when he on a journey to Barbarossa's imperial court in 1162 advised Valdemar not to travel on without demanding safe passage, an advice even Absalon dared not bring out, and which the king repudiated in disdain.
About 1170 Esbern Snare fortificated Kalundborg with castle and towers for the protection of the city and the surrounding country, and he started the building - which his daughter Ingeborg finished - of the beautiful and still existing church with 5 towers as a parish church for the thriving market town. Esbern Snare is considered the founder of the city Kalundborg.
A burial mound, (Imagination of the Troll's hill)
When Esbern Snare was about building a church in Kalundborg he saw clearly that his means were not fully adequate to the task. But a Troll came to him and offered his service, and Esbern Snare made an agreement with him on these conditions that he should be able to tell the Troll's name when the church was finished or in case he could not, that he should give him his heart and his eyes. The work now went on rapidly and the Troll set the church on stone pillars, but when all was nearly done and there was only half a pillar wanting in the church, Esbern Snare began to get frightened, for the name of the Troll was yet unknown to him.
One day he was going about the fields alone and in great anxiety on account of the perilous state he was in, when tired and depressed, by reason of his exceeding grief and affliction, he laid him down on Ulshøj bank to rest himself a while. While he was lying there he heard a Troll-woman within the hill saying the words:
Lie still baby mine
To-morrow cometh Fin,
And giveth thee Esbern Snare's eyes
and heart to play with.
When Esbern Snare heard this he recovered his spirits and went back to the church. The Troll was just then coming with the half-pillar that was wanting for the church, but when Esbern saw him he hailed him by his name, and called him Fin. The Troll was so enraged at this that he went off with the half-pillar through the air, and this is the reason that the church has but three pillars and a half.
He stood by Absalon's side not only in the expeditions against the Wends, but he was also faithful to his brilliant brother in other relations of life. He was among the magnates, who took care of the defense of the archbishop's properties in Skåne. Both Absalon and Esbern showed great care for Sorø Kloster, and Esbern Snare gave big gifts for the peace of the soul to Sorø after the death of his wives, and he willed as much to Sorø Kloster as it was allowed to give after one's death. He was also praised for not raising any objection to his brother who gave almost all his property to churches and monasteries. Absalon left Esbern some loving memorial gifts, among other things their father's favorite drinking cup in silver.
Another evidence of his both ecclesiastical and chivalrous disposition is kept in the address at 'Danehoffet in Odense' Christmas 1187, where there were calls for crusades in order to regain Jerusalem from the Turks. He talked about the Nordic forefathers' exploits and urged the young people to prove themselves worthy of their ancestors by taking the cross. Esbern wasn't on the crusade , he was now 60 years and had served his battles, but he must have been rather disappointed when he heard that the crusade wasn't very successful.
Esbern Snare was married three times.
1) Holmfred, buried at Sorø
2) Ingeborg , * ab. 1130, buried at Sorø
3 ) Helene Guttormsdatter, 1172-1211 (see text about Helene) buried Vreta Kloster
Esbern Snare had 3 sons and 2 daughters:
1) Johannes (Jens) Esbernsen, who was Valdemar II Sejr's Marsk, died in 1213 in Lübeck, buried at Sorø. He married Edle, who is buried at Sorø, they had no heirs. Johannes had on his deathbed given Sorø Kloster Stenløsemagle with additions in 1213 , but his brother Absalon Bælg kept back the property until shortly before his own death in 1232. Ingeborg's husband PederStrangesen and Cæcilia's husband Anders Grosen woudn't acknowledge the right of Sorø Kloster and they appropriated the disputed estate1234, and although the judgment of the church was against them, they kept it for life.
2) Absalon Esbernsen Bælg,(meaning Fat) , known 1199, died ab. 1232, no heirs.
3) Niels EsbernsenMule, Staller (Master of the Horse), married Margrethe, he was buried at Sorø.
4) Cecilie Esbernsdatter Hvide, * ab. 1195, married to Anders Knudsen Grosen (Ulfeldt) of Tersløse (1190-1259), his mother was Gro Strangesdatter, married to Knud? (he had an eagle in his coat of arms)
5) Ingeborg Esbernsdatter Hvide , * 1203 in Kalundborg (her mother was Helena), known as Fru Ingeborg of Kalundborg. She was married in 1225 to Peder Strangesen ( + 1241) , she died 1267 in Hedeby. Peder and Ingeborg had many children, amongst those Anders Pedersen and Ingeborg, who was married to grev Ernst of Gleichen
Sæby church, Sjælland. East of the church is Sæbygård situated; it is also known from Ingemann's novel: 'Valdemar Sejr'.
Esbern died in 1204 at Sæbygård (Sjælland) which was probably built by him. It was told that he had a violent and sudden death by falling down an external staircase in the yard. He broke his neck on a millstone below.That wasn't unlikely, he was 76-77 years old and might have stumbled. He was buried in Sorø like Absalon.
There is more than one legend about Esbern Snare. After his death was said that an evil spirit came and took him away from Sæbygård. Maybe it was the devil who came after his prey? said people, who probably thought on more than one occassion that Esbern had a deal with the devil. Another legend tells about the building of Sæbygård that when the manor was finished, a coachman was ordered to drive Esbern Snare a tour on a certain route. Another coachman was ordered to drive Esbern's wife Helene a tour in the other direction. He or she, who came back to the manor as the last one, should be given to the Devil! If it was Helene's or the coachman's idea is not known, but Helene's coachman broke the shoes off the horse and put them back to front. When he drove out it looked like he was coming home. Instead of the ordered tour he just drove to a place in the garden and waited till Esbern Snare returned, and Esbern thought that his dear lady had come home first.
Helene Guttormsdatter, 1172-1211, the wife of Esbern Snare, was a daughter of the Swedish earl Guttorm, who once fetched king Carl Sverkersons bride in Denmark and on the same occasion was godfather to Valdemar I the Great's son Knud (1163). Helene was probably named after the Holy Helene of Skøfde, a celebrated saint , who was canonized in 1164 and wellknown in the folklore of northern Sjælland.
When Esbern Snare lost his second wife Ingeborg he - although not quite young anymore - married the young beautiful Helene. In this marriage was born the daughter Ingeborg af Kalundborg and maybe more children.
Soon after Esberns death in 1204 Helene became Valdemar II Sejr's frille (mistress) and had the son Knud. But in 1205 Valdemar married Dagmar of Bohemia , and his relationship to Helene supposedly stopped - it seems that Helene left Denmark. She died in Roskilde ab. 1211, but she was not buried in Sorø like Esberns other wives , and from diplomas from the 14th century it appears that she established 'Vor Frue Kapel' by Linköbing Cathedral, where she probably chose her burial place. (NB: She died in 1211 39 years old, and was buried in Vreta Kloster). Her gift to the church was later increased by her son's son Svantopolk Knudsen and his family.
Valdemar II Sejr honoured his and Helene's son Knud by making him a hertug, (Knud of Blekinge) , and he gave him his own property in Sweden. Helene left him a considerable inheritage there too. Knud was married to Hedvig, a daughter of duke Svantepolk in Poland. They had the before mentioned son Svantopolk, who was married to Benedicta, a granddaughter of king Sverker 2. of Sweden and Ingegerd, and two daughters, Elisabeth, married to duke Erik of Halland, and Cæcilie, married to Philip (Folkunge).
Helene Guttormsdatter's ancestors:
1. Ingrid Guttormsdatter af Rein * ab.1160 ~ Guttorm Austmanson, * ab 1156
2. Guttorm Åsulvson, + after 1183 ~ Eldrid Jonsdatter of Blindheim
3. Åsulv Skuleson på Rein ~ Tora Skoftesdatter of Giske,
4. Skule Kongsfostre Tostigson, Earl of Rein, * ab. 1053 ~ Gudrun Nevsteinsdatter
5. Tostig Earl Godwineson, + 25 sept. 1066 ~ Judith of Flandern, * 1033 + 4 march 1094
6. Godwine Thegn Earl of Wessex * ab.992 + 15 april 1053 ~ Gytha Thorgilsdatter * ab.997
7. Wulfnoth Child Thegn of Sussex ab. 960-1015 ~ NN
Wulfnoth was the grandfather of king Harold II of England, Gytha Thorgilsdatter was a great granddaughter of Harald Bluetooth, Judith of Flandern descended from the dukes of Normandy and Rollo, and Skule's wife Gudrun Nevsteinsdatter descended from Harald Hårfager in Norway, so Helene's ancestors were a part of the big genealogical wickerwork with connections to the old Danish and Norwegian Royalty and to Anglo-Saxon England and the Normans in France.
photo: grethe bachmann
Dansk Biografisk Lexicon,
Carl Frederik Bricka, Project Runeberg
Esbern Snare, ab. 1127-1204, eldest son of Asser Rig, who was Skjalm Hvides son. Like his brother Absalon he early joined their fosterbrother king Valdemar, and in the disputes about the throne he seems to have achieved the honorable byname Snare (resolute) by his youthful audacity and quick-witted ways . After the assault in Roskilde (1157) he brought in a terrible weather Valdemar to Jutland and distinguished himself in the following fights, which gained Valdemar the absolute power as king of Denmark.From the Wendic expeditions Esbern Snare is mentioned as the fearless and untiring warrior, who now and again put his life on stake, even for lesser things, but always escaped from danger. Yet he belonged to the king's most trusted friends and advisors, and his advice could in this respect be just as cautious as he himself was daring; like when he on the travel to the imperial court (1162) advised the king against going without a safe passage-letter, an advice, which even Absalon dared not express, and which the king dismissed in disdain.
Among his exploits Saxo especially dwells on the expedition to Kurland (1170) on which he in order to safe prince Christoffer showed an admirable courage and an almost unbelievable toughness to wounds and bodily harm, and the often mentioned encounter with a Wendic fleet shortly after in Sejerøbugten. On a starry night Esbern tried to get past an enemy of 40 ships; but the rising moon revealed him and he was soon surrounded by the superior force. He wouldn't give in, and after a heroic defense one ship against many, the fight ended with that Esbern let a man go top-ship and set fire, which the Wends thought an arranged signal to a relief fleet, and then they withdrew and let him get past to Kalundborg. Here Esbern Snare had built a fortificated borg(castle) with stone towers as a protection of the city and its surroundings , like he built the beautiful, still preserved church with 5 towers as a parish church for tbe flowering market town. (Kalundborg)
Not just in the fights against the Wends, but also when it came to private relations Esbern stood loyal at his brilliant brother Absalon's side. He is mentioned among the magnates who took care of the defense of the Archbishop-estates in Skaane (Scania). As to the care for Sorø kloster the two brothers are mentioned at the same time; Gavebogen (Gift Book) named them its founders:
"the two powerful men, famous all over the kingdom and above all Denmark's families ". Esbern Snare gave great sjælegaver ( soul gifts) after the death of his wives and willed his half boslod (from his estate) , the largest gift anyone was allowed to give after his death. Likewise he was praised for that he without protest submitted to that his brother gave almost all his jordegods (estate) to churches and klosters. Another evidence of his both ecclesiastical and chivalrous disposition is kept in the speech he held on Danehoffet (court-meeting) in Odense at Christmas 1187, when there were calls for a crusade in order to regain Jerusalem from the Turks. In the speech he described exploits of the Nordic forefathers all over the known world and asked the youth to show that they had learnt from them, asking them to take the cross.
Esbern was married three times. 1) Holmfred; 2) Ingeborg; 3) Helene, who was a daughter of the Swedish hertug Gutorm. She survived him and later had a son with king Valdemar Sejr (Hertug Knud). Esbern left 3 sons and 2 daughters, of whom "fru Ingeborg of Kalundborg" is especially wellknown. Esbern Sanre survived his brother Absalon, who left him affectionate memorial gifts; he died i 1204 and is buried in Sorø. "Han haver boet paa Sæbygaard" says Huitfeldt. "og tales underlig snak om hannem, at den onde Aand skal have taget hannem bort; men han faldt ned ad en trappe paa Sæbygaard og paa en Møllesten, som laa der under trappen, slog sin hals sønder. " This is the story about Esbern's death, first that an evil spirit took him away, but the truth was that he fell down a stairway at Sæbygaard, where he broke his neck upon a mill stone at the end of the stairs.
Translated from A.D. Jørgensen's Danish text: grethe bachmann
Helene Guttormsdatter, - 1204 - Esbern Snare's wife, was a daughter of the respected Swedish Jarl Guttorm, who had fetched king Carl Sverkersen's bride in Denmark and on the same occasion was the godfather of Valdemar I's son Knud (1163) . She was probably named after the hellige Helene af Skøfde ( Holy Helene of Skøfde), a celebrated female saint, who was canonized in 1164 and is wellknown in folk-legends from Nordsjælland. When Esbern snare had lost his second wife, he married -although getting on in years - the young Swedish Jarledatter. In this marriage was born Ingeborg "af Kalundborg" and maybe several other children.
Soon after Esbern Snare's death in 1204 Helene became Valdemar II's frille (mistress) and bore the son Knud. But when Valdemar married Dagmar of Bohemia in 1205 their relationship probably finished; it seems that she left Denmark. She was not like Esbern's first two wives buried in Sorø, and Diplomer from the 14th century show that she at Linkøbing cathedral estblished Vor Frue chapel with Præbende (income); she probably chose her burial place there. Her gifts were later increased by her son's son Svantopolk Knudsen and his family; Valdemar II honoured his and Helene's son Knud with the title of hertug and gave him his estate in Sweden, and Helene also left her son considerable estate there.
Suhm, Hist. af Danmark IX, 192 ff.
J. Steenstrup., vore Folkeviser i Middelald. S. 248 ff.
Translated from Hans Olrik'sDanish text: grethe bachmann
Dansk Biografisk Lexicon
Carl Fr. Bricka