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  • Romantic Regicide:Political Medievalism in Bournonville's Erik Menveds Barndom
  • Berit Kjærulff

On Saint Cecilia night 1286, the Danish king Erik Glipping was murdered in a barn outside the village Finderup in Jutland. He was found stabbed fifty-six times, and the murderers had escaped. As the last regicide in Denmark and, moreover, an unsolved crime, the murder of Erik Glipping has inspired multiple speculations on the culprits and their motive, ever since that November night. Little is known for certain about the regicide. What we do know primarily stems from popular ballads that were composed some time after the murder. The Marshal Stig ballads,1 which is the collective name for the ballads concerning the Erik Glipping murder, delve into various possible scenarios for the crime. Their inconclusiveness regarding the culprits and the purpose of the killing present later authors and artists with a wide array of motives to explore, and has given rise to numerous retellings and re-interpretations of the event by historians and artists alike. One of the most popular motives, which has been adapted by Romantic authors such as B. S. Ingemann, Adam Oehlenschläger, and Carsten Hauch, casts the king's marshal Stig Andersen as the leader of the conspirators who, among other reasons, kill the king to avenge his rape of the marshal's wife. [End Page 62]

This article will examine one such artistic reworking of the story, August Bournonville's ballet Erik Menveds Barndom (The Childhood of Erik Menved), adapted from Ingemann's 1828 historical novel of the same title,2 and performed at the Royal Danish Theatre in 1843. The ballet was well received by both audience and critics and reached fifteen performances (Jensen 2019; Kjøbenhavnsposten 1843). A full record of the staging of the ballet does, to my knowledge, not exist, but the program remains and will constitute the object of analysis in this article. In a short preface to the program, Bournonville comments on the source of the ballet. He attributes the characters, intrigues, medieval ambience, and the dancing capture of the castle Ribehuus to Ingemann's historical novel, but also remarks on the changes he has made compared to the novel, some of which are quite drastic. One change in particular, which he, however, does not mention, makes Bournonville's ballet stand out from Ingemann's novel and many other Erik Glipping adaptations: he excludes the king himself from the action. Erik Glipping is only a character referred to in the program; he does not figure on the list of the cast and accordingly does not appear on stage. The ballet also diverges in its plot by considerably playing down the regicide, which literally takes place in the background halfway through the ballet. No motive is provided for the murder, and marshal Stig is left out of the story. Instead, the ballet culminates in an abduction of the young crown prince and his brother. This plot is entirely Bournonville's invention and cannot be found in popular ballads or historical writings.3

The missing king in Erik Menveds Barndom becomes even more interesting when taking into account the political environment at the [End Page 63] time of its staging. By the turn of the century, the French Revolution had given rise to widespread reconsiderations across Europe about the structure of society and the monarch's place in it. In a Danish context, it eventually led to the abolition of the absolute monarchy in 1848, and Bournonville's depiction of the regicide thus appeared at the dusk of Danish absolutism. Several of Bournonville's ballets premiered at a time when the Royal Theatre was subject to strict censorship. In the first part of the nineteenth century, the king employed his censorship keenly toward productions at the Royal Theatre, but not toward the ballet.4 The dance critic Erik Aschengreen has attributed this lack of censorship to "the fact that ballet was not regarded as dangerous" (1992, 50). The presumption that ballet did not pose a political threat in the same way as drama must have provided it with a degree of political liberty on stage not possessed by other art forms during that period.

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