When visiting Børglum Abbey today, one may well wonder why this somewhat remote hilltop was chosen to be the site of the north fjord centre of power throughout the Middle Ages.
In the Viking era, there was a royal residence at Børglum Hill. Around 1060, an episcopal residence was established on the spot, and in the mids 1100's, the Premonstratensia order chose this site as its headquarters in Scandinavia.
All of this leads us to believe that Børglum was centrally located at the time, with reliable transportation to and from the location.
Royal Residence 800-1100
In the Viking era and the early Middle Ages, Danish kings had no permanent residence, but were constantly travelling throughout the country. They often stayed at one of the many royal residences that existed at the time. These royal residences were part of the Danish Crown Estate and served as administrative centres for the various provinces or jurisdictions. To manage the daily operations and defend the king's interests, the king appointed a few ombudsmen. When the king was not himself present, they were the ones tasked with recovering taxes, fees and fines that were due to the king. As a result, these men were naturally not very popular amongst the locals.
Episcopal Residence 1060-1536
In collaboration with Archbishop Adelbert of Hamburg-Bremen, the Danish king Svend Estridsen established three new dioceses in North Jutland around 1060: Aarhus, Viborg and Børglum. The new Vendsyssel Foundation would include Vendsyssel, Thysyssel with Hanherred as well as Mors, which actually was part of Sallingsyssel. Several things indicate that part of the royal estate's land was parcelled out to the bishop's palace and the foundation's administration. Since the king at this time had his residence at the top of Børglum Hill, more than likely with an adjoining church, the bishop was placed on the parcel immediately south of the hill.
The Oldest Monastery
We do not know for sure when the first actual abbey was established at Børglum, but it is believed that on the erection of the episcopal residence in 1060, a chapter or monastery-like society associated with the episcopal residence already existed. At the request of Archbishop Eskil, the powerful Premonstratensian order settled at Børglum in the mid 1100s, and Børglum became the order's headquarter for its monasteries in Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
Børglum Abbey 1150-1536
The Premonstratensian Order was founded in 1120 at Prémontré, France, by "Saint Norbert of Xanten", and quickly became one of the preferred monasterial orders of the aristocracy, with approximately 500 monasteries spread throughout Europe. The brothers of this order call themselves canons, not monks. This is due to the fact that one has to be an ordained priest to join the Order. It is possible that the Cistercian Bernard of Clairvaux recommended the Premonstratensians to his close friend, the Danish Archbishop Eskil, who in the mid-1100s acted as an intermediary when the Premonstratensians arrived in Denmark. The Premonstratensians who arrived at Børglum Abbey were commonly considered to belong to Europe's ecclesiastic elite.
The Reformation 1536
When the Reformation ended in 1536, all clerical property was seized by Lutheran Christian III, who "forgot" to channel money out to the individuals who would now have to assume the obligations that the monastery hitherto had carried. The years to follow were extemely difficult for the people of Vendsyssel. The social infrastructure, including hospitals, schools and the social network collapsed, the witch hunt began, and to top it all, Christian III gave all the farmers in Vendsyssel the death sentence, because most of them had taken Skipper Clement's side in the Count's feud. Naturally, the death sentences could be avoided if the farmers paid a hefty sum to the king, but the king's self-imposed judgments were a far cry from what we are usually accustomed to in the Nordic jurisprudence.
In a transitional period during which attempts were made to get an overview of Børglum Abbey's value and land holdings, the king appointed the monastery's Prior Niels Lauridsen to oversee the siezed property of the monastery and episcopal residence. This proved to be a clear advantage, because the Prior was the person who kept the accounts and was used to overseeing the monastery's property before the Reformation. In other words, Prior Niels kept his job, but changed employer; instead of working for the abbot, he now worked for Christian III. The property was quickly sold, the despised Peder Ebbesen Galt acquired 68 farms, and the old monastery goods were handed over to the royal fief in 1540.
The Royal Fief 1540-1669
During the 129 år that Børglum Abbey was endowed to different noblemen and Sorø Academy, the record of the estate's possessions remained essentially unchanged, and the noblemen's revenues wer about the same. However, the poor maintenance of the buildings took its toll and the buildings fell into disrepair. As a result, after Godslev Budde's death in 1622, the king commanded Otto Skeel and Mogens Kaas to draft a detailed appraisal of the estate and the condition of the buildings. The report describes the monastic buildings and all the farm buildings as dilapidated. No mention is made of the church, but presumably it was in relatively good condition since it had been renovated both in 1590 and 1616. This report provides, for the first time, a record of the estate's possessions, and even though an exact value of the estate is not provided - it only mentions the number of properties - it still gives a fairly good idea of the possessions belonging to Børglum Abbey at that time. The appraisal mentions 268 farms, 163 homes and 4 mills.
Time as a Manor 1669-1770
Before Børglum Abbey was sold to a private owner in 1669, a large part of the copyhold farms had been sold off. Of the 1555 acres belonging to the estate in 1664, only 798 were transferred to Peder Reedtz. Mainly the outlying lands had been sold. Normally, this era is characterised by adscription, the cattle plague and the subjugation of Danish farmers. However, countless trials taking place during that time bear testimony to the fact that the peasants of Børglum Abbey would not let themselves be cowed by the landed proprietors, this is especially true in the case of the bombing of Colonel Poulson. A contemporary report indicates that conditions at the Abbey were not terrible at all: A record of moveable property from 1721 states: "No torture instruments like the wooden horse were to be found at Børglum".
A royal decree was issued in 1781 calling for the abandonment of old community property in the villages. Farms were to be moved out to the land that belonged to the farm so that each farm would have its total land available around it, instead of having all the farms gathered around the village pond, as had been the case thus far. Because the process was both laborious and expensive, and there was uncertainty as to whether the landowner or the peasant had to pay the surveyor and the costs of moving the buildings, the entire process took 37 years. In 1798, it was estimated that 998 acres of land belonged to the main estate.
The Rottbøll Genus
In 1835, Børglum Abbey was purchased by the Rottbøll family. The family originally came from the main farm Rotbøl, in Lodbjerg parish in Thy, which was destroyed by drifting sand in the late 1600s. This family has since been fostering the landowners of Børglum Abbey.
Period after 1835
When the law on the liquidation of copyhold farms was issued in 1861, a list of copyhold farms still belonging to Børglum Abbey was drawn up. Since Rottbøll previously had sold approximately 400 acres of the estate, there were now only 81 farms with a total of 265 acres left. Things happened quickly; the Constitution was adopted; the corvée was abolished and copyhold farmers became self-governing which, among other things, meant that there was a more intense cultivation of the fields and a greater yield than before. It was not, however, always an advantage that the farmers came to own their farms. In several cases, they preferred to defer the change of ownership, because the rent they paid to the landowner was relatively low. In a sense it can be said that the farmer's copyhold letter was replaced by a mortgage. By 1935, a total land appraisal saw the acreage of Børglum Abbey dwindle to about 54 acres.
Following a fire, the current owners Hans and Anne Rottbøll built a new 300om2 granary, and in 1995 they embarked on the most extensive restoration work of the church made since 1590. A project budgeted at DKK 13 million.
Børglum Abbey today
One of the remarkable things about the history of Børglum Abbey, which still amazes historians, is that this power centre of the Middle Ages never developed into a regular town with citizens, merchants and commercial houses, which otherwise were an important part of the other Danish bishops' financial foundation. If we look at the development of other episcopal residences in present day Denmark - Viborg, Aarhus, Ribe, Odense and Roskilde, all of these developed into cities, whereas the extensive buildings and large population at Børglum shrunk until it only comprised the now lonely manor on a hilltop.
Had development at Børglum been the same as in the country's other episcopal residences, Børglum Abbey would now been at the heart of a large city, perhaps with a shopping mall to the west of the mill and a home improvement center north of the cemetary. Not that we have anything against home improvement centres or shopping malls, but we are many here in the are that find that the buildings and landscape go very well together, and that what became the fate of the beautiful old abbey is not all that bad.