WEEKEND BRIEFINGThe Legend of the Dannebrog
Jun. 13 - This Sunday, June 15, is Valdemarsdag ("Valdemar's Day") here in Denmark, and you'd think poor old Valdemar didn't rate: the Sunday holiday gets no Monday sequel and there's no tell-tale rush on beer at the stores. And yet Valdemar's Day is actually the anniversary of one of the most ubiquitous objects in Denmark—the Dannebrog.
Dannebrog is old Danish for "the Danish cloth," and if you think there's been a lot of flag-waving in America lately, you ain't seen nothin'. The Danes are pathologically proud of their beloved old cloth, and they have some claim to be: it's the oldest national flag in the world.
(Technically it's only the oldest national flag to have been in continual use since its adoption—an asterisk no doubt insisted upon by the proud descendants of Babylon and Carthage.)
Flagpoles abound in this nation, but you don't need a flagpole to show a Danish flag: they're used to advertise sales, they show up on birthday cakes, they're planted in windowboxes—they bedeck every deckable surface. I wouldn't be surprised if they were embedded in the Danish genetic code.
The flag is a simple white cross on a red field, so it's easy for the visually confused (e.g., myself) to wander through Copenhagen under the mistaken belief that it's the world headquarters of the Red Cross.
But you're probably wondering what the Dannebrog has to do with Valdemar. (If that's not what you're wondering you need to concentrate a little harder—at least one of us should be paying attention.) Why not just call June 15 Dannebrogdag and be done with it? I'll tell you: because the Danish flag has a legend, and the star of that legend is King Valdemar II.
It's a good enough yarn as legends go, although it's a little light on pirates and lusty wenches for my own taste. I have therefore taken some liberties with the existing legend to provide an even better one.
The Legend of the Dannebrog
(starring Valdemar II, with a special guest appearance by Erik the Pirate)
Once upon a time there was a Danish king named Valdemar (and sometimes Waldemar). He died. This eventually led to the arrival of a Danish king who was also named Valdemar (and sometimes Waldemar), and was therefore called Valdemar II for purposes of clarity—although you'd think if they were really interested in clarity they would have straightened out the whole Valdemar/Waldemar thing before they started throwing Roman numerals around.
King Valdemar II was a Christian king, and like most Christian kings he was troubled by the existence of filthy pagan bastards. And so, in 1219, King Valdemar II got up an army and made his way to conquer one particular group of pagan bastards—sometimes referred to as "The Estonians"—and convert them to Christiantiy. (Either that or kill them, whichever came first.)
As Valdemar led his flotilla toward the Estonian coast, his ship was engaged by the the Baltic's most notorious brigand, Erik the Pirate. After a brief skirmish at sea, Erik boarded Valdemar's flagship.
"Yar!" cried Erik the Pirate, brandishing his mighty sword.
Valdemar's men hacked him to pieces and the Danes continued on their journey. Soon they arrived in Estonia.
At Lyndanisse, not far from what is today the Estonian capital of Tallinn, the Christian Danes and Pagan Estonians fought a fierce battle all through the day of June 15th. Neither side had the advantage. As night came on, the fighting let up as the armies returned to their camps to eat, sleep, and freshen up for the next day's carnage.
Back at their camp, many Danes gathered round the tap at Saucy Shirley's House of Ale. They drained barrel after barrel of ale and exchanged bawdy jokes with the lusty barmaid Shirley.
The wily Estonians didn't actually return to their camp, in part because they had no lusty barmaids with whom to exchange lewd pleasantries. Instead, they made a sneak attack. Their bloody onslaught overwhelmed the unprepared Danes.
An elderly Danish Archbishop watched the slaughter from a nearby hill, and raised his arms to heaven to solicit God's assistance. Miraculously, God complied: the Danes suddenly surged forward against their attackers and began making headway. But as soon as the Archbishop lowered his poor arthritic arms, lo! The Danes fell back. Wearily he raised his arms again, and once more the Danes pressed forward; the pain compelled him to lower them once more, and again the Danes fell back. And so it went, on and off, until the Archbishop could raise his arms no more.
The logical course of action would have been to fix his arms aloft—by nailing them to a tree, for example—but the Danes have always been fiercely independent and contemptuous of frailty. If the Archbishop couldn't hold up his arms under his own power, by God, no one was going to prop them up for him. And so they began to take heavy losses.
The old Archbishop began to weep as he stood helplessly by, knowing that if only he could lift his aching arms he could save the Danish army. No sooner had the first tear run down his cheek, however, than a mighty peal of thunder sounded and a red banner emblazoned with a white cross fell from the sky into the Archbishop's limp and lifeless arms.
A voice from the clouds announced, "When you raise this banner before your enemies, they will yield before you!"
"If I could raise my arms," the Archibishop lamented, "I wouldn't need the damn flag." And so he sent a messenger to carry the flag to the King. Valdemar raised the flag as soon as he got it, the Danes became delirious with courage, and the battle was swiftly won.
The Dannebrog has been the Danish flag ever since.
Death and Taxes (and Death)
In early 1381 England imposed a new tax, which was called the "Pole Tax" because everyone got the shaft.
In the village of Maidstone, Kent, there lived a Pheasant (Villain) whose daughter was about fourteen years old. When the Taxman came around to collect, only the Villain's wife and daughter were at home. The taxman didn't believe that the girl was less than fifteen. They insisted she was. The Taxman tore the girl's clothes off to see for himself.
After he stripped her, he determined that a more tactile examination would be necessary. When she resisted, the situation took a violent turn. At this moment the girl's father came in and smashed the Taxman's skull.
News of the event spread. The Pheasants (Villains) of southeast England rallied to the father's support. They began Wat Tyler's Rebellion on June 13, 1381. They made the skull-smashing father their leader because his name was Wat Tyler.
Over the next few days, Wat Tyler led the Pheasants (Villains) against the government, burning the Archbishop of Salisbury at the Stake (whence the expression "Salisbury Steak").
The purpose of the rebellion was to secure a pardon for having rebelled. When Wat Tyler confronted King Richard II in Smithfield, he voiced this demand and was consequently stabbed to death, etc, by the Lord Mayor of London. Upon Wat Tyler's death, of course, it was no longer possible to have Wat Tyler's Rebellion, so everyone else went home (hence "Pheasants coming home to roost").
Many of them were later killed.
Further back in history, on June 13, 323 BC, a youthful Alexander the Great died in Babylon. The precise cause of his death has baffled modern science for thousands of years. Many historians believe he died of hybris, also known as Syphilis or the Greek Fire. Alexander had a horse named Bucephelas, and is best known for having devoured the Gordian Nut.
On June 13, 1917, fourteen German Gotha bomber planes flew over London in the first aerial bombardment in history (not counting Zeppelins); on June 13, 1944, Germany commemorated the anniversary by launching the first of its V-1 flying bombs on southern England; on June 13, 1990, East Germany began tearing down the Berlin Wall. The date apparently has some significance in the Teutonic psyche. Be gentle with men in lederhosen.
For the People
On June 15, 1215, all the English Barons of the realm gathered with King John at Runnymede and presented him with a little document they'd prepared. They asked him either to sign the document or to specify what they should do with his remains. The king signed.
This was the Magna Carta, and therefore historical.
The terms of the Magna Carta (aka, "The Magna Charta," aka "The Big Chart") provided that freemen should be free, that freemen should not be put to death, that freemen should be able to get married, that freemen should only be judged by juries of other freemen, and that a measure of wine should be a measure of wine. The only people excepted from these liberties were the People.
(Our own Bill of Rights borrowed heavily from the Magna Carta, although it allowed that the People included people not previously considered the People, except in those cases in which the people were still not People.)
Lord of the Garter
King Edward III was a famous English king, celebrated for his invention of manners and discovery of the economy. He played tennis, and once famously rebuked the King of France for having sent him his balls in a box.
King Edward established the Order of the Garter because he was what English nobles referred to as a "leg man." (It was he who also famously remarked, "Honi soit qui mal y pense," or "Honey, show us some cheesecake.")
King Edward had many sons, one of whom was born on June 15, 1330. This son he named Prince Edward. Though white at birth, he eventually became England's first Black Prince.
Prince Edward eventually married Joan of Kent. In her youth, Joan had been known as the "Fairly Made" because she was so fat; in later years she was referred to as "Chubster" and "Lardass," though seldom to her face.
At the age of sixteen, Prince Edward and his father the king led the English against the French at Crecy, in order to start the 100 years war. There were many more French than English, but the English had the advantage of the Long Boa. The French were powerless against this innovation. Ten years later, the English and French took the field again, this time at Poitiers. The French had learned from experience, and tried to counter the English Long Boa with their own Very Large Scarf. They failed.
The English took France's King John prisoner and ransomed him for half a million pounds (250 tons). Prince Edward was kind to the French king, however, and prayed with him, which proved that the apple had not fallen far from the tree. (Edward was also a "leg man.")
By now he had become the Black Prince.
In recognition of his prowess, the Black Prince was made the ruler of Aquitaine in 1362. When some of the French rebelled at Limoges in 1370, he had all 3000 inhabitants killed. This resulted in peace.
The Black Prince died before he could succeed to the throne, thereby losing the opportunity to become England's first Black King.
Edward and Joan had two children. One was Edward, who died in infancy and was therefore ineligible to be king. The other was Richard, also known as Richard II, who succeeded to the throne only to abdicate in favor of Henry IV, Part 1.
Following Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 came Henry V, then Henry VI parts 1, 2, and 3, and then finally Richard III.
Richard III made himself King of England on June 26, 1483, by killing everyone else who wanted to be king. It was a clever strategy, especially for a hunchback, but it only provided his successor an example to use against him two years later.
(I won't mention that in the June 26 briefing, so you'll have to remember it yourself. I should also mention that many scholars believe that Richard III wasn't a hunchback, and some believe he never killed anyone, but they've obviously never seen the play by Sir Francis Bacon.)
* * *
On June 15, 1520, Pope Leo X (no relation to Malcolm or the Generation) excommunicated Martin Luther with a papal bull. Pope Leo X is famous for his use of bulls, although not quite as famous as Catherine the Great for her use of horses.
On June 15, 1752, Benjamin Franklin flew a kite in a thunderstorm to prove his now famous theory that lightning is some powerful shit.
Birthdays & Holidays
June 13 is the birthday of Malcolm McDowell (1943), Christo (1935), Paul Lynde (1926), and William Butler Yeats (1865), and it's Flag Day in Palau.
June 14 is the birthday of Steffi Graf (1969), Yasmine Bleeth (1968), Boy George (1961—when does he become Man George?), Jerzy Kosinski (1933), Burl Ives (1909), and Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811), and is celebrated as a national Day of Mourning in Estonia, Liberation Day in the Falkland Islands, and Flag Day in the USA.
June 15 is the birthday of Courteney Cox (1964), Helen Hunt (1963), Jim Belushi (1954), Waylon Jennings (1937), and Mario Cuomo (1932). It's Father's Day in the United States and Valdemar's Day in Denmark.
But you knew that.
Enjoy the weekend!
© 2003, The Moron's Almanac