Sunday, September 17, 2006

Crafting sanity in the 17th century


When I was younger I used to read a lot about notable Danish princesses and noble women. One who's story I was especially taken with was Leonora Christine. She was the daughter of the Danish king Christian IV. You can read more about her story in this Wikipedia article.

She lead a very interesting life: although not a princess, she lived at the court, married a very important man, at some point she was pretty much the first lady of the kingdom. But partly because of her husband's dealings and partly because of her bad relationship with her sister-in-law (the Queen) she ended up spending almost 22 years in prison in Blåtårn (The Blue Tower).

And that is the part of her story that always entrigued me the most. She was pretty much in solitary confinement, although she did have a string of maids to keep her company over the years - she was the former king's daughter after all, plus the maids were probably told to spy on her...

What makes her so special is how she occupied herself. At the beginning of her emprisonment she was allowed only the very basic, and she had no books, quill/ink or handwork. But she managed to keep herself busy despite being denied any tools. She were not even allowed to have a knife, the warden would cut her food for her!

When she was told that her husband had died (and she had no idea of knowing if this was true or not), she was distraught and in her memoir Jammersminde [the link takes you to a Danish version] (A Memoir of Woe) she tells how her cross was so much harder to bear because she didn't have anything to while away the time.

But then she thought to unravel some silk ribbon from her night gown and used that to embroider some small flowers on a piece of cloth (she actually had a needle; one she had hidden in her dress I think). When she ran out of the silk, she tore out threads from her sheets and used that.

When the maid asked her what she was going to do once the threads were all used, Leonora replied that she would find something to use, even if she'd have to wait for birds to bring it to her!

The maid asked her if she could use a broken spoon, and she could, with a shard of broken glass she fashioned a stick with ridges in that she used to make ribbon. Out of the lid of a tin pitcher she made a an inkwell.

To entertain herself and the maid she also made dice from some nuts and a piece of chalk. The chalk she also used to draw on her table and write poetry and psalms.

I was fascinated by her story (heck, I still am!) - I read all the books about her that I could get my hands on. And I think that - apart from the obvious story of harship and overcoming hardship - a lot of that fascination was with how she was able to create something from nothing. Or almost nothing. I don't think everyone could have done this, had they been in her situation.

She saw the possibilities of discarded and broken things and used them to keep herself busy and entertained. And I think that also shows defiance against her captors and her situation. That she was determined to give in to the hopelessness of the situation and let her spirit be broken.

She created things, she kept her hands busy. She was able to control a little part of her day and likely be less bored because of it. She crafted her sanity, I guess you could say. What an inspiration.

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