Castle History

The History of Rosenborg Castle

Rosenborg Castle stands today, with its tall towers and its red masonry with sandstone ornaments, as a distinguished example of Christian IV's many building projects, perfect despite many changes during its construction history. The Castle is built in the special Dutch Renaissance style which became typical of Danish buildings during this period. A couple of architects, Bertel Lange and Hans van Steenwinckel, are associated with the Castle. Christian IV's own effort is often discussed but there is no doubt that he came up with many of the ideas.

The history of the Castle goes back to 1606-1607, when the King in a newly laid out park, “The King's Garden” (“Kongens Have”), had a “summerhouse” built. The capital's old medieval castle, Copenhagen Castle, was hardly the ideal residence for a young and ambitious Renaissance ruler. Christian IV preferred Frederiksborg Castle, 35 km away from the city, but it was, of course, more convenient also to have a residence somewhat closer to the capital.

The summerhouse, which today makes up the core of the southern half of Rosenborg, was two storeys, with a spire-crowned stair turret facing the city and two bays to the east. In 1611 a gate tower with a drawbridge was built; it forms the central part of the current gate house.

In 1613-1615 the summerhouse was extended. The present length was thus attained, but there were still only two storeys. There were two bays to the east and a stair turret between them.


The house was habitable from 1615 but construction commenced the following year. The storey containing the Long Hall was added, and the bays were converted into the existing spire-crowned towers. The Great Tower was built on the west side. The building was concluded in 1624 and the same year Christian IV referred to his “Great House in the Garden” as Rosenborg for the first time.

However, the Castle still lacked a suitable entrance to the official chambers on the first and second floors. And that became an urgent matter when Christian IV was to host his son Christian's sumptous wedding to Magdalena Sibylla in 1634. The existing stair turret was torn down and replaced with the current one and an outer double staircase was built, which went from the outer doors at the side towers to the first floor. To begin with, the inner staircase of the turret only connected to the first and second floors. It was only extended to ground level in 1758, when the outer staircase was demolished.

Rosenborg as a Royal residence

Rosenborg was used as a Royal residence until around 1710, when Christian IV's great grandson, Frederik IV, gave it up in favour of other, more up-to-date, summer residences. Rosenborg Castle instead became the setting for the Royal collections. That is the reason for the many well preserved interiors which are quite unique.

In the original arrangement of the Castle the ground floor comprised of the private apartments. The King had the northern part and the Queen lived in the southern part. In the central area there was a transverse entrance hall. From here a wooden staircase led to the first floor, where all of the southern part was taken up by the “Red Hall”, a ballroom in the earliest summerhouse. In the central part there was an antechamber and in the northern part, the King had his audience room. The room division around The Great Hall on the top floor is unaltered. During the reign of Frederik III the King and the Queen exchanged apartments on the ground floor, and the rooms were decorated to be fit for an absolute ruler. Frederik III also had an “ascending chair” (a lift) installed in the North Tower.

Frederik IV was more radical. The transverse hall was divided into the Stone Passage and the Dark Room, which the King had furnished as a conjugal bedroom for the Royal couple. The first storey was changed to its present floor plan.

After the reign of Frederik IV, Rosenborg was only used as a Royal residence twice; both times were emergencies: after Christiansborg Palace burned down in 1794 and during the British attack on Copenhagen in 1801.