Knight of Glory

A brief exposé of artefacts from Karl XI’s tournament in 1672.

Engraving of a group of people, one on horseback.
Karl XI as Knight of Glory. The Royal Armoury/SHM (Public Domain).

Behold, the King!

The 17-year-old Karl XI ascended to the throne on 18 December 1672. The solemn occasion was celebrated with several days of festivities organised by the architect Nicodemus Tessin the Elder and the artist David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl. The climax of the festivities was a carousel at the racetrack. Ehrenstrahl was also commissioned to immortalise the proceedings. His drawings were transferred to copperplate by Georg Christoph Eimmart in Nuremberg and printed by Georg Eberdt in Stockholm. The prints show the splendour of the carousel; its remains are in the Royal Armoury.

Engraving of a group of people with instruments.
The Royal Armoury/SHM (Public Domain).

Twelve musicians played to herald the King’s arrival. Six of them played a horn, a buccina, with dragon’s heads and vibrating tongues. Two of the horns are still in the Royal Armoury’s collections.

Circular, dragon-shaped trumpet.
Photo: Helena Bonnevier, the Royal Armoury/SHM (CC BY-SA 3.0).

A play

The carousel was a pre-arranged competition with four quadrilles (teams): the Goths, the Turks, the Poles and the Other European Powers. The Goths, perceived as ancestors of the Swedes and contemporary to the Roman Empire, were dressed distinctively in Roman costumes, presumably because animal skins and coarse wool were not perceived to be as elegant as gleaming brass cuirasses and fluttering standards.

The tournament revolved around King Karl XI, who, dressed as a Roman emperor, succeeded in uniting the Poles and the other European powers against the Turks.

Karl XI rode into “battle” under the name “Equitis Gloriae”, Knight of Glory. As a testament to the King’s power, he was surrounded by several bodyguards. Some carried fasces, symbolic staves carved to resemble a bundle of sticks with an axe in the middle. One of these fasces has survived into the 21st century.

A pole arm of wood and brass.
Photo: Helena Bonnevier, the Royal Armoury/SHM (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Knight of Glory

The King’s costume has, of course, been preserved in full in the Royal Armoury. The breast plate is missing some of its decoration, but the gilded brass is still shining. Whether the missing parts fell off over time or have been stolen by souvenir hunters is uncertain.

A gilt breast plate.
A short-sleeved tunic.
The King’s tunic, which he wore under the cuirass, is in a sorry state. It has been repaired several times down the centuries. It was originally red, but the red dye fades quickly if exposed to light. Photo: Helena BOnnevier, the Royal Armoury/SHM (CC BY-SA 3.0).
Whithe, high-heeled boots.
All the original colour has gone from the boots. Although they were meant to look Roman, they were actually contemporary in appearance. Photo: Helena Bonnevier, the Royal Armoury/SHM (CC BY-SA 3.0).
A sword with a golden handle.
The King’s sword. On the etching, the sword is carried in front of the King. Photo: Helena Bonnevier, the Royal Armoury/SHM (CC BY-SA 3.0).
A gold painted leather helmet.
Without Ehrenstrahl’s images, it is difficult to imagine the splendour of the tournament procession when we look at the artefacts today. Photo: Helena Bonnevier, the Royal Armoury/SHM (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Thus passes the glory of the world.

A romanesque suit of armour.
Photo: Helena Bonnevier, the Royal Armoury/SHM (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Most of the artefacts used in King Karl XI’s carousel are gone forever, turned into historical dust. Karl XI’s reign began in full Baroque splendour. In the history books, however, he is often described as “The Greycoat” because of his modest lifestyle. Which image is true?

Other royal histories