Real Tennis history in Europe

Tennis in Denmark (1597-1800)

The long reign of King Christian IV (1577-1648) was a turbulent period. At the start of his rule Denmark, forming a unity with Norway, enjoyed great prosperity. By the end his irrepressible urge for military expansion left his people impoverished.

In the early seventeenth century Denmark was recognised as the dominant Baltic power, but by the end of his reign this role was gradually taken over by Sweden. During the Thirty-Year War Denmark had to surrender part of Norway to Sweden and was reduced to a second-rate power. In the mid-seventeenth century Sweden’s era was just beginning. The first decade of Christian’s rule was marked by a flurry of palace construction. Between 1596-1600 the king had tennis courts erected at five of his favourite castles: Kronborg, Koldinghus, Frederiksborg, Copenhagen and Skanderborg. Two buildings are still recognisable as former tennis courts: the Teahouse at Frederiksborg Castle and the library at Soro Academy.

Frederiksborg Slot

Kronborg Slot

  • On 6 September Christian commissioned the Danish architect Christian Bernekow with the building of a boldhuset at Kronborg castle in Elsinor (Helsingor). This castle was used by Shakespeare as the setting of his Hamlet. The construction of the tennis court was obviously completed by 18 March 1597, because on this date Bernekow was to proceed with his building activities for another royal tennis court: at Koldinghus castle.
Kronborg Slot

Koldinghus Slot

  • Koldinghus castle’s tennis court was built at the same time as Christian’s boldhuset at Kronborg. It appears that the construction of this court had to be temporarily postponed when the castle partly burnt down in 1597. A record of 1610 shows that tennis was played at this court in 1610. Koldinghus castle went up in flames in 1808, during a siege by Napoleon Bonaparte. We do not know if Napoleon, a keen convert of tennis, was also to be blamed for the destruction of the royal tennis court.

Frederiksborg Slot

  • The commission to build the Frederiksborg tennis court was registered in the royal accounts (Kancelliets Brevboger) on the same day, 18 March 1597, as the boldhuset at Kronborg. It clearly reflects Christian’s great passion for the game. Again Christian Bernikow (or Bernekow) was involved in the construction of this court, which was linked to the stables. Major refurbishment of the court was undertaken in the years 1639-1640. Used as a garden house in the 19th century, and at present as the Castle’s Teahouse (see photo).
Castle's Teahouse

Kobenhavns Slot

  • A third royal tennis court was commissioned on 18 March 1597, the “kongelige boldhus” at Copenhagen’s castle in the Slotsholmen area. Bernikow was obviously too much involed in other royal tennis court constructions, because the accounts identify Jorgen Friborg as the project’s architect. A plan of Copenhagen castle shows the tennis court at the bottom of the drawing, situated just outside the castle moat. Ole Worm, in his study includes a range of references to Copenhagen’s royal tennis court. The building appears to have been extended in the early seventeenth century to cater for the increasing number of racket players, necessitating a larger court.
  • King Frederik IV had a new tennis court built during his reign (c. 1720?). The boldhus can be seen in the view Jan Dirksen made of Copenhagen castle in 1728. The Boldhusstraede in Copenhagen bears witness to the site of the tennis court in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Copenhagen castle was demolished in the 1720s, King Christian VI had a new palace built virtually on the same site on Slotsholmen in 1731, called Christiansborg.

Skanderborg Slot

  • On 26 February 1600 Chistian IV commissioned the construction of his fifth tennis court, at Skanderborg castle. It is recorded in an inventory of 1608 and according to the royal accounts for the castle, new bricks were used for the refurbishment of the tennis court. At present nothing remains of the castle.

Royal Tennis Trainer

  • Jean Dagon served as the royal boldmester from 1624-1668, according to a document drawn up in 1670. He was employed in 1624 for an annual fee of 40 Rdl.

Soro Akademi

  • Soro Kloster was transformed into the Danish Knight’s Academy (dansk ridderakademi) in 1623 on the instigation of Christian IV. The Academy was founded to educate his sons and to provide suitable education for young noblemen. The academy’s tennis court was built in about 1628, modelled on the royal Kronborg boldhus.

The tennis court can be seen in Pa Resens’s Atlas Danicus of 1677. The building appears to be the only seventeenth century tennis court that has survived. The original boldhus now serves as the Soro Academy’s Library (see photo). The building has retained the characteristic rectangular shape of a tennis court (measurements c. 32 x 11 metres, 51 x 17.5 alen). Soro Academy employed a keeper of the tennis court (boldmester) for an annual salary of 60 Rdl.

Soro Akademi Library (on the right), which was a tennis court

Rosenborg Slot

  • After Christian’s death in 1647 his successor King Frederik III had another tennis court built. There is a record of his boldhusconstructed at Rosenborg castle, near the castle’s moat, in 1660.

Boldhus Teatret

  • Copenhagen can pride itself of a tennis court theatre, the Boldhus Teatret. It is located not far from Christiansborg castle which was built under King Christian VI in about 1730. It is not clear if the theatre was once a royal tennis court linked to this castle. The court underwent a major transformation to serve as a theatre.

Source: Ole Worm, ‘Boldhuse i Danemark’, Idraetshistorisk Arborg 1991 (VII, Odense University), pp. 34-47