Theory: The founder of Nyborg Castle died in the Crusades

18. June 2018 | Nyborg Castle

Knud Prislavsen, who established Nyborg Castle, may have been the military commander who led a might navy on a crusade to the Holy Land, and met his fate there. This theory is presented in a new book about the siege of Acre. 

Nyborg Castle was established by Knud Prislavsen at the end of the 12th century. But he didn’t remain Lord of the Castle at Nyborg for very long. As early as 1193, the castle was taken over by King Knud VI. The new theory points out that this change of proprietors is likely the result of Knud Prislavsen’s death during the seige of the harbour town, Acre, now the city of Akko in Israel, in 1189, on the third Crusade towards Jerusalem.

Military commander of a combined Nordic navy

In a contemporary chronicle of the Crusade, there is a description of a “mighty navy from the northern seas” with 12,000 men on board arriving in Acre in 1189. The chronicle was written by an anonymous English Knight Templar, who took part in the bloody fighting himself. According to him, the navy from the North was led by either a nephew or a cousin of the Danish King - the Latin word, “nepos”, can actually mean both relations.

“Scholars have long discussed who this royal nephew or cousin might be. The only possible candidate is namely Knud Prislavsen,” says department leader at Nyborg Castle, Janus Møller Jensen, PhD. He argues for his theory in an article “Martyrs for the Faith” in the book Acre and its Falls - Studies in the History of a Crusader City, which has just been published.

Knud Prislavsen was a cousin of the Danish king, Knud VI, and he disappears from written sources between 1188 and 1193. And Knud VI has no other cousins or nephews we know of, who could have gone on crusade as early as 1189.

The bloody seige

The goal of the 3rd crusade and the seige of Acre was to recapture Jerusalem, which had fallen into the hands of Sultan Saladin in 1187. Until then, Jerusalem had been in Christian hands since the town had been conquered during the first Crusade in 1099.
According to the English chronicler and Knight Templar, the Danish warriors were especially well-suited to the Crusades. This was because of three things: they had strong bodies, unconquerable courage and a burning religious fervour. In addition, they came from the harsh North, which made them naturally tough.
But the seige of Acre has gone down in history as a very bloody affair. When the town finally fell in 1191, only about 100 of the original 12,000 men were still alive. And the commander, who was the nephew or cousin of the king, was not among the survivors.

International research

Acre and its Falls is edited by John France, an historian specializing in military and Crusades studies. He is a former professor from the University of Swansea and is now the director of the Callaghan Centre for Conflict Studies. It is based upon a series of talks given at an international congress for historians in Amsterdam in 2010. The book can be purchased here.

This theory has previously been put forth in a shorter and more locally angled story in the book Nyborg Then and Now (in Danish) which can be read here.

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