The main stage: Gribskov Forest and the Great Deer Park

In the 1600s, the King owned Gribskov Forest and the Great Deer Park, which formed part of the Royal estate in North Zealand. Here, the King had exclusive hunting rights and the forests served as an extra larder. Furthermore, hunting was a pastime favoured by kings and an important symbol of power.

When Christian V introduced par force hunting to Denmark and established numerous kilometres of hunting rides in Gribskov Forest and the Great Deer Park, the forests were transformed into a hunting landscape, which provided a backdrop for the splendour and might of the absolutist Kings. The landscape and the hunt became symbols of power, which served to impress subjects, nobility and distinguished foreign guests alike.

A grand plan

In the 1600s, Gribskov Forest and the Great Deer Park were part of a large contiguous area of forest around Frederiksborg Castle, where there was a large amount of game. From 1590, it served as the King’s hunting grounds. The terrain was hilly, gravelly and speckled with small lakes and marshes, so it was potentially lethal to stray from the hunting rides on horseback in the forests. In 1618-20, Christian IV made the Great Deer Park into a hunting park and pasture for the horses from the stud farm at Frederiksborg. The Great Deer Park was enclosed with a beautiful stone wall, one of whose functions was to keep farmers’ livestock out of the area.

In the 1680s and 1690s, Christian V transformed the forests around Frederiksborg Castle by constructing many kilometres of par force hunting rides. The rides formed star and grid shapes in a beautiful geometric design, which was based on the most advanced scientific advances of the era. This led to the Great Deer Park and Gribskov Forest becoming part of Christian V’s grand plan for the North Zealand forests.

The hunting rides in the Great Deer Park and Gribskov Forest were established as one integrated system, with the King’s Star in the Great Deer Park at its centre. From here, the geometric system of hunting rides branched out far into Gribskov Forest. Nowadays, little remains of the forests between the Great Deer Park and Griskov Forest, as urban development has encircled the two areas, but at the end of the 1600s, numerous par force hunting rides were constructed, connecting the Star in Gribskov Forest with the King’s Star in the Great Deer Park.

We cannot be entirely sure who truly initiated the plan and conceived the complex network of hunting rides, but it is highly likely that the King received some help. The system of hunting rides was a prestigious feat of engineering, which required technical and mathematical expertise that probably surpassed the King’s own abilities.

Many miles of hunting rides

In the 1680s and 1690’s, Denmark was at peace with its long-standing adversary Sweden, but the King still needed to maintain a standing army in order to defend against any future attacks.  The soldiers were ordered into the North Zealand forests where they built hunting rides instead of fighting.

With shovels, hoes and axes, the diligent soldiers battled their way through Gribskov Forest and the Great Deer Park. For the most part, the design of the system of rides did not take obstacles in the landscape into consideration. The roads were perfectly straight and laid out in a geometric pattern. Therefore, tree roots and large boulders had to be removed, and dams consisting of tons of earth had to be built in swampy or wet areas so that horses, hounds and hunters would be able to move through the landscape without getting their feet wet.

For the King, this undertaking was a matter of subjugating nature and proving that he was mightier than the forest. The final result was just as magnificent as the King had envisaged. Mile upon mile of hunting rides was constructed, and the wild nature of Gribskov Forest and the Great Deer Park was tamed. The rides were ideal for par force hunting. Now hunters, horses, hounds and, not least, the King were able to traverse the forest unimpeded and navigate easily during the hunt.

Par force hunting in Gribskov Forest and the Great Deer Park

The hunting rides were constructed for the form of par force hunting that Christian V had learned in France while he was still Crown Prince. Hordes of hunting hounds, hunters wearing brightly coloured uniforms and majestic horses took part in the hunt. The King was the Master of the Hunt. It was he who led the morning meet that was always held before the horns sounded to start the hunt.

Before each hunt, a morning meet was held – a rendez-vous.  In Gribskov Forest and the Great Deer Park, the morning meet may have been held at the King’s Star. The hunt itself consisted of several hours of breakneck activity and lasted until the quarry was exhausted.

The rides divided Gribskov Forest and the Great Deer Park into small triangular segments. This segmentation allowed hunters to survey the landscape more easily in order to observe the day’s quarry. In the intersections between the rides, hunters, horses and hounds would wait and replace those who were already hunting, so there were always fresh hunters ready to continue the chase.
Finally, the exhausted quarry was “fixed”, i.e. held in place by the hounds. Ideally, the quarry would be fixed in one of the stars or at an intersection of rides, but in practice, this was rarely the case. The stag would often head towards water or into a thicket where it felt safer. Now, the King could deliver the coup de grace. This was supposed to take place in front of a large crowd of distinguished guests, because par force hunting was primarily a display of splendour and power put on for the sake of the spectators. During the hunt, guests could ride alongside the hunt or observe the chase.

Frederiksborg Castle and Fredensborg Castle

From 1560 onwards, Frederiksborg Castle was central to the North Zealand royal estate. The current main building was constructed by Christian IV in the early 1600s. The castle provided easy access to Gribskov Forest and the Great Deer Park, and the King often resided at Frederiksborg while he was hunting. Many of the distinguished hunting banquets that concluded the par force hunts were held at the Bath House Palace, which is located in the Frederiksborg Castle estate.

From 1680-89, Christian V built a new Audience Chamber at Frederiksborg Castle. The previous Audience Chamber had burned down in 1665. Christian V’s new Audience Chamber was a prime example of Danish Baroque architecture, and maps from around 1685 show that the King had planned to link it to the system of hunting rides around Frederiksborg. According to the plan, a dead-straight road would have stretched from the gate below the house to the main hunting rides that linked Gribskov Forest and the Great Deer Park, and a rendez-vous point was supposed to be constructed around 500m away from the Audience Chamber, similar to the one in Jægersborg Allé. However, it was Frederik IV who constructed the ride that linked the two locations when he established his beautiful Baroque garden on the slope opposite the castle. The windows of the Audience Chamber directly overlook the great axis with the forest in the background, and when approaching from the opposite direction on the road from Fredensborg, the first thing visitors see is Christian V’s Audience Chamber. Frederiksborg is hidden by the hill and the garden.

In the 1720s, Frederick IV constructed Fredensborg Castle, a new, modern hunting lodge located to the east of Esrum Lake, on the site where the hunting farm of Østrup had once stood and where there was, prior to construction, a small, old-fashioned hunting palace. It seems that Frederick IV wanted Fredensborg Castle to be linked to the par force hunting landscape: By constructing avenues in the shape of half a star in the Fredensborg Castle Estate and by having the longest of these avenues match up with the main connecting rides on the opposite side of the lake, Frederick IV created a symbolic link to the hunting rides established by his father, Christian V, in Gribskov Forest and the Great Deer Park.