Aero, 250 years of separation from Schleswig!
In year 2000, Ærø celebrated 250 years of separation from the Duchy Schleswig, but not many know what actually happened 250 years ago, and what significance it had for the inhabitants on the island. As a matter of fact, the separation from Schleswig did not happen for the whole island at the same time, and in many ways the connection with Schleswig did not actually come to an end until 1864. In the following I shall give a brief summary of the chequered path Ærø has followed for the past 800 years.
Ærø during the Middle Ages:
Since before King Valdemar II Sejr, who ruled Denmark from 1202 to 1241, Ærø was the personal property of the King, and the island was passed on by inheritance from one relative of the Crown to another.
Around 1240, a daughter of King Valdemar II named Sofie married Count Johan I of Brandenburg (Brandenburg is a Town near Berlin in Germany), and Ærø was given to Count Johan as part of Sofies dowry.
The island remained in the ownership of this family until 1316, when Count Valdemar of Brandenburg endowed the island to a danish nobleman Drosten Laurids Jonsen, who managed to keep on to the island until 1331, where he had to mortgage the island to Count Gert (Gerhard III). This was the start of Ærø´s connection with the Duchy of Schleswig.
In 1410 the Danish King, Erik VII of Pommern (Pomerania), who ruled Denmark from 1412 to 1436 conquered the islands of Als and Ærø, but after King Erik left Denmark the State Council gave Ærø back to the Duke.
In 1460 the Duke died and left no family to inherit his possessions, and the Duchy of Schleswig was taken over by King Christian I of Denmark.
In 1564 King Frederik II left 1/3 of his possessions in the Duchy of Schleswig and Holstein, including Ærø, to his younger brother Duke Hans the Younger of Sønderborg. During this period the official language on the island was German, but among the inhabitants this language was not spoken. The farmers on the island, as in the rest of Denmark at that time, were not owners of their farms, but had to purchase a copyhold of a farm. A copyhold could either be for the farmers lifetime or it could be inherited by his children. Further each farmer had to do villeinage, and work a certain number of days each year at the Duke's manor.
Duke Hans established 3 manors on Ærø, by demolishing a large number of farms. The 3 manors were: "Graasten, Søbygaard and Gudsgave."
The farmers were also heavily taxed, and had to deliver part of the yield to the Duke. During Duke Hans the Younger's reign, the farms on Ærø were more or less standardized in size, and although some farms were divided, many of the farms remained at this standard size well into this century.
The Duke of Aero:
When Duke Hans died in 1622, his oldest son Christian inherited Ærø, and in 1624 he established the manor Wuderup. The land for this manor had originally been owned by the church. Duke Christian moved to Ærø and set up his residence at Graasten Manor.
Duke Christian moved into Graasten together with his concubine Cathrine Griebel, and they had a daughter Sofie Hedvig, named after the Duchess of Glücksburg (Duke Christian's mother). In 1629 Duke Christian built a new and quite large house in Ærøskøbing, which he later gave to Cathrine Griebel by issuing a deed of gift, stipulating that it be free of all taxes. The small island of Dejrø where the Duke kept rabbits, was given to Cathrine Griebel as well.
Duke Christian´s house in Aeroskobing was located here. Building has been rebuilt.
During the reign of Duke Christian the flag of Ærø was used. The flag has 3 colours, golden yellow, sea-green and red, and measured approximately 9 x 9 feet. The flag is shown on several pages of this web.
When Duke Christian died in 1633, Ærø was divided between his 3 brothers and a nephew.
In 1634 Cathrine Griebel married Peder Christensen Pilegaard, who had been a Valet for Duke Christian. Peder Pilegaard established himself as a merchant in Ærøskøbing. A granddaughter of this couple married Johan Jensen Groth, and they are the first ancestors of the Ærø branch of the Groth Family.
The agreement to divide the island between 4 of Duke Christians relatives, was signed in Eckernförde on February 6, 1634, and the result was that:
- Duke Joachim Ernst of Plön inherited Søbygaard.
In 1729 this part of the island was taken over by King Frederik IV, together with Gudsgave.
- Duke Johan Christian of Sønderborg inherited Gudsgave near Marstal. In 1684 this part of the island was taken over by the Plön line of the family, and then had the same ownership as Søbygaard. In 1729 King Frederik IV took over this part of the island.
- Duke Frederik of Nordborg inherited Graasten, but sold it to his brother, the Duke of Glücksburg in 1636.
- Duke Philip of Glücksburg inherited Ærøskøbing.
He bought the house that Duke Christian had given to Cathrine Griebels, and in 1638 he demolished several farms in the village of Stokkeby and established his manor called Købinghof. In 1636 he bought Graasten from his brother Duke Frederik. The manor at Voderup was likewise the property of the Glücksburg line of Dukes. Due to a poor economy, Duke Frederik was forced to sign over his possessions on Ærø, Graasten and Voderup (Købinghof had been sold to the citizens in Ærøskøbing), to King Frederik V, on December 23, 1749.
In the years between 1633 to 1750 the changing Dukes created many problems for the inhabitants on the island as they could not freely move from one part of the island to another. Various Dukes prohibited the population to move from one rural village to another. It was important for the Dukes that all the farms were populated, in order to collect taxes on their property.
During Duke Frederik's reign from 1729 to 1750 the citizens in Ærøskøbing were given many trade privileges, and even rented the customs duty for 220 Rd. annual payment. In the Danish Kingdom the customs duty was increased to very high levels, in order to protect local industrial development, but since Ærøskøbing was not a part of the Kingdom, no customs duty was levied on goods going in or out of the harbour. This obviously meant a trade boom for the merchants in Ærøskøbing, who smuggled all kinds of goods into the surrounding Danish islands.
This became too much for the danish government, and the result was that King Frederik V bought the remaining part of the island for 400.000 Rd. Officially the island was handed over by Duke Frederik's officials on March 4. and 5. 1750. The King himself did not visit his new property until June 23. and 24. 1750, when he arrived by ship to Ærøskøbing.
Ærø after 1750:
Although Ærø was bought by the King and incorporated into the royal part of Schleswig, the legal language became German. This had during the previous years been Danish. The church and school language remained Danish, which was important for the Danish national feeling among the inhabitants.
Of significant importance for the inhabitants on the island was that they could benefit from the land reforms between 1765 to 1787. The manors were divided into smaller parcels and sold to local farmers. This created a number of new villages on the island and absorbed some of the population increase, that came with the better economic times.
In 1787 the King gave all the farmers ownership of their farms, and they were now able to sell and purchase land freely.
After 1800 the separatist movement of Schleswig - Holstein grew in Holstein and part of Southern Jutland, where one part of the population wanted to leave the Danish Crown, while the other part wanted to remain as part of Denmark. Eventually this resulted in a war from 1848 to 1850, which was won by Denmark. After the peace treaty Ærø continued to be a part of Schleswig until 1864, where the same issue resulted in a new war between Denmark and Austria-Prussia.
This time the combined powers of Austria and Prussia was too much for the Danish army, and at Dybbøl the two German powers won the final battle. The war resulted in the loss of Schleswig, whereas Ærø remained Danish.
By a law passed on february 16, 1866, Ærø was incorporated as a part of Svendborg County (effective April 1, 1867).
As can be seen from the above, it is no easy thing to claim which year to celebrate the islands return to the Danish kingdom. Part on the island was bought by the King in 1729 and the rest in 1749, officially in 1750, but remained as a part of Schleswig until 1864.
In 1950, 200 years after the King bought the last part of Ærø, a stone was erected at Olde in commemoration of the date, cfr. picture above, and it is on this spot that Queen Margrethe II in year 2000 attended a celebration.
Copyright by Ib Christensen, June 2000