Shipwreck: The Floating Fortress

In 1486, the King sat at his table writing letters in Latin, conducting the business of the day. The desk in his quarters is bolted down to the floor, and the ink sloshes in the bottle. He is in a floating fortress, a castle of a ship; the Gribshunden.

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Armed with at least 11 iron cannons, the floating fortress is in service to the Danish King, King Hans, also known as John I of Denmark and Norway, and John II of Sweden. He ruled during the late middle ages, from 1481 to 1513, and visited the far reaches of his kingdom in the Gribshunden.

The ship was named after a mythical beast, the Griffin-Hound. A griffin is an eagle and lion hybrid and when mixed with a menacing hound, the King sailed in a dangerous and fantastic beast of a ship.

Gribshunden wreck

As fierce and as impressive as the floating fortress was, the ship burned and sank while at anchor off the Southern coast of Sweden in 1495. King Hans was not aboard, but many of the men went down with the ship.

The wreck was found in the 1970s but was not identified until 2013. It is in excellent condition because the 30 feet of water it sits in are cold and brackish, thus minimizing the plants and animal species that can damage the wooden vessel.

The excavations of the ship produced silver coins, military gear, weapons, trunks of fine clothing, and all manner of accouterment necessary for a traveling court. In 2021, the galley was excavated revealing

“saffron, cloves, ginger, peppercorns, mustard, caraway, dill… almonds, hazelnuts, blackberries, raspberries, grapes, flax… cucumber… ginger,”

Aristos Georgiou, Newsweek

and inedible henbane. Henbane might have been used as a muscle relaxer, or it might have been on the ship for nefarious reasons. Henbane was a known poison at the time the Gribshunden sank. Some mysteries are lost to history.

Learn more about the Gribshunden with NOVA.

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