The history of the Rosenkrantz Tower dates back to around 1270. The tower grew taller and taller over the centuries, to send warnings of fear to uninvited military guests and to make a political statement towards the Hanseatic League. The view from the tower is amazing. From the rooftop one can see the whole town, the harbour, the coastline and the islands off the coast of Bergen. In the basement of the Rosenkrantz Tower there is a dungeon. The people kept there did not have much else in view than torture or execution.
The Rosenkrantz Tower received its name from the governor on Bergenhus Fort and Castle in the period 1559-68, Erik Ottesen Rosenkrantz. Erik Rosenkrantz was one of the wealthiest men in Denmark-Norway, and his fortune increased even more when he married the young girl Hedvig Hardenberg. However, Erik Rosenkrantz is not remembered in Bergen neither for his fortune nor for his marriage, but for being the one man who created considerable changes in the Hanseatic’s power situation.
When Erik Rosenkrantz arrived in Bergen in 1559 as a freshly appointed governor it was already many years since he had pointed out the Hanseatic problem to the king. He had warned the king in a letter against the Hanseatic’s reluctance against participating in the community, and had also pointed out their protectionist economic practice. When Rosenkrantz reinforced the tower his intents were clear: He demonstrated the twin-nation’s power and strength to face the Hanseatics. It was said that Rosenkrantz was not very happy to accept the king’s appointment – the king had to make him a considerable offer before he agreed to become governor in Bergen.
The building is of course much older than Erik Rosenkrantz. During Magnus the Lawmender’s reign in the 1270s a castle was built, consisting of a rounded stone tower with a moat and a drawbridge. The tower has been mentioned as the “castle by the sea”, and served as both residence and defence tower. The king even had a chapel made in the tower. Over the years the tower has been rebuilt and expanded, among others by Christoffer Valkendorf (governor 1556-60), who had to have the tower repaired after an explosion in the gun powder room. Erik Rosenkrantz repaired and expanded the tower even more during his period in office, and left it more or less as we see it today.
The dungeon in the tower is in the cellar. The dungeon was probably built and taken into use around 1500. It may have been built during Christoffer Valkendorf’s time as governor, but most likely it was built by one of his predecessors. The dungeon is approximately 4 by 1 meters, and the ceiling is high enough to allow a man to stand upright. The dungeon is very dark and gloomy. Light is only let in through a little crack in the walls.
Probably the dungeon was used for prisoners who were considered very violent, and who belonged to society’s lower segments. After examening the tower, architect Peter Blix reported in 1884: “Old people are still able to remember the man who last sat in this hole”. Maybe we can assume that the dungeon was still used early in the 19th century?
There are also some reports indicating that there existed other prisons at Bergenhus Fort and Castle. King Magnus the Lawmender’s City Law mentions “Myrkestofa” – the dark room, and even a “ransack house”. Edvard Edvardsen, who wrote his history of Bergen some time in the second half of the 17th century, talks about “two tall towers containing several prisons in the cellars”. He also mentions King Håkon Håkonsson’s reconstruction of the castle early in the 13th century “when there again was a castle, where prisons existed to put people in, where even large garrisons and many people were protected.”