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17th century war story to be translated

Translation of Danish/Norwegian soldier’s Latin account of King William's campaign in Ireland will finally give recognition to a key text in Irish, British and Danish war history

That Danish (or Norwegian) fighting men have ever fought in Ireland will come as a surprise to most people.

But they have actually done it twice. First as a wave of Viking attackers more than a thousand years ago, second as a contingent in the employ of the Dutch usurper William of Orange who was made King of Britain as William III.

Now, a team of historians and Latinists from the University of Copenhagen is translating and editing an account by a private soldier and former University of Copenhagen student, Andreas Claudianus, who fought under William in the Danish mercenary army in Ireland.

Objective account

Claudianus was a Norwegian soldier in a regiment lent by the Danish-Norwegian King Christian V to King William III.

According to Kjeld Galster, an ex-army officer and a PhD in military history, Claudianus, as a foreign mercenary, had no stake in praising the command of King William, thereby giving the account objectivity.

»This chap doesn’t write to please King William, he writes, if anything, to praise Danish arms,« he explains to the University Post.

Soldier was poor, did not finish studies

The Latin text, which Kjeld Galster and his two colleagues Morten Aagaard Olsen and Rasmus Wichmann are editing and translating into English, has not been referenced in many other historical works. It offers a new insight into a war that later helped define Irish and British history.

After the war in Ireland, Claudianus came to Denmark and started as a student of theology at the University of Copenhagen. But the studies didn’t go well for him – maybe he couldn’t afford them – and he died as a poor teacher on the island of Fyn.

What has made his name go down in history is the account that he finished in 1717. »He originally intended it to be a history of Ireland, but instead it took the form of an account of the Williamite campaigns of 1689-91,« explains Kjeld Galster.

See a gallery of the text and the Irish battlefields here.

Royal dedication

The flowery six-page Latin dedication to the Danish-Norwegian king, at time of publication Frederik IV, is a text worthy of examination in itself.

»Perhaps Claudianus was hoping to get some money out of his work, but as far as we know, he never got anything for this,« explains Kjeld Halster.

So what on earth were Danish troops doing fighting a war between rival royal houses on the island of Ireland?

King needed cash

According to Kjeld Galster, it was mainly about cash.

»The Danish King had militarily won a war against Sweden – though France had prevented him from cashing in the dividend – and he didn’t want to let his army go home until he had recouped his financial losses. He started negotiations with William to lease out 10,000 men.«

In the end, 7,000 troops of cavalry and infantry crossed the North Sea, then the moors of the north of England, before embarking again to cross for Ireland. The regiment fought at the Battle of the Boyne, all the way through to the more decisive Battle of Aughrim.

No ideological distortion

The Williamite wars later took on propaganda significance for the struggle between Protestant and Catholic, Crown and Parliament. But Claudianus’ account seems to be free of all bias.

»There is no ideological distortion of the facts, as far as I can see,« says Kjeld Galster, admitting that this, his conclusion, is yet based on a thin foundation. Another historian, John Jordan, believes that Claudianus indeed had religious prejudice, yet gave a fair account of the fighting.

Either way, Claudianus’ account simply »describes the life of a private soldier, and with comments on his superiors’ orders,« Kjeld Galster concludes.

See a gallery of the text and the Irish battlefields here.

Latin terms for war

Morten Aagaard Olsen is the Latinist that is translating the texts. Academic texts were normally authored in what is called Neo-Latin at this time.

»My motivation primarily is the linguistic part, the language itself. It is interesting to see how the national languages affect the Latin, and also see the development in the Latin. Neo-Latin is a development from the Renaissance and is a look back to Virgil and Cicero to try and eradicate all the medieval Latin,« says Morten. This text is typical neo-Latin, he says, adding that, so far, he has not found any Danish’isms.

His colleague Rasmus Wichmann, a historian, and the third researcher on the project, notes how Claudianus views the present through the lens of the Latin-terminology of the ancient past.

»Ranks for example, in the Latin, refer to Roman ranks, with a section commander being named a ‘dux’«.

The new translation offers the original Latin text and the translation into English in parallel, so expert readers can compare.

The text is scheduled to be published in an Irish or Canadian publisher at the end of 2013.

See a gallery of the text and the Irish battlefields here.

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