Niels Ebbesen, the leader of the Danish peasants who rebelled against the Dutch rule, died in battle at Skanderborg on November 2, 1340. However, another event that occurred earlier in the spring of the same year glorified him. Conducted in the Danish folk ballad “Nils Ebbesen”, it later became the basis for several classic works of Danish literature, including the drama Munch, written by him during the Nazi occupation of Denmark.
The first three acts of the play take place on the territory of the rich manor of Nils Ebbesen in Jutland. At the creek near the house the daughter of the owner Ruth rinses the linen. A young knight Nils Bugge is hovering around her, he has just quarreled with his master, and now he is trying to break a kiss from his daughter, which he can not: the girl is ashamed, and Bugge himself is too clumsy and straightforward. He remains with nothing. A father approaches his daughter, he sets a scarecrow at the creek… from wolves, perfectly aware of the senselessness of this enterprise. But what if the guard dog on his estate became friends with a wolf and, not wanting to fight with him, prefers to pick up the carrion remaining after it.
At the house of the manor appears father Lorenz, a local priest, he is very tipsy: fooling around, he tries to saddle a pig. The wife of Niels Ebbesen Fru Gertrude orders him to go into the house, lie down and sleep. But does Frou Gertrude know what Lorenz said to the young Bugge, who is about to “take care” of Count Gerhard? He told him: his idea is beautiful! And God bless him after that to burn in the eternal flame of hell! War is good! Burn the city, you can build new ones. Kill people, women are still. The tipsy priest is clownish, but his jokes are bitter – he is aware of the impotence of the Danes before Count Gerhard.
Soon, the brotherhood of Nils Ebbesen’s brother-in-law Ove Jose joined the community. He asks the owner the direct question: at the same time he is with Count Gerhard or against him? The Count delivered them from the weak King Kristoffer – that in fact, before, had been displeased with Niels and his wife Gertrud? And the count is an energetic and capable ruler. With him the country will change, the power of the graph will mean for her calmness, order, power and ascent. Gerhard III – unbeatable. Is Nils and his wife against him only because he is Holstein, and not a Dane?
Yes, Niels Ebbesen is against the count, although he is not going to speak out against him, which was what his young and imprudent Bugge was trying to do. Let Owe and others consider Ebbesen by anyone – a coward or a traitor, for him the main thing – that there was no war. Therefore, he refuses to take sides. Is that his firm answer? asks Ove to Jose. Then let him get acquainted with the Holstein officer, his name is Wishinghof, he will henceforth live in the manor near Ebbesen and study the system of Danish agriculture. At the same time he will collect from the local peasants weapons – all these crossbows, arrows, spears, battle axes and swords.
Several months pass. Niels Ebbesen and his tenants celebrate the harvest festival. The estate is full of fun, tranquility and peace. The only one who for some reason is not happy with the holiday is Fru Her labor, she does not believe in external calm and is surprised how her husband can be calm when their country was taken over by an alien? In addition, Frut Gertrud with displeasure looks at Wishinghof’s courtship for his daughter: it seems that they are accepted by her favorably. Wishinghof also captivates the son of Ebbesen, a teenager, admiring his decisive character and the code of chivalry. The holiday is interrupted by the messenger who arrived at the manor: he announces the imminent arrival here of Count Gerhard himself with his five hundred horsemen. Frou Gertrud immediately blows a horn, calling on the peasants – they must give the impudent Holsteins resistance! But the matter does not reach the point of collision: the messenger informs, that the earl is seriously ill, he almost at death and travels on stretchers. According to the law of hospitality, Nils Ebbesen concedes to him a mansion, he himself, along with his children and household members, temporarily moves to a farm that stands nearby to the wasteland.
It takes a few more months. It is time to sow. Nils Ebbesen is dissatisfied with the behavior of his son: he gives him a slap for the expressed desire to become a soldier. “What will young Ebbe do when he conquers the whole earth?” the father asks the son. It is better and safer to take the land off the marshes, draining them. Equally strict is Ebbesen and to Ruth’s daughter, she too readily accepts Wishinghof’s courtship. Does she want her sons to kill people in the future? Generally this spring everyone is unhappy with everyone: in the air there is a prediction of trouble. Fru Gertrud also reprimands his husband. The Holsteiners, in her opinion, have already completely taken over the country; they act now not only rudeness: when it is necessary, they are not averse to joking and can be courteous. The Danes have completely withered: Count Gerhard is exhausted by the disease, but even he, a living dead man,
Father Lorenz comes to the farm. He brings important news with him: Count Gerhard recovered, he left the estate of Ebbesen and went to the town of Randers. But the count did not forget about the local peasants: he ordered them also to go to Randers for military service there.
If this is the case, Nils Ebbesen immediately sets out on his way – he goes to his mansion! He will stop the peasants! Father Lorenz warns Nils: the peasants are unlikely to welcome his return – it’s because Niels ordered them to surrender their weapons to Witinghof. In general, Ebbesen’s peaceableness seems strange to the priest: is not Nils a blessed one? “But does Father Lorenz have the right to talk like this to me?” exclaims Ebbesen. “Probably,” he replies. Not so long ago in the church, where the count himself was among the parishioners, Father Lorentz delivered a sermon in which he denounced the powerful of this world, trampling... on divine and human rights. After the sermon, he expected death. But the Count came to him and praised him: he preached well, it was comforting for the Count to know that the truth in the local places again began to speak in its entire voice. The count is so self-confident, that allows himself indulgence. Speaking with him in human language in vain, he understands only the language of the sword.
After hearing Lorenz, Niels comes to an unexpected decision: he goes to Randers, he will meet there with the count! He can not remain aloof. Literally on these words the house includes his peasant tenants who came to say goodbye. He announces to them about the decision: let them stay at home, he will go to Randers and agree with the count! Peasants do not dissuade Ebbesen, but swear to protect him, it would be a weapon. And the weapon is: it is hidden behind the barrels of beer in the warehouse in the church of the priest-drunk Lorentz. Ebbesen and the peasants set out on their journey. Witinghof, who follows him, is arresting the priest and trying to find out from him where and for what purpose Nils left. Lorenz jokes, and then Wishinghof resorts to torture: from the most pleasant guest and Friend of the house, he instantly turns into an occupier and executioner. Faced with a scene of torture, Ruth calls his lover a lover. He throws Lorentz and leaves for Randers – to be with the count.
In Randers. Deep night. Count Gerhard is breathing heavily. He is awakened to the mass at night. The count is unhappy: he was prevented from sleeping – someone shouted in the street. He orders to find and hang the screamer. The count strictly monitors the departure of the mass: there would be no omissions. God can not be deceived. Others can. But not God. They are interested to know if the move from the village has benefited him. Yes, it feels good. And now I can bring it to the end. He will create a strong state. On the basis of mercy, justice and peace. A count is merciful, for it destroys only that which has become obsolete. He is fair, because he recognizes the winner of the strongest. He carries peace with him, for peace is possible only when one rules, and the rest obey him.
Introduce Niels Bugge. The earl orders him to hang. Young Bugge came to Randers, taking advantage of his issued, the count, a letter of protection? Well, Bugge was stupid.
The messenger enters the Count’s bedroom. He loudly announces: Gerhard’s Holstein troops took the city of Ribe and burned Kolding. Great news! Who is this messenger? Did the count came to Nils Ebbesen? Perhaps he wants the Count to release the peasants? No, the count will send them to the most dangerous places, where they usually do not return. And Nils will be sent there – that’s why he does not order him to hang it right away. Danes are generally useless people. They do not want to interfere in anything, always strive to stay on the sidelines. They refuse to fight for a great goal, but willingly get involved in small swards. They have neither a sense of unity nor responsibility, they are gluttonous and self-satisfied. The Count does not know any Dane who has a strong will and was capable of a brave act.
“By what right does the Count judge Danes?” Ebbesen asks him a question. “By the right of the winner”, – the count answers. Nils Ebbesen snatches the sword hidden on his chest. From the entrance hall the peasants rush to help him. The guard of the graph is pushed aside. He is defended only by the brother-in-law of Nils Ebbesen Ove Jose, and Nils does not hesitate to kill him. The Count’s suite is running, but he himself, trying to escape, appeals to the rules of civilized behavior: you can not attack the robbers, as Nils Ebbesen does, they can still agree, let the young Bugge be the mediator between them. Among other things, he, Count Gerhard, is in a foreign country, he is a foreigner, sick and defenseless. “By what right does Ebbesen want to kill me?” “By the right of the winner,” he replies. Immediately in the bedroom, the trusty adviser and spy of Count Wishinghof was killed.
The battlefield. There is a thick fog on it. A clatter of weapons and horse trampling are heard. Screams that Holsteiners are running. In the foreground – Ruth and Frou Gertrud, they are looking for Niels. Fra Gertrud is almost sure: her husband was killed. There can be no other, because he went with a handful of peasants against Count Gerhard himself and his whole army! How she regrets that she pushed him to it! “No,” says Father Lorenz, who is accompanying the women, “you should not feel sorry for Niels, but be proud of him.” If he died, then with honor. However, the priest is sure – Ebbesen is alive. The travelers run into a fog on a lonely hut and enter it. Nils Ebbesen appears on horseback. Deadly tired, he climbs off his horse and hastily wipes the sword on the grass. He is noticed by Father Lorenz. “Is the count’s blood really as red as the others?” he asks. Ebbesen admits: he killed the count and blew his sword blood, he tarnished his shield and the honor of Denmark: for he killed an unarmed man! But Lorenz justifies him: the war is on, Count Gerhard himself started it, and one devil on earth became less.
The mistress of the hut is a middle-aged woman. Lorentz asks if she can find anything in the house, they are very hungry. The woman had only two small breads, stored for children. But she will give one of them, if it’s true, that Nils Ebbesen killed the bald-hated count.
The people are going. Young Bugge addresses people with speech. A long and thorny path lies in front of the Uithians. But now they have the courage to go through it. Nils Ebbesen not only struck their enemy – he returned to his fellow believers. And from now on, whenever the Danes lose their courage, a single mention of his name will lift their spirit.
To the young Bugge’s speech, Ebesben responds briefly. He always wanted to live in peace with his neighbors. But in order to live, you need to be free.