She will lose her head, and will then be
Tragic 150th anniversary of the 19 year old
girl who was executed for "burning down the town"
On March 14th one hundred and fifty years ago
the result of one of the most tragic trials in Hobro's history
drew to a close, as 19 year old Ane Katherine Bjerregaard was
executed that day on the brown hill outside Hobro.
The young girl was a servant at Jens
Mikkelsen's, the grocer and distiller at the big grocery store
on the west side of Adelgade (now number 42). She had
taken a few yards of linen and various other small things from
him. The grocer discovered the theft and made the girl
confess, and threatened to throw her out of her job.
The girl then presumably got the desperate
idea that a fire would create so much confusion that the theft
would be forgotten, and therefore she set fire to the store
without considering that she might bring a frightful
catastrophe on Hobro, which had recently been devastated by a
huge fire which had reduced half the town to ashes.
The fire spread so quickly from the grocer's
house to the neighboring houses, and the result was that the
other half of Hobro lay in ashes, and in the middle of winter
half the town's inhabitants were left without a roof over
their heads. Many of the people had to move away,
reducing the number of people living in the town, the effect
of which was apparent for many years.
An extra court was set up in Hobro for the
trial, and the five judges, consisting of the town's bailiff
and four of the town's most distinguished men, sentenced her
to death on 13th of July 1813 and cited among other things as
a reason for the harsh sentence "the immortality of the deadly
arson that she had committed was increased because she had
witnessed the misery caused by the earlier fire on the 19th of
August 1812, and this should have created such an impression
on her that she should not have been the cause of another
The county court in Vibørg upheld the
verdict, and said "The sentence of the court is that Anne C.
N. Bjerregaard be beheaded and that her body be burnt as she
deserves, that she be fined 40 lod in silver payable to
those whose property was harmed, that she forfeit to the crown
any inheritance which she would have been due to receive, and
that she pay the cost of the legal prosecution and resultant
On Decemember 16th 1813, the High Court
ruled that the sentence would stand.
The reason that the punishment was so severe
was due the fact that a fire in those days was usually an
immeasurable catastrophe, and in Danish Law it says "If a man
sets fire to another's house or wood on purpose it is deadly
arson" and will incur the most severe punishment that the law
King Frederik VII had the power to alter the
sentence, but the king confirmed the sentence and it was
decided that the execution should take place on March 14th
In the evening of March 10th the young girl
arrived from Randers where she had been imprisoned for most of
the time. At the same time the executioner arrived, and
the bailiff Rommedahl had great difficulty in arranging the
necessary helpers, the so-called "nightmen"
The "nightmen" in Mariager and Hørbyrefused
to assist and it wasn't until the last moment that they
managed to get hold of "nightman" Rasmus Hansen and his wife
from Viborg, who assisted with the execution, which took place
on the brown hill in Vester Bakker outside Hobro.
In order to burn the girl's body, it was
decided at a meeting of the town council on March 3rd, that
four of the the grocers in Hobro, including Jens Mikkelsen,
should each arrange to provide a load of firewood, from near
Mariager abbey to spare the town further expense.
Because it was expected that many people
would want to witness the execution, the bailiff had intended
to call in various men from Skjellerup, Nørre Onsild and Hobro
to keep order, but the authorities in Randers decided it would
be more sensible to send military assistance and the dragoons
came to Hobro to keep peace and order during the execution.
On March 14th Ane Katherine was taken
through the town from her place of detention on Store Torv,
and by her side was pastor Spur, who administered the last
rites, and stood by her side when the moment of execution
About the execution, the bailiff wrote to a
friend in Aalborg "Yesterday we witnessed a dreadful scene.
The unhappy girl who set fire to Hobro on February 2nd 1813
was beheaded and burnt on a bonfire".
After the execution there was an
embarrassing incident when the "nightman" wanted to undress
the body and take her clothes, which he thought he was
entitled to. He was told that he could have her apron,
headwear and shoes, but that any further undressing would be
A somber memory has naturally occupied
people's thoughts, and in 1885 under the pseudonym "X" (editor
Hans Jacob Hansen of Hobro published a story of "The girl who
set fire to Hobro". The story is not based on fact, and
the product of a fertile imagination.
The event was recorded for posterity when
teacher HJ. Schmidt published a little factual historical book
on the circumstances surrounding the fire and the execution -
the first of his works of local history, which led to a rich
After the war a choral work called "Maiden
Anne of Hobro" was staged by organist Aage Dyrholm, who had
also written the music. It was a fine choral work which
was beautifully staged, but it does not follow the historical
facts. It was characterized by sentimentality and was
intended to restore the girl's reputation.
The coral work let to a road in Hobro being
named after her: Anne Cathrinesvej, in the Højlunds area which
is near the brown hill where the drama was played out.
throughout the years, teacher HJ. Schmidt
has researched the story further, and in his archives of the
town's history there is now so much material that the sad old
case must now be considered to be fully illuminated, including
the circumstances surrounding what today is considered to be a
A set of iron shackles with tiny wrist loops
still hangs in Hobro museum, and it is thought that these are
the chains which Anne Catherine bore on her last journey to
the brown hill.
To read the full story, please read a book called "selvejerbondens datter"
written by Nicoline Kirkegaard in 1905. Ane
Kathrine Bjerregaard was the daughter of Niels Nielsen Bjerregaard
first marriage and had just bought the farm Bjerregaard.
The book is telling a slightly different Ane Kathrines story.
Her father was a strong man and the family was poor in the
beginning. The story changes a bit and it claims that she came to the town Hobro and Ane
Kathrine Bjerregaard was
said to have stolen some linen, which was not true. In anger
she put the house where she was serving, on fire and
unfortunately half of the town burned down too.
execution was one of the last in Denmark.
Thank you to Helle Nielsen and Sonja and
Richard Cole for bringing this story to the family site.