Herlufsholm’s first warden
Birgitte Gøye was born around 1511 as the daughter of squire and seneschal Mogens Gøye and Mette Bydelsbak. Her mother already died in 1512, and Birgitte Gøye was sent to Ringkloster near Skanderborg to be raised as a god-fearing, modest and courteous woman, as was the custom for a lady of the nobility.
During the next years Birgitte Gøye came to live in many places. In 1515 she returned to her father’s household after he had married Margareathe Sture. In 1528 she was in the house of her older sister Sophie Gøye and her husband Mogens Bille. After her sister’s death, Birgitte Gøye lived for a short time with her sister Elline Gøye. She was then called to the court to be a maid for Queen Dorothea. While she was there, she became acquainted with the King’s daughter Anna, who later became Electress of Saxony.
Bethroved to the wrong man
At 14 Birgitte was bethroved - against her will - to Jesper Daa of Enggaard. A bethroval in the 1500s was as binding as a marriage is today and only lacked the blessing of the church. Birgitte Gøye resisted the bethroval for 15 years before she finally managed to have it declared invalid – probably with the help of the Queen, with whom she had a close relationship.
It is likely that Birgitte Gøye met Herluf Trolle at the court. Just a few months after their wedding, Herluf Trolle got the deed to Ringkloster, which Birgitte Gøye had inherited from her father. She had also inherited Sigbritsgaard in Copenhagen and Græsegaard in North Zealand, to which the home estate Hillerødsholm belonged. They made Hillerødsholm their main estate. However, in connection with reforms of the fiefdoms King Frederik II expressed a wish to get Hillerødsholm under the Crown in order to gather the Crown’s possessions in one area. In an exchange of property on May 23, 1565, Herluf Trolle and Birgitte Gøye received Skovkloster near Næstved, which they renamed Herlufsholm.
Childless, but with a home full of children
At Herlufsholm Herluf Trolle and Birgitte Gøye wanted to found a school on the traditions of Christian humanism, the corner stone of their life philosophy. But Herluf Trolle died in a sea battle in the Nordic Seven Years’ War just a month after the foundation in 1565, so Birgitte Gøye became the warden of the school. Her life as a widow was uncertain. In 1566 she had her enfeoffment of Tølløse annulled, and in 1571 she lost her two other estates, Kappelgaard near Køge and Ringkloster near Skanderborg. She could not live at Herlufsholm because she had handed the estate over to the Foundation in order to avoid inheritance claims from relatives. In 1572 she once again returned to Næstved because a relative offered her Black Friars Monastery, and shortly afterwards the Crown gave her an enfeoffment of the manor farm Ydernæs, south of Næstved.
Even though Birgitte Gøye herself did not bear any children, it was mentioned at her funeral that she raised many noble virgins and married them off honestly and well. She was an active benefactor, had a close relationship with the widowed Queen Dorothea and the Electress of Saxony, and had a home that was the center for the Danish nobility - especially the female members. Even after she left Herlufsholm, she was involved in the school. She died in 1574.