Anne of Denmark (1574–1619)

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Anne of Denmark (1574–1619)

Danish princess, queen of Scotland, first queen consort of Great Britain, and patron of the arts. Name variations: Anna of Denmark. Born Anna at Skanderborg Castle, Jutland, Denmark, on December 12 (some sources cite October 14), 1574; died at Hampton Court, near London, on March 2 or 4, 1619; interred at Westminster Abbey, London; daughter of Frederick II (b. 1534), king of Denmark and Norway (r. 1559–1588), and Sophia of Mecklenburg (1557–1631); sister of Christian IV, king of Denmark and Norway, Elizabeth of Denmark (1573–1626), and Hedwig of Denmark (1581–1641); married James VI (1566–1625), king of Scotland (r. 1567–1625), later king of England as James I (r. 1603–1625), on November 23, 1589; children: Henry Frederick (1594–1612); Elizabeth of Bohemia (1596–1662); Margaret (1598–1600); Charles (Charles I, king of England, 1600–1649); Robert (1601–1602); Mary (1605–1607); Sophia (1606–1606).

Crowned queen of Scotland (1590); crowned queen of England (1603).

Shortly after James Stuart, king of Scotland, ascended the wealthier and more powerful throne of England as James I, a foreign visitor to the English Court sized up the new queen: "She is very gracious to those who know to promote her wishes; but to those whom she does not like, she is proud, disdainful—not to say insupportable." Another observer put the contrast another way, noting that her luminous white skin, much admired in her day, was "far more amiable than the features it covered."

Born to greatness as a princess, Anne of Denmark was nevertheless a woman possessed of little education, a common measure of intellect, and ample indiscretion and willfulness. Her own meager accomplishments and capabilities notwithstanding, however, Anne lived her life on a grand stage surrounded by the spectacular pageantry and brilliant culture of Renaissance courts in their most splendid age. Anne (or Anna as she always styled herself) played a considerable role as a patron of some of England's greatest artists.

Anne was born on December 12, 1574, at Skanderborg in Jutland, the second child of Frederick II, king of Denmark and Norway, reputed one of the wealthiest princes in Europe, and Sophia of Mecklenburg , the daughter of Duke Ulrich III of Mecklenburg. Frederick and Sophia presided over an enlightened royal court that fostered the arts and sciences, the royal couple supporting such luminaries as the astronomer Tycho Brahe and the historian Anders Sorensen Vedel. Sophia was also admired for the attention she bestowed on her children. According to a spy in Lord Burleigh's pay, Sophia was "a right virtuous and godly princess, who, with a motherly care and great wisdom, ruleth her children." Apart from this, almost nothing is known about Anne's rearing. A story alleges that she did not walk until age nine, before then being carried around by her attendants. Anne seems to have been taught French and Italian, then the international languages of court, but she appears to have received little formal education otherwise—a curious fact, given her parents' intellectual cultivation and the prevailing custom in Renaissance courts to educate royal children to a very high standard. Certainly the letters she wrote later in life, invariably short and to the point, bear no scholarly flourishes, though they are written in a beautiful clear hand. It may simply be that Anne's educational deficiencies resulted from a want of aptitude.

By the time Anne reached the age of 11, negotiations regarding her marriage and that of her elder sister Elizabeth of Denmark (1573–1626) had already begun. In 1585, Frederick sent an embassy to Scotland with the express aim of arranging for the redemption of the Shetland and Orkney islands, which had been pledged to Scotland as security in an earlier marriage settlement the previous century. The Scots were loathe to part with these strategically important territories, and Frederick's ambassadors hinted that a new Danish alliance, embodied in James' marriage to one of Frederick's daughters, whichever "suld be the maist comely, and the best for his princelie contentment," would allow a more effectual transfer of the islands to be made as part of her dowry. James had to balance the advantages of this marriage prospect, however, with the opposition he faced both from his mother, Mary Stuart , Queen of Scots (1542–1587), then a prisoner in England, who favored a match with Spain, and also from her captor, the powerful Elizabeth I of England, who desired a Swedish alliance. These twin obstacles led James to delay until, in 1587, Frederick forced his hand by threatening war if James failed to marry one of his daughters. A commission thereupon sent by James to open marital negotiations was scuttled by Elizabeth's machinations in offering to James the hand of a princess of Navarre. By this time, however, anti-English feeling in Scotland was running high following Elizabeth's execution of Mary Stuart, and James was emboldened to accept the Danish match. He sent proxies to marry the 14-year-old princess, the ceremony being performed on August 20, 1589.

The story of Anne's voyage to Scotland and her first encounter with James seems taken rather from the pages of a romance novel than from the historical record. A Danish fleet assembled to transport Anne to her new kingdom embarked in September but encountered persistent strong storms. Twice the fleet came within sight of the Scottish shore only to be blown back to sea. After another tempest dispersed the fleet, some of the ships returned to Denmark, but the admiral's ship in which Anne sailed found safe haven on the coast of Norway. From Opsloe, Anne sent James word of her whereabouts, since the approach of winter now made it difficult for her to reach Scotland.

Once news of Anne's predicament reached him, James resolved to fetch his bride himself and immediately organized an expedition to sail to Norway. He landed at Slaikray on October 28 and then went overland to Opsloe, which he finally reached on November 19. James greeted his bride with a kiss, which she at first refused, "as not being the forme of hir cuntrie," but the royal pair quickly gained familiarity with each other. They were married again (this time in person) on the 23rd by James' favorite chaplain, David Lindsay, and the morning afterward James bestowed on Anne the lordship of Dunfermline, in conformity with the Scottish custom of making a "morrowinggift."

James intended to return to Scotland forthwith, but the continued stormy weather precluded westward sailing. Accordingly, James and Anne accepted her mother's invitation to spend the winter with her in Copenhagen. After making a mid-winter crossing of the Norwegian Alps and passing through Swedish territory, James and Anne arrived at the castle of Kronenburg on January 21, 1590. There they passed several months in revelry, "drinking and driving" as James wrote home, "in the auld manner," and were married for yet a third time according to the rites of the Lutheran Church. On April 21, the pair finally set sail for Scotland, landing at Leith ten days later.

Anne was crowned queen of Scotland on May 17 and was legally invested with her three lordships of Falkland, Dunfermline, and Linlithgow. These holdings provided her with some independent means, but Anne—still a girl of 16—faced the formidable challenges of reviving the long-dormant position of queen-consort in a strange country, and of negotiating her way through the minefield of Scottish politics. The Scottish crown was fairly weak. Through a succession of seven royal minorities (rulers too young to assume control), feudal lords had competed with one another for control over the young monarch. Added to this dynastic rivalry were rifts that pitted Calvinist presbyterians, Roman Catholics, and adherents of the episcopal but Protestant Church of Scotland against one another. The king and queen were vulnerable to noble intrigues: the Gowrie brothers almost succeeded in assassinating James in 1600, and in the early 1590s both he and Anne had endured a desultory insurrection by the earl of Bothwell.

Sophia of Mecklenburg (1557–1631)

Queen of Denmark and Norway. Name variations: Sophia of Mecklenburg-Gustrow. Born on September 4, 1557; died on October 4, 1631, in Nykobing; daughter of Ulrich III (b. 1528), duke of Mecklenburg, and Elizabeth of Denmark (1524–1586); married Frederick II (1534–1588), king of Denmark and Norway (r. 1559–1588), on July 20, 1572; children: Elizabeth of Denmark (1573–1626); Anne of Denmark (1574–1619); Christian IV (1577–1648), king of Denmark and Norway (r. 1588–1648); Ulrich (b. 1578); Amelia of Denmark (1580–1639); Hedwig of Denmark (1581–1641); Johann (b. 1583).

The birth of Anne's first child, Henry Frederick, on February 19, 1594, at once secured the royal dynasty but also placed Anne and James in even greater political jeopardy. James correctly perceived that, given the tradition of kidnapping and controlling royal minors, the birth of an heir posed a threat to his authority and perhaps even a danger to his life. Accordingly, James arranged that his closest allies, the Earl of Mar and Lady Mar , should raise his infant son at Stirling Castle. Anne opposed this move, pleading with her husband that she not be forced to relinquish her newborn child. Even in the face of her appeals and grief, however, James remained adamant. But in the summer of 1595, with James absent in the country, Anne hatched a plot to seize her son through armed force. James was tipped off beforehand and successfully forestalled any action, but felt that Anne's willfulness required a formal confirmation

of the earl of Mar's authority over the heir apparent. James therefore issued a written declaration in the presence of the queen at Stirling Castle in which he strictly instructed Mar to retain custody of Henry even "in case God call me at any time," and to "see that neither for the queen, nor the estates their pleasure, you deliver him till he be eighteen, and that he command yow himself."

Anne's frustrations over the control of her son were temporarily diverted by the birth of her second child, Elizabeth of Bohemia , on August 15, 1596, and by the short-lived Margaret in 1598. But relations between Anne and James were further strained in the aftermath of the Gowrie plot when Anne continued to harbor her favorite attendant, Beatrice Ruthven , and refused to believe that her brothers, the Gowries, acted treasonably despite the fact that they had been slain during their attempt on James' life. The ill-feeling that this incident generated was abbreviated, however, by the joyous birth of a second son, Charles, on November 19, 1600, the same day that the carcasses of the Gowrie brothers were drawn and quartered.

The fortunes of the House of Stuart soared in March of 1603 when Elizabeth I died and James was proclaimed King James I of England, a far wealthier and more powerful realm than Scotland. There could be no question that James and Anne would rule from London, and in April James set out for England with a retinue including the earl of Mar, leaving Anne to follow once it became clear that his English subjects would accept a Scottish king as their own. With James and the earl of Mar departed, Anne again attempted to gain possession of her elder son. In the company of a faction of anti-Mar nobles, Anne descended upon Stirling Castle and demanded custody of Henry from Lady Mar. Although much perplexed, Lady Mar held firm and refused to surrender the boy. At this, Anne flew into a rage so intense that she became ill and miscarried a son. Writing from England, James succeeded in calming his wife. Eventually, he transferred custody of Henry to Anne and summoned both to England, where the royal family stood in much less danger of over-mighty nobles.

On July 24, 1603, Anne and James were crowned at Westminster, although their official entry into the city of London was delayed until the following spring due to a serious outbreak of the plague. At her coronation, it was noted that Anne refused to take the sacrament according to the English rite, giving rise to speculation that she secretly harbored Roman Catholic sympathies, though it is equally possible that she had Lutheran scruples about doing so. Anne's religious convictions are, in fact, difficult to plumb. Ambassadorial reports repeatedly referred to the queen's Catholicism, and the fact that she pursued a pro-Spanish policy at court, at least until her last years, lent credence to this belief. Anne supported the idea of a Spanish match for her son Charles in 1613, and even carried out exploratory negotiations with the pope and the grand duke of Florence for Henry, the prince of Wales, to marry the grand duke's sister. Whatever Catholic feelings Anne may have had seem to have ebbed after 1613, however, when one of her attendants, a Mrs. Drummond who was in the pay of Spain and allegedly encouraged the queen's beliefs, married and moved away from court. We do know that on her deathbed Anne "renounced the mediation of all saints and her own merits, and relied only upon her Saviour," a definitively Protestant formula.

Anne's accession to the English throne meant acclimating again to a new political environment, one less exposed to the manipulation and factionalism that characterized Scottish court life. Moreover, the court personnel were almost all drawn from the English aristocracy since James and Anne brought few of their Scottish attendants with them. And again Anne had to reinvent her role as queen-consort, a position that had been vacant in England for nearly 60 years. The practical effect of these changes was that Anne found herself more politically circumscribed than she had been in Scotland. As a result, she indulged her passion for court pageantry, and to this end she was helped by the considerable reservoir of talent to be found at court. Anne's inner circle consisted in large part of women who had been members of the Essex connection and who, together with their male kin, comprised a formidable source of artistic production and patronage. Indeed, partly under Anne's influence the Jacobean Court became the site of theatrical masterworks and lavish entertainments. Of particular note are the elaborate court masques that Anne commissioned England's premier dramatists to compose and in which she sometimes acted, including Ben Jonson's Mask of Blackness (1604), his Mask of Queens (1609), and Samuel Daniel's Tethys Festival (1610). Anne also patronized Inigo Jones, England's foremost architect, in a series of rebuildings and renovations of Greenwich House and of Somerset House (renamed Denmark House during her tenure) in London.

All of these projects involved considerable expense and put a severe strain on Anne's finances, made worse by her appetite for fine jewels and extravagant dress. By 1609, James was forced to make her a present of £20,000 in order to settle her debts and to add a further £3,000 to her annuity of £13,000. Such was the scale of her spending, however, that by the following year she still owed in excess of £17,000 to her jeweller and other creditors. In this respect, Anne contributed to the nation's growing dissatisfaction with the profligacy of the Stuart Court, which it compared unfavorably with the frugality of the late Queen Elizabeth.

Anne suffered a severe shock in November 1612 when her beloved son, Henry, prince of Wales, died of typhoid fever. Compounding her sense of loss was the marriage of her daughter, Elizabeth, to Frederick V, the Elector Palatine, in February 1613, a match Anne initially opposed as being beneath the dignity of her daughter. About this time Anne's own health began to fail. A condition that was at first believed to be gout gradually worsened and was eventually recognized as dropsy. While Anne's life was brightened by a surprise visit to England of her brother, Christian IV of Denmark, in 1614, she increasingly suffered from her illness, though as late as 1617 she danced in one of the court masques of which she was so fond. Politically, Anne found her position improved by the replacement in November 1614 of Robert Carr, earl of Somerset, by the king's handsome new favorite, George Villiers, the future duke of Buckingham, with whom the queen maintained warm relations. Villiers was careful to cultivate the queen's favor and performed useful service for her in governing the king's sometimes uncouth behavior.

In late 1618, Anne's health worsened, and she remained confined at Hampton Court through the following January and February. James was also ill at this time, confined at New-market and hence prevented from visiting his wife. She was attended by Charles, heir to the throne, in her last hours and died early on March 2, 1619. Anne of Denmark lay in state at Somerset House until May 13, when she was interred in Westminster Cathedral.


Barroll, Leeds. "The court of the first Stuart queen," in The Mental World of the Jacobean Court. Edited by Linda Levy Peck. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Lancelott, Francis. The Queens of England and their Times. NY: D. Appleton, 1894.

Strickland, Agnes. Lives of the Queens of England. Vol. VI. Philadelphia, PA: Blanchard and Lea, 1859.

suggested reading:

Akrigg, G.P.V. Jacobean Pageant. Cambridge, MA, 1962.

Strong, Roy. Henry Prince of Wales, and England's Lost Renaissance. London, 1986.

Williams, E.C. Anne of Denmark. London, 1971.

Geoffrey Clark , Assistant Professor of History, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

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Anne of Denmark (1574–1619)

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Anne of Denmark (1574–1619)