Anne of Denmark

Anne of Demark was born the second daughter of King Frederick II of Denmark and his wife, Sophie of Mecklenburg-Güstrow, on 12 December 1574.


In the 1580s, King James VI of Scotland sought the hand of a Danish prince in marriage. Demark was a stable and economically strong country, and Scotland would greatly benefit from an alliance with it. On 20 August 1589, the 15 year old Princess Anne was married by proxy to King James at Kronborg Castle, and set out for her new country as the Queen of Scots.

Storms prevented the Danish fleet from delivering the new queen to Scotland, so King James “sailed from Leith with a three-hundred-strong retinue to fetch his wife personally, arriving in Oslo on 19 November … [where] he presented himself to Anne, “with boots and all”, and … gave her a kiss in the Scottish fashion.” The couple were married in person in Oslo a few days later, and stayed to honeymoon in the bride’s home country. They finally left for Scotland in the spring, arriving in the Water of Leith on 1 May 1590.

The marriage wasn’t a happy one. Anne didn’t like the fact that James had lovers (reportedly of both genders) and she didn’t have the kind of meek personality that would keep her dissatisfaction to herself. It also took her a while to get pregnant, and she was very upset by “Presbyterian libels on the theme of James’ fondness for male company” and slurs on her ability to have children at all.

However, the royal marriage didn’t hit the rails in full until she finally gave birth to the royal heir, Henry Frederick, on 19 February 1594. That’s when Anne found out her husband wasn’t planning on letting her have any say in the upbringing or care of her son; in fact, she would hardly be allowed to see her own child. James sent the baby away to be cared for by his his former nurse Helen Little and John Erskine, Earl of Mar at Stirling Castle.


Understandably, Anne threw a fit and fell in it. This was criticized by many historians for centuries, such as when Victorian biographer Agnes Strickland claimed,”It must lower the character of Anne of Denmark in the eyes of everyone, both as a woman and queen, that she … preferred to indulge the mere instincts of maternity at the risk of involving her husband, her infant, and their kingdom, in the strife and misery of unnatural warfare.” Modern mothers, however, can easily sympathize with Anne’s rage and desire to be part of her son’s life.

Anne never forgave James for separating her from the prince, or stopped trying to see her eldest son, but times and marriage being what they were, James impregnated her at least another eight times. She would miscarry at least twice: the first time in July 1595 when she and the king were fighting over her right to see their son. After the miscarriage, Anne appeared to despised her husband, and a member of the court, John Colville, noted that “There is nothing but lurking hatred disguised with cunning dissimulation betwixt the King and the Queen, each intending by slight to overcome the other.”

In the next 8 years the queen had four more pregnancies, but only her daughter Princess Elizabeth(19 August 1596) and her son Charles I of England (19 November 1600) survived infancy. (Princess Elizabeth was the grandmother of King George I and thus the modern royal family of Britain is descended through her.) The two children she had with her did not stop her from wanting to see her eldest surviving child as well. In 1603, the heavily pregnant Anne used the opportunity presented by James leaving Scotland to become King James I of England to try to get her oldest son back.

Anne descended on Stirling with a force of “well-supported” nobles, intent on removing the nine-year-old Henry, whom she had hardly seen for five years; but Mar’s mother and brother would allow her to bring no more than two attendants with her into the castle. The obduracy of Henry’s keepers sent Anne into such a fury that she suffered another miscarriage: according to David Calderwood, she “went to bed in anger and parted with child the tenth of May.”

King James heard about Anne’s attempts to get to Prince Henry, and demanded that she join him in London so he could separate her from their son. Anne told him he could suck eggs and wait forever unless he let her bring Prince Henry with her. The king griped about his wife’s ‘willfulness’, but he finally gave in. Anne then took Prince Henry south to join the king in London.

James Queen Anne and Henry

The English coronation of King James VI and I took place on 25 July 1603, and soon thereafter he and the queen were in yet another well-publicized row. This time they were fighting over Anne’s household. Anne wanted to decided who lived with her and acted as her ladies-in-waiting, and James wanted to have the final say in the makeup of her residence. Apparently, “his Majesty took her continued perversity” on the matter “very heinously”, but Anne stood fast until the king compromised on the fate of her friends Beatrix and Barbara Ruthven, whose brothers Earl of Gowrie, John Ruthven and Alexander Ruthven had been killed for attacking the king in 1600.

Although the king and queen were barely speaking to one another, Anne became pregnant twice more. Princess Mary was born on 8 April 1605, and then Anne almost died giving birth to her last child, Princess Sophia 22 June 1606. The baby lived only a day, and Queen Anne’s heath was considered too fragile for any more childbearing.

James I and Queen Anne and their royal progeny

James and Anne would lose Princess Mary at the age of two in 1607, by which time they were living essentially separate lives. When not taking care of court functions, the king spent his time at his hunting lodge in Royston, often with his dear friend and suspected lover, Robert Carr (who would become Earl of Somerset in 1613). The queen lived primarily at Greenwich Palace, eventually choosing to spend most of her time at Somerset House, which she later renamed Denmark House in honor of her homeland.

Because Queen Anne “was little interested in high politics unless they touched on the fate of her children or friends” and spent most of her time hosting parties, pageants, dances, and plays (even acting in them herself on occasion!) some Jacobean historians have dismissed her as a fribble. In his seminal 1956 biography of King James, David Harris Willson moaned that, “Alas! The king had married a stupid wife.” Of course, this didn’t take into account that King James deliberately kept her from being informed about state secrets and her main way of influencing her spouse – seduction in the privy chambers – wasn’t a great option if her hubby was secretly much more enamored of men. 

Later historians have acknowledged that while King James was sharing her bed and their marriage was more factual than fictional, Queen Anne’s “political interventions in Scotland were more significant, and certainly more troublesome, than previously noticed.” Her fight for her children often spilled over into politics and she was as formidable as possible considering how her gender and status – just a foreign spouse and broodmare — effectively cut her off at the knees. Her supposed indifference to politics alos  seems to have been more of a red herring than a reality. In 1606 Nicolo Molin, the Venetian envoy to the British court, reported:

She is intelligent and prudent; and knows the disorders of the government, in which she has no part, though many hold that as the King is most devoted to her, she might play as large a role as she wished. But she is young and averse to trouble; she sees that those who govern desire to be left alone, and so she professes indifference. All she ever does is to beg a favour for someone.

Aside from politics, Queen Anne was very influential in the arts. She not only patronized musicians like John Dowland and painters “such as Paul van Somer, Isaac Oliver, and Daniel Mytens, who led English taste in visual arts for a generation,” she supported various literary aritists, including Samuel Daniel, Thomas Campion and John Donne. The queen was also the main force behind the raising of theater, acting, and playwriting into a legitimate ‘art’ in the public mind. The queen sponsored masques that dazzled and delighted the courtiers, paying such luminaries Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones to create them. It was for her that Richard Burbage dragged out and performed his friend William Shakespeare’s old plays, because he hoped they would “please her exceedingly”. King James, who often “fell asleep during some of England’s most celebrated plays,” is the one who get’s the credit for the “Jacobean cultural flowering” his wife paid for with her dowry money!

Sadly, the artistic light in the queen’s heart appears to have been snuffed out by the death of her son, Prince Henry, in November of 1612. Ambassador’s were instructed to refrain from even offering condolences, “because she cannot bear to have it mentioned” and could not think of it without “abundant tears and sighs.” Queen Anne now only had two surviving children from all her myriad pregnancies, and she had to say goodbye to her only daughter, the 16 year old Princess Elizabeth, forever in April 1613 when the teen girl left to marry Elector Frederick V of the Palatine. Severely depressed, the queen “withdrew from the centre of cultural and political activities, staging her last known masque in 1614 and no longer maintaining a noble court.”

Adding to the queen’s desolation was the fact her husband had given himself over entirely to his current favorite, George Villiers. Anne had encouraged the king to notice Villiers in the first place, hoping the young man would displace Carr, whom she hated with a purple passion. Although she remained friendly with Villiers, there was no room for her in the king’s life with Villiers in it. She lavished maternal care on her last living son, Prince Charles, but she was nonetheless a very lonely woman.

Anne’s health steadily deteriorated. When it became apparent that the queen was dying, her son Charles moved into the bedroom adjoining hers at Hampton Court Palace so he could be with her as often as possible. Her husband, however, visited her very seldom, being to busy with his young and healthy favorite to sit by his sick wife. In the end, only Prince Charles and the queen’s most loyal attendant, Anna Roos, were with Anne when she died on 2 March 1619.

King James took the passing of his 44 year old spouse harder than any suspected he would. He was so ill from “fainting, sighing, dread, incredible sadness” he couldn’t attend her funeral service even though the interment was delayed until 13 May by the lack of money in the royal coffers to pay for it. Fittingly, the queen was buried in King Henry VII’s Chapel of Westminster Abbey, near to the tiny alabaster cradle-shaped tomb holding the body of her last baby, Princess Sophia, and the vault of Mary Queen of Scots, where her firstborn son was laid to rest.

One thought on “Anne of Denmark

  1. Fully agree that nothing about Anne is quite as it seems. The gulf between her and James is easy to exaggerate. She shared his love of laughter, wine and children, which must be why the marriage triggered so many pregnancies. James didn’t attend her funeral because divine kings never did; it compromised their immortality. Her cultural impact is intriguing. For instance, there is a case to be made that she didn’t just commission Jonson’s scandalous masques, she input strongly into the concepts (would Ben have dared come up with The Masque of Blackness on his own?)

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