Anne was the second daughter of Frederick II, King of Denmark and Norway. Her father had failed to re-establish the Kalmar Union with Sweden, but despite that setback, Denmark’s influence in Europe was growing as northern Germany and Scandinavia became bulwarks of Protestantism.
Anne’s mother, Sophie of Meckleburg-Gustrow, was an intelligent and educated woman – who was unusually close both to her parents and her children in a time when royal family relationships were often distant, even if loving. Anne herself inherited this strong family feeling, and although no details of her education are known, she certainly spoke Low German, Danish, French, some Italian, and also learnt Scots, then English.
Overtures were first made for a marriage between Anne and King James VI of Scotland in the early 1580s, but, owing to her age, little came of the discussion. The matter was broached again a few years later. It was a desirable match for Scotland, as it might be the occasion to resolve the sovereignty of the Orkney and Shetland Islands and Anne was a Protestant (although she adhered to Lutheranism, rather than Calvinism, which was the authorised religion of Scotland). It was good for Denmark, too, as James was likely to inherit the throne of England on the death of his mother’s cousin, Elizabeth I.
To be on the safe side, the Danes were insistent that Elizabeth should be asked to approve the marriage. Whilst Elizabeth did not give explicit consent, keeping up her usual practice of equivocating, she did not object.
In 1589, the terms were agreed, and Anne was married by proxy, prior to sailing for Scotland. She departed later in the year than was advisable and was caught in severe storms that obliged her to seek refuge in Oslo. These storms were later attributed to witchcraft.
Full of gallantry, and fancying himself in love, James himself crossed the ocean to fetch his bride. They were married soon after he landed and spent the winter and early spring in Denmark, before returning to Scotland on 1st May 1590.
Anne was crowned as Queen of Scots on 17th May in a ceremony in Holyrood slightly adapted from previous coronations of Scottish queens, which had all been Catholic. There was some controversy about her being anointed, and pains were taken to say that this was symbolic of civil authority, not a religious ritual.
The new queen was not especially popular with the Scottish nobles. She was Lutheran, whereas they were either Calvinist or Catholic, and she seems to have been touchy – not an easy trait to manage in a court which was used to the king being familiar with his friends and servants. Anne was seen as aloof and proud, and the ceremonial she was used to in Denmark was not easy to achieve in Scotland.
The young couple soon became attached to each other, although perhaps more because it was their duty to love each other than any real meeting of minds. They spent a good deal of time together, and were both fond of hunting.
Anne may have fallen pregnant several times between 1590 and 1593– it was rumoured on different occasions, but her first child was not born until February 1594. Much to the delight of the royal couple, the baby was a boy, named Henry Frederick after both grandfathers. Elizabeth affected to be pleased and sent presents.
The birth of Prince Henry led to a major rupture between Anne and James. He was insistent that to keep the boy safe he must be brought up at Stirling Castle by the Earl of Mar, and the Earl’s mother, who had been James’ own governess. Anne was devastated. She had intended to bring her son up as she had been brought up – close to his parents and to any siblings he might later have. But James was adamant. He often gave in to her requests on day-to-day matters, but his understanding of the volatility of Scotland and the danger he had frequently been in as a youth made him immoveable on this point. Anne was free to visit, but she could not keep Prince Henry in her charge.
Anne had no choice but to accept the situation, but it rankled with her, and, unable to hate her husband, she conceived a hatred for Mar and his mother that could not be placated. Over the next few years, Anne bore four more children, two of whom died young. Only Elizabeth and Charles lived to grow up.
As time passed, Anne and James continued to quarrel and make up – one of their most surprising rifts was over the Gowrie Plot. Anne let it be known that she found the facts as related by James hard to believe, which could be interpreted as her believing that James was a murderer. James however, does not seem to have been unduly concerned by her thoughts. He also turned a blind eye when she seemed to be taking an undue interest in the Catholic Church.
In 1603, life changed dramatically for Anne as James became James I of England. Unable to leave for London immediately with her husband, as she was pregnant, Anne planned to travel south as soon as her child was born. What she also planned to do, as soon as she hear that Lord Mar had been sent for to London, was to take Prince Henry back into her care.
But Anne had reckoned without Lady Mar, who refused to allow the Queen to see the Prince because she was accompanied by armed guards. Anne was so distressed she had a miscarriage. Whether for this reason, or because, now he was King of England, James felt safer, he relented and arranged for the Prince to be delivered to Anne so that she could bring him and Princess Elizabeth south. Prince Charles was considered too frail to attempt the journey.
The coronation was a subdued affair, owing a serious outbreak of plague. Although Anne had gained plaudits for her gracious demeanour on her journey south, there were murmurings when she refused to take the Anglican Communion during the service. Rumours that she had become a Catholic resurfaced.
England was a significantly richer country than Scotland, and Anne revelled in her newly acquired wealth. There was also something of a peace dividend as the wars in Spain and Ireland were finally brought to an end. The increased income however, could not keep up with the expenditure of the King and Queen.
Anne spent lavishly on jewellery, on building and on masques. The masque was a type of play or pageant which combined poetry, music and dance. The lavish performances put on each Christmas were a marvellous spectacle, and showcased the talents of Ben Johnson and Inigo Jones, giving Great Britain, as James and Anne referred to their newly united kingdoms, an air of culture and prestige to foreign visitors.
The Queen had two further children, Mary, who lived about eighteen months, and Sophia, who died soon after birth. Following the latter’s death, the royal couple seem to have ceased to have sex – perhaps because Anne, after ten pregnancies, could not take any more physical strain. She was cheered that year by the visit of her brother, King Christian IV of Denmark, although she was worried about the amount of alcohol that both kings drank.
During his youth, James had been very close to a couple of male favourites, but since his marriage all his emotional energy went into Anne and his children. In 1607, however, he became completely enamoured with a young man named Robert Kerr, or Carr, as he anglicised it to smooth his way at the English court. Anne, not surprisingly, could not bear Carr, or his eminence gris, Thomas Overbury, but James, although he would support Anne in many of her spats with his courtiers, paid no attention to her feelings about Carr, who was eventually promoted to the Earldom of Somerset.
In 1610, Prince Henry was created Prince of Wales in an elaborate ceremony at Windsor Castle. He had a good relationship with both parents, in particular, sharing Anne’s taste for masques and poetry, but was also popular at large, and known as a firm Protestant.
Two years later, heartbreak followed when the Prince died, probably of typhoid. Shortly after, Anne had to part with her daughter, too, who married the Elector Palatine and went to Heidelberg. Only one child was left, Prince Charles. He, too, shared his mother’s tastes and became a great patron of art. Unfortunately, he inherited his father’s belief in the Divine Right of Kings, without any of James’ pragmatism. Anne and Charles were united in their dislike of Somerset, and their efforts to promote a rival claimant to James’ favour, George Villiers, later Duke of Buckingham.
In 1615, the country was rocked by scandal when the Earl and Countess of Somerset were tried, with four others, for the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury. They were all convicted. The Earl, who maintained his innocence, and the Countess, who admitted her guilt, were eventually pardoned, whilst the others were hanged. This display of leniency to his old friend did not do James any favours. Whether Anne would have talked him out of it, as she had occasionally talked him out of other rash decisions is moot – she died in early 1619, after a long illness, described as dropsy. Her son was by her side, but James, although he had visited her during her illness, was absent.
Anne is buried with her husband in the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey. Her lasting memorial is the Queen’s House at Greenwich, which was begun for her by Inigo Jones, although the final structure was changed for Anne’s daughter-in-law and successor, Queen Henrietta Maria.
Through her daughter, Elizabeth, Anne is the antecedent of all subsequent monarchs of Great Britain.