Anne of Denmark: Life Story

Chapter 1: Family & Childhood

Anne was the second of the eight children of Frederick II, King of Denmark and Norway, and Sophie of Mecklenburg-Gustrow. 

Frederick Ii King Of Denmark Norway 1534 – 1588 Probably By Hans Kneiper
Frederick II, King of Denmark and Norway (1534 - 1588). Probably by Hans Kneiper

Before his marriage, King Frederick had attempted to bring Sweden under his control, in an extension of the Kalmar Union that had once tied the Nordic lands together, before its collapse in 1523. Victory would have given him dominance over the whole Baltic, but by 1570, he had been defeated and forced by the Treaty of Stettin to remain within his original borders. Frederick turned his attention to domestic matters, employing able ministers to improve the royal finances, and establishing a family.

Anne’s mother, Sophie of Mecklenburg-Gustrow, was of mixed Danish and German descent. She was much younger than her husband (fourteen to his thirty-eight at the time of their marriage) and seems to have been unusually close to her own parents, by the standards of royal families of the time. Also unusually, Queen Sophie apparently breast-fed her children herself, rather than them being given to a wet-nurse, and this example of a close family unit probably contributed to the most serious quarrel that Anne later had with her husband over her own children’s upbringing.

Sophie Of Mecklenburg Gustrow 1557 – 1631 Queen Of Denmark By Hans Kneiper
Sophie of Mecklenburg-Gustrow, Queen of Denmark (1557 - 1631) by Hans Kneiper

Anne, her older sister, Elizabeth, and her brother (later Christian IV), spent their first years with their maternal grandparents in Gustrow, a town now in the West Pomeranian region of Germany. In 1579, aged nearly five, she returned to her parents’ court.

During the reign of Anne’s grandfather, Christian III, the state religion of Denmark and Norway had been established as Lutheranism, and that was the religion in which Anne was brought up. It was therefore preferable for her to marry a fellow Protestant, which somewhat limited the choices available.

The northern German princes were largely Protestant, as were some of the Netherlandish nobles and also the young King James VI of Scotland, who was also a distant cousin. Scotland and Denmark had been on good terms since the marriage of Margaret of Denmark to James III, in 1469.  Frederick therefore decided that James would be a very suitable husband for one or other of his two eldest daughters. As well as his religion, and the family connection, King Frederick hoped to resolve the ongoing dispute over the Orkney and Shetland Islands. They had been pledged for payment of the dowry of Margaret of Denmark, but never redeemed.

For James, born in 1566, a Protestant bride was desirable, because, although he seems to have been much less free of religious prejudice than most of his contemporaries, a Protestant bride would maximise his chances of being acknowledged as heir to the throne of England. His mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, who was incarcerated in England, expressed a preference for James to marry a Catholic, but agreed that she would be content for him to marry a Danish princess, to please the Protestants of England.

In April 1582, James’ government, largely under the control of the Earl of Ruthven, appointed Ambassadors to go to Denmark to open negotiations for a marriage. James was only fifteen, and Frederick’s daughters ten and eight, so there was little progress to be made at that stage.

The matter was not forgotten, and in September 1584, Sir Ralph Sadler asked Mary, Queen of Scots, if she knew that the King of Denmark’s daughter was being considered as a possible bride for her son. Her response was that, as the crowns of Denmark and Norway went by election, she did not think that it would be an appealing match, as James could not be sure of continued friendship after Frederick’s death.

By 1585 James was fully in control of his own government, but was being pressed to marry. He was open to offers from a number of rulers who perhaps looked less at his Scottish crown, and more at his chances of inheriting the rather wealthier English kingdom. James himself was not particularly interested in matrimony, and perhaps not much interested in women generally, but he knew that marriage and procreation was his duty and was therefore willing to consider either of the Danish princesses as a bride.

Elizabeth I of England was very much in favour of a match between James and one of the Danish princesses and had suggested it in May 1585. King Frederick was considered to be a champion of Protestantism, and the negotiations were taking place as the situation for Protestant princes was deteriorating in the Netherlands and Navarre. Bolstering a strong, northern, Protestant alliance was good policy.

Elizabeth, who exerted a great deal of control of James via a pension that was sometimes paid, but often withheld, made it very clear that, although, in principle, she would not be displeased by a match with Denmark, she would take it amiss if he concluded a match without her sanction.