James VI & I: Life Story

Chapter 11 : Marriage Negotiations

In 1589 James turned 22, and it was time for him to marry. A number of brides had been proposed at different times - the two leading candidates were the Huguenot Catherine of Navarre, whose brother Henri was fighting to take possession of the throne of France (favoured by England), and Anne of Denmark, a Lutheran Princess, and distant cousin of James’. As Catherine’s prospects seemed uncertain in the wake of her brother’s struggles to claim his French throne, Anne seemed a better candidate, especially as her rival was some eight years older than James and rumoured to be less prepossessing physically than Anne.

Negotiations for Anne’s hand had begun in 1587, under the aegis of the King’s former tutor, Peter Young, but matters had stalled when agreement over the dowry could not be reached. James was initially inclined to the elder daughter of the King of Denmark but was perfectly happy to settle for Anne when it appeared that Elizabeth was already spoken for.

In early 1589, James’s envoy, George Keith, Earl Marischal, sailed to Denmark to negotiate in earnest. The Scottish list of demands was eye watering – a dowry of £1 million Scots, confirmation that Denmark would give up its claims to the Orkney Islands (transferred to Scotland when Christian I had been unable to pay the dowry of his daughter Margaret, wife of James III of Scotland). Denmark was also agreed to be part of any anti-Catholic alliance and to support James militarily if he were faced with invasion or, (and this was the tricky bit), had to fight for any foreign title to which he was justly entitled. Denmark was therefore agreeing, in principle, to an invasion of England were such a course to prove necessary to obtain the Crown. Anne’s father Frederick II having died in 1588, the prime mover for the marriage was her mother Sophia of Mecklenburg-Godstow, a woman of formidable character.

James had persuaded himself that he was romantically in love with his new bride and pressed for the marriage to go ahead. Queen Sophia, who had already invested an enormous amount of money in Anne’s new wardrobe, which had taken several months of work from 500 tailors and embroiderers, did not wish to see her good work undone. Eventually, a compromise was reached on the dowry which was eventually settled at 75,000 thalers, which assuming them to be equal to the Imperial thaler, was equal to about £150,000 Scots.

This decision to accept a bride without a large dowry did not help James’ permanently impoverished position. He had absolutely no grasp of finance and spent money he did not have – not so much on himself, as in generous gifts. Feeling the pinch, he was obliged to borrow money from Elizabeth for his wedding.

The couple were married by proxy in Copenhagen on 9th September 1589 and 15-year-old Anne duly set out for her new home three weeks later. She had no sooner set sail than terrible storms beset her flotilla. The seas were so rough that three canon escaped their moorings on her flagship, the Gideon, and careened around the deck. Three times the ships were forced back into port. The captain of the ship, Peter Munk, blamed witchcraft for the dreadful tempests. He believed that he had been cursed by the wife of a man with whom he had quarrelled.

By 8th October James was seriously alarmed as to the whereabouts of his new bride. He sent letters and love poems by the messenger whom he dispatched to gather information as to her whereabouts. It was not until 10th October that he was informed that the Princess was safe, but had been obliged to take shelter in Oslo.

In one of the few romantic gestures of his life, James determined to sail to fetch his bride himself. Borrowing the necessary money from Maitland, James confided his affairs to a Privy Council composed of members of all the factions under the nominal presidency of Ludovic Stewart, the 15-year-old Duke of Lennox, son of James’s old friend, Esme Stuart. This was a perfectly proper selection as Lennox was James’s heir, although the Earl of Bothwell felt himself slighted.