Anna of Denmark

Queen in Two Kingdoms

by Steven Veerapen (Author)
©2022 Monographs VIII, 292 Pages


On the death of Elizabeth I, Anna of Denmark, wife to James VI and I, became the first queen consort of both England and Scotland. She offered her subjects north and south of the border an ideal of consortship: an attractive, fecund woman with a flair for display.
Yet, history has been far from kind to the first British consort.
Anna has been castigated as frivolous, vain, stupid, and more interested in dancing and pleasure than politics.
This is unfair. As scholarship has recently begun to show, the queen was a determined, intelligent woman whose contributions to the cultural lives of her kingdoms was to prove of major importance in late-Renaissance Britain.
This study aims to contextualise Anna not as a woman of minor significance in relation to the queens regnant of the sixteenth century, but as an inheritor of the bloody legacies of previous consorts north and south of the border.
What emerges is a woman of wit, intelligence, and taste, who exploited political faction to her benefit and that of her children; who was canny enough to manage a slippery husband and sovereign; who sought creative avenues to mitigate the increasingly troublesome issue of her foreignness; and who provided the public face of monarchy in the teeth of an errant king who placed little stock in public opinion.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Part I Denmark
  • The Danish Girl
  • The Old Young Man
  • The Princess Bride
  • By Weltring Waues
  • Vehement Winter
  • Part II Scotland
  • Anna, Our Welbelovit Queene
  • The Woman of Property
  • All of Them Witches
  • The Invention of Tradition
  • Strange Bedfellows
  • Catholic Queen, Kirk and Killer King
  • And Either Victory or Else a Grave
  • Part III England
  • Hail and Welcome, Fairest Queen!
  • Our Queen Is a Catholic in Heart
  • Blessed Are the Peacemakers
  • Rumour Doth Double
  • Two Fair Youths
  • Loss and Marriage
  • Suns That Set
  • Will Ye No Come Back Again?
  • For Sure No Good Prince Dies
  • Bibliography
  • Index

The Danish Girl

The castle at Skanderborg, overlooking the waters of the Lillesø on the Jutland Peninsula, was new, the old building having been radically refurbished in the renaissance style by Denmark’s king, Frederick II. Frederick had the luxury of time and money to build. As a – nominally – elected monarch, he ruled over a stable, staunchly Lutheran southern-Scandinavian kingdom which had, further, direct control over Norway, as well as the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. Denmark was on the brink of a boon period. The civil wars of its reformation had resulted in Protestant victory and the ensuing peace meant that the country could take advantage of its naval capabilities and the trade benefits afforded by the strategic position of its Øresund, known in English as ‘the Sound’. Indeed, Frederick himself was intent on building an enormous fortress from which to assert his dominion over the waterway. This was heady stuff for a nation which, at the start of the century, had had its sovereign ranked by Pope Julius II as the king least worthy of precedence (the king of Denmark ranking behind the kings of Poland, Bohemia, Cyprus, Navarre and Hungary, but ahead of the dukes of Brittany, Burgundy and the Palatine).1

Frederick’s decision to refurbish Skanderborg was an expression of his confidence and of the wealth which had accrued to him and his nation, partly as a result of peace and partly owing to the income which fell to him from seven bishoprics spread across Denmark and Norway. Further, he boasted ‘the tolls of Elsinore, besides a revenue of 200,000 dollars … from the duties on Hamburg and Rostock beer’.2 Frederick had, in 1572, married the 14-year-old Sophie of Mecklenburg. He was thirty-eight at the time and had allegedly been in love with one of his subjects, Anna Hardenberg. In his search for a more suitable bride, his eyes fell on Sophie, daughter of ←15 | 16→Ulrich, duke of Mecklenburg and Elizabeth of Denmark, whom he first met at Nykøbing Castle. It appears that, prior to his marriage, Frederick, who had ruled as king since 1559, had been something of a wild child. Upon this most respectable of marriages to a royal bride, his sister Anna, electress of Saxony, wrote,

Your Royal Majesty once has set upon leaving Your terrible, abominable Existence and [has joined] into a God-pleasing and Christian Position and has made friendly and marital ties to a royal House of equal Origin, Class and Birth which will bring your Kingdom Honour.3

This does not appear the stuff of great romance, nor should we expect it to. The marriage was a clear political move on both sides, though Frederick evidently learnt quickly to bear towards his wife a considerable degree of affection, as suggested by his private letters, which were uniformly loving in sentiment.4 What the young bride thought of her husband is unknown, but it does appear that they got along fairly well and her own letters suggest a reciprocal affection.5 Unlike many monarchs, Frederick is not recorded as having ever taken on mistresses, though he continued to provide decadent tables and to foster an international reputation – which would persist well into the next century – for hard drinking amongst his countrymen.

On the 12th of December 1574, the news broke out of Skanderborg that Sophie had given birth. Disappointingly, it was another girl.6 Frederick and Sophie already had a daughter: their eldest child, Elizabeth. The girl born that winter’s day was christened Anna, later known to history as Anna (or Anne) of Denmark, probably after her great-grandmother, Anna of ←16 | 17→Brandenburg or, less likely, her great aunt, Anna, duchess of Courland.7 She was thereafter swaddled – wrapped tightly in crisp linens in the traditional belief that restricted movement would ensure that her limbs grew straight and strong. In young Anna’s case, the result proved to belie the efficacy of the practice; she would, according to her later physician, who presumably had it from her, be unable to walk without support until she was nine, with this early disability likely justifying her later passion for dancing.

Despite the disappointment of a second female, the Danish royal couple was able to retain a sense of harmony and affection. This was in keeping with the tenets of Lutheranism to which Frederick II and his kingdom subscribed. In his 1522 treatise, ‘The Estate of Marriage’, Luther wrote,

Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith.8

There is of course no suggestion that Frederick II washed his daughter’s diapers, but there is reason to believe that his relationship with his wife remained one predicated on love and duty, seeded with respect and obedience on her part. As William R. Garrett has noted, the Lutheran conception of marriage was one which helped birth the idea of the modern nuclear family: ‘Thus Luther’, he writes, ‘denied the sacramental status accorded to marriage by Roman Catholicism, while still describing marriage as a “blessed office” which not only serves as a dike against sin by ←17 | 18→providing a legitimate channel for the expression of sexual drives, but also affords human beings with the strongest and happiest bonds of all earthly ties.’9 Certainly, given the rate at which Sophie and Frederick would produce issue, the sexual imperative was well served by their marriage. The inclusion of love between husband and wife was explicitly based on scriptural authority: ‘Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.’10 For the wife’s part, duty and obedience were owed, and Sophie evinced this in her well-expressed concern for her husband’s wellbeing, as in 1575 when he suffered a bout of malaria.

This aspect of marriage – a scriptural demand for obedience given in return for love – was much expounded by Calvin and thus to have special interest to Anna, who was destined to marry into the Calvinist atmosphere of Scotland. As Garrett further notes, ‘Calvin also prescribed a considerable degree of parental – largely paternal – control over children, based on the order of nature and the clear teaching of the scriptures … and over the course of time, this religious legitimation of marital love and parental concern acquired ever increasing force until it helped usher in the emergence of the modern family.’11 Yet the world of the Danish court was not wholly modern. Indeed, if one accepts that reformist thought tended towards a paternal ideal of family life – however loving and full of concern the dominating father might be – it remained as itinerant as any early modern court. Frederick was an industrious ruler who, like many sovereigns, travelled, hunted widely across his dominions and his seven royal castles, and was in all ways loath to remain in place. That being the case, and in an effort to ensure stability of upbringing, the royal couple determined to pass the immediate care of their young daughters to Sophie’s parents, Duke Ulrich and Duchess Elizabeth, at the old Wendish castle at Güstrow. This decision differs from those made for the care of royal infants afforded by other monarchies in the period, which tended to prefer giving children their own households ruled by loyal, aristocratic attendants. Frederick and Sophie ←18 | 19→were intent on keeping the governance of their children in the family, and it is even reported that the queen took the unusual step of nursing them through childhood ailments when possible.

Güstrow, presided over by Anna’s grandparents, provided a stable if chilly and somewhat austere backdrop to her earliest years. The renaissance would not sweep away the old building until 1589 and she thus learnt to deport herself as befitted a royal child in the forbidding castle which crouched above the provincial town. Here also she would have been nursed and weaned at about 2 years old.12

When Queen Sophie’s first confinement following Anna’s birth approached, in March 1577, Duchess Elizabeth travelled to Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerød to be with her daughter, who was then under the care of her chief court mistress, Inger Oxe, the foster mother of the acclaimed astronomer Tycho Brahe and three midwives.13 Happily, good news soon came to the nursery in Güstrow that the queen had given birth to the male heir – Christian – on the 12th of April. Duke Ulrich followed in his wife’s footsteps, reaching Copenhagen ahead of the christening on Trinity Sunday on the 2nd of June. There followed an outpouring of thanksgiving and a flowering of pageantry which served the dual function of celebrating the fecundity of the Oldenburg dynasty and announcing Frederick II’s intention of securing the throne for the infant. Although the monarchy of Denmark was, legally speaking, elective, in practice the reigning king traditionally put forward his eldest surviving son for nomination unopposed.

The christening of the future Christian IV was noteworthy for a number of reasons. Firstly, it demonstrates the vibrant cultural atmosphere which prevailed in the Danish court of Anna’s childhood. The festivities included a mock battle between the Philistines and the Hebrews and school dramas reflecting on the duties of the sovereign and his wife. Erasmus Laetus was to write in laudatory tones that the ‘baptism of Christian was at the same time to be the baptism of Denmark. Denmark was now the ←19 | 20→only country in the world where true faith ruled unchallenged!’14 Nor were more visceral pleasures left unattended; the guests and citizens were treated to a feast comprising ‘1250 chickens, 8000 eggs, 700 lambs, 400 pigs, 100 smoked boars’ heads, and 1600 dried flounders’.15 To delight the eye, ‘a wonderful dance of Moorish fools’ was staged.16

Central to the event, and of relevance to Anna’s future roles, was the conspicuous system of gift exchange.17 Most famously, the aristocratic godparents, Hans Skovgaard and Anne Parsberg, provided their young charge with a splendid gilt silver cup known as the ‘Rose Flower’ as an acknowledgement of the honour done them in being asked to stand as ‘gossips’ and to demonstrate their thanks at the gifts they had received from the royal family on their own wedding.18 Yet, as Poul Grinder-Hansen has noted,

At the same time the cup and its symbolism hinted at the ideal of the generous lord, stressing the hospitality and accessibility expected from the king, an ideal as common to king and nobility at the renaissance court of the sixteenth century as it had been in the previous centuries. The more humble gifts mentioned in private account books of the time point to the fact that people did not necessarily give someone a gift to obtain something in return. Sometimes gifts were simply given to sustain the social order of which the donors were a part.19


VIII, 292
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (December)
Queenship British history biography Anne of Denmark Steven Veerapen
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. VIII, 292 pp.

Biographical notes

Steven Veerapen (Author)

Pursuing an interest in sixteenth-century literature, Steven Veerapen was awarded a first-class Honours degree in English, with a thesis focussing on Renaissance literary depictions of Henry VIII’s six wives. He then received an MLitt in Renaissance Studies, with his Masters’ thesis examining depictions of Elizabeth I in early modern drama and chronicle histories. This was followed by a PhD from the University of Strathclyde, the focus of which was on Elizabethan slanderous and seditious material. He now lectures in English Studies at the University of Strathclyde. His research interests include early modern Anglo-Scottish relations and representations of authority and resistance in early modern drama.


Title: Anna of Denmark
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