Anne of Denmark

12 Dec 1574
2 Mar 1619
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Anne of Denmark (Danish: Anna; 12 December 1574 – 2 March 1619) was Queen consort of Scotland, England, and Ireland as the wife of King James VI and I.

The second daughter of King Frederick II of Denmark, Anne married James in 1589 at age 14 and bore him three children who survived infancy, including the future Charles I.

She demonstrated an independent streak and a willingness to use factional Scottish politics in her conflicts with James over the custody of Prince Henry and his treatment of her friend Beatrix Ruthven. Anne appears to have loved James at first, but the couple gradually drifted and eventually lived apart, though mutual respect and a degree of affection survived.

In England, Anne shifted her energies from factional politics to patronage of the arts and constructed her own magnificent court, hosting one of the richest cultural salons in Europe. After 1612, she suffered sustained bouts of ill health and gradually withdrew from the centre of court life. Though she was reported to have been a Protestant at the time of her death, evidence suggests that she may have converted to Catholicism sometime in her life.

Historians have traditionally dismissed Anne as a lightweight queen, frivolous and self-indulgent. However, recent reappraisals acknowledge Anne’s assertive independence and, in particular, her dynamic significance as a patron of the arts during the Jacobean age.

Anne was born on 12 December 1574 at the castle of Skanderborg on the Jutland Peninsula in the Kingdom of Denmark. Her birth came as a blow to her father, King Frederick II of Denmark, who was desperately hoping for a son. But her mother, Sophie of Mecklenburg-Güstrow, was only 17; three years later she did bear Frederick a son, the future Christian IV of Denmark.

With her older sister, Elizabeth, Anne was sent to be raised at Güstrow in Germany by her maternal grandparents, the Duke and Duchess of Mecklenburg. Compared with the roving Danish court, where King Frederick was notorious for gargantuan meals, heavy drinking and restless behaviour (including marital infidelity), Güstrow provided Anne with a frugal and stable life during her early childhood.

Christian was also sent to be brought up at Güstrow but two years later, in 1579, the Rigsraad (Danish Privy Council) successfully requested his removal to Denmark, and Anne and Elizabeth returned with him.

Anne enjoyed a close, happy family upbringing in Denmark, thanks largely to Queen Sophie, who nursed the children through their illnesses herself. Suitors from all over Europe sought the hands of Anne and Elizabeth in marriage, including James VI of Scotland, who favoured Denmark as a kingdom reformed in religion and a profitable trading partner.

James’ other serious possibility, though 8 years his senior, was Catherine, sister of the Huguenot King Henry III of Navarre (future Henry IV of France), who was favoured by Elizabeth I of England. Scottish ambassadors had at first concentrated their suit on the oldest daughter, but Frederick betrothed Elizabeth to Henry Julius, Duke of Brunswick, promising the Scots instead that “for the second [daughter] Anna, if the King did like her, he should have her.”

By late 1617, Anne’s bouts of illness had become debilitating; the letter writer John Chamberlain recorded: “The Queen continues still ill disposed and though she would fain lay all her infirmities upon the gout yet most of her physicians fear a further inconvenience of an ill habit or disposition through her whole body.” In January 1619, royal physician Sir Theodore de Mayerne instructed Anne to saw wood to improve her blood flow, but the exertion served to make her worse.

James visited Anne only three times during her last illness, though Prince Charles often slept in the adjoining bedroom at Hampton Court Palace and was at her bedside during her last hours, when she had lost her sight. With her until the end was her personal maid, Anna Roos, who had arrived with her from Denmark in 1590. Queen Anne died aged 44 on 2 March 1619, of a dangerous form of dropsy.

Despite his neglect of Anne, James was emotionally affected by her death. He did not visit her during her dying days or attend her funeral, being himself sick, the symptoms, according to Sir Theodore de Mayerne, including “fainting, sighing, dread, incredible sadness …”. The inquest discovered Anne to be “much wasted within, specially her liver”.

After a prolonged delay, she was buried in King Henry’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey, on 13 May 1619. The catafalque, designed by Maximilian Colt, placed over her grave was destroyed during the civil war.

As he had done before he ever met her, James turned to verse to pay his respects:

So did my Queen from hence her court remove
And left off earth to be enthroned above.
She’s changed, not dead, for sure no good prince dies,
But, as the sun, sets, only for to rise.

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