They say that behind every great man is a great woman, but no one lived that phrase like Queen Anne of Denmark. The consort of James I of England, Anne embodied supreme royal privilege and power—and she had the scandals to prove it. From the chilly inner workings of her bedroom life to her salacious court dramas, this was one fiery fair maiden.
Anne of Denmark Facts
1. Her Father Didn’t Want Her
Some women are born with all the luck, but even as a princess of Denmark, Anne wasn’t one of them. When she was born on December 12, 1574, it wasn’t the happy Christmas occasion you might think. Her father King Frederick II and his wife Queen Sophie had been hoping for a boy, and they were very disappointed to find a second daughter in Anne. Still, they found other uses for her…
2. Her Parents Pushed Her
By the time Anne was a young girl, her parents finally added two boys, Christian and Ulrich, to the family. Although this might have meant that Anne could sit back and let her brothers do all the work, her parents had much different ideas in mind. Before she was really a proper teenager, they began to plan her marriage—and her suitor was a very big deal.
3. She Had A Powerful Suitor
When Anne was on the marriage market, none other than James VI of Scotland, the future James I of England, was circling around Europe looking for a potential bride. With Denmark being a powerful political ally, Anne was nearly at the top of his list. Now, I know that doesn’t sound very romantic—but it’s about to get a whole lot grosser.
4. Her Romantic Life Was Incestuous
Anne had a major rival for James’s affections: Her older sister Elizabeth. Because, you know, who cares about the actual woman you’re marrying as long as her family background checks out? In fact, as the eldest daughter, Elizabeth was likely the front-runner…until, that is, another man proposed to her. Suddenly, Anne’s path to royal bliss was clear—and that’s when she showed her true colors.
5. She Nursed An Enormous Crush
In 1589, Anne officially got engaged to James, and her reaction was half mortifying, half chilling. Simply put, Anne became obsessed with her husband-to-be. As one commenter put it, the adolescent was “so far in love with the King’s Majesty as it were death to her to have it broken off.” So as her wedding ramped up, Anne got to work on a strange, lovesick project.
6. She Could Play The Good Wife
True to their powerful status, the Danish royal family had something like 300 tailors damaging their fingers on Anne’s gorgeous wedding dress alone. Yet the entire time, Anne was focused on tailoring something for James: Every day, she personally embroidered shirts for him. If she knew the whole truth, though, she might have thought twice.
7. Her Suitor Had A Secret
Naïve and sheltered, Anne couldn’t have possibly known King James’s biggest secret. Today, many historians believe James was gay or bisexual. Throughout his life, he certainly anointed a series of male courtiers as his extreme favorites, among them George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, who James supposedly would “tumble and kiss as a mistress.”
But whether she was the king’s type or not, Anne’s wedding was fast approaching. And guys, it was a weird one.
8. Her Groom Wasn’t At Her Wedding
On August 20, 1589, the 14-year-old Anne married King James by “proxy,” a common practice at the time where either one or both of the newlyweds wasn’t actually there for the ceremony. Instead, they got someone to fill in for them at the altar. If this sounds bizarre, well, in poor Anne’s case, the big day got a whole lot stranger.
9. She Had A Mega Awkward Ceremony
In Anne’s wedding by proxy, she attended the nuptials at Kronborg Castle near her hometown, while James’s representative George Keith, the Earl of Marischal, met her walking down the aisle. And then he did a lot more: To seal the ceremonial deal, Keith sat next to the teen in the bridal bed. Medieval royals: They’re not just like us.
It couldn’t have been the most auspicious of beginnings for poor Anne, and it was about to become downright alarming.
10. She Braved The High Seas
Now that she was finally married, Anne set off for Scotland to, uh, actually meet her husband. It took a surprising and terrifying turn. The fleet carrying her and her ladies confronted a deluge of bad luck, including when two flotillas collided and Anne’s own ship sprung a leak. As if that weren’t enough pathetic fallacy for Anne’s marriage, literal danger was ahead.
11. She Was A Shipwreck Victim
On September 12, 1589, a ship came out of the fog at Leith in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was carrying a one Lord Dingwall, and his tale was nothing short of shocking. Dingwall claimed that he had been part of Anne’s fleet, but that an enormous storm had separated them. He was now certain the Queen of Scotland was now irretrievably lost at sea. Enter: Pandemonium.
12. Her Husband Mourned Her
When King James heard that his new Danish bride had likely perished at sea, he went right off the deep end. James quickly ordered his nation into fasting and constant prayers, and surveyed the waters around the clock for even the barest glimpse of Anne. Then, as if that weren’t enough, he went full-tilt into heroism for his damsel in distress.
13. Her Groom Wrote Sappy Poetry About Her
Over the next weeks, James started writing epic songs about his mythical love for Anne (reminder: they had still never met), comparing their maritime misadventure to the Greek lovers Hero and Leander. He even sent out a search party equipped with a personal letter from him to Anne. Finally, however, news of Anne’s true whereabouts arrived.
14. She Stood Up Her Husband
In October, messages from Anne revealed that her fleet had taken shelter from the raging ocean in Oslo, Norway. Full of apologies to James, she explained that although they had tried several times to set off again, they were now stuck there with little hope of making it over to Scotland until the spring. Except that’s not at all what ended up happening.
15. She Was Living A Fairy Tale
As soon as King James got word from Anne, he made an extremely rash decision. Unwilling to be parted from his bride for one more second (Note: they continue to be perfect strangers), James left Leith with 300 men and traveled all the way to Oslo to haul his fair maiden over his saddlebow. When he arrived, he caused quite the scene.
16. The King Swept Her Off Her Feet
On November 19, many months after Anne first set sail from Denmark, King James arrived in Oslo and produced what historian David Willson called “the one romantic episode of his life.” When he saw Anne, James was still dressed in his traveling boots, and proceeded to sweep her up for a kiss, as was the custom in Scotland at the time.
With ALL this swashbuckling lead-up, it should be no surprise that their royal marriage was stormy as heck.
17. She Had A Real Royal Wedding
From this moment, everyone could see that James and Anne were enthralled with each other. At their long-awaited formal wedding ceremony on November 23, even the priest couldn’t help noting that Anne was “a Princess both godly and beautiful … she giveth great contentment to his Majesty.” Ah, if only the honeymoon period could have lasted forever.
18. She Had Expensive Tastes
To be sure, Anne knew she was a princess—and now a queen consort—down to her very bones. When she finally did enter Edinburgh after her ceremony in Oslo, horses pulled her regal form on a solid silver coach she had brought over from Denmark. Meanwhile, her husband James rode beside her on a measly horse. Foreshadowing, much?
19. She Had A Sassy Side
Although King James had his own scandals, maybe he should have been warned about Anne. See, demure little Anne also had a spicy side, and while many admitted she was steadfast and generous to her friends, she also had no problem making enemies, either. As one envoy put it, “She is full of kindness for those who support her, but on the other hand she is terrible, proud, unendurable to those she dislikes.” As we’ll see, James found this out the hard way.
20. Her King Kissed And Told
In truth, although James and Anne were mega into each other at the very beginning, their relationship soured in the worst way possible. After the initial romance wore off, they found they had very little to agree on and fought frequently, leading James to write that marriage was “the greatest earthly felicitie or miserie, that can come to a man.” Harsh words for his wife, but that was the least of his betrayals.
21. She Had Stiff Competition In The Bedroom
Around this time, James started lavishing attention on Anne Murray, one of the shining jewels of his court. Just like he had with our Anne, James started writing mythical love poetry for the lady, addressing her in these verses as, “my mistress and my love.” Ouch, James. Besides her husband’s wandering eye, Anne had other worries on her mind.
22. People Thought She Was Barren
As royal consort, Anne had one job and one job only: Give King James a male heir. This did not prove to be easy, and after three years passed with no visible pregnancy from Anne, the fringes of the court began to turn on her and claim she simply couldn’t please James properly. But when she finally did get pregnant, it went from bad to worse.
23. Her Husband Wanted To Control Her
In late 1593, all of Scotland could see that Anne of Denmark was with child, but this only brought out a new, controlling side of her husband. Terrified this was his only chance for an heir, King James forbid Anne from even going horse riding, not that the headstrong queen listened to him. As it turned out, this was the beginning of intense conflict.
24. She Did Her Duty
In February 1594, Anne finally shut her courtiers’ mouths and gave birth to her first child, who just so happened to be a boy on top of all that. She christened the son Henry Frederick, and he quickly became the apple of her eye. Only just as Anne was ready to do some serious mother-son bonding, her husband gave her incredibly cruel news.
25. Her Husband Ripped Her Child From Her Arms
To Anne’s horror, James wanted her to have almost no contact with her son as the boy grew up. Instead, James appointed his own former nurse to take care of Henry, and, as was Scottish tradition, fostered the babe with the Earl of Mar at the distant Stirling Castle. Well, James must not have known whom he was dealing with, because Anne started plotting her vengeance immediately.
26. She Waged War Against Her King
With her son only months old and already away from her breast, Anne started an impassioned campaign to get him back, luring a faction of powerful supporters to her side. In case you’re wondering, she was terrifyingly good at this—so much so that King James ordered the Earl of Mar to never give up Henry to anyone unless he directly ordered it. Only, this all had a tragic end.
27. She Went Through A Cruel Tragedy
With her first plot frustrated, Anne only grew more furious at King James. They had several dragged-out, bawling fights in public for all and sundry to see—but then came the darkest consequences. Throughout all this, Anne had been pregnant again, and the stress of the situation caused her to miscarry in July 1595. And things were just heating up.
28. She Plotted Her Comeback
If you need to know one thing about Queen Anne of Denmark, know this: She played the loong game. So although she backed off about Henry after this miscarriage and went on to have a whopping six more children with James, she never forgot for one second that her eldest son was far away from her. It took almost a whole decade, but when she pounced again, it was epic.
29. She Stormed A Castle
All this time, the shrewd Anne had only been waiting for the perfect opportunity to take Prince Henry back into her fold—and in 1603, she had it. King James had just accepted the English throne, and was traveling with none other than Earl of Mar, her son’s keeper, to secure his place in London. Almost as soon as he left, Anne stormed down to Stirling Castle with her noble supporters.
It did not go the way she hoped—in fact, it was more like a nightmare.
30. Her Plans Got Foiled
When Anne—who was pregnant again—arrived at Stirling Castle, she expected to find it nearly unguarded. She was very, very wrong. The Earl’s wife and his young heir were on to her, and they forced her to enter with only two attendants rather than her whole retinue. You can bet this foiled her plans to infiltrate the castle and secret out her now nine-year-old son. Anne…did not take this well.
31. She Suffered A Second Tragedy
The Earl of Mar’s family were so insistent on their house rules, it drove Anne into a tragic déjà vu. She went to bed that night beside herself with anger, and when she woke up, she found that she had miscarried a child again from her distress. Yes, this was devastating, but instead of making her shrink back into herself again, it had quite the opposite effect.
32. She Hated Her Husband
At this point, all bets were off when it came to Anne and James’s royal marriage. Unsurprisingly, then, when James heard of Anne’s machinations and miscarriage at Stirling Castle, he was livid and demanded she come see him in England so he could keep his rogue consort on a tighter leash. Yeah, Anne’s response was a big “screw you.”
33. She Maliciously Disobeyed The King
Full of anger toward James and not trying to hide it in the slightest, Anne explicitly refused his orders—with one caveat. If he wanted her in England, she wheedled, he would finally let her have custody of Prince Henry. James didn’t bite, but he also gave up trying to get her to London too, instead spending his time complaining about her “wilfulness.”
The thing is, this episode wasn’t even Peak Anne.
34. She Was An Attention Hog
Despite the rocky start to Anne’s relationship with England, she did eventually take to London like a duck to water. While Presbyterian Scotland was stuffy and bland, the young queen adored fun-loving England and earned a reputation in the country for throwing absolutely massive balls, where she often personally performed in masques with her ladies-in-waiting.
And well, Anne must have really loved those ladies, but she was about to start one of the most enormous scandals of the 17th century for them.
35. She Was In The Middle Of A Conspiracy
In 1600, the “Gowrie” conspiracy hit the palace and implicated two of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting, Beatrix and Barbara Ruthven, after they supposedly helped their brothers attack the king. In response, the palace fired the two girls, which was not a route that Anne had wanted to take with her beloved companions. And boy, did she let James know it.
36. She Knew How To Get What She Wanted
After the Ruthven girls left the palace in disgrace, Anne put into motion her petty revenge. She not only refused to eat a morsel of food, but she also swore she’d never get out of bed until the king invited them back. She made very good on her threats: When the king commanded her to let it go, she shrugged her shoulders. When he tried to improve her mood by hiring acrobats to entertain her, she accepted them…and kept on pushing her agenda.
It was enough to drive the palace into complete crisis mode—and, well, it did.
37. She Was Fiercely Loyal
Anne was so staunch in her support of Barbara and Beatrix Ruthven over the next three years that the royal household literally considered the queen a security threat, fearful that she would somehow facilitate the family’s return to power and the palace. Which, um, is exactly what Anne ended up doing—and in the most scandalous manner imaginable.
38. She Was A Smuggler
In 1602, King James made a stunning discovery about his wife. Stubborn to her core, Anne of Denmark had actually secreted Beatrix Ruthven into the venerable Holyrood Palace to act as her undercover lady-in-waiting. When James found out about it (because of course he did) he put Anne’s entire household under surveillance. But somehow, the queen always came out on top.
39. She Wore The Pants In Her Relationship
Look, even I don’t know how she did it, but despite everything they’d been through Anne still had James wrapped around her little finger. Need proof? Although James complained constantly about Anne’s “perversity” concerning the Ruthvens, he was the one who caved to her demands, giving Beatrix Ruthven a pension in 1603 to keep her happy. Still, Anne’s strange power over James eventually came to a tragic halt.
40. She Refused To Sleep With The King
In 1607, Anne went through an extremely difficult labor while delivering her seventh and final child with James, a little girl named Sophia. The experience was so harrowing that, understandably deciding she’d put enough effort into baby-making, Anne announced she didn’t want to have any more children. Of course, given the state of birth control at the time, this also meant she wasn’t going to be warming King James’s bed anymore, either.
As hard as that might have been for James, their real trial was just around the corner.
41. She Suffered A Cruel Blow
In 1612, Anne’s worst nightmare came true. Her beloved and estranged son Prince Henry perished, likely from typhoid, at the tender age of 18. His passing didn’t just rip Anne and James apart, it tore her own heart in two. Any ambassadors to court knew to not even to offer her condolences about the tragedy “because she cannot bear to have it mentioned.”
It was the nail in the coffin for James and Anne’s relationship, and nothing would ever be the same.
42. She Turned Into A Hermit
With many of Anne’s children reaching marrying age, the queen consort found herself nearly alone at court within a couple of years after the loss of Henry—and that seemed to be just the way she liked it. Anne all but withdrew from public life, holding her last masque in 1614. As for King James, well, he took on much different hobbies…
43. Her Husband’s Eye Wandered
As Anne’s influence over James waned, it opened the playing field for a series of powerful male court favorites. There was of course the Duke of Buckingham, George Villiers—he of the “tumble and kiss as a mistress”—but also Robert Carr, the Earl of Somerset. Still, Anne didn’t quite take herself out of the picture when it came to these two.
44. She Had A Human “Dog”
The grieving Anne still knew how to rule her particular roost, and she kept a watchful eye on both Carr and Villiers as her husband’s bosom buddies. While she detested Carr and must have been happy when he “coincidentally” fell out of favor, she anointed Villiers with her personal approval, even letting James knight him in her bedchamber and nicknaming him her “dog.”
45. Her Body Began To Fail Her
Since the passing of Prince Henry, Anne had done her darndest to stay relevant. Nonetheless, the misfortune was weighing heavily on her body, and her health took a sharp downward turn in 1614. The queen began complaining of pain in her feet, and her attendants noted she was “lame” as early as October 11. Many suspected she had dropsy, AKA swelling symptoms related to heart failure, and she certainly suffered from gout.
It would get much worse before her life came to its difficult end.
46. She Put On One Last Show
By 1617, Anne had deteriorated so much that she very rarely even got dressed for the public—but one of her last appearances was jaw-dropping. After making a Venetian ambassador wait a couple of days until she felt well enough, Anne met the man in a pink and gold low-cut dress, all while wearing a wig decorated with scads of jewels that extended out like rays. Behind the scenes, however, the truth was far less beautiful.
47. She Became A Lumberjack
In her final years, Anne moved into Hampton Court to meet her last days with magnanimity. Um, sort of. Her doctor Sir Theodore de Mayerne, like many practitioners of the day, had some strange ideas about “convalescence” and briefly forced the royal to saw wood in order to increase her blood flow. I say “briefly,” because this only made her feel worse, and she eventually stopped.
48. Her Husband Forgot About Her
Throughout all this, Anne’s husband dealt her one final betrayal. Although everyone knew the Queen of Scotland and England was dying, James only visited her a bare three times during her last brush with mortality. Instead, he preferred to spend his time with his favorites. The Age of Anne was done…except for the one person who stayed with her until the end.
49. Her Son Made Her A Heartbreaking Tribute
Besides Anne’s loyal ladies-in-waiting and nurses, her now-eldest son Charles—the future King Charles I—refused to leave his mother’s side, and would sleep in the adjoining bedroom at Hampton Court so she could have him whenever she needed him. He even held her hands as she lost her sight during the ravages of her final illness.
50. Her Husband Didn’t Go To Her Funeral
On March 2, 1619, Queen Anne of Denmark succumbed to dropsy and passed. In one final twist, King James didn’t even attend her funeral. Nonetheless, Anne’s personal doctor claimed this was because once Anne’s death finally hit him, the king was overcome with grief and showing symptoms of “fainting, sighing, dread, [and] incredible sadness.” Ok, sure.
51. She Killed The King’s Dog
In Anne’s heyday, no one could match her influence over King James, dysfunctional marriage or not—and we’ve saved the best story for last. In 1615, Anne “accidentally” (okay, it was probably an accident) shot and killed James’s favorite hunting dog, Jewel, while chasing quarry on the royal grounds. You’d think James would be furious…but instead, he gave her a bizarre gift for her crime.
52. She Got A Strange Present
Sure, at first Anne’s carelessness did incense James, and he deeply mourned his beloved good girl. Except afterward, he kissed and made up with Anne by buying her a whopping £2,000 diamond in memory of his “Jewel.” Get it, a jewel for a “Jewel?” Yeah, that’s not where I was expecting that story to go either, but such was the persuasive power of Anne.