Monday, December 10, 2012

1589 was an Important Year for Scotland or the Three Weddings of James VI and I...(but only one wife)...

by guest author Margaret Skea

Most of us only get married once (to the same person).
Things used to be different – for royalty at least…

Some of us may have written a poem to our beloved (not guilty).
That’s something that hasn’t changed.

A poem written by James VI to Anne of Denmark ~ 1589

                         What mortal man may live but hart*
                         As I do now, suche is my cace
                         For now the whole is from the part
                         Devided eache in divers place.
                         The seas are now the barr
                         Which makes us distance farr
                         That we may soone win narr**
                          God graunte us grace…

                         * without love
                         ** near

 Born in 1566, James became king at the age of one, following the forced abdication of his mother Mary Queen of Scots in 1567.

In 1589, now 23, negotiations for a suitable marriage, which had been a matter of primary concern to court and country alike since his 16th birthday, were finally concluded.

His choice, Anne of Denmark, was one that pleased himself – she was young and handsome. It pleased his subjects – reinforcing the already important trade links with Denmark. And, he said, it pleased God - who had ‘moved his heart in the way that was meetest’.

Whether James’ understanding of God’s will was influenced more by the fact that Anne was eight years younger than himself, while the other candidate, Catherine of Navarre, was eight years older and reputedly looking her age, than by the earnest prayer he claimed, is a moot point.
Whatever, the contract was made and his chosen proxy, George Keith, Earl Marishchal, was charged, not only with taking James’ place at the marriage ceremony, but also with the task of bringing the new queen home.

On the 1st September 1589 a small fleet left Denmark heading for Scotland. 

It was to be an ill-fated voyage. Storms battered the ships; the queen’s life was endangered by cannons which broke loose from the their mountings; and when prayers failed to calm the seas, Peter Munk, the Danish Admiral, concluding that the storms were the work of witches, sought safe haven in Norway.  

Munk’s belief that witches played a part in the storms that threatened the ships, was one which James was ready to accept and witch trials followed in both countries, including the infamous North Berwick trials of 1590.

Unwilling to wait until the following spring, James resolved to send ships from Scotland to bring Anne home. But when his Lord Admiral, the Earl of Bothwell, told him how much such a venture would cost, he quickly changed his mind. In fairness, though James had a reputation  of being canny, especially where money was concerned; he probably couldn’t afford it.

Enter Maitland, Lord Chancellor of Scotland, who volunteered to send ships at his own expense. An offer that James was quick to accept.
James then made what would be the most impulsive and foolhardy gesture of his life, disregarding the increased dangers of winter seas and deciding to accompany the fleet to Norway. Knowing it would not please his council however, he took care both to ensure that word of his intention did not leak out until it was too late for them to stop him, and to leave detailed instructions for the governance of the country in his absence. He was to be away for more than six months.

Fortunately for James, the journey, which Anne’s ships had struggled to make for almost a month, took just 6 days, and he arrived in Norway at the end of October.  

There followed wedding No.2 in Oslo, conducted in French by a Scots minister who had accompanied James, and finally, in January 1590, for the benefit of the Danish royal family, wedding No 3 at the castle of Kronborg in Denmark.

Thoroughly married, by both Scots and Lutheran rites, the royal couple and their entourage caroused the winter away in Denmark, finally leaving on the 21st April 1590.  They arrived at the port of Leith, just outside Edinburgh, on 1st May 1590, to a tumultuous welcome from a populace eager for a young and healthy king and queen.

It was a marriage that lasted thirty years until Anne’s death in 1619, and though the initial happiness did not last, they had eight children – three sons and five daughters. Their firstborn, Henry, having died in 1612, it was their second son Charles who succeeded James; the marriage of their only surviving daughter, Elizabeth, to Frederic V, Elector Palatine and King of Bohemia eventually leading to the Hanovarian succession to the British throne.


Margaret Skea grew up in Ulster at the height of the 'Troubles', but now lives with her husband in the Scottish Borders.
Her debut novel, Turn of the Tide - the Historical Fiction Winner in the 2011 Harper Collins / Alan Titchmarsh People's Novelist Competition – is set in 16thc Scotland and is the story of a fictional family trapped in a real-life vendetta between warring clans. It was published by Capercaillie Books in November 2012.
An Hawthornden Fellow and award winning short story writer - other recent credits include, Overall Winner Neil Gunn 2011, Chrysalis Prize 2010, and Winchester Short Story Prize 2009. Shortlisted in the Mslexia Short Story Competition 2012 and long-listed for the Matthew Pritchard Award, Fish Short Story and Fish One Page Prize, she has been published in a range of magazines and anthologies in Britain and the USA.


  1. There is an excellent book Scotland's Last Royal Wedding that treats the issues surrounding the marriage in a very entertaining and thorough account, including how James left Holyrood to embark from Leith under cover of darkness. The final chapter is telling "And they did not live happily ever after." It is by historian David Stevenson and includes the Danish account of the event. It reads like a novel, for anyone interested in looking a little deeper into this topic that Margaret Shea presents.

  2. Fascinating! I didn't know the story of James and Anne's marriage.

    Thanks for sharing!


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