Anne of Denmark: a killer queen?

Anne of Denmark was wed as a teenager to the fiercely Protestant James VI (and later I), but had strong Catholic sympathies. As the state of her marriage deteriorated, Tracy Borman asks, could Anne have been a "great patron" behind the gunpowder plot?

Anne of Denmark, wife of James I of England. Although she gave the appearance of a dutiful consort, Anne was ambitious for power and meddled in politics, says Tracy Borman. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images)

Anne of Denmark was wed as a teenager to the fiercely Protestant James VI (and later I), but had strong Catholic sympathies. As the state of her marriage deteriorated, Tracy Borman asks, could Anne have been a “great patron” behind the gunpowder plot?

In July 1603, not long after his arrival in London, King James VI and I dispatched the spy and adventurer Sir Anthony Standen to Italy so that he might spread the news of James’s accession to the English throne. What should have been a straightforward mission backfired spectacularly. During Standen’s meeting at the Vatican, Pope Clement VIII gave him a rosary and asked him to present it to the new king’s wife, Anne of Denmark.

Anne’s Catholic sympathies had already stirred up trouble during her years in Scotland. Although she outwardly conformed to her husband’s reformism, it was rumoured that she had secretly converted to Catholicism several years before James ascended the English throne. When Standen presented Anne with the pope’s gift, the king flew into a rage and ordered his envoy to the Tower. The queen pretended indifference, but privately worked for Standen’s release.

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