In 1559, while sailing through the Dano-Norwegian kingdom (at the time, the two were united under the Danish crown), a Scottish admiral fell in love with the daughter of the Danish admiral (who was Norwegian). They married, and he whisked this Norwegian noblewoman off to his faraway land.
But be not misled. This deceptively romantic scene – what sounds like the start to a Renaissance fairytale – was merely an overture to what was surely one of the most bizarre dramas in history involving a cast of the most unlikely and unlovable creatures.
After marrying the Norwegian Anna Throndsen, James Hepburn, the 4th Earl of Bothwell and Scotland’s Lord High Admiral, abandoned her, and married a Scottish noblewoman, Jean Gordon (daughter of the Earl of Huntly). Barely a year into that second marriage, Bothwell filed for divorce (on shady terms). In the meantime, he was implicated in the famous Kirk O’Field plot that resulted in the murder of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, the young consort to Queen Mary of Scotland (and father to her only heir, who would later found the Stuart line on the English throne as James I).
Perhaps emboldened by his acquittal for the murder of Darnley (for which most historians agree he is guilty), Bothwell then abducted the newly widowed Queen Mary and raped her. Despite his detestable behavior – or, perhaps threatened by it – the Queen bestowed more titles on Bothwell, elevating him to the Duke of Orkney and the Marquis of Fife. Even more shocking, a few days later, after Bothwell finalized his divorce from Gordon, she married him.
Things began unravelling quickly thereafter for Bothwell and the Queen, as the Scottish nobility rose up against them. The two were forced to separate. Queen Mary was captured and imprisoned in the island castle of Loch Leven (from which she eventually escaped to England, only to be imprisoned for the rest of her life there by her cousin, Elizabeth I). Bothwell took to the sea, whereby he hoped to gain support from the Danish king for his cause. It was during this spirited maritime campaign that the long, vengeful arm of the Danish admiral’s daughter – Bothwell’s abandoned first wife – reached out from the icy waters of the North Sea and caught him off the coast of Norway. He was hauled into the port of Bergen and clapped into the prison at Rosenkrantz Tower.
After settling accounts with Throndsen (he owed her the dowry of which he defrauded her in abandonment), Bothwell probably would have been set free had Frederick II, the king of Denmark, not received word that Elizabeth I was hunting Bothwell for the murder of Darnley. Realizing that he had a potentially valuable pawn in his possession, Frederick II had Bothwell transferred out of Bergen to Denmark, where the Scotsman eventually ended up prisoner in the dreaded Dragsholm Slot, where he died in 1578 (after some reports of having gone insane).
Why am I telling you this ridiculous story?*
Because, it is the backdrop and context for my latest trip to Denmark.