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Anna of Denmark (November 22, 1532 – October 1, 1585) was a Danish princess from the House of Oldenburg. Through her marriage with Augustus of Saxony she became Electress of Saxony. She was renowned for her knowledge of plants and her skill in the preparation of herbal remedies, and contributed to the development of farming and horticulture in Saxony. She was a major influence in the introduction of orthodox Lutheranism and played a role in the decision to persecute Calvinists.

Childhood

Anna of Denmark was a daughter of king Christian III of Denmark and Norway and his wife Dorothea of Saxe-Lauenburg, who was the daughter of Magnus I, Duke of Saxe-Lauenburg and Catherine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, and sister of Catherine of Saxe-Lauenburg, the first queen of King Gustaf I of Sweden.

Her mother taught her the basic principles of gathering medicinal plants and preparing herbal remedies. After the introduction of Protestantism in Denmark in 1537, she was raised as a strict orthodox Lutheran.

In March 1548 she became betrothed to Augustus of Saxony, the younger brother and possible heir of Elector Maurice of Saxony. This marriage supported the Danish ambition to have closer ties to Germany. The Elector on his part wanted to achieve better relations with the Lutheran factions. The wedding took place in Torgau in October 1548. It was the first major festivity in the reign of Elector Maurice and the first opportunity for the Albertinian line of the House of Wettin to present themselves as Electors of Saxony, a title they had obtained in 1547.

Electress

Anna and Augustus initially lived in Weißenfels. When Augustus became Elector in 1553 following the death of his brother Maurice, they lived mainly in Dresden. They had fifteen children, four of whom reached adulthood. Their marriage was considered to be harmonious.

Anna of Denmark was a great writer of letters and kept a good archive of her correspondence. Her letters provide detailed insight into her daily life and her involvement in the political and religious affairs of her time. In Saxony, and throughout Europe, she was considered to be a person of considerable influence.

She was a very active advocate of Lutheranism and played a role in the suppression of crypto-Calvinism in Saxony between 1574 and 1577. It is unclear to what extent she was involved in the harsh persecution of Calvinists which included torture and long periodes of incarceration. She had good relations with other royal and princely houses and was frequently asked to act as an intermediary, in conflicts as well as in marriage negotiations.

Agriculture and pharmacy

During her lifetime, Anna of Denmark was known for her skill in managing gardens and farmland. In 1578, her husband entrusted her with the management of all his estates. She contributed to the development of agriculture in Saxony by introducing new crops and new species of livestock, and promoted the introduction of horticulture as practiced in the Low Countries and Denmark.

This had a positive effect on the economy of Saxony, which became one of the most prosperous parts of Germany. She was an acknowledged expert in herbal lore and personally prepared herbal remedies; she is now considered to have been the first female pharmacist in Germany. She was however not professionally active, in contrast to her contemporaries Helena Magenbuch and Maria Andreae. In castle Annaburg, which was named after her, she had her own large laboratory and library.

Death

Anna of Denmark died on October 1, 1585 after a long period of ill health. She remains one of the best known Electresses of Saxony, partly because of biographies written about her in the 19th century which emphasise her traditional role as ‘mother of the nation.’