1560 – The Anna Throndsen Affair


Anna Throndsen (also referred to as Anna Trond, Anna Trondsen or Anna Rustung) was the daughter of Kristoffer Throndsen and his wife Karine. They had eight children and so Anna was able to get away with doing pretty much as she wanted, including helping her father with his business affairs, which is possibly how she came to meet the Earl of Bothwell. Seven of the Throndsen children were daughters, with the consequent problems of making good marriages for them all. Two of her sisters had married Scotsmen, and so a marriage to a Scottish Lord was an attractive prospect to Anna and to her parents. What the Throndsens perhaps didn’t realise was that Bothwell was by now impoverished by his war efforts, having to sell lands to prevent bankruptcy.

Anna was dark and perhaps quite Latin looking. She also came with an attractive dowry of forty thousand silver dollars. Whilst still embroiled in negotiations with Frederick, Bothwell promised to marry Anna. When he was freed from these by the death of the Queen Regent, he was still trapped by his new obligations. He may even have been through a form of marriage ceremony, for Frederik Schiern in his ‘Nyere Historiske Studier’ states that they were handfasted – and that this was legally binding in Danish law. Whether Bothwell was aware of that fact is another matter, even if the ceremony did take place. He had ‘form’ for handfasting, and seems to have regarded it as a way of demonstrating some sort of committment to women he had no intention of ever formally recognising as his wife. He certainly didn’t view any handfasting as having any bearing on his ability to officially marry at a later date.

Deciding that out of sight would hopefully become out of mind for Anna, Bothwell announced his plans to leave Denmark to pay his respects to his new Queen at Fontainebleau. Unfortunately, by this time Anna had given him not only her money and her body, but also her heart. She set her mind on going with him, and her family made no objection. Gore-Brown suspected this was due her pregnancy, but it is just as likely because her family regarded her as his wife. Bothwell had no choice but to let her tag along.

Their journey must have been traumatic, as at one point Throckmorton wrote to Cecil to say that Bothwell was dead, but further details are unobtainable. By 12 September he had reached Flanders, and instructed Anna to stay there. This wasn’t the desertion which it has been painted in the past – even when Anna sued him, she never accused him of this. He was guilty of using her money to finance himself and his entourage, but the separation was a temporary one. Bothwell needed money and aimed to plead his case in the French court, since it was in support of his Queen that he had lost his fortune. Arriving with a poorly educated foreign mistress in tow would do nothing for his chances.

By the standards of the French court, Anna was ill-educated, and would have been a liability. Contrary to the picture often painted of a boorish man, Bothwell was well-educated. As well as his supposed studies in magic, he had an interest in military history and theory, reading these in French translations from Latin. He could speak and write French fluently – his writing was far more elegant than many of his Scottish contemporaries.

Gore-Brown writes that Bothwell left whilst ‘behind him a lachrymose Anna fluttered a damp handkerchief.’ Gore-Brown is most entertaining on this episode, he seems to have had as gossipy an interest in this whole affair as I have. He thinks that it was probably during this separation that Anna wrote some of what were to become known as the casket letters, supposedly written by Mary Stuart. Of the Eighth letter Gore-Brown writes ‘its affectations almost provide Bothwell with an excuse for neglecting its authoress.’

Anna signs herself off as his ‘humble, obedient, loyal wife and only love.’ To be fair to Anna, she may have been pregnant – there is no record of this, but it is suspected that Bothwell had an illegitimate son called William, whom his mother looked after, suggesting that the child’s mother had some standing in the eyes of his family. The likeliest mother would be Anna Throndsen. However, as Gore-Brown comments, ‘A little sympathy may be kept for the seducer whom she must have bored profoundly.’

Whatever his feelings, Bothwell picked up Anna on his way back to Scotland, and she appears to have remained there until 1563, at which time she returned to her family, who were by that time living in Bergen, Norway. She remained a wealthy woman, and was a regular on the Bergen social scene. But Fate had decreed that her part in Bothwell’s story was not yet over.

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