Dorothea of Denmark, Electress Palatine

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For other people with the same name, see Dorothea of Denmark (disambiguation).
Dorothea of Denmark
Portrait by Michiel Coxcie, 1545
Electress Palatine
Tenure 1544–1556
Born (1520-11-10)10 November 1520
Died 31 May 1580(1580-05-31) (aged 59)
Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz
Burial Holy Ghost Church in Heidelberg
Spouse Frederick II of the Palatinate
House Oldenburg
Father Christian II of Denmark
Mother Isabella of Burgundy

Dorothea of Denmark and Norway (10 November 1520 – 31 May 1580) was a Danish, Norwegian and Swedish princess and an electress of the Palatinate as the wife of Elector Frederick II of the Palatinate. She was a claimant to the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish thrones and titular monarch in 1559-1561.


Dorothea of Denmark, Electress Palatine

Princess Dorothea was born on 10 November 1520 to King Christian II of Denmark and Norway and Isabella of Burgundy, sister of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Dorothea had an elder brother, Johann "Hans", born 21 February 1518. Her elder twin brothers, Philip Ferdinand and Maximilian, born 4 July 1519, had both died before her birth, the latter in 1519 and the former in 1520. Her sister Christina was born two years later, in 1522, and was her only sibling to reach adulthood. Christina would marry twice, first to Francis II, Duke of Milan, and secondly to Francis I, Duke of Lorraine.

On 20 January 1523, disloyal nobles forced her father to abdicate and offered the throne to his uncle, Duke Frederick of Holstein. That month, her mother gave birth to a stillborn son. Three-year-old Dorothea and her sister and brother followed their exiled parents to Veere in Zeeland, the Netherlands, and were taken care of by the Dutch regents, their grandaunt and aunt, Margaret of Austria and Mary of Hungary. Her mother died when she was five years old, on 19 January 1526. The Dutch court was an officially Catholic environment, but influenced with a sympathy for Protestantism, and Dorothea herself acquired Protestant sympathies early on.[1]

Dorothea was the object for marriage proposals early on. She has been described mostly in comparison with her sister, and referred to as beautiful, shorter and slighter than her sister. In 1527, Wolsey proposed the Duke of Richmond for a match for either Dorothea or Christina, but this proposal was not accepted by the Habsburg's because Richmond was illegitimate.

Her brother Hans died in 1532 at about fourteen years old. As the eldest surviving child of the abdicated Christian II, Dorothea had a claim to the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish throne. Because of this, King Frederick of Denmark suggested that Dorothea marry his youngest son, Prince John, after which he would name John his heir and leave his eldest son and current heir Christian as heir to the Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein instead. This was rejected by the Emperor and regent Mary because they did not wish to negotiate with Fredrick, whom they regarded as an usurper. The matter became moot when Frederick died in 1533. In 1532, she was given a proposal from the Duke of Milan, but the Emperor chose her sister for that match instead. Dorothea was long expected to marry King James V of Scotland, but the plan was never brought to fruition because fear of offending the French monarch, who wished for James to make a French match, and also the difficulty of finding a suitable dowry for her.


On 18 May 1535, Dorothea married Frederick of the Palatinate in Brussels, and then in person in Heidelberg, from were the continued to their home in Neumarkt. Frederick had served as a loyal ally of the Emperor, and long desired to marry in to the Imperial house. However, his proposals to the Emperors sisters and nieces had been rejected. To prevent him from entering a French match, the Emperors brother suggested he propose to Dorothea, who was a ward of the Emperor. Mary of Hungary, Regent of the Netherlands and foster mother of Dorothea, supported the match as a way of supporting Dorothea's claims on the Danish throne and thereby secure the Imperial influence in Northern Europe. At the time of the marriage, the succession of Christian III of Denmark was contested, there was a war in Denmark and Copenhagen was occupied by the Hanseatic League. The Habsburg family selected Frederick of the Palatinate to be her consort, as they believed that he could successfully claim the Danish throne through marriage. After the election of Christian III of Denmark to the Danish throne in 1536, however, her chance to succeed to the Danish throne was realistically over.[2] The Emperor was not very interested in the matter of Denmark.

Dorothea became popular in the Palatinate. She had a good relationship with both Frederick himself as well as his family. The couple had a similar character, shared a love for adventure and festivities and his love of travelling, and: "was always ready to accompany him on perilous journeys, to climb mountains or ford rivers, with the same unquenchable courage and gaiety of heart."[3] She had no children. In her anxiety to conceive, she went on pilgrimages and wore holy girdles: "this was done without any spirit of devotion, but with great mirth and laughter."[4] In 1537-38, she hosted her sister Christina, the Dowager Duchess of Milan, on her travel back to the Netherlands from Italy. Dorothea as well as Frederick were described as great spendthrifts, and it was said that she was not happy until she had spent her last penny.[5] As Frederick was of the same character, their common waste of money indebted them greatly.[6]

Frederick and Dorothea never gave up her claim to the throne of Denmark, and worked actively to have the Emperor support it. In 1539, the visited the Emperor in Spain to press the matter, but without success. Dorothea was a personal friend of the Empress, Isabella of Portugal, and when Isabella died that same year, the attempt to persuade the Emperor resulted in a loss of an ally. The couple visited the French court on their way back to the Netherlands, were Dorothea attracted the attention of the French King so such a degree that her relative, the Queen of France, Eleanor of Austria, reportedly kept to her side at all times to prevent her from becoming the lover of the King.[7] In 1540, Dorothea supported her sister Christina's desired love marriage to Prince René of Orange.

In February 1540, Dorothea was sent to the Emperor on the commission of Frederick to appeal plead her father's cause with the Emperor and prevent a renewal of the truce between the Netherlands and King Christian III. After consulting Archbishop Carondelet, the President of the Council, and Granvelle, Dorothea and Christina sent the following official petition to the Emperor: "My sister and I, your humble and loving children, entreat you, as the fountain of all justice, to have compassion on us. Open the prison doors, which you alone are able to do, release my father, and give me advice as to how I may best obtain the kingdom which belongs to me by the laws of God and man."[8] The appeal was however unsuccessful.

In 1544, Frederick became Elector Palatine. The Emperor officially acknowledged Christian III of Denmark the same year, but Frederick continued to support her claim. She attended the funeral of her sister's spouse, Francis of Lorraine, in Nancy. In the Christmas of 1546, Frederick and Dorothea took communion in the Protestant way in Heidelberg, which provoked the Emperor. For a while, Frederick joined on the side of the Protestant opposition. However, he soon joined the Catholic side of the Emperor again. After this, Dorothea and Frederick prevented the introduction of Protestant Reformation. Personally, Dorothea had Lutheran sympathies her entire life. In 1551, Dorothea and Frederick made an official visit to Lorraine.

Later life[edit]

In 1556, Frederick died, nursed by Dorothea. She sent for his successor, Otto Henry, Elector Palatine. Otto Henry introduced the Protestant Reformation. Dorothea, who long had Lutheran sympathies, supported this. When she visited her sister in the Netherlands in 1557, it was said of her that she: "is known to be a Lutheran and against the Emperor, and is as much hated here as her sister Christina is beloved."[9] The former Emperor Charles V instructed his son Philip to invite Dorothea to stay in the Netherlands so that she may become Catholic again, and Christina also attempted to persuade her to do so, but she refused.

As a widow, she lived in retirement in the Palatine castle in Neuburg. There were considerations of marriage to a son of Philip of Hesse, or to Margrave Albrecht of Brandeburg, but non came to fruition, and the latter died in 1557. At the death of her father in his prison in Denmark in 1559, Dorothea assumed the title of Queen of Denmark. However, being a childless widow and no longer expected to be able to have children, Dorothea was no longer considered politically useful. The Danish loyalists, headed by Peder Oxe, therefore asked Christina to persuade Dorothea to surrender her claims to Christina and her son. In 1561, Christina visited Dorothea, and reportedly did so.

Dorothea died in 1580 and was buried in the Holy Ghost Church in Heidelberg.



  1. ^ Dansk Kvindebiografisk Leksikon.
  2. ^ Dansk Kvindebiografisk Leksikon.
  3. ^ Julia Cartwright: Christina of Denmark. Duchess of Milan and Lorraine. 1522-1590, New York, 1913
  4. ^ Julia Cartwright: Christina of Denmark. Duchess of Milan and Lorraine. 1522-1590, New York, 1913
  5. ^ Julia Cartwright: Christina of Denmark. Duchess of Milan and Lorraine. 1522-1590, New York, 1913
  6. ^ Julia Cartwright: Christina of Denmark. Duchess of Milan and Lorraine. 1522-1590, New York, 1913
  7. ^ Julia Cartwright: Christina of Denmark. Duchess of Milan and Lorraine. 1522-1590, New York, 1913
  8. ^ Julia Cartwright: Christina of Denmark. Duchess of Milan and Lorraine. 1522-1590, New York, 1913
  9. ^ Julia Cartwright: Christina of Denmark. Duchess of Milan and Lorraine. 1522-1590, New York, 1913

External links[edit]

Media related to Dorothea of Denmark, Electress Palatine at Wikimedia Commons

Preceded by
Sibylle of Bavaria
Electress Palatine
Succeeded by
Marie of Brandenburg-Kulmbach