The Tudor Society

Dorothea of Denmark and Norway

Portrait of a woman said to be Dorothea or her sister Christina.

Portrait of a woman said to be Dorothea or her sister Christina.

Thank you to our regular contributor, Heather R. Darsie, for introducing us to this interesting 16th century woman.

Dorothea Oldenburg, Princess of Denmark and Norway,1 was born to King Christian II of Denmark and Norway, and Isabella of Austria on 10 November 1520. Isabella of Austria was younger sister to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and a niece of Katherine of Aragon. Dorothea was a niece of Charles V.

Dorothea’s father, Christian II, was forced to abdicate his throne on 20 January 1523. Thereafter, Dorothea and her family, including her better-known little sister Christina of Denmark, fled to the Netherlands. Three-year-old Dorothea’s great-aunt, Margaret of Austria, was serving as Regent of the Netherlands; Margaret served in this capacity from 1507 to 1515, and again from 1519 until 1530. Margaret was pro-English.

A proposal for marriage suggested by England’s Cardinal Wolsey, that famous agent of Henry VIII, came to Dorothea in 1527. Perhaps as a bid to seemingly legitimise Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Henry VIII’s son by his mistress Elizabeth Blount, a marriage to a member of the Habsburg dynasty could have elevated Henry Fitzroy’s status a potential heir to the English throne. This marriage arrangement was declined.

Frederick of the Palatinate

Five years later, in 1532, Dorothea’s eldest brother died, leaving her with a claim to thrones of Denmark, Norway and Sweden through her father, Christian II. This made Dorothea an even more attractive bride. Another proposal came from Prince John, son of King Frederick of Denmark. This proposal was turned down as well, over the Habsburg stance that King Frederick was a usurper and had indeed usurped the throne from Dorothea’s father. Dorothea saw her sister Christina marry the Duke of Milan in 1533. Dorothea herself eventually married Frederick of the Palatinate in spring 1535. After the proxy marriage in Brussels, an official ceremony with both bride and groom took place in Heidelberg. The couple then made their home in Neumarkt.

Dorothea was thought to be attractive, with a similar look to that of her younger sister Christina. Reportedly, Dorothea was a little shorter than Christina and had a slighter frame. Dorothea did differ wildly from her sister Christina in that Dorothea at one point, Dorothea and her husband Frederick did seem to fully embrace the Protestant religion, whereas most of the Habsburg family remained Roman Catholic. Dorothea’s uncle, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, was incensed by this, which caused Dorothea to at least outwardly appear as a Catholic. She and her husband did their best to stop the spread of Protestantism in their domain.

Dorothea was widowed in 1556. She and her husband enjoyed a good marriage, sharing similar interests. Sadly, the couple was childless. This worked against Dorothea when, in 1559, she was declared titular Queen of Denmark and Norway. In 1561, Dorothea was eventually convinced by her younger sister Christina to abdicate to Christina’s son, as Dorothea had no heirs of her body and was very unlikely to conceive given her widowhood and age.

Otto-Henry, Elector of the Palatinate, became the successor to Dorothea’s husband in 1556. Otto-Henry successfully introduced the Protestant Reformation. Much to the horror of Dorothea’s Habsburg relations, she embraced the Reformation. Her sister Christina remained a Catholic, and Christina tried to bring Dorothea back into the Catholic fold.

Dorothea died in 1580 and was buried in the Church of the Holy Ghost in Heidelberg, not far from the base of Heidelberg castle, where she married her husband.

Heather R. Darsie lives in the United States with her family and three parrots. She works in the legal field, with a focus on children. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in German Languages and Literature, then a Juris Doctorate in American jurisprudence, and studied abroad in Costa Rica and France. Heather has always loved history. She first became acquainted with Elizabeth I when she was in middle school and chose to write a book report about her. Since then, she has always held an interest in the Renaissance and its numerous enigmatic citizens, with particular focus on the history of England and Italy. She is currently working on a book on the heraldry of Tudor women and is also researching Anne of Cleves.


  1. There are two Dorotheas of Denmark; namely, the Dorothea whom we learned about today, and Christian II’s cousin by his brother John, also named Dorothea. Christian’s cousin Dorothea went on to become the Duchess of Prussia. She was born in 1504.The two are frequently conflated on the internet. But if it’s on the internet, it must be true! Right?

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