Should Queen Anne be more celebrated?
Britain’s male monarchs vastly outnumber their female counterparts, making the few women who have ruled Britain even more iconic. Elizabeth I and Victoria are hailed as exceptional leaders in a world ruled by men. There is one queen, however, who ruled during one of the most important periods of British history, but whose reign is often overlooked. How did Queen Anne – the last of the Stuarts – rise above her personal tragedies to oversee the creation of Great Britain?
Born in 1665, during the reign of her uncle, Charles II, Anne knew how treacherous the path of the monarch could be – the execution of her grandfather, Charles I, was still fresh in many minds. Her father was James, the Duke of York, heir presumptive, but it seemed doubtful he would rule as there was still time for Charles to produce legitimate children. Anne also had siblings who would need to predecease her in order for her to become queen, so at her birth it looked unlikely that she would ever reign. But out of her seven full-blood siblings, only herself and her elder sister Mary survived to adulthood.
SINS OF THE MOTHER
Her father may have been royalty, but her mother – Anne Hyde – was not. She was a common-born lady-in-waiting to James’s sister Mary. Her parents’ marriage caused a scandal that rocked the royal family: Hyde was plagued with enemies at court, who spread rumours about her infidelity and unsuitability as a consort to James – causing Anne to later feel unfit to wear the crown. Although both her parents were Roman Catholic, Anne and her sister were raised as Protestants at Charles II’s request. There were fears within government that the royal family was too sympathetic to the Catholic cause, and anti-Catholic sentiment still lingered from the Bye Plot of 1603 and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, both of which would have seen James VI and I removed from the English throne. Anne’s marriage to Prince George of Denmark in 1683 – her second cousin once removed – was an arranged but happy union. Charles II wanted to cement an AngloDanish alliance, and Anne’s father approved as it restricted the power of the Dutch Republic and therefore his son-in-law, William of Orange, who was married to his other daughter, Mary. Even though Anne was content with her loyal husband, he was reputed to be a bore, with Charles II commenting: “I have tried him drunk and I’ve tried him sober, but there is nothing in him.” Years later, Queen Victoria would comment that she hoped Prince Albert would never occupy the role of the “stupid and insignificant husband”, as George had.
FEAR AND LOATHING
Charles II died without legitimate heirs in 1685, so Anne’s father ascended the throne as James VII and II, to the dismay of Parliament. James tried to promote religious liberty by reversing laws that punished Catholics and nonconformist Protestants. The fear of the King’s tolerance and his close ties with France led to fierce opposition in political circles, which reached their zenith in 1688. That was when his new wife – Anne Hyde had died in 1671, and James had remarried in 1673 – gave birth to a son. The infant, another James, displaced Mary as heir apparent and would almost certainly have been raised as a Catholic.
Seven leading nobles secretly called for William of Orange to sail from the Netherlands to seize the throne in Mary’s name. Anne did not protest, and when the invasion came in November 1688, Anne announced her support. The so-called Glorious Revolution had begun.
William III and Mary II became joint rulers in 1689. The Bill of Rights was declared later that year: it restricted the rights of the royal prerogative, created a constitutional monarchy and settled the line of succession so that in future only a Protestant could wear the crown. This put Anne next in line.
As a female member of the royal family, Anne was constantly reminded that her principal
“There were fears within government that the royal family was too sympathetic to the Catholic cause”
duty lay in producing children to ensure the future of the Stuart dynasty. Fears of a Catholic monarch had whipped Britain into a frenzy during James’s reign, circumstances that no one wanted to see repeated.
In 1689, Anne delivered, giving birth to a son named William – her first surviving child after a string of miscarriages. He was the cause of much joy, as his birth cemented the Protestant succession.
WATER OVER BLOOD
The relationship that would define Anne’s life and reign, was that with her childhood friend Sarah Churchill. Their close bond is often seen as a weakness of Anne’s – contemporaries believed she was under the thumb of Churchill’s scheming. Some historians have even suggested that Churchill was the real power behind the throne.
Friends from a young age, Churchill was swiftly promoted through the royal household and under Anne became the Mistress of the Robes – the most senior position a woman could hold – meaning that she always had Anne’s ear. Unusually for a woman at that time, Churchill was obsessed with politics and was allowed to control her salary, allowing her to become one of the richest women in England. Her husband, John, reaped the benefits from Anne’s relationship with his wife. Anne made him captaingeneral of her forces when she became Queen, as well as Duke of Marlborough.
The bonds between Anne and her sister, on the other hand, became strained over time. They argued over money, with Anne claiming an allowance – spurred on by Churchill – and declaring that William was unkind to her. She also distanced herself from many of William and Mary’s policies, to the point that the King and Queen thought Anne might be trying to undermine them. The joint monarchs despised Churchill, who they believed held far too much sway over Anne. Repeated calls to have her dismissed were ignored. After a severely painful labour in 1692 that resulted in a child who survived just minutes, Anne, who was still in bed recovering, received a visit from her sister. Mary chose this moment to again demand Churchill’s dismissal – and Anne refused for the last time. The two sisters would never meet again. Mary died in 1694, childless, leaving William to rule alone until his own death in 1702. It was then that Anne, aged 37, ascended the throne. Like her sister, Anne too was now childless. The hope that had blossomed in 1689 with William’s birth proved short-lived. Within weeks, it became clear that he was an ill child. He suffered from debilitating convulsions and struggled to walk, and he died in 1700 at the age of 11. That caused Parliament’s fear of a future Catholic monarch to resurface, which led to the 1701 Act of Settlement. Should Anne not produce another heir, the throne would pass to James VII and II’s cousin Sophia, the Electress of Hanover.
TRIUMPH AND TORMENTS
Anne, who by this time suffered badly from gout, had to be carried into her coronation on a sedan chair. It was hardly the regal and independent impression she had hoped to give. Yet her reign was marked by two major events that would demonstrate her effectiveness as a ruler.
The first was her role in the War of the Spanish Succession of 1701 14. At the turn of the 18th century, Europe was ruled by a collection of related and powerful families. When Charles II of Spain died childless in 1700, his closest heirs were members of the French Bourbon and Austrian Hapsburg families: the ascension of either to the Spanish throne would overturn the delicate power balance that had persisted for so long.
Anne involved herself in political decisions, attending more cabinet meetings than any of her predecessors. She had the wisdom to realise that the war was unpopular. She sought peace and the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, which granted Britain territories including Gibraltar and
“Suffering badly from gout, Anne had to be carried into her coronation on a sedan chair”
Menorca – ensuring naval supremacy for Britain in the Western Mediterranean – as well as the right to a controlled trade with the Spanish New World.
The second was the creation of Great Britain. When James VI and I ascended the English throne in 1603, the kingdoms of England (which included Wales) and Scotland had the same monarch but were separate sovereign states. Tensions between the two parliaments had been high for years, and a union was deemed the best solution to avoid war. Scotland needed economic security and England wanted assurance that Scotland wouldn’t be a back door for a Jacobite rebellion. Anne was in full favour of a union: “We shall esteem it as the greatest glory of our reign…being fully persuaded it must prove the greatest happiness of our people.”
The Acts of Union came into effect on 1 May 1707, uniting England, Scotland and Wales as the Kingdom of Great Britain. The entirety of Ireland, at this time, was a separate polity.
Despite these triumphs, Anne’s personal tragedies haunted her throughout her life. She suffered no less than 12 miscarriages and stillbirths, and of the five children she gave
birth to, only William survived past infancy. The horrific loss of so many children hit both Anne and George hard. Her multiple miscarriages are now thought to have been caused by Hughes Syndrome or Lupus – conditions that affect the immune system. Anne’s inability to produce a surviving heir stalked her: she believed God was punishing her for abandoning her father.
FAVOURITE BECOMES FOE
Anne’s friendship with Churchill was also suffering. While Sarah was a strong supporter of the Whigs, Anne preferred the Tories. They were known as the Church party and religion was a subject close to Anne’s heart – she was a devout Protestant and was well aware of the trouble religion had caused her family. Sarah’s behaviour towards Anne also differed to many at court. She would never flatter or compliment the Queen, and insisted on giving her advice on state matters.
In earlier years, Anne had found this a refreshing change from the pandering and fawning of court, but as the years went on, the Queen’s affection for Churchill waned. At the death of Prince George in 1708, Churchill reprimanded the Queen for mourning, removed a painting of George from Anne’s room and refused to adhere to the rules for mourning attire. This perceived heartlessness hardened Anne’s heart against her once-beloved friend.
Just as the devastating grief Queen Victoria felt at the loss of Albert has been welldocumented, so was Anne believed to have been as affected by her loss of George. She allegedly burst into tears when handed papers regarding naval affairs, which George had dealt with as Lord High Admiral.
Out of pity for a poor relation, Churchill had introduced the Queen to a distant cousin of hers, Abigail Masham, in the hope of finding her a role at court. This had the unintended consequence of giving the Queen a new favourite, and Churchill became incredibly jealous, spreading rumours about Anne’s ‘immoral’ relationship with Masham. Unlike Churchill, Masham was timid, unassuming and never spoke out of turn.
Finally fed up of the Churchills’ attempts to influence her, Anne removed John as CaptainGeneral and cut Sarah from the royal household. With the loss of both Prince George and Sarah Churchill, Anne was left without the two people who had been constants in her life for more than 20 years. By July 1714, the Queen’s health had worsened – she struggled to walk and was overweight. On the anniversary of Prince William’s death, she suffered a stroke and died two days later, with one of her doctors commenting: “I believe sleep was never more welcome to a weary traveller than death was to her.” She attended cabinet meetings up until her stroke and it’s possible the stress of matters of state took their toll on her – on top of her own losses and illness. Many modern opinions of Anne come from Churchill’s disparaging memoirs, in which she wrote that Anne “certainly meant well and was not a fool, but nobody can maintain that she was wise, nor entertaining in conversation” and “ignorant in everything but what the parsons had taught her”. These comments could be the cruel remarks of a scorned woman; modern assessments view Anne as a queen who was popular with her people, had a strong sense of loyalty to her country and was known to like a brandy or two. With Anne died the House of Stuart, though many pretenders to the crown rose up in rebellion over the years. The House of Hanover began its rule of Britain and the Georgian era swept in. Anne’s reign forever changed the face of Britain, politically and geographically, and created a prosperous nation that flourished for centuries.
“Anne’s inability to produce a surviving heir stalked her”
Anne’s eventful reign was blighted by the tragedies of motherhood and her own ill health
Though their marriage was arranged, Anne and Prince George of Denmark were devoted to one another
Anne ( centre) with her sister Mary and their parents. She spent several years of her youth in France, in a bid to cure her ‘sore eyes’
Sarah Churchill drew Anne’s admiration early in her reign, but later became a thorn in her side
The Treaty of Utrecht granted Britain the isle of Gibraltar – a contentious point with Spain to this day
The 1707 Acts of Union created a single crown for England and Scotland
Anne’s relationship with Sarah Churchill is exploredThe Favourite, starring Olivia Colman, which will be released in the UK in 2019
With Anne’s death in 1714 the crown passed to the House of Hanover – but not to Sophia, who predeceased her