Should Queen Anne be more cel­e­brated?

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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