Born on 6th February 1665, Anne is a Queen whose reign is often overshadowed by her female forbear Elizabeth I and one of her many successors, Queen Victoria. Both Elizabeth and Victoria reigned for longer than Anne and, during both their tenures, saw dramatic changes occur at home and in the British Empire. Both of these Queens continue to be recognised as two of the greatest monarchs that we have seen in our history.
But what about Anne? She too was a Queen regnant!
Anne was born during the reign of her uncle, King Charles II, who had no legitimate children, therefore making Anne’s father James (the future King James II) the first in line to the throne. Charles II ordered Anne to be raised as a Protestant as her father’s lenience and eventual conversion to Catholicism was becoming increasingly unpopular within the royal court.
From an early age, Anne suffered from health problems, including a slight eye condition which led her eye to water excessively at times, known as ‘defluxion’. Anne was sent to France for medical treatment, where she stayed with her paternal grandmother, the Dowager Queen Henrietta Maria. Following her grandmother’s death in 1669, Anne then lived with her aunt, Henrietta Anne, although her sudden death in 1670 saw Anne return to England where her mother died the following year. It does appear that, from an early age, Anne had a lot of upset and disruption in her life. Losing three very close family members in the span of two years must have been difficult for such a girl, setting the tragic scene for the rest of Anne’s life.
On 4th November 1677, Anne’s elder sister, Mary, married William of Orange, who was their Dutch cousin. This sparked rumours of marriage plans for Anne in the near future. These rumours were further escalated when, in December 1680, Anne’s second cousin, George of Hanover (the future George I), made a three-month visit to London. However, the Hanoverians had a completely different woman in mind for George; Sophia Dorothea of Celle, who did become George’s wife and, consequently, Queen of Great Britain when George ascended the throne after Anne.
With George out of the marriage question, Charles II looked elsewhere for a suitor for Anne. This suitor would have to be someone who would be welcomed as a possible husband by Charles’s Protestant subjects, but also an appropriate match to his Catholic ally, Louis XIV of France. Prince George of Denmark was the eventual groom chosen for Anne in a marriage treaty negotiated by Anne’s uncle, Laurence Hyde.
Anne and George were married on 28th July 1683 in the Chapel Royal and they were given a number of buildings in the Palace of Whitehall to reside in afterwards. Sarah Churchill (whom we will discuss later) was appointed as one of Anne’s ladies of the bedchamber. Within months of the marriage, Anne was expecting her first child who would tragically be stillborn; sadly this was the first of many to come for Anne. Over the next two years, Anne gave birth to two daughters in very quick succession.
When Charles II died in 1685, Anne’s father became King James II. His subjects soon became anxious over the state of their country as the new King began to present a number of Catholic gentlemen offices in the military and the administration of the government. James even tried to influence Anne to baptise her youngest daughter as a Catholic. It was this, among other things, that led Anne to become estranged from her father and stepmother Mary of Modena, as James tried to diminish the power of the Church of England. Anne stood firm and would not allow the King’s wishes to influence the way she raised her children; one could say she was defiant in the face of authority. In my opinion, this is a sure sign of what was to come when Anne became Queen; male dominance would not discourage her from reigning the way she wanted. This is why I believe her reign was her own as she did not allow herself to be ruled through the advice or influence of others.
In early 1687, Anne miscarried another child, her husband caught smallpox, and her two youngest daughters died of the disease; all of this happened within a matter of days. Anne and George took the deaths very heavily; Lady Rachel Russell wrote that the couple “wept, sometimes they mourned in words, then sat in silence, hand in hand”.
If 1687 wasn’t bad enough for Anne already, later on in the year she again delivered a stillborn baby. Aside from her personal tragedy, both Anne and the public were becoming increasingly alarmed at her father’s Catholicism when his wife, Mary of Modena, became pregnant with her first child with James. Anne even wrote in letters to her sister Mary that she was suspicious that The Queen consort was faking her pregnancy in order to produce a false heir.
Anne suffered another miscarriage in 1688, and a Catholic succession was looking more and more likely when The Queen gave birth to James Francis Edward on 10th June of that year. Anne did not witness the court reaction to the birth of her step brother as she was not in the capital at the time. Either she was genuinely ill and recuperating, or her father desired the exclusion of Protestants, including his own daughter, from the affairs of State. The latter, to me, sounds more likely.
The Glorious Revolution saw Anne’s brother-in-law, William of Orange, invade England on 5th November 1688 and ultimately depose King James II. Anne had been in correspondence with her sister, Mary, and knew of William’s plan to invade England. In January 1689, a Convention Parliament was set up and declared that James had effectively abdicated when he fled to France. The thrones of England and Ireland were therefore vacant, and the Parliament of Scotland took similar action to that of England; William and Mary were declared Co-Monarchs of all three realms.
The 1689 Bill of Rights settled the succession. Anne and her descendants were all in the line to the throne after that of William and Mary. Things were beginning to look up for Anne. She could finally practice her religion without the scathing look of her father and, on 24th July 1689, Anne gave birth to a son, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester who became Anne’s only child to survive infancy. King William and Queen Mary had no children so it was assumed that Prince William would inherit the throne after Anne.
As previously mentioned, Sarah Churchill (née Jennings) was a very close friend of Anne’s during her years as a princess and part of her time as Queen. Sarah grew to be one of the most influential women of her time due to her friendship with Queen Anne. Sarah became close to the young Princess Anne in 1675 and their friendship grew stronger as the two got older. In late 1675, she met John Churchill who was ten years her senior. She instantly fell in love with him and they married in secret in 1677. Charles II rewarded John Churchill’s loyalty and dedication to the Crown and appointed him Baron Churchill of Eyemouth in Scotland, thus making Sarah ‘Lady Churchill’.
For Sarah, life was incredibly difficult during the reign of William III and Mary II. Sarah and John were treated by the new King and Queen with less esteem than what they had experienced during James II’s reign, despite being awarded with the title of the Earl of Marlborough. Sarah’s influence on Anne prompted Queen Mary to demand that Anne dismiss Sarah. Anne refused and so a long running feud between two sisters began.
Anne continued to defy The Queen’s orders for Sarah’s dismissal. This was a rift that would never be healed between Anne and Mary. Even at the time of Mary’s death, the animosity between the two was still very much apparent. Upon The Queen’s death, King William restored Anne’s honours and granted her apartments within St James’s Palace. The King also restored the Earl of Marlborough all his honours and offices. However, he still feared Sarah’s powerful influence over Anne and so attempted to keep her out of government affairs. William also did not make Anne regent in his absences from court, even though it was now strongly presumed that Anne was the King’s heir apparent.
On the 25th January 1700, Anne’s final pregnancy ended when she miscarried a son. It is quite possible that Anne had been pregnant more than 17 times over consecutive years, and had miscarried or produced stillborn children at least twelve times. Of her five live-born children, four sadly died before reaching the age of two. From around 1698 onwards, Anne suffered from periods of gout and pains in her limbs which then spread to her stomach and head. Based on her miscarriages and the notes on her medical symptoms, it is possible that Anne may have had Hughes syndrome, an illness that causes blood platelets to stick together. Anne’s gout also rendered her quite incapable for the rest of her life. When at court, Anne was carried in a sedan chair or had to use a wheelchair and it was because of her inactive lifestyle that she gained weight. It could be said that with her many miscarriages and continuous ill health, there has been a negative perception of Anne and questions into whether she was readily equipped to rule. However, with these factors in mind, Anne was able to overcome these issues and was indeed a stronger Queen than once thought. She was more than able to ascend the throne and, in some cases, Anne was more able than some of her male predecessors.
More tragedy and grief came for Anne in 1700 when, on the 30th July, her sole surviving child, Prince William, died at the age of eleven. Anne and Prince George were overwhelmed with grief and for years after, on the anniversary of their son’s death, Anne made this an official day of mourning which her household were made to comply with. With King William childless and Anne’s son dead, Anne remained the only person remaining in the line of succession from the Bill of Rights 1689. Therefore, the Parliament of England issued the Act of Settlement 1701 which stated that, if no issue came from William III or Anne if they were to marry again, then the Crown would be inherited by Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and her Protestant descendants.
When William III died on 8th March 1702, Anne became Queen and was immediately popular. Anne declared in her first speech to Parliament: “As I know my heart to be entirely English, I can very sincerely assure you there is not anything you can expect or desire from me which I shall not be ready to do for the happiness and prosperity of England”. This was the beginning of Queen Anne’s tremendous reign.
After Anne ascended to the throne, she appointed her husband as Lord High Admiral, giving him official control of the Royal Navy. Control of the Army was given to Lord Marlborough and Anne also created him a Knight of the Garter. Her close friend, Sarah Churchill, was appointed Groom of the Stole, Mistress of the Robes and Keeper of the Privy Purse. Anne is often criticised for being under the influence of those closest to her, however I believe that Anne did not let herself become swayed by anyone around her and that the appointments of positions that she made to people was her way of showing gratitude for their loyalty to her over many turbulent years.
Anne’s coronation took place on St George’s Day, 23rd April 1702 and again, afflicted with gout, the new Queen was carried to Westminster Abbey on an open sedan chair. So early into her reign, England became entangled in the Spanish War of Succession. This meant that England, Austria and the Dutch Republic found themselves fighting against France and Spain. Charles II of Spain died without an heir in 1700, meaning the succession to his throne became contested by two possible claimants, the Bourbon Philip, Duke of Anjou and Habsburg Archduke Charles of Austria.
One of the most remarkable moments of Anne’s reign was when England and Scotland were united under the terms of the Acts of Union 1707 into a single kingdom called ‘Great Britain’. These kingdoms were now to be controlled by just one parliament. Anne constantly showed her unwavering and determined support for the union, despite there being opposition present from both English and Scottish members of the public. Anne even attended a thanksgiving service at St Paul’s Cathedral to promote the union and illustrate her backing of the union where Sir John Clerk, who also attended the service, commented: “nobody on the occasion appeared more sincerely devout and thankful than The Queen herself”.
In March 1708, Anne’s Catholic half-brother, James Francis Edward, landed in Scotland with French assistance in order to establish himself as King and overthrow the Queen. Anne withheld royal assent from the Scottish Militia Bill of 1708 in case the military became disloyal and sided with the rebellious Jacobites; this has since made Anne the last British monarch to veto a parliamentary bill. However, even with these threats to the crown, this invasion fleet was pursued by British ships and never landed in England. Anne’s throne was secure once more.
Within this time, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, continued to dominate court politics. She introduced her cousin, Abigail Hill, to The Queen with the hope issuing a role for her at court and, in 1704, Abigail was created a Lady of the Bedchamber. Skip ahead a few years and Sarah began to resent her cousin’s increasing position when Abigail was moved into a number of rooms at Kensington Palace that Sarah saw as her own, even though she never used them. It was at this time that relations between Anne and Sarah began to deteriorate as The Duchess believed Abigail had risen too far above her position. Tensions came to a brink at a thanksgiving service for the victory at the Battle of Oudenarde. Anne decided to not wear the jewels that Sarah had chosen specifically for Anne to wear for the service and, whilst standing at the doors of St Paul’s cathedral, the two women had an argument which led to Sarah rudely informing her Queen to be quiet.
Anne’s relationship with Sarah Churchill, unusually, had dominated most of her life. However, a notable turning point for the pair came in October 1708, when Anne’s husband, Prince George, died. This was quite clearly a huge loss for Anne and she was naturally devastated. This anguish must have been overlooked by Sarah Churchill however, as she saw it fit to remove The Queen from Kensington to St James’s Palace, even against Anne’s wishes. The Duchess’s intrusive actions were deeply resented by Anne. This hostility escalated further when Sarah removed a portrait of George from The Queen’s bedchamber and refused to return it upon Anne’s request, her excuse being that it would bring back painful memories and this was not what Anne needed in a time of grief. Although Anne is often judged as a weak and uninteresting ruler, she was however nobody’s fool and she proved this when her relationship with Sarah Churchill turned.
Sarah continued to criticise Anne for her friendship with Abigail Hill. In 1709, The Queen wrote to The Duke of Marlborough asking that his wife stop treating her in such an inappropriate manner and behave with the courtesy she should to have for her Queen and Abigail. On Maundy Thursday 1710, Queen Anne saw Sarah Churchill for the very last time; their relationship had deteriorated altogether and they no longer were lifelong friends. Anne forced Sarah to resign her Court offices and Abigail took over as Keeper of the Privy Purse in 1711. Anne and Sarah may have been friends for many years but when it came to this point, Sarah was just a friend, Anne was her Queen and, in my opinion, Sarah completely forgot this. The relationship between the two deteriorated so much that Anne declared she had been “so slighted by the Duchess of Marlborough I can’t endure the sight of her”.
Between January and July 1713, Queen Anne was barely able to walk. At Christmas 1713, she caught a fever and was noted to lapse into unconsciousness for hours on end. Rumours began to spread of the possibility that The Queen may die from her illness. Despite her becoming more and more frail, in July 1714 The Queen attended two late-night Cabinet meetings, although a third meeting had to be abandoned as she became too ill. After experiencing a stroke in July 1714, Anne was unable to speak. Upon the Privy Council’s judgement, Anne handed the Treasurer’s staff of office to Whig Grandee, Charles Talbot. Anne continued up until her last days to push her chronically ill body through long and tiresome hours of work; the sign of a devoted Queen.
Anne died at around 7:30 in the morning on 1st August 1714, and one of her doctors commented that her death brought an end to her distressed life, writing: “I believe sleep was never more welcome to a weary traveller than death was to her”. Queen Anne was buried in the Henry VII chapel at Westminster Abbey next her husband and children on the 24th August. The Electress Sophia had died two months before Anne, so the British Crown went to Sophia’s son, George, who became King George I, marking the end of the House of Stuart and the beginning of the House of Hanover.
The memoirs of Queen Anne’s former friend, Sarah Churchill, unduly disparaged the former Queen. Sarah’s prejudiced recollections of The Queen has since convinced many biographers to believe Anne to be weak and nervous, troubled by the arguments that occurred in her bedchamber. Sarah Churchill wrote: “She certainly meant well and was not a fool but nobody can maintain that she was wise nor entertaining in conversation”. These were the words of a woman who was considered to be a ‘great friend and confidante’ of Queen Anne. It seems to me that when Sarah Churchill fell from favour with Anne, for whatever reason, the only way she could see fit to respond was by slating The Queen in writing. One wonders if The Duchess would have said these comments face to face when Anne was alive.
Sarah’s view on Anne has certainly influenced the views of more traditional historians who have seen Anne as fat, continuously pregnant, limited in her political awareness and easily susceptible to the views of court favourites. Granted that Anne may not have been intellectually gifted, she was far from stupid. Anne knew that her brother-in-law, William III, was never popular with the English people and she played on this in her first speech to parliament. She held her own in the early years of her reign, taking instant dislike to any politician who was a supporter of the former King. Anne even held her first parliament in disdain after they described William as “our great deliverer from Popery and slavery”. Anne was nearly always able to execute her will and we must not forget that this was in a time of male dominance. There were times that Anne was able to influence her ministers and she went on to attend more cabinet meetings than any predecessor or monarchs after her reign. Surely this is evidence enough to cement the fact that Anne had a very successful and monumental reign.
If that wasn’t enough, Queen Anne also presided over an age of economic, cultural and political evolution. Now many would say that this would have happened regardless of who was on the throne, however they may be incorrect. What examples can you think of when Britain has flourished under a weak Monarch? The stability and prosperity of Anne’s reign made sure that these advancements were made. Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace were constructed during her rule, writers Daniel Defoe and Alexander Pope flourished and the union of England and Scotland, which Anne supported greatly, established Europe’s largest area of free trade. Anne’s government succeeded both politically and diplomatically and any conflict The Queen and Parliament had was kept to a minimum, suggesting that Anne’s carefully chosen ministers understood their positions were to solely serve the crown.
So, it seems that Queen Anne did without a doubt have a very tragic life. Nonetheless, no one could argue that her reign was quite tremendous and, in my opinion, she too should go down in history alongside Elizabeth I and Victoria as one of the greatest Queens this country has ever seen. The Elizabethan and Victorian periods of history were both defined by the monarchs and the success of their reigns, so why shouldn’t the reign and era of Queen Anne be reflected by her name? Quite frankly, I think it deserves to be.