Anne Stuart Queen of England

Anne Stuart Queen of England

Anne was the second daughter of James; duke of York (later James II) and through her mother, Anne, the grand-daughter of Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon. She was comparatively poorly educated and preferred sport and riding to reading and art. In 1683, when she was eighteen, hot on the heels of a court scandal, when she was reputedly seduced by one of the courtiers, Lord Mulgrave, Anne was married to Prince George, brother of the Danish king Christian V. Whilst George had received a good education he seems to have absorbed remarkably little of it, as he was lacking in the most basic general knowledge and seemed to revel in being a nonentity. He was harmless, well-meaning and a good husband, and the pair made a pleasant couple, but no one wanted George as a possible future king. When Anne came to the throne in 1702, George was kept securely in the background. He certainly tried to do his duty in fathering an heir, but of nineteen children (including twins), fourteen were stillborn, and only one survived beyond infancy and he, William, died in July 1700, aged eleven, of hydrocephalus. Since each child arrived within scarcely a year of the previous one, Anne’s body must have been exhausted – she was pregnant for at least thirteen of her twenty-five years of marriage. Anne was over-weight, a condition that probably contributed to the lack of a healthy child, and she frequently needed to be carried in a chair (which may be why the sedan chair became so popular during her reign). She also suffered from gout and rheumatism, and must constantly have been in pain. How she maintained her generally bright and kindhearted demeanour is a tribute to her stoicism and conscientiousness. She may not have wanted to be queen, she may have been ill equipped for it, but she nevertheless sought to do her duty. She relied heavily on Sidney Godolphin, the Lord High Treasurer and nearest equivalent of the day of the Prime Minister. Before she became queen, Anne fell out of favour with her sister Mary (II) over the relationship with the Churchill family. John Churchill was imprisoned in 1692 for possible acts against the king. John’s wife, Sarah, was Anne’s closest friend and lady of the bedchamber. They had virtually grown up together. Sarah was rather a masculine woman and it became common gossip that the two were having a lesbian affair. Anne refused to dismiss Sarah and, as a consequence, Mary cut off relations with her. They were never reconciled, but William made amends after Mary’s death. Early in her reign Anne demonstrated her interests in the Church and the needy by establishing a fund, known as Queen Anne’s Bounty, which increased the stipends of poorer clergy. She also insisted upon the construction of more churches in London. Anne’s reign was dominated abroad by the War of the Spanish Succession. This had arisen because Louis XIV of France accepted the Spanish throne on behalf of his grandson Philip, instead of recognizing Charles of Austria as the successor, as had been agreed by the Partition Treaty of 1700. Britain, Austria, Portugal, Denmark and the Netherlands sided against France, Spain and Bavaria. War was declared in May 1702 and peace was not concluded until the Treaty of Utrecht in April 1713. England’s hero in the war was John Churchill, whom Anne elevated to duke of Marlborough and gave a considerable income. His great victory was on 13 August 1704 at Blenheim, in Germany, where he stopped the French advance. When he came to establish his great estate at Woodstock, near Oxford, Churchill named it Blenheim Palace after his victory. Also of lasting consequence in the war was the capture by Admiral Sir George Rooke in July 1704 of Gibraltar, which has remained a British possession ever since. Anne took an interest in the war but, like her subjects, grew tired of its inexorability. It forced her to take a stronger hand in her dealings with her government and even made her dismiss her chief ministers on more than one occasion. In this respect, while Parliament remained paramount and Anne had virtually become a constitutional monarch, she wielded sufficient authority to keep the government on its toes. She also believed that her actions reflected the mood of the nation as a whole. She wielded a similar authority against others in her life, eventually dismissing Sarah Churchill from her official duties in 1711, partly because the lady had become high and mighty, but mostly because she had been promoting Whig propaganda against Anne’s own Tory preferences. Anne became lonely after the death of her husband in 1708, and her constant pain made her more moody and vindictive. Her closest friend was Lady Abigail Masham, the cousin of Sarah Churchill who remained with her in her final years. During this period Anne endeavoured to negotiate with her half-brother James (the Old Pretender), imploring him to set aside his Catholic faith for the sake of the succession. The Act of Settlement of 1701 had conferred the succession on Anne’s second cousin, Sophia, widow of the Elector of Hanover. She died six weeks before Anne, and the succession passed to her son, George I. By the time of her death in 1714 Anne had become so big she could not move and needed to go everywhere in a wheelchair. Her coffin was almost square. The most significant change during Anne’s reign was the Act of Union, effective from I May 1707, which united England and Scotland as one kingdom – Great Britain. This was personally encouraged by Anne who believed that the full economic and political union was the best development for both countries. Anne’s reign is often associated with the growth in tea and coffee houses, which themselves became the centres for developing businesses and commerce (the London Stock Exchange grew out of a coffee house). Trade grew considerably during this period, especially with the establishment of the South Sea Company in 1711, trading with South America, and the increased trade coming from India and the East. The new kingdom of Great Britain began to prosper as never before and the seeds of the British Empire were sprouting.

Leave a Reply