Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion
Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion
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She ascended the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1702, at age thirty-seven, Britain’s last Stuart monarch, and five years later united two of her realms, England and Scotland, as a sovereign state, creating the Kingdom of Great Britain. She had a history of personal misfortune, overcoming ill health (she suffered from crippling arthritis; by the time she became Queen she was a virtual invalid) and living through seventeen miscarriages, stillbirths, and premature births in seventeen years. By the end of her comparatively short twelve-year reign, Britain had emerged as a great power; the succession of outstanding victories won by her general, John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, had humbled France and laid the foundations for Britain’s future naval and colonial supremacy.
While the Queen’s military was performing dazzling exploits on the continent, her own attention—indeed her realm—rested on a more intimate conflict: the female friendship on which her happiness had for decades depended and which became for her a source of utter torment.
At the core of Anne Somerset’s riveting new biography, published to great acclaim in England (“Definitive”—London Evening Standard; “Wonderfully pacy and absorbing”—Daily Mail), is a portrait of this deeply emotional, complex bond between two very different women: Queen Anne—reserved, stolid, shrewd; and Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, wife of the Queen’s great general—beautiful, willful, outspoken, whose acerbic wit was equally matched by her fearsome temper.
Against a fraught background—the revolution that deposed Anne’s father, James II, and brought her to power . . . religious differences (she was born Protestant—her parents’ conversion to Catholicism had grave implications—and she grew up so suspicious of the Roman church that she considered its doctrines “wicked and dangerous”) . . . violently partisan politics (Whigs versus Tories) . . . a war with France that lasted for almost her entire reign . . . the constant threat of foreign invasion and civil war—the much-admired historian, author of Elizabeth I (“Exhilarating”—The Spectator; “Ample, stylish, eloquent”—The Washington Post Book World), tells the extraordinary story of how Sarah goaded and provoked the Queen beyond endurance, and, after the withdrawal of Anne’s favor, how her replacement, Sarah’s cousin, the feline Abigail Masham, became the ubiquitous royal confidante and, so Sarah whispered to growing scandal, the object of the Queen's sexual infatuation.
To write this remarkably rich and passionate biography, Somerset, winner of the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography, has made use of royal archives, parliamentary records, personal correspondence and previously unpublished material.
Queen Anne is history on a large scale—a revelation of a centuries-overlooked monarch.
be necessary’.33 Although the court was no longer the nation’s social hub, the Queen usually held large parties or balls to mark her birthday. Every four years the birthday of Prince George, born on Leap Year’s Day, was also celebrated in style. On some years there were ballet performances by professional dancers, such as Hester Santlow, famous for her ‘melting lascivious motions’. Plays were also sometimes staged at St James’s. In 1704 Dryden’s All for Love was performed on Anne’s birthday;
and making his position impregnable. On 17 December 1703 the Queen informed the English Parliament that the government had recently learned of ‘ill practices and designs carried on in Scotland by emissaries from France’ and announced that the matter was being investigated. Sensing an opportunity to gain political advantage, Whigs in the House of Lords tried to take over this enquiry by setting up their own committee, alleging that the Tory Secretary, Nottingham, had been scandalously slow to act
and her ministers during the past few months, she observed that since ‘not one of my subjects can really entertain a doubt of my affection to the Church’, those who insinuated it was not ‘my chief care … must be mine and the kingdom’s enemies’. If she had counted on subduing her Tory critics with these stern words, it soon became clear that she had failed. Cowper, the recently appointed Lord Keeper, was shocked when at a dinner party he heard the Tory Lord Mayor of London say ‘in a jeering
Political State VII, 628. 103 Boyer Life and Reign, 715–716; F. Holmes, 181; Boyer ibid. 714; D. Hamilton, 3. 104 Snyder ‘Last Days of Queen Anne’, 267–268. 105 Boyer Political State VII, 630; Snyder ‘Last Days of Queen Anne’, 902; Wentworth, 408. 106 HMC Downshire I, ii, 902; Boyer ibid. 631; PRO 31/3/203 ff 30, 31v; Wentworth, 407. 107 D. Hamilton, 46. 108 Wentworth, 408; BL Stowe 226, ff 178–179. 109 Boyer Political State VII, 633; Wentworth, 410; Swift Corresp. II, 39. 110 PRO
that ‘Mrs Hill’ was no longer a dangerous rival. By the end of 1691 Anne had become so disenchanted with William and Mary that she was prepared to engage in outright disloyalty. Almost certainly she did so at the instigation of the Earl of Marlborough, and though in her memoirs Sarah insisted that her own support for the Revolution never wavered, she too probably condoned what now occurred. Earlier in the year Lord Marlborough had made several secret attempts to renew contact with his former