Published on August 8th, 2014 | by Elizabeth Norton
Queen Anne: The First Ruler of a United Great Britain
To coincide with the recent 300th Anniversary of the death of Queen Anne and the release of a commemorative £5 coin, author Elizabeth Norton has given us a fascinating overview of the often overlooked historical figure that was Queen Anne.
Queen Anne, who died 300 years ago this month, was the first ruler of a united Great Britain. She presided over a country with a growing international reputation, while the facts of her life fascinate. She is an unjustly overlooked figure.
Anne was born in 1665, the youngest surviving daughter of James, Duke of York and his commoner wife, Anne Hyde. Both her parents were Catholic and, for political reasons, Charles II insisted that his brother’s daughters were raised as Protestants. Due to his religion, James spent long periods as an exile with his second wife, Mary of Modena.
Charles II also found Protestant husbands for his nieces. The elder, Mary, married William of Orange in 1677. In 1683 Anne married the amiable but dull Prince George of Denmark. The couple were remarkably happy, unusually sharing a bedroom and spending much time together. They produced seventeen children, but only one – William, Duke of Gloucester – survived infancy. Anne was devastated when this delicate child died in 1700, just after his eleventh birthday.
Anne’s father became king in 1685, with his religion tolerated thanks to the fact that his elder daughter, Mary, was Protestant. This uneasy acceptance ended in June 1688 when his wife bore a son. Anne, who referred to her anticipated accession to the throne as her ‘sunshine day’, was furious and refused to acknowledge the prince. She helped to cast doubt on a baby that many claimed had been smuggled into the royal bedchamber in a warming pan. When William of Orange invaded that autumn, Anne joined him. William and Mary, who succeeded to the crown jointly were childless, with Anne acknowledged as heir to the throne.
Anne’s health was ruined by her frequent pregnancies and, by the time she came to the throne in 1702, she was grossly overweight and barely able to walk. She intended, however, to be an active ruler, modelling herself on Elizabeth I. She was a largely successful queen, becoming the first ruler of Great Britain following the Act of Union in 1707, which united the English and Scottish crowns. She also presided over a country with an increasing international importance, following the Duke of Marlborough’s victories in the War of the Spanish Succession.
While Anne was happy to celebrate Marlborough’s victories, her relationship with his wife, Sarah, became increasingly embittered. She had known the Duchess since childhood, with the pair writing affectionately as ‘Mrs Morley’ and ‘Mrs Freeman’. The pair finally ended their friendship when Sarah accused her mistress of an intimate relationship with her new favourite, Abigail Masham, before publicly telling Anne to ‘be quiet’. As a parting shot, Sarah stripped her court apartments of their fixtures and fittings, while Anne suspended work on Blenheim Palace – her gift to the Marlboroughs.
Anne always refused to recognise her exiled half-brother. Instead, it was decided that her father’s cousin, the aged Sophia of Hanover, would succeed her. Anne disliked her rival, writing bluntly that any attempt to visit England would be unwelcome to her and ‘dangerous to that succession itself’. The shock of receiving this letter was reported to have killed the 83 year old, who died in June 1714.
Anne did not long survive her heir. After suffering a series of strokes she died on 1 August, aged forty-nine. She was the last of the Stuarts and, on her death, the throne passed to Sophia’s son, George of Hanover.