Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Issue #7 of the Anglotopia Print Magazine. Support great long-form writing about British History, Culture, and Travel by subscribing to the Anglotopia Print Magazine, a quarterly love letter to Britain. Subscribe here.
Queen Anne is remembered more for the events that took place during her reign, such as the Acts of Union that united Scotland and England as one nation and made Queen Anne the first sovereign of Great Britain or the development of the two party parliamentary system, than anything that she herself did. As Queen, Anne seemed to have little insight or influence in the important political matters of the day and in her personal life she suffered almost constant loss, first in the deaths of her siblings and mother and later with all seventeen of her pregnancies ended in miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death. In a letter from Queen Anne’s doctor to author Rev. Dr. Jonathan Swift, he wrote, “I believe sleep was never more welcome to a weary traveler than death was to her.”
- Queen Anne was born on the 6 February 1665 at St James’ Palace.
- She succeeded as the Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland on 8 March 1702 at the age of 37 and became the first Queen of Great Britain and Ireland on the 1st May 1707, the date the Act of Union came into effect.
- Queen Anne was married to Prince George of Denmark on 28 July 1683, aged 18. Together they had five children; two died in infancy, two under the age of two from smallpox, and one aged 11.
- Queen Anne died on the 1 August 1714, aged 49 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
As the fourth child and second daughter of James, Duke of York and his wife Anne Hyde, Anne seemed at first to be an unlikely candidate for the future Queen of England. However, Anne’s childhood was marked by loss, and she became one of only two of her eight siblings to survive into adulthood. As the Duke of York was the younger brother of King Charles II who had no legitimate heir, Anne became third in the line of succession to the English throne.
As well as losing all of her siblings apart from one, Anne’s paternal grandmother, who she lived with while in France, died in 1669. She moved to live with her aunt who died suddenly in 1670 before returning to England to be reunited with her mother who died the following year.
In 1673, the widowed Duke of York, Anne’s father made his conversion to Roman Catholicism public and married a Catholic princess who was fourteen, just six years older than Anne. The new Duchess gave birth to ten children over the next ten years, but all were stillborn or died in infancy.
King Charles II took an active interest in who his niece Anne was to marry and scoured the great dynasties of Europe looking for a prince deemed suitable by both Protestant subjects and Catholic allies such as Louis XIV of France. A marriage between Anne and Prince George of Denmark was arranged to the joy of the Duke of York who saw the union as a way of limiting the power of his son in law, William of Orange (later William III.)
The wedding of Anne and George of Denmark took place on the 28 July 1683, and they immediately took up residence in London in the Palace of Whitehall. Anne became pregnant almost immediately but, unfortunately, like many of her subsequent pregnancies, the baby was stillborn. In the next two years, Anne gave birth to two daughters Mary and Anna Sophia, but both daughters died in 1687 of smallpox. In the days preceding her daughters’ deaths Anne had miscarried and her husband George became gravely ill. Anne gave birth to another stillborn child in the year after.
The Duke of York became King James II in 1685. Anne was a devoted Anglican and had become estranged from her father as he made moves towards restoring Roman Catholicism to England. Three years after James II succeeded his brother he was deposed, and Anne’s older sister Mary became Queen Regnant alongside her husband William III. During Mary’s reign, the sisters became estranged, purportedly due to Mary’s disapproval over Anne’s choice of acquaintances and mismanagement of her finances.
By 1700, Anne had been pregnant seventeen times in eighteen years and had miscarried or had stillborn births twelve times. Four of her five surviving children had died before they were two and Anne was in very bad health with what was understood to be gout. On the 30 July 1700, Anne’s only surviving child, the Duke of Gloucester died at age 11.
King William III died on the 8 March 1702 and Anne became the Queen of England. The English public was enamored with the new Queen and overjoyed by her promise to focus solely on the happiness and prosperity of England, unlike her Dutch brother-in-law and predecessor. Due to her ailments, the Queen was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 13 April 1702, carried there in a sedan chair.
During her long bouts of seclusion, Anne had become very intimate with a lady called Sarah Churchill, wife of the Earl and later Duke of Marlborough who became Anne’s main political advisor. Anne made Marlborough Master General of the Ordnance, Captain-General in charge of the Army and he was created a Knight of the Garter. Anne’s husband, Prince George of Denmark, died in 1708 which caused ripples of discontent to emerge in both Anne’s political and private life. George’s handling of the navy had been unpopular amongst Whig politicians, and they used George’s death to force Anne to appoint the Earl of Orford as First Lord of the Admiralty.
George’s death also proved to be a turning point in the Queen’s previously incredibly close relationship with the Duchess of Marlborough. The Duchess was thought to be jealous of the Queen’s friendship with Abigail, a woman of the bedchamber and the pair quarreled over a letter and in person leading to the irrevocable breakdown of a long friendship.
During Anne’s reign tension grew between Scotland and England with the two parliaments finding it increasingly difficult to agree on economic and foreign policy. As none of Anne’s seventeen pregnancies had resulted in a healthy child who would live to become her heir, the issue of succession took on great importance. While the English government wanted the Stuart Protestant Sophia of Hanover to become Queen (Act of Settlement, 1701) to prevent the restoration of a Catholic line, the Scots [unhappy with this prospect given the Stuart lineage originated in Scotland] wanted to make their own decision, suggesting that they may be considering a Jacobite revolution that would welcome exiled James Francis Edward Stuart, Anne’s half-brother, to the throne. To avoid revolt and promote unity, Anne pushed for an agreement between the two sides.
Finally, the Scottish and English Parliaments agreed to the Acts of Union, a series of acts that were created and passed over the course of five years and culminated in the happy uniting of the English and Scottish nations into a single kingdom called Great Britain with one parliament.
A Privy Council managed to enforce the lawful Act of Settlement and secure a Protestant King quite literally over Queen Anne’s dying body when she collapsed during an angry Privy Council meeting in 1714. Two days after her collapse, Queen Anne died at Kensington Palace on 1 August 1714 having reigned for 12 years. George, Elector of Hanover, his mother Electress Sophia of Hanover having died two months prior to Anne, was summoned to assume the British crown as King George I.
Queen Anne’s reign saw the union of Scotland and England into one nation, Great Britain, and the creation of a two-party political system. Despite these political and diplomatic achievements, Queen Anne is generally seen as lacking in political astuteness, a Queen who picked her advisors based on personality and was less and less influential in government as the years went by. In ill health from around her thirties and almost constantly pregnant for as long as she was able to be, Anne may have been preoccupied throughout some of her reign. As the influence of powerful politicians and ministers increased, Queen Anne’s influence waned, but she did not operate a petticoat government as has been suggested; Queen Anne attended more cabinet meetings than any of her predecessors or successors, and the lack of any real calamity between monarch and parliament during her reign prove she may have been much wiser than she was given credit for.
Film & TV
- Wren: The Man Who Built Britain (2004) Documentary
- The First Churchills (1969)
- Winn, James Anderson (2014) Queen Anne: Patroness of Arts
- Somerset, Anne (2012) Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion
- Waller, Maureen (2006). Sovereign Ladies: The Six Reigning Queens of England.
- Gregg, Edward (2001) Queen Anne (Yale English Monarchs Series)
- Green, David (1970). Queen Anne
- Curtis, Gila (1972). The Life and Times of Queen Anne
Locations to Visit
- Queen Anne was born at St James’s Palace in the City of Westminster, London, died at Kensington Palace in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London and is buried at Westminster Abbey.
- There is a statue of Queen Anne in front of St Paul’s Cathedral in London.