James Anderson Winn, professor of English at Boston University and the author of Queen Anne: Patroness of Arts, explores the life and reign of Queen Anne…
Born: 6 February 1665
Died: 1 August 1714
Ruled from: 1702 to 1714
Family: The daughter of James, Duke of York (later James II) and Anne Hyde
Successor: Georg Ludwig, Elector of Hanover, who ruled as George I
Remembered for: Achieving the Union of England and Scotland and bringing the War of the Spanish Succession to a conclusion
Anne as a princess
Anne Stuart and her older sister Mary were the only surviving offspring of James, Duke of York by his first Duchess, Anne Hyde. At the age of three, Anne was sent to France to have her eyes treated (as she suffered from an eye condition). There she stayed more than two years, learning the language perfectly.
In 1671, not long after her return, her mother died, and her father, who had become a Roman Catholic, was soon in search of a duchess. His 15-year-old bride, Maria Beatrice of Modena, was less than four years older than Princess Mary, who would later be married (at 15) to William of Orange.
Princess Anne’s own marriage was delayed by politics: fearful of Catholics in the wake of a supposed plot to assassinate the king, a strong party in parliament attempted to pass laws preventing James from succeeding to the throne. Charles sought to defuse the crisis by sending James and Maria to Scotland, where Anne visited them in 1681–82.
In 1683, shortly after Charles had defeated his foes, Anne married Prince George of Denmark. When the king died (on Anne’s 20th birthday), her father succeeded as James II, but his arrogant attitude toward parliament and his aggressive Catholicism alienated the English establishment, and a group of powerful men invited William of Orange to invade.
Anne and her husband supported the Revolution of 1688, which replaced James II with William and Mary, though they later had reasons to regret that choice. The princess, who had already suffered several miscarriages and had lost two infant daughters to smallpox in 1687, gave birth to a son in 1689, just months after the coronation. As William, Duke of Gloucester, he would live the longest of her children.
Despite the welcome presence of a Protestant heir, the two sisters quarreled, and when William removed John Churchill, Earl of Marlborough, from his court and military posts, Mary insisted that Anne part company with Sarah Churchill, who was her favorite. Refusing to obey this command, Anne left the court and moved into separate lodgings – this was the beginning of estrangement that continued until Mary’s death in 1694. To Anne’s eternal regret, Gloucester died in 1700, a few days after his 11th birthday.
Queen Anne’s reign
When William died (on 8 March 1702), Anne succeeded to the throne. Within a few weeks she had named Marlborough as her Captain-General and her longtime friend Sidney Godolphin as Lord Treasurer. For most of her reign, these two men executed her policies at home and abroad. Forming an alliance with the Netherlands and the Holy Roman Empire, the queen declared war on France in May, and Marlborough won significant victories at Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1706), Oudenarde (1708), and Malplaquet (1709).
Despite these unprecedented successes, domestic politics were fierce. The Tory party gained a substantial majority in the election of 1702, and withstood an attempt by the ministry to break their power in 1705. The Whigs swept into power in 1708, but were soundly defeated in 1710 and 1713.
Because the party holding a majority in parliament did not automatically gain all the ministerial posts, the queen was subject to relentless partisan pressure from both sides, yet she managed to prevent party passions from erupting into violence, and achieved a major success in forging the Union with Scotland in 1707.
Her later years were sad. Prince George died in 1708, and Anne’s long association with Sarah Churchill ended bitterly in 1710. A Tory ministry headed by Robert Harley, intent on making peace, persuaded the queen to part company with Godolphin and then with Marlborough. Although her war-weary nation welcomed the Peace of Utrecht (1713), the queen did not have long to enjoy its benefits: worn out by physical ailments and party strife, she died on 1 August 1714, and was succeeded by George I, the first of the Hanoverian monarchs.
This article was first published by History Extra in July 2014