At the start of this year, the film ‘The Favourite’ hit our cinema screens, telling the story of Queen Anne, an 18th century monarch who ruled Britain from 1702 to 1714.
Here are 10 facts about Queen Anne.
1. She wasn’t Dutch
The Glorious Revolution of 1688 saw the overthrow of the Catholic King James II and the ascension of the Dutch Protestant ruler William of Orange, who took the name William III.
Following his death in 1702, Anne took over as queen.
Born on 6 February 1665, Anne was the daughter of James II and therefore one of the only remaining Stuarts following the Dutch takeover. Upon reaching the throne, she disassociated herself from her Dutch predecessor and made it clear that England would have an English ruler, a policy with popular support.
2. Her husband was Danish
Before James II became king, his brother Charles II was in charge and with the aim of preserving the Stuart line, organised Anne’s marriage.
His criteria required someone who his Protestant subjects would find acceptable and one approved by King Louis XIV of France, Charles’ Catholic ally. The marriage treaty was ultimately settled between Anne and Prince George of Denmark.
This union was beneficial for all parties as the Danes were fellow Protestants, as well as allies of Louis XIV. Furthermore, this would confirm an alliance against a common enemy: the Dutch, led by William of Orange.
The wedding took place on 28 July 1683. Whilst it was arranged, both Anne and George were devoted to each other.
3. Sickness consumed most of her life
From as early as 1698, Queen Anne suffered severely from gout, a joint infection which physically strained her. Eventually, in 1713, it stopped her from walking altogether, from which point she used a wheelchair to get around. This as well as her many failed pregnancies and the death of her husband, brought about a life of suffering – physically and mentally.
4. She had two favourites
Like many other monarchs, Queen Anne had favourites, two in particular: Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, and Abigail Masham.
Sarah Churchill was close friends with Anne before she became Queen and her influence over the monarch was common knowledge in court.
By the time she ascended the throne, Sarah acted as Anne’s agent, using her influence to advise the queen on political decisions, especially in favour of the Whigs, who she supported.
Abigail Masham, originally Abigail Hill, cousin to Sarah Churchill, served as the bedchamber woman to the Anne and progressively got closer to the queen. She would eventually allow Abigail to marry the gentleman Samuel Masham in 1707, promoting her to Lady Abigail Masham.
In the film “The Favourite” these relationships are in part portrayed as sexual ones and while both these women were close to the queen, it is uncertain whether those relationships were of that nature. Probably, they were a source of gossip at the time.
5. Favourite turned into enemy
Despite being a favourite of the queen, Sarah Churchill is known for having many disagreements and falling outs with Anne, mostly due to political differences: since Sarah was a Whig and Anne was a Tory.
This love-hate relationship continued until 1711, when Sarah and her husband were dismissed from court.
In 1742, near the end of her life, Sarah released memoirs of her relationship with Queen Anne. Modern scholars claim that Churchill’s recollections were prejudiced, potentially as a form of revenge for her dismissal. Referring to Anne as a “weak and irresolute woman,” these memoirs initially giving historians a wrongful image of what Anne was like during her reign.
6. She was enthusiastic about political affairs
In the 18th-century, the monarch had a more active role in the politics of the nation, running parliament and having to cooperate with its political parties, the Tories and the Whigs, in order to effectively govern the country.
The Tories supported the Stuart dynasty, nostalgic of the Catholic rule of James II, while the Whigs were opposed to them, fearful of a return to Catholicism.
Queen Anne was very enthusiastic about her political role, never missing a cabinet meeting and initially favouring the Tories, but she later followed the example of her predecessor William III and worked with both parties to ensure stability.
It was this stability that allowed England to become a major military and economic power and advance into the country it is today.
7. She played a role in unifying England and Scotland
The idea of uniting England and Scotland had been around for at least a hundred years prior but was yet to take place by the time of Queen Anne’s reign.
Anne was particularly enthusiastic about making this union happen to preserve the Stuart dynasty and its place on the throne, advocating its necessity in her first speech to Parliament.
While the negotiations themselves were done by the country’s respective parliaments, Anne took part by appointing commissioners to negotiate the union in 1706.
On 1 May 1707, the Acts of Union were passed between England and Scotland, fulfilling Anne’s dream of a single realm, a kingdom by the name of Great Britain.
8. She faced tragic pregnancies
While Queen Anne was successfully married, she was unable to birth an heir. Throughout her reign, she went through 17 pregnancies, 7 of which miscarried, 5 stillborn and the rest died at an early age, the oldest at 11.
The exact cause of these failed pregnancies hasn’t been clearly identified but it was accepted by her last pregnancy in 1700 that she probably wouldn’t give an heir to the nation.
9. She was the last of the Stuarts
In reaction to the queen’s infertility, Parliament passed the Act of Settlement in 1701, choosing a successor to inherit the throne upon Anne’s death. The only seemingly good choice was the line of Sophia of Hanover, the youngest legitimate descendants of Charles I amongst the Stuarts. Crucially, they were Protestants.
Unfortunately Sophia died on 8 June 1714, just before Queen Anne’s death on 1 August. This shifted the choice of successor to Sophia’s son, George, who became King George I and brought a new dynasty to Britain: the Hanoverians.
10. Her coffin needed to be carried by 14 men
Following a stroke less than a month before, Queen Anne died in the early morning of 1 August 1714. It was said that she had become so obese that her coffin needed to be carried by 14 men, highlighting how immobile her gout had rendered her.
This may have been a mercy as one of her doctors, John Arbuthnot, described her life as one of ill-health and tragedy because of her gout and her numerous failed pregnancies, even writing in a letter that
“I believe sleep was never more welcome to a weary traveller than death was to her”.
She was buried in Westminster Abbey on 24 August by her husband’s side.