“The Age of Anne is rightly regarded as the greatest manifestation of the power of England which had till then been known,” says Winston Churchill in his History of English Speaking Peoples (396). Despite her plain and sickly disposition, Queen Anne was one of the more consequential English monarchs. Her queenship saw the establishment of a united kingdom of Scotland and England as “Great Britain.” It was a neo-Augustan age of letters from the likes of Addison, Pope, Defoe, Steele, Swift, and others. It was also the era of the Royal Society, which was originally chartered under Charles II. The work of Sir Isaac Newton proliferated. However, despite numerous efforts to secure the succession Anne remained childless. In order to protect the Protestant character of the kingdom, her death would whisk the crown away to a distant family hailing from a remote Germanic province on the Continent: the Hanoverians.
“I know my own heart to be entirely English,” Anne announced to Parliament in 1702. Anne was thirty-seven years old when she acceded to the throne and she sought to fashion herself in the image of a new Elizabethan age. She was never beautiful like her sister and she was frequently ill. In his book on the Stuarts, J.P. Kenyon asserts that “Queen Anne was the quintessence of ordinariness; she also had more than her fair share of small-mindedness, vulgarity and meanness.” To the commons she was known as “Brandy Nan” for her apparent love of drinking. She was wedded to a foreign prince at the age of eighteen, George Prince of Denmark (a son of Frederick III). She tried aggressively for many years to conceive a child -she was pregnant nineteen times that all ended in either miscarriage or stillbirths. Her only surviving son, William Duke of Gloucester, died in 1700 at the age of eleven. The boy’s death was a crushing blow for the continued succession of the Protestant Stuart lineage. Some looked to the “Old Pretender” James Francis, the chief illegitimate son of James II, but the boy’s unrelenting Catholic commitment would ultimately prove unacceptable to the English elite.
After the death of William of Orange, Anne made great efforts to distance herself from the appearance of being foreign. Whereas William often snubbed English traditions while surrounding himself with a clutch of Dutch favorites; in contrast, Anne wore a long crimson robe during her coronation, and she held to the Anglican traditions including the religious tradition of the “King’s Evil.” She did however continue William’s war with France in partnership with the Dutch, a battle which evolved into the Wars of Spanish Succession. For these efforts she employed the confident and capable abilities of the moderate Tory, General John Churchill. Churchill’s wife, Sarah, had become close friends with the Queen. They referred to each other covertly in letters: Sarah was “Mrs. Freeman,” and Anne was “Mrs. Morley.”
During the war, John Churchill led England to a great victory at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704 on the Danube, in which the French commander was captured, along with some 13,000 French troops, and 20,000 Frenchmen were killed. It was the greatest victory for England since the reign of Henry V at Agincourt. As Winston Churchill notes, “the annals of British Army contain no more heroic episode than Marlborough’s march from the North Sea to the Danube.” For his efforts Churchill was awarded the dukedom of Marlborough. He was granted a vast palace in Oxfordshire aptly called “Blenheim” and his victories continued at the Battle of Ramillies in 1706 which drove France out of Belgium, and the Battle of Oudenarde in 1708 which opened the door to France. However, Sarah (Churchill’s wife) and Anne were destined for conflict. Anne had grown reliant upon the eager support of the Tories, particularly the moderate Tory Sidney Godolphin, the 1st Earl of Godolphin, and Robert Haley 1st earl of Oxford who was appointed first Lord of the Treasury. Sarah on the other hand was an openly atheistic defender of the Whigs, a position she was not shy about sharing with the Queen. Needless to say they had a rather public falling out and the lonely queen began to spend her time with a new favorite, her bedchamber woman Abigail Masham. The rupture with the Churchills effectively ended Marlborough’s military expeditions and he was dismissed in 1711. The newly invigorated Tories negotiated a peace with France: Louis XIV’s grandson Philip would succeed to the Spanish crown but he would renounce any future right to the throne of France, and England would be granted huge commercial concessions from the fragmenting Spanish Empire, including a thirty year monopoly on the slave trade.
Throughout Anne’s reign there were squabbles between Tory and Whig ministers while the monarchy stepped back from its authorities and instead a gaggle of ministers stepped forward. England became a Constitutional monarchy en route to becoming a global empire. But the monarchy was fragile: would the crown pass to an illegitimate child of the late James II? Could England return to a Catholic monarch? Without a child, Anne’s power was in question. Per the Act of Settlement passed in 1701, England was to reaffirm its desire not to be ruled by a Catholic monarch. And so the ministers dug deep into the Stuart family tree, past some fifty “Papists,” to find the Protestant Sophia granddaughter of James I and electress dowager of an insignificant Northern German principality known as Hanover. She was to be future of the monarchy. A delegation from England traveled to Hanover to congratulate Sophia on her prospective future as Queen of England. The men carried with them a copy of the Act of Settlement. They also presented the Garter to Sophia’s son, Georg Ludwig, the ruling prince of Hanover (unlike in England, women were prevented from reigning in their own right in the Germanic principalities). Five years later Sophia’s grandson, Georg August, was also made a Knight of the Garter and he was created duke of Cambridge.
The stability of the monarchy had been achieved, however the idea of the Hanoverian succession caused an uproar in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament asserted its independence by declaring the right for their own monarch under the Scottish Act of Security. Tensions were heightened between England and Scotland, the Jacobite union established by James I seemed in doubt. Hostilities further increased in England under the Aliens Act of 1705 which declared all Scots to be aliens. Scottish exports were banned. Per the Aliens Act these restrictions on the Scots would be made permanent unless a deal could be reached by December. Much to everyone’s surprise an agreement was reached by April. The two kingdoms would be united as the “United Kingdom of Great Britain” and the Hanoverian succession would be honored along with free trade permitted between Scotland, England, and “the plantations” of North America. The monumental agreement was to have lasting consequences for the future of the isles. To celebrate the new partnership Anne made way for St. Paul’s on May 1, 1707 donning both the Order of the Garter and the Scottish Thistle to symbolize the unity of the kingdoms. Tragically one year later Anne’s husband died. The impossibility of a child was made permanent and the end of the Stuarts was apparent.
This was coupled by Anne’s health decline. One Scottish Union commissioner described Anne’s physical as follows:
“Her majesty was labouring under a fit of the gout, and in extreme pain and agony… Her face, which was red and spotted, was rendered something frightful by her negligent dress, and the foot affected was tied up with a poultice and some nasty bandages… Nature seems to be inverted when a poor infirm woman becomes one of the rulers of the world.”
With her health in decline the fate of the Tories was in question. They tried once again to offer the crown the Old Pretender provided he simply renounce Catholicism, but the eternally arrogant son of James II, refused. This marked the end of his chances as well as those of the Tories. Shortly before her death, the queen granted the title of Lord Treasurer to Charles Talbot duke of Shrewsbury a moderate Whig (instead of a Tory) who assured a smooth Hanoverian accession.
In July of 1707 Anne suffered two violent strokes. Two days later she died at age forty-nine. Her doctor, Dr. Arbuthnot, wrote to Jonathan Swift: “I believe sleep was never more welcome to a weary traveller than death was to her.” Marlborough and his duchess who had departed in exile, disgusted with the capitulation in France, now returned to London in triumph. The rise of the moderate Whigs was imminent. Sophia of Hanover had died shortly before Anne and so, failing a return of the “Old Pretender,” the crown of England was left to Sophia son, Georg Ludwig, soon to be King George I of Great Britain.
For this reading I used Winston Churchill’s essential History of English Speaking Peoples, David Starkey’s Crown and Country, and Peter Ackroyd’s Revolution: The History of England From The Battle of the Boyne To The Battle of Waterloo.