The film The Favourite is an early runner for Oscar glory, and casts a spotlight on the life and times of Queen Anne, the last reigning Stuart monarch. The trouble is, like most costume dramas, it is not simply just riddled with inaccuracies, but also gives an utterly misleading picture of the monarch, her domestic life and character. So here are some facts about Queen Anne that might help redress the balance.
Queen Anne was happily married to George, Prince of Denmark. The Prince is now only remembered for ‘The Prince of Denmark’s March’ by Jeremiah Clarke, which is still a favourite at weddings today. In his lifetime, Prince George was acclaimed as the most boring man in Europe. Whenever addressed, he would always remark “Est-il possible?”, and this catchphrase gained him the nickname ‘Old Est-il Possible’. Nevertheless, he and Anne were devoted to each other, and she was deeply distressed at his death. Her friend Sarah Churchill showed scant sympathy to the bereaved Queen, which was one of the many reasons their friendship ended.
All her children died young
Queen Anne and Prince George were the parents of seventeen dead children. Before coming to the throne, the Queen had numerous miscarriages, and the children that were born alive died young. One, William, Duke of Gloucester, survived until he was eleven years old. This was not just a personal tragedy, but seen as a political disaster as well. Because Anne failed to produce an heir, the throne eventually passed to Georg Lewis of Hannover, in accordance with the Act of Settlement of 1701, which was designed to exclude Catholics from the throne.
The question of the succession was the major issue that hung over the reign of Queen Anne. Anne was a devout Anglican, and her Anglican faith had prompted her to desert the cause of her father James II and join forces with her usurping brother-in-law, William of Orange in the so called Glorious Revolution. This cost her a great deal, as she was fond of her father. Several attempts were made in her reign to get her to will the throne to her half-brother James III (‘The Old Pretender’) but these failed. In the end she preferred to disinherit her half-brother in favour of Georg Lewis, in order to protect the Church of England from a Catholic monarch.
She disliked her successor
Anne was not fond of Georg Lewis or his mother the Electress Sophia. This elderly niece of Charles I hoped to outlive the Queen, even though she was over thirty years her senior, and inherit the throne. As a young man Georg had been proposed as a husband for Anne, and visited London to woo her. The visit had not been a success. Anne refused Georg permission to visit England and his prospective kingdom in her lifetime.
Anne was a kind-hearted Queen. In her reign, for the first time ever, no one at all was executed for treason.
Anne was a bit of a prude. She strongly disapproved of Jonathan Swift, the greatest writer of her reign, as his sense of humour was so scatological. She stopped him becoming a bishop.
More English than many
Anne was one of our most English monarchs. Her mother had been Anne Hyde, daughter of Charles II’s minister, the Earl of Clarendon. However, through her paternal grandmother, Henrietta Maria, she was related to the Bourbons, but for most of her reign Britain was at war with France. In her youth, Anne, as a little girl had been sent to France and had lived at Versailles as a guest of the French royal family, in order to receive treatment from a French ophthalmologist, who failed to cure her of extreme short-sightedness.
The real Sarah Churchill
Anne’s greatest friend from early childhood was Sarah Jennings, later Sarah Churchill, later still Duchess of Marlborough. The Duke was Britain’s greatest general and responsible for the many victories against the French is the War of the Spanish Succession. While he was in the field, Sarah ensured his interests were guarded at court. However, the Queen eventually got tired of Sarah’s bullying and hectoring, and Sarah fell from favour as did the Whig ministry which has supported the War.
The real Abigail Hill
Sarah Churchill lived to the ripe old age of 84, dying in the reign of George II. She was extremely healthy and had no patience with the ill-health of the Queen, which largely led to the end of their friendship. By contrast, Abigail Hill, later Lady Masham, Sarah’s cousin, was a gentle soul who soothed the pain-ridden Queen, and was, like the Queen, Tory in sympathy. She supplanted Sarah in the Queen’s affections. After the Queen’s death, Abigail retired from public life, dying in 1734. The Duchess of Marlborough remained an important and voluble public figure until her death.
Support for Anglican clergy
The clergy of the Church of England owe Queen Anne a great debt. She it was who endowed the Church with a large sum of money meant to pay the poorer clergy, know to this day as Queen Anne’s Bounty. There is a statue of the Queen outside St Paul’s to mark this fact.
Queen Anne died at the age of 49, having been plagued all her life by poor health. Her cousin George I (as he became) was five years her senior. This is the only time the throne has been inherited by someone older than the previous Sovereign. The House of Hanover, with a few name changes, has ruled us ever since, and has had little difficulty in producing heirs, unlike poor Queen Anne.
Queen Anne’s reign is chiefly remembered for the career of Marlborough and the victories in the War of the Spanish Succession (which would have pleased Sarah.) But the Queen should also be remembered for being the last Sovereign ever to veto an Act of Parliament (though she did so on the advice of her ministers, and was quite entitled to do so). In addition the Act of Union between Scotland and England dates from her reign, the effects of which endure to this day.
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