The child was named Anne, after her mother, and if her birth was a disappointment, at least it did not cause the sort of furore that had greeted the appearance in the world of the Duke and Duchess of York’s firstborn child in 1660. That baby had initially been assumed to have been born out of wedlock, but when it emerged that the infant’s parents had in fact secretly married just before the child’s birth, there was fury that the Duke of York had matched himself with a loose woman who was not of royal blood. Many people shared the view expressed by the diarist Samuel Pepys “that he that doth get a wench with child and marries her afterward, it is as if a man should shit in his hat and then clap it upon his head.”2 The scandal was particularly regrettable because the monarchy was fragile. Charles II had only been on his throne since May 1660, after an eleven-year interregnum. In 1649 his father, King Charles I, had been executed. This followed his defeat in a civil war that had started in 1642 when political and religious tensions had caused a total breakdown in relations between King and Parliament. During that conflict an estimated 190,000 people—nearly four percent of the population—had lost their lives in England and Wales alone; in Scotland and Ireland the proportion of inhabitants who perished was still higher. Charles I had been taken prisoner in 1646, but refused to come to terms with his opponents and so the war had continued. By 1648, however, the royalists had been vanquished. (Pg.2)
The week before, it had been announced that a new Parliament would meet in November, but on 28 September the writs for elections were recalled. On the same day James issued a proclamation warning his subjects of the impending arrival of an “armed force of foreigners and strangers,” intent on effecting “an absolute conquest of our kingdoms and the utter subduing and subjecting us … to a foreign power.”
Everyone’s attention became fixated on the weather, for the Dutch fleet could not sail until the wind changed.
Sarah Churchill (Duchess of Marlborough) claimed that because Anne knew herself to be incapable of impromptu exchanges, she would ask her advisers to “make … speeches” for her to deliver, “getting them by heart” before embarking on a conversation. “In weightier matters she never spoke but in a road, and had a certain knack of sticking to what had been dictated to her,” Sarah asserted, maintaining that the Queen was left utterly at a loss if things did not go as scripted. Should “you happen to speak of a thing that she has not had her lesson upon,” so the Duchess said, the Queen was reduced to mumbling incoherently, and there were allegedly “many occasions” when, not knowing what to say, Anne would “move only her lips and make as if she said something when in truth no words were uttered. (Pg.222)
Anne attended more Cabinet meetings than any other British monarch, being present, on average, once a week for every year of her reign. They were generally held in whichever royal palace she happened to be resident, although sometimes when at Windsor she would drive to Hampton Court for Cabinet meetings, as it was nearer to London and hence more convenient for her ministers. Meetings mostly took place on Sunday evenings, though when necessary additional ones were held at other times of the week. It was, perhaps, a slightly surprising arrangement, considering the stern Sabbatarian regulations in force at the time, and a German visitor to England noted that Sunday was “nowhere more strictly kept.” For Anne, however, Sunday was far from being restful, being a day “not only of business but of devotion.”4(Pg.216)
During the reign of Queen Anne, Great Britain came into being and entered the ranks of great powers, but Anne is generally accorded little credit for this. A century ago one historian remarked, “When we speak of the Age of Queen Anne, we cannot possibly associate the greatness of the era with any genius or inspiration coming from the woman whose name it bears.”11 It was Great Britain’s involvement in the War of Spanish Succession that principally accounted for the nation’s enhanced prestige, and Anne’s presence on the throne is usually seen as incidental to this. Even the decision to embark on the conflict was not hers; instead, as she observed, “At my coming to the crown, I found a war prepared for me.”12 (Pg. 536)
A monarch usually derives strength from the sense of being part of a dynasty but for Anne, whose children had predeceased her and whose heirs were unloved and distant cousins, things were different. As the last of her line, she was sustained not by family feeling but by a genuine concern for “the happiness and prosperity of England.” The Duchess of Marlborough’s claim that the Queen was “insensible of what related to the public” was as false as it was malevolent.41 Anne’s much derided husband proved an invaluable support to her, but when death “tore from her this tenderly cherished spouse, this faithful and inseparable companion, the sole repository of the secrets of her heart, who carried conjugal virtue as far as possible,” no one could take his place.42 Prior to her accession, Anne had of course cherished hopes that her friendship with Sarah would afford her happiness of a kind generally denied to one of her calling. It was, therefore, another personal tragedy for the Queen when Sarah’s impossible behaviour caused the relationship to collapse in acrimony.
In 1705 Queen Anne declared to Lord Godolphin, “Though those that come after me may be more capable of so great a trust as it has pleased God to put into my poor hands, I am sure they can never discharge it more faithfully.” Yet despite being made of unpromising material for a ruler, Anne acquitted herself well in a role for which her temperament, education and intellectual abilities left her seemingly unfitted. Towards the end of Anne’s reign, the Duchess of Marlborough referred to England’s being blessed in having “so good and so wise a Queen.”43 Sarah was of course being sarcastic, but though in her eyes her statement was an obvious absurdity, Anne was deserving of both epithets. (Pg.546)