Queen Anne of Great Britain – Biography, Reign & Achievements
Often forgotten or overlooked by historians, Queen Anne’s 12-year rule (from 1702-1714) played a huge role in the transformation of Britain. She was the daughter of James II and Anne Hyde. A last member of the Stuart dynasty, her childless marriage paved the way for the Georgian era.
But Anne’s life was filled with the most fascinating contradictions. While she was dedicated to her duties as ruler of Britain, who witnessed the union of the crowns of England and Scotland into Great Britain, she was also constantly in poor health and often relied on her sister’s support. Anne had 17 children yet still managed to outlive all of them. She was also reported to have been a very shy person, but at the same time was capable of ruling with authority.
What else was Queen Anne of Great Britain known for, how did she rise to throne, and what were some of major feats?
Below, WHE digs into major facts about the history and legacy of Anne, Queen of Great Britain:
Childhood & Marriage
Anne was the second daughter of James, Duke of York, and Lady Anne Hyde. She was the niece of the then-reigning monarch King Charles II. She had an older sister Princes Mary (later Mary II). Both Anne and Mary were the only children of their parents that grew well into adulthood.
Growing up, Anne moved to France to receive treatment for an eye infection and then returned to England in 1670. Three years later, she befriended Sarah Jennings, who would later become one of her closest confidantes and advisors. Jennings tied the wedding knot with John Churchill, who was the future Duke of Marlborough. Churchill later became one of Anne’s most valuable and important generals during her reign.
When her father, James, converted to Catholicism in 1673, the girls were instructed by their uncle, King Charles II, to remain Protestants. Ten years later in 1683, Anne married Prince George of Denmark who was Protestant and was the younger brother of King Christian V of Denmark and Norway.
Although Anne and George’s union was not immediately welcomed in English society, the marriage proved to be very successful, albeit being plagued by a number of miscarriages, stillbirths, and deaths.
After her marriage, Jennings was appointed her Lady of the Bedchamber, and the two women had an affectionate and intimate relationship, often calling each other Mrs Morley and Mrs Freeman.
Accession of her father, James II
In 1685, King Charles II passed away and Anne’s father ascended the throne as James II. The new king was not well-liked by his English subjects. As a Catholic, James filled most military and administrative offices with other members of the Catholic Church. These appointments were in violation of the Test Acts, which had been created to prevent such appointments happening.
Anne’s estranged relationship with her father
Like her sister Mary, Anne was in opposition to her father’s plans and continued to follow the Anglican/Protestant faith. After James II had attempted to get her to baptize her daughter in the Catholic faith, she wrote to her older sister Mary about the wickedness of the Church. As a result, Anne’s relationship with her father became estranged.
1687 was a difficult year for both Anne and her husband George. Anne had miscarried twice, and George suffered smallpox, luckily he survived. The couple also lost their two daughters to the same illness. That same year, James II’s second wife, Mary of Modena, gave birth to a son called James Francis Edward Stuart. However, Anne remained suspicious upon hearing the news, as she believed the English Queen had faked her pregnancy to produce a fake heir. Anne wrote to Mary, who had been living outside England, stating that she would never know if their younger half-brother’s birth was true or false.
To put an end to the naysayers, James II invited 40 witnesses to the birth of his new son. Anne declined the invitation; first lying that she was pregnant and then later refusing to read the depositions.
In 1688, William of Orange, the husband of Princess Mary, invaded England. This invasion, which was made at the request of leading English noblemen, became known as the Glorious Revolution. It was a relatively bloodless revolution and proved to be successful at removing the Catholic-leaning James II from power. Upon the advice of her trusted friends, Sarah and John Churchill, Anne chose not to side with her father and instead wrote to her brother-in-law and sister to declare her unflinching support for the Glorious Revolution.
A few days later, John Churchill and other leading military English figures abandoned the embattled king. Similarly, Prince George cast his lot with the Dutch invader and the English princess. When James II arrived in London shortly after, he realized that Anne and Sarah had also followed their husbands. He ordered Sarah’s capture, but the two women fled and spent a night under the care of a bishop.
Eventually, James fled to France on 23rd December, but Anne showed no care for her father’s circumstances. At the start of the new year in 1689, the Convention Parliament declared that James had abandoned his throne and that William and Anne’s sister, Mary, be declared the co-ruling monarchs, making Anne and her descendants in the line of succession. Later that year, Anne gave birth to Prince William, the Duke of Gloucester. Because William and Mary had no children, it seemed that Anne’s son was set to inherit the Crown.
Reign of William III and Mary II
Shortly after taking the throne, William and Anne rewarded John Churchill by giving him the Earldom of Marlborough. However, their relationship soured when the couple suspected John of supporting James II. The Churchills were dismissed from their duties, which caused Anne to leave her royal residence. Because of her actions, the king and queen stripped her of her guard of honor, and the guards were not allowed to salute her husband, George.
In 1694, Mary died of smallpox and William continued his reign alone. However, it became apparent that he needed an heir. In a bid to make him more accepted by society, he restored Anne’s honors and allowed her to live at St James’s Palace. Still, he kept her in the background instead of making her queen regent whenever he was absent.
Eventually, he restored the Churchills to their old office. According to the previous king, James II, Anne wrote a letter to him in 1696, seeking permission to succeed William after his death and promising to restore the Crown to her father’s line. However, he reportedly decided against giving his permission. It is believed that Anne wrote the letter in an attempt to secure the throne and prevent her father from making a direct claim.
The Act of Settlement
In 1700, Anne and George suffered yet another blow. Their only surviving son, William, died at age 11. Because William and Mary had no children, Mary had become the heir apparent to the throne. Had Anne not been alive, the throne would have gone back to James II or his son, James Francis Edward. That would mean the establishment of a Catholic dynasty in England.
To prevent a Catholic from ever wearing the English Crown, the British Parliament introduced the Act of Settlement 1701, which stated that the Crown would go to Sophia, Electress of Hanover, who was the granddaughter of James I. Two years prior to that Parliament had introduced the Bill of Rights, which not only limited the monarchy’s power and extended constitutional law, but it also barred Catholics from ascending to the English throne England.
When James II died in 1701, Mary of Modena wrote to Anne to let her know her father had forgiven her and reminded her of her earlier promise to restore the line. But it was too late, as Anne had already agreed to the Act of Settlement.
When William died in 1702, Anne ascended the throne as Queen of England.
The Reign of Queen Anne
After succeeding on the throne, Anne almost immediately found herself involved in the War of the Spanish Succession. England supported Archduke Charles as the rightful heir to the Spanish throne. The conflict lasted for most of Anne’s reign.
She also appointed her husband George as Lord High Admiral, giving him full control of the English Navy. She made John Churchill Captain-General of the English Army. Her best friend, Sarah was made Mistress of the Robes, which was the highest office any lady could reach.
The Birth of Great Britain
During the passage of the Act of Settlement in 1701, the English Parliament had neglected to involve the Parliament of Scotland. As a result, the Scottish Parliament passed the Act of Security, which stated that following Anne’s death, it had the power to choose the next Scottish monarch. Scottish politicians also threatened to withdraw Scottish troops in the English army.
Out of fear that Scotland would form an alliance with France, the English Parliament created the Alien Act of 1705, which threatened to pose economic sanctions on Scotland and also declare Scottish citizens in England as aliens unless the country revoked its initial act or agreed to unite with England. The Scots agreed to the latter option, and on May 1, 1707, England and Scotland united to form Great Britain, with Queen Anne serving as the monarch.
Death of Queen Anne
Anne lost her husband George in October 1708 and was deeply affected by his passing. Six years later, Anne died. The cause of death was said to be gout. Her body was reportedly so swollen that she had to buried in a big coffin. After her death, George I, the son of Electress Sophia, succeeded the throne.
Legacy & Achievements
Anne ruled during a period of developments in arts, science, and literature. During her time, many structures and edifices like the Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard were constructed. Many writers like Daniel Dafoe and Alexander Pope found great success under her rule. The Statute of Anne was passed to give exclusive rights to writers and not printers.
In entertainment, Anne’s life was portrayed in the BBC drama “The First Churchills.” It focused on her close bond with her bestfriend Sarah.
The American city of Annapolis, which is the capital city of the U.S. state of Maryland, was named by famous British Army general Sir Francis Nicholson (1655-1728) in honor of Queen Anne when she was a princess. A devout Anglican, Nicholson served as the Governor of Maryland from 1694 to 1698.
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