Magazine article The Spectator

Queen of Sorrows

Magazine article The Spectator

Queen of Sorrows

Article excerpt

Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion by Anne Somerset Harper Press, £25, pp. 626, ISBN 9780007203758

She was the ill-educated younger child of the Duke of York; a mere female, she was sickly and not expected to survive, let alone become Queen. But, as this monumental and long overdue reappraisal shows, it was a mistake to underestimate Anne Stuart. She had always been ambitious and had great tenacity. She had no qualms about putting her beloved Church of England above loyalty to her father and King, the Catholic James II. Indeed, she was a key player in the Revolution of 1688. Legislation declaring that the monarch could not be Catholic or married to a Catholic meant that the question of her Catholic half brother's legitimacy and his right to the throne was never an issue for Anne. Far from feeling remorse at denying her brother his birthright, this latest biography argues that Anne did not trouble her conscience with something that could not be undone.

One of Anne's less attractive features was her readiness to take umbrage at some perceived slight. She bore a grudge against her stepmother, Queen Mary Beatrice, not hesitating to sully her reputation to suit her own interests, and quarrelled first with her sister Mary II and brother-in-law William III, 'the Dutch abortive' as she called him, then with her erstwhile favourite, Sarah Churchill. Anne was happy to play the victim, even if she was never a victim.

Nor was she as weak as she liked to portray herself.

Her passion for the dazzling Sarah begs the question, did she have lesbian tendencies? Anne Somerset maintains that intense, platonic female friendships were quite the norm in the 17th century, but that lesbianism was regarded as some rare, esoteric perversion. Certainly Anne, a devout Christian, was devastated when Sarah, incensed at being supplanted in the Queen's affections by the bedchamber woman Abigail Hill, drew her attention to a lampoon - composed by Sarah's secretary - suggesting she indulged in 'some dark deeds at night' with Hill.

Anne's devotion to her husband, the vacuous Prince George of Denmark, was touching, and she wins sympathy for enduring 17 pregnancies, mostly ending in failure.

This is now attributed to Hughes syndrome, or 'sticky blood'. Tragically, she lost two girls in infancy and her last surviving child, William, Duke of Gloucester, who suffered from hydrocephalus, died aged 11. …

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