Biography of Queen Anne, Britain's Forgotten Queen Regnant

Successor to William and Mary after the Glorious Revolution

Painting of Queen Anne
Jan van der Vaardt and Willem Wissing, Queen Anne When Princess of Denmark (detail), 1685, oil on canvas, 199.40 x 128.30 cm.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Queen Anne (born Lady Anne of York; February 6, 1655 – August 1, 1714) was the last monarch of Great Britain’s Stuart dynasty. Although her reign was marred by her health problems and she left no Stuart heirs, her era included the union of England and Scotland, as well as international events that helped Britain rise to prominence on the world stage.

The Daughter of York's Early Years

Born on February 6, 1655, Anne Stuart was the second daughter and fourth child of James, Duke of York, and his wife Anne Hyde. James was the brother of the king, Charles II.

Although the Duke and Duchess had eight children, only Anne and her older sister Mary survived beyond early childhood. Like many royal children, Anne was sent away from her parents’ household; she grew up in Richmond along with her sister. Despite their parents’ Catholic faith, both girls were raised as Protestants on the orders of Charles II. Anne's education was otherwise quite limited – and was probably not helped by her lifelong poor eyesight. However, she did spend time at the French court as a young girl, which influenced her later in her reign.

King Charles II had no legitimate children, which meant that Anne's father James was his heir presumptive. After Anne Hyde’s death, James remarried, but he and his new wife did not have any children who survived infancy. This left Mary and Anne as his only heirs.

In 1677, Anne's sister Mary wed their Dutch cousin, William of Orange. The match was arranged by the Earl of Danby, who used the marriage to a Protestant nobleman as a way to curry favor with the king. This was in direct conflict with the Duke of York's wishes – he wanted to cultivate a Catholic alliance with France.

Marriage and Relationships

Soon, Anne also married. After years of rumors as to who she would marry – with her cousin and eventual successor Georg of Hanover as the most prominent candidate – Anne ultimately wed a man supported by her father and and her maternal uncle: Prince George of Denmark. The wedding took place in 1680. The marriage pleased Anne’s family, who hoped for an alliance between England and Denmark to contain the Dutch, but it frustrated William of Orange, her Dutch brother-in-law.

Despite an age gap of twelve years, the marriage between George and Anne was reported to be fond, even if George was described by many as deeply boring. Anne became pregnant eighteen times during their marriage, but thirteen of those pregnancies ended in miscarriages and only one child survived infancy. The competition for influence between their husbands continued to strain Anne and Mary’s once-close relationship, but Anne had a close confidante in her childhood friend Sarah Jennings Churchill, later the Duchess of Marlborough. Sarah was Anne’s dearest friend and most influential advisor for much of her life.

Overthrowing her Father in the Glorious Revolution

King Charles II died in 1685, and Anne's father, the Duke of York, succeeded him, becoming James II of England and James VII of Scotland. James quickly moved to restore Catholics to positions of power. This was not a popular move, even amongst his own family: Anne vehemently opposed the Catholic Church, despite her father’s attempts to control or convert her. In June 1688, James’ wife, Queen Mary, gave birth to a son, also named James.

Anne had resumed closer correspondence with her sister, so she was aware of plans being made to overthrow their father. Although Mary distrusted the Churchills, it was their influence that helped Anne finally decide to join with her sister and brother-in-law as they plotted to invade England.

On November 5, 1688, William of Orange landed on English shore. Anne refused to support her father, instead taking the side of her brother-in-law. James fled to France on December 23, and William and Mary were hailed as the new monarchs.

Even after years of marriage, William and Mary had no children to inherit the throne. Instead, they declared in 1689 that Anne and her descendants would reign after both of them died, followed by any children William might have if Mary predeceased him and he remarried.

Heiress to the Throne

Although Anne and Mary were reconciled during the Glorious Revolution, their relationship soured again when William and Mary attempted to deny her several honors and privileges, including housing and her husband’s military status. Anne turned again to Sarah Churchill, but the Churchills were suspected by William of conspiring with the Jacobites (supporters of James II’s infant son). William and Mary dismissed them, but Anne publicly continued to support them, causing a final rift between the sisters.

Mary died in 1694, making Anne the heir apparent to William. Anne and William reconciled to a degree. In 1700, Anne suffered a pair of losses: her final pregnancy ended in miscarriage, and her sole surviving child, Prince William, died at age eleven. Because this left the succession in question – Anne was not well, and she was of an age where more children were all but impossible – Parliament created the Act of Settlement: if Anne and William both died childless, the succession would go to the line of Sophia, Electress of Hanover, who was a descendant of the Stuart line through James I.

Becoming Queen Regnant

William died on March 8, 1702, and Anne became queen regnant of England. She was the first queen regnant who was married but did not share power with her husband (as her distant relative Mary I did). She was quite popular, emphasizing her English roots in contrast to her Dutch brother-in-law, and became an enthusiastic patron of the arts.

Anne was actively involved in affairs of state, although she attempted to sidestep partisan politics. Ironically, her reign saw the gap between the Tories and the Whigs widen even further. The most significant international event of her reign was the War of Spanish Succession, in which England fought alongside Austria and the Dutch Republic against France and Spain. England and its allies supported the (eventually losing) claim of Archduke Charles of Austria to the Spanish throne. Anne supported this war, as did the Whigs, which increased her closeness to their party and distanced her from the Churchills. In Sarah’s place, Anne came to rely on a lady-in-waiting, Abigail Hill, which further alienated her relationship with Sarah.

On May 1, 1707, the Acts of Union were ratified, bringing Scotland into the kingdom and establishing the unified entity of Great Britain. Scotland had resisted, insisting on the continuation of the Stuart dynasty even after Anne, and in 1708, her half-brother James attempted the first Jacobite invasion. The invasion never reached land.

Final Years, Death, and Legacy

Anne’s husband George died in 1708, a loss that devastated the queen. In subsequent years, the Whig government that supported the ongoing War of Spanish Succession grew unpopular, and although the new Tory majority had little interest in continuing to support the claim of Charles (now Holy Roman Emperor), they also wished to halt the ambitions of the French Bourbons. Anne created a dozen new peers in order to get the necessary majority in Parliament to make peace with France in 1711.

Anne’s health continued to decline. Although she vehemently supported the Hanoverian succession, rumors persisted that she secretly favored her half-brother. She had a stroke on July 30, 1714, and died two days later on August 1. She was buried beside her husband and children in Westminster Abbey. Because Electress Sophia had died two months prior, Sophia’s son and Anne’s long-ago suitor George of Hanover took the throne.

As queen regnant, Anne’s reign was relatively short—less than fifteen years. In that time, however, she proved her worth as a queen who maintained her authority even over her own husband, and she participated in some of the defining political moments of the era. Although her dynasty ended with her death, her actions secured the future of Great Britain.

Queen Anne Fast Facts

  • Full Name: Anne Stuart, Queen of Great Britain
  • Occupation: Queen regnant of Great Britain
  • Born: February 6, 1665 at St. James's Palace, London, United Kingdom
  • Died: August 1, 1714 at Kensington Palace, London, United Kingdom
  • Key Accomplishments: Anne confirmed Britain as a power on the world stage and presided over the unification of Scotland with the rest of what is now the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
  • Quote: “I know my own heart to be entirely English."

Sources

  • Gregg, Edward. Queen Anne. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.
  • Johnson, Ben “Queen Anne.” Historic UK, https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Queen-Anne/
  • “Anne, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland.” Encyclopaedia Brittanica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Anne-queen-of-Great-Britain-and-Ireland