Anne Stuart

Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland

6 February 1665-1714

Princess Anne's family and education

Princess Anne was born of the mesalliance between James Stuart and Anne Hyde. She and her older sister Princess Mary were the only surviving issue of this marriage. Princess Anne spent her early childhood in the royal nursery. Lady Frances Villiers was her first governess. It's said that Lady Frances Villiers more played the role of mother than that of governess1, and at times when royal parents usually delegated the task of raising their children this is probably true.

Her education was confided to the clergyman named Lake, but she also had other teachers. She was thoroughly educated in domestic skills and music, but only slightly in the knowledge needed to govern. Anne did learn French and mastered that language, but was not properly trained in the grammar and spelling of English. For leisure Anne devoted herself to hunting and gardening2.

Queen Anne's intelligence

Queen Anne is often said to have been of mediocre intelligence, but in light of her education it's difficult to make a judgement about that. Queen Anne was devoted to her role, but also very dull. She was not able to make good conversation or was too reserved to do so. She also didn't have the inclination to amuse people by providing entertainment. Being not very healthy too she lacked the leadership, charisma and energy that could have naturally attracted people to the queen.

Phases of Queen Anne's reign

Anne's rule can be divided into three parts. The first goes from 1702 to 1708 and is marked by Marlborough, Godolphin and Harley being in power. The second part is from 1708 till about 1712 and sees Robert Harley earl of Oxford as Lord Treasurer. The third part runs from 1712 till 1714 and is dominated by the rise of Henry St. John viscount Bolingbroke. This partition of her rule is so important because her favorites usually got so much space to direct politics that, though Anne remained queen, the government and it's actions could change dramatically. This giving the appearance that Anne was ruled by her favorites.

General principles of Queen Anne's rule

Though her favorites, and thus the politics of her government would change, Anne's rule did have some consistency. First of all she stood on her own rights and privileges. This meant that though she had to keep the composition of parliament in mind when choosing ministers/secretaries she insisted on her right to choose them, opposing the thought that parliament should determine who was to be in power. The principles she adhered to in this respect were: First that members of government should be loyal to (=serve) her, not their party. Secondly that having a one party government would mean that the crown and her person would fall into the hands of party-government and lose its independence. In these respects she was successful in for most of her reign having a mixed government of moderate Whigs and moderate Tories leaving the power and prestige of the crown intact as far as possible. This achievement does point to having some wisdom in ruling.

Another principle was her sincere religious devotion. While previous English courts were sometimes centers of brilliance or appeared as luxurious brothels, hers was a cheap and dull court observing the ceremonies, but having no further attraction whatsoever. Her devotion would furthermore make her a protector of the Anglican Church opposing her to all other denominations. It was also a strong factor in her appointments, meaning that e.g. she liked the very religious Harley, and shunned others for the lives they lived in private.

Balance of Queen Anne's rule

Favorites and male historians

Queen Anne is often described as having been ruled by her favorites, this up to a point that she was described once as 'a foolish woman led by another foolish woman'. Further investigation however shows that, though her servants did get a lot of space to follow a certain policy, they also very often did not get their way.

I think that in order to determine whether or not Anne was ruled by others, it is useful to compare the measure in which some contemporary monarchs were ruled by their favorites. The pitfall in such a comparison is that in retrospect appointing an able politician or general is described as 'wisdom in choosing advisors', while appointing a servant that later fucks up is described as 'being ruled by favorites'. Another problem is that of the constitution of the kingdom they rule, meaning that Louis XIV's had much more freedom to do what he wanted than Anne, Leopold or Josef had. On top of that almost all sources written at the time were written from a male perspective, definitely viewing women as the weaker sex. Suppose Louis XIV had been Queen Louise I and acted like Louis XIV. I do not doubt we would now have lots of books about how Chamillart and Torcy directed French politics in stead of Louise I. The same goes for Anne now described as having been 'ruled by others'. If she had been named King Ann the appreciation of her person would probably be very different. By this I do not state that Anne was a strong willed person mostly relying on her own judgment (she was not), but I do want to indicate that the male perspective of historians and sources probably distorts the picture to a large extent.

English achievements under Anne's rule

It is rewarding to look at Anne's rule from a wide perspective: During her rule England would rise to great power status, and continue to grow fast in aspects like culture and economy. It is a reasonable question to ask if England could have achieved more during the Spanish Succession War than it did under her rule. The answer to this question is: Yes, England could have achieved some more things by conquering Canada and rolling back the French frontiers at Utrecht. The opposite question is if England could have done worse. The answer to this is: Yes, England could have done far worse by loosing the war or ruining itself in one of many ways. When trying to keep a score of achievements one should look at the number of goals England could possibly achieve, and how much of them it did achieve. Now here is my list:

Naval dominance:Achieved: England became the dominant naval power
Dominance in the Mediterranean:Achieved: by getting Gibraltar and Minorca
Stable governmentAchieved: Having survived party strife political stability was coming soon
Financial stabilityAchieved: The most well financed government by 1714
Commercial goalsAchieved: The Assiento was a big bonus
Scottish problemsAchieved: Solved by the act of Union
Conquering North AmericaPartly achieved: Foundations laid at Utrecht by having New Foundland and Acadia
The Spanish inheritancePartly achieved: Spanish possessions outside of Spain saved from the Bourbons
Pushing back FranceFailed: Only some border corrections between France and the Southern Netherlands.
SpainFailed: Spain and Indies were in the Bourbon grasp though it bothered little

Viewing her reign like this I would say that under her rule the England achieved perhaps 80% of what it could possibly achieve, giving George I a dream start of his rule. There can thus be no doubt that the net balance of her rule is very positive.

Achievements due to Queen Anne or in spite of her?

In appreciating Anne's rule it is of course difficult to determine which acts should be ascribed to her, and which should be ascribed to the genius or folly of her appointees. The question should then be: did the United Kingdom owe her growth to her, or did it achieve this in spite of her? Depending on one's perspective both questions can be answered with yes. This has to do with the fact that her reign can be divided in parts (see above). The first part saw her under the influence of Sarah Churchill (and thus the Marlborough clique), the second part she was influenced by Abigail Hill and Harley and in the third part subsequently by Bolingbroke. Great Britain owes to her some very wise decisions primarily in the first part of her reign and also some less fortunate and stupid ones in the second and third part. Next to that Britain should thank her for not doing a lot of other things normal for sovereigns of the time.

The good decisions start with continuing Marlborough as supreme commander of the English army. Though Marlborough had already been appointed by William III, and though he was her favorite, the fact that se had him command the army gave the alliance many victories over the French. This meant that the unrivalled superpower status of France was broken, and England came up to par with it. This was however not only achieved by his military feats, but also by his political actions. The fact that Marlborough got the power to deploy his political talents in concert with Eugen and Heinsius cannot be ascribed to William appointing him, but only to Anne letting him. The political appointments she made in the first part of her reign can also be said to have been very good. She continued Godolphin as the financial wizard who fuelled the war machine without ruining public finances. Next to that she succeeded for a long time in preventing a one party government that would have associated the monarchy with one party. This she did by carefully balancing between parties.

Her less fortunate decisions primarily have to do with the later period of her reign when she came under the influence of Abigail Hill. This led to England making peace whilst betraying her allies. From an English perspective one can view this as an honorless but very smart move, and the subsequent history seems to vindicate this vision. The facts are however that England on the trail of major victories in the field had at that time a unique opportunity to roll back most of Louis XIV's conquests. I.e. could secure her strategic interest of keeping the French away from the Low Countries and still have the things she got at Utrecht. That the French only succeeded in occupying them in 1795 and not sooner came about in spite of Queen Anne. With regard to continental territorial aspects the conditions of Utrecht were thus not selfish as 'in England's interest'. The only aspect 'selfish' about it could have been the selfish aspect of Anne, and/or Oxford/Bolingbroke wanting to restore the pretender and needing a powerful France to back them up, but that is another chapter.

A good example of foolishness was the expedition against Canada. It was prepared by St. John and was in itself of course a smart decision with an eye to the upcoming peace. Had it succeeded it would probably have given England Canada at Utrecht. However, her assent to letting Abigail Hill's brother command the invasion force and to appoint an incompetent admiral cost many lives and made the expedition fail. She had thus acted like Louis XIV when he let La Feuillade lead the siege of Turin, while she could have acted like the younger Anne who sent Marlborough to Blenheim. Had she appointed good leadership and gotten Quebec at Utrecht no author would have dared to label her 'that foolish woman'.

Luckily for England the bad decisions of her later reign by far did not undo the good ones she made at the beginning. On top of that she did not have the faults many other sovereigns had plenty of. Like there are: building palaces (Louis XIV), having an army of musicians (Leopold), going to war while one can get all kinds of rewards at the negotiation table (Louis XIV and Max Emanuel), taking foolish risks (Charles XII). With this kind of foolishness being the norm amongst kings England was very lucky with Queen Anne.


1) Queen Anne and her court by William Ryan, London 1908 has this statement.
2) For the subjects of her education see Queen Anne by Edward Gregg. Routledge 1984, page 11