The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 6th February


Queen Anne 6 February 1665 – 1 August 1714

Anne is reknowned for her passionate relationships with women, extraordinarily well documented, largely thanks to her longest lasting passion Sarah Jennings (later Churchill), whokept all the Queen’s letters to her, and wrote an autobiography which is surprisingly (and perhaps naively) frank.

(see also Cicely Cornwallis, Elizabeth Percy and Abigail Hill)

Sarah and Anne first met in 1672 when Sarah was brought to court by her elder sister, Frances.

Sarah was twelve, Anne seven. They met again a few years later, after Sarah had married John Churchill, and in 1683 Anne persuaded her father to have Sarah attached to her household, which suited them both well. Sarah’s interpretation of the first flush of their relationship is this:

To see the duchess was a constant joy and to part with her for never so short a time, a constant uneasiness – the princess’s own frequent expressions were. This worked even to the jealousy of a lover. She used to say she desired to possess her wholly, and could hardly bear that she should ever escape this confinement into other company.

In 1683 Anne was married to George Prince of Denmark. According to contemporary comment he was everything a bride could wish for – tall, gallant, extremely handsome. He was apparently a kind, gentle and considerate man, universally despised by his in-laws who considered him a fool. He also had asthma and spoke English with an atrocious accent. Anne seems to have liked him well enough and supported him in the occasional rows he had with her family. She was fortunate and she knew it. If he could not satisfy her need for emotional support and passion that was not his fault, and he had the sense not to try to interfere between his wife and her women friends.

In 1684 Anne demanded from Sarah an attempt at equality which suited Sarah’s temperament perfectly. They each chose new names to write to each other, so that Sarah’s letters would not be peppered with ‘highness’.

let me beg of you that you not call me your highness at every word, but be free with me as one friend ought to be with another, and you can never give me greater proof of your friendship than in telling me your mind freely in all things which I do beg you to do… I am impatient for Wednesday, till then farewell.

Accordingly, Anne became ‘Mrs Morley’ and Sarah, ‘Mrs Freeman’. Anne’s need for Sarah’s company became greater as the outside world became more precarious. With her father’s unpopular accession to the throne and attempts to bring about a reconversion to Catholicism, Anne became a figurehead for the Protestant opposition, and rapidly became embroiled in plots to overthrow her father, sending secret letters to her sister Mary in Holland, spying on her step-mother and in the process becoming very isolated. Anne was not the only one to appreciate Sarah’s staunch support, Mary wrote from Holland:

I hope my sister and you will never part. I send you her [a letter] for her, and have no more time now than to assure you that I shall never forget the kindness you showed to her who is so dear to me. That and all the good I have heard of you will make me ever your affect. friend…

1688 saw the end of the new catholic age, with James II deposed and in exile with his son (the ‘Old Pretender’ who may or may not have been smuggled into the lying-in room in a warming pan). Mary and Anne never felt entirely at ease with this side of things, despite their moral superiority in saving their country for the Protestant faith. After the joyful greetings it became clear the sisters had nothing in common apart from a shared enemy, now conveniently removed, and they rapidly lost interest in each other. This would not have mattered if William had not decided that as England’s saviour he was not content to play consort to Mary’s Queen. Moreover, he wanted to be Mary’s heir before any children they might have; and before Anne. This potentially did away with Anne claim to the throne. Anne evidently thought it safest to agree, in spite of Sarah’s urging her not to.

William then determined that he would decide what allowance Anne might have. Sarah did not consider it adequate and also felt that Anne should have he money by right, not at William’s favour: so Anne asked to have her allowance ratified by Parliament. Both William and Mary were incensed by this, and knew Sarah was behind it. Sarah’s good friend and Anne and Mary’s childhood companion, Barbara Villiers (now Fitzharding) did nothing to help, running between the rival camps carrying tales. Since Sarah never held this against her, which was most out of character, perhaps she was not aware of Barbara’s double dealing.

As if this was not enough to strain relations, in 1692 John Churchill was dismissed from court without explanation. Sarah should have stayed away too, but didn’t, because she felt Anne needed her support, particularly following an anonymous letter warning her against many of her intimate circle. Despite Mary’s furious demands, Anne refused to part with Sarah. Mary was forced to write to her sister in strong terms:

…I hope you do me the justice to believe it is as much against my will that I now tell you that after this it is very unfit Lady Marlborough should stay with you, since that gives her husband so just a pretence of being where he ought not… Bringing Lady Marlborough hither last night… was very unkind in a sister, would have been very uncivil in an equal, and I need not say I have more to claim… ‘Tis upon that account I tell you plainly Lady Marlborough must not continue with you in the circumstances her lord is. I know this will be uneasy to you, and I am sorry for it… I would have made myself believe your kindness for her made you forget that you should have for the king and me and resolved to put you in mind of it myself neither of us being willing to come to harsher ways…

and so on; it is a very long, repetitive letter.

Anne wrote to Sarah in great distress following this letter:

I have just now received such an arbitrary letter from the queen as I am sure she nor the king durst have writ to any other of their subjects and which if I had any inclination to part with dear Mrs Freeman would make me keep her in spite of their teeth and which by the grace of God I will and go to the utmost verge of the earth rather than live with such monsters I beg I may speak with you as soon as you can possible.

Anne was given to understand that Sarah might be parted with temporarily for forms sake and sent a message to her sister asking if this were correct. Sarah records the response:

Upon delivery of this message the Queen fell into a great passion and said her sister had not mistaken her for she never would see her upon other terms than her parting with me, not for a time but forever adding that she was a Queen and would be obeyed.

One cannot help wondering if there was not a little jealousy of Anne’s closeness with Sarah at work in the ferocity of this answer. None of Mary’s loved ones still stood by her, she neither understood nor liked her husband, a feeling he reciprocated, and now even the beloved younger sister would sooner have the dreadful Sarah as a friend. Sarah’s justification is contained in her memoirs:

How disagreeable soever to the Queen my conduct had been it would have proved no easy task to her to find in any part of it a plausible reason for pressing the princess to part with me.

Would any person who deserves to be in the service, not to say intimate friendship of a princess, have acted otherwise than I did in relation to those points which only I can be supposed to have disobliged their majesties?

Would it have become me to be indifferent in the affairs of the succession of the Crown? and to be willing without necessity of public good that my mistress, my friend, the princess of Denmark should yield up her birthright to the Prince of Orange.

Doubtless my behaviour was criminal in the Queen’s eyes, but this was only because she was Queen; for she had formerly looked upon my attachment and fidelity to her sister in a very different light.

As a punishment for her determination to keep Sarah by her, Anne was banished from the court. If Sarah could be kept away by no other method, Mary was quite prepared to remove her sister, and Sarah with her. Anne moved into Syon House outside London and wrote constantly to Sarah.

I have been knotting (lace work) all this day against you employ me. I wish you saw me work for I’m sure it would make you Laugh… for one glimpse of Mrs Freeman I would gladly drive to Jerusalem.

I have a thousand melancholy thoughts, and cannot help fearing they should hinder you from coming to me; though how they can do that without making you a prisoner I cannot imagine. But let them do what they please, nothing shall ever vex me so I can have the satisfaction of seeing dear Mrs Freeman; and I swear I would live on bread and water between four walls, with her, without repining; for as long as you continue kind, nothing can ever be a real mortification to your faithful Mrs Morley, who wishes she may never enjoy a moments happiness in this world or the next, if ever she proves false to you.

If ever you should do so cruel a thing as to leave me, from that moment I shall never enjoy one quiet hour. And should you do it with out asking my consent… I will shut myself up and never see the world more but live where I may be forgotten by human kind. [Written after Sarah had suggested it might be best to comply with Mary’s demands.]

… Though I long of all things to hear from my dear Mrs Freeman I am not so unreasonable as to expect the groom should come back tonight, if he comes to you at an unseasonable hour; therefore keep him till it is easy to you to write. But I am in hopes I shall have word before I go to bed, because my dear Mrs Freeman has promised I shall hear from you.

Friday morning… P.S. I hope my dear Mrs Freeman will come as soon as she can this afternoon, that we may have as much time together as we can. I doubt you will think me very reasonable for saying this, but I really long now to see you again as much as if I had not been so happy this month.

Anne’s ups and downs were directly related to how often she saw Sarah. She almost enjoyed showing Mary that she wasn’t going to give in, but the final rift was fast approaching. Sarah describes Mary visiting her sister after one of Anne’s many miscarriages:

The princess herself told me that the Queen never asked her how she did, nor expressed the least concern for her condition, nor so much as took her by the hand. The salutation was this:-

‘I have made the first step by coming to you, and I now expect you should make the next by removing Lady Marlborough.’ The princess answered that she never in all her life disobeyed her except in this one particular which she hoped would some time or other appear as unreasonable to her Majesty as it did to her…. I have heard that the Queen when she came home was pleased to say that she was very sorry she had spoken to the princess, who she confessed, had so much concern upon her at the renewing the affair that she trembled and looked as white as the sheets, But if her Majesty was really touched with compassion, it is plain by what followed that she overcame herself extremely for presently after this visit, all company was forbidden waiting on the Princess and her guards were taken away.

Scarcely had this incident occurred than John Churchill was sent to the tower, accused of treason. Anne immediately rallied to her friends’ defence, and comfort.

My dear Mrs Freeman was in so dismal a way when she went from hence, that I could not forbear asking how she does, and if she has hopes of Lord Marlborough’s soon being at liberty. for God’s sake have a care of your dear self, and give as little way to melancholy thoughts as you can.

The treason charges were eventually proved to be based on forgeries, and Churchill was released. A state of uneasy truce ensued, to be ended only by a drastic turn of events.

In 1694 Mary died of small pox, and a reconciliation occurred between William and Anne. She was his heir, and she was too popular for him to be able to afford to publicly slight her.

Anne’s relationship with Sarah went from strength to strength; she doted on Sarah and cherished every word she wrote to her, even though at Sarah’s insistence she burned all her letters.

I kissed your dear kind letter over and over, and burnt it much against my will.

As will have become clear, Sarah did not burn Anne’s letter, a fact that later caused friction between them.

It is difficult to tell without Sarah’s letters whether Anne’s passion was reciprocated. Certainly she seems for a time to have been satisfied with Mrs Freeman’s ‘dear kind letters’. Anne acknowledged to Sarah what she saw as her husband’s prior claim to her, but insisted that where women were concerned she had a right at least to complain.

I know I have a great many rivals which makes me sometimes fear losing what I so value.

You have often told me that I have no reason to be jealous of her [Lady Anne Sunderland, an old friend of Sarah’s] and therefore I will not complain any more till I see more reasons for it but I assure you I have been a little troubled at it.

Gradually Sarah was spending more time away from court, and frequently Anne did not know whether she was in London or not.

Kensington, Wednesday.

Your poor unfortunate faithfull Morly was at her deare Mrs Freemans door today just before I came from St James’s but could make no body heare and it being past two aclock I durst not venture to send round, the prince staying dinner for me, soe was forc’d to come away without ye satisfaction of one look of my dear Mrs Freeman, which was no small mortification to her that sincerely doats on you…

Sarah felt it was safe to leave her post more than occasionally since her interests were well looked after (as she thought) by her cousin, Abigail Hill.

William had an accident with a mole hill, died in his (male) lover’s arms, and Anne finally succeeded him in 1702. She was 37, she suffered with acute gout and had almost to be carried during the coronation ceremony. Anne’s natural political inclination was for the high Tories, the church party. Sarah was a confirmed Whig, and quite determined to use her utmost influence in the furtherance of her chosen party. Unfortunately for her, Abigail, who had been in post four years now, was a Tory, and although she preferred to be subtle for the time being, was intending to do battle for the new Queen.

Subtlety was not Sarah’s favourite method of dealing with Anne, and if her wishes were not immediately concurred with scenes were likely to result. In September 1702 Peregrine Bertie noted that:

The dutchess of Marlborough has lately had two terrible Battles with the Queen and that she came out from her in great heat, and when the Queen was seen afterwards her eyes were red, and it was plain she had been crying very much.

The perfidious (in Sarah’s view) cousin Abigail supplanted Sarah after this, and was in turn supplanted by Elizabeth Percy who was th Queen’s favourite at the time of her death.

Anne’s affairs were no secret at the time and gossip floated about the courts of Europe, much of it inaccurate. One particularly explicit version has been left to us by the Dowager Duchess of Orleans in a letter written in March 1716:

English men and women depict Queen Anne horribly here, saying she would get drunk, after which she’d make love with women, being, however, fickle and changing often. Lady Sandwich did not tell me anything, but she told my son. I had little contact with her, because she disgusted me, admitting that she had allowed herself to be used for such perversions.

Since Lady Sandwich was in France with the Jacobites throughout Anne’s reign, she would scarcely have been on intimate terms with the queen, so who knows where she got her information from. Her husband certainly didn’t trouble her overmuch, and it may well be that Lady Sandwich was a lesbian, confessing to an affair with an unknown woman.

(as you can see I researched this one properly!)

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Author: Cherry Potts

Cherry Potts is a published fiction writer, publisher, event organiser, photographer, cardmaker, NLP master practitioner, life coach and trainer. She is an enthusiastic singer. Through Arachne Press she publishes fiction and non fiction and runs spoken word events and cross-arts workshops for writers at interesting venues. Always interested in new opportunites to perform, write or explore writing.

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