The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 12th February


Once more I am short of a specific birthday to celebrate, so back to the seventeenth century and to Frances Apsley 1653–1727.

Frances was the object of affection of a youthful Mary Stuart, who became that strange binomial monarch ‘William&Mary’, or more correctly Mary II of England. Mary was older sister to Queen Anne, and they both had a bit of a crush on Frances who was nine years older than Mary. There is no extant evidence that Frances reciprocated, but she clearly entered into the game of assumed names and ‘marriages’ the girls played or Mary’s side of their correspondence would not have been so protracted.

Mary and Anne were inclined to jealousy where Frances was concerned and a certain amount of out-doing each other became part of the letter writing. A particularly fine example of Mary’s style is shown in the following, written well before her marriage and removal to the Netherlands:

I may if I can tel you how much I love you but I hope that is not doubted I have give you proves enufe if not I will die to satisfy you dear dear husban if al my hares were lives i wold lose them al twenty times over to sarve of satisfie you… I love you with a flame more lasting than the vestals fire thou art my life my soul my al that heaven can give deaths life with you without you death to live. What can I say to persuade you that I love you with more zeal than any lover can I love you with a love that ner was know by man I have for you excese of friandship more of love then any woman can for woman and more love then even the constantest lover had for his mistress. You are loved more than can be exprest by your ever obedient wife vere afectionate fiand humbel sarvent to kis the ground where once you go to be your dog in a string your fish in a net your bird in a cage your humbel trout.

Despite the eccentric (even for the time) spelling and lack of punctuation, I think a girl would be flattered to get a letter like that.  Frances did eventually marry, but not until she was twenty-nine, which is rather old for the time – Mary was married at thirteen.

So yes, I think Frances gets her invitation, if only so that we can find out what it was that had two future monarchs vying for her attention…

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 7th February


The 7th February is another date I have found no candidate for so here is

Mary de la Rivière Manley 1663-1724

Mary was briefly the editor of The Examiner, a Tory paper. She was the first English woman political journalist. She was arrested for her publication The New Atlantis (Secret memoirs and manners of several persons of quality, of both sexes, from the New Atlantis, an island in the Mediterranean) 1709.

She is here partly for being a first, and partly for her capacity for gossip, which provided further evidence of Queen Anne and her passionate friendships, and the attitude to them at the time:

Oh how laudable! how extraordinary! how wonderful! is the uncommon happiness of the cabal? They have wisely excluded that rapacious sex… they have all of happiness in themselves. Two beautiful ladies joined in an excess of amity (no word is tender enough to express their new delight) innocently embrace! for how can they be guilty? They vow eternal tenderness, they exclude the men and condition that they will always do so.

The Cabal, New Atlantis

The tone of this is intriguing, her tongue is self evidently in her cheek, at the same time as being quite kindly. Mary’s books were widely read and translated into both French and German. She married her uncle who was a fortune hunter, it turned out the marriage was bigamous, so she managed to get the marriage annulled but lost her money.

Mary’s tombstone:

Here lieth the body of Mrs. Delarivier Manley Daughter of Sir Roger Manley, Knight Who, suitable to her birth and education, Was acquainted with several Parts of Knowledge, And with the most polite Writers, both in the French and English tongue. This Accomplishment, Together with a greater Natural Stock of Wit, made her Conversation agreeable to all who knew Her, and her Writings to be universally Read with Pleasure. She died July 11th, 1724

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!)

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 26th January


(c) National Trust, Petworth House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationToday’s birthday belongs to Elizabeth Percy (26 January 1667 – 24 November 1722) the last of Queen Anne’s intimate lady friends.

Elizabeth was one of the richest heiresses of her time and as such was the centre of many intrigues. She was married at 12 to Henry Cavendish, widowed at 13 and married again aged 14, in 1681, this time to Thomas Thynne. She left him almost immediately and went to the Hague. When her husband was killed by Count von Koningsmark shortly afterwards, she was implicated. Supremely unconcerned, she returned to England and married the Duke of Somerset. (The owner of Syon House where Anne stayed when she was exiled from court by her sister Mary.)

She became Groom of the Stole in Sarah Churchill’s place when Sarah finally, finally went too far and got sacked.

Jonathan Swift (supporter/manipulator of Abigail Masham, another of Anne’s lovers) was of the opinion that:

 [she] quickly won so far upon the affections of her majesty, that she had more personal credit than all the Queen’s servants put together.

Swift also risked his chances of promotion to jibe at Elizabeth in his Windsor Prophesy

And dear England, if aught I understand
Beware of Carrots* from Northumberland;
Carrots sewn Thynne a deep root may get
If so be they are in Somerset.
Their Comyngs mark thou, for I have been told
They assassine when young and poison when old.
Root out these Carrots, o thou whose name
Is backwards and forwards always the same[Anna]
And keep close to Thee always that name
Which backwards and forwards is almost the same [Masham]
And England, would’st thou be happy still
Bury those Carrots under a Hill.

[*Elizabeth Percy had red hair.]

Anne chose to ignore this shamefully biased advice just as she had ignored the remarkably similar advice against Abigail in the final verse of A New Ballad to the Tune of Fair Rosamund.

It would seem that Elizabeth fared no better with the Whigs at court, certainly Sarah for once agreed with her enemies saying of Elizabeth:

She was never quite so kind as after she had taken the resolution  to supplant me, for then she not only came to dinner and made meetings for play oftener than before, but I remember she took it into her head to kiss me at parting which was quite new.

Of course it could be that Elizabeth had now become part of the inner circle of lesbians around the queen, and so felt an additional kinship with her old friend Sarah, but one can hardly expect Sarah to interpret her actions this way given her own lesbophobia and her capacity for putting the worst construction on any imagined wrong; the older the friend the more likely she was to take offence.

Elizabeth had plenty of opportunity to supplant Abigail, who was frequently away from court tending to her children,  there is no evidence to suggest any personal rivalry between Abigail and Elizabeth, but little survives of the correspondence of either.

Anne died in 1714. She left no will, and consequently Elizabeth never received jewels which Anne had promised her; she was, however, chief mourner at the funeral.

Following Elizabeth’s death:

A great number of letters from Queen Anne to Lady Elizabeth Percy, 1st wife of Charles Duke of Somerset had been burnt by his grace’s order.

I love a burnt letter, when you see what Anne wrote to other people, without them being burnt, you wonder.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 20th January


late again! In my defense, an over-long dress rehearsal for Orpheus followed by a rehearsal for Vocal Chords put a bit of a dent in the day.

So the 20th of January: not exactly a vintage day for lesbians, at least that I have found dates for – so lets meet Cicely Cornwallis, 1656 – 1723, who according to Sarah Churchill was the ‘first favourite’ of Queen Anne, whilst still a young thing. Cicely was a distant Catholic kinswoman of Anne’s. Sarah described the relationship in her autobiography:

The fondness of the young lady to her was very great and passionate but – the Duchess of York accidentally finding upon her daughter’s table a letter to her favourite, unsealed up, read it and was much displeased at the passionate expressions with which it was filled.

The result of this discovery was that Cicely was sent away from court (theoretically for her ‘papism’) and all Anne’s letters were carefully censored from then on.

 Thus ended a great friendship of 3 or 4 years standing, in which time lady Anne had written it was believed, above a thousand letters full of the most violent professions of everlasting kindness.

Sarah claims that Anne forgot her favourite within a fortnight. One possible reason for this lack of grief may have been that she now had Sarah’s company to divert her. At any rate, for all Anne forgot her, Sarah did not. Years later when Anne came to the throne she persuaded Anne to write to Cicely to let her know when she would be passing her lodgings so that she could look out and see her; and to grant her a pension, both of which Anne was reluctant to do.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 10th January


That enchantress, Abigail Hill Masham.
Here’s a nice obscure lesbian for you – no birthdate, (best guess 1670’s) but sufficiently influential because of her relationship with Queen Anne to have caused quite a furore in her lifetime. If you know anything about Queen Anne and her female friends, then it is probably Sarah Churchill you are aware of.

Abigail Hill was Sarah’s cousin, and the typical poor relation: father recently dead, mother penniless, herself the eldest of several children who must be provided for. To this end her mother applied to Sarah, who was well-known to be influential at court, to find places for her children. This Sarah did, finding Alice a job as a laundress, Jack a job as a groom, and Abigail a job as bedchamber woman to Anne. This probably qualifies as Sarah’s big mistake (she made plenty, and argued with Anne a lot) – she was spending time away from court ans wanted Abigail there as an early warning system in case Anne was missing her.

‘Bedchamber woman’ sounds alright, doesn’t it? But it was an entirely  appropriate job for a poverty-stricken country cousin, and not at all the same thing as being a Lady of the Bedchamber. Among Abigail’s numerous tasks was emptying the royal chamber pot. This was not the first post Sarah had found her, she had previously had charge of a notorious mad woman, so perhaps chamber pots were a change for the better.
What Sarah did not know was that her cousin was opposed to her politically and was as capable of influence as she was.

At this stage Sarah and Anne were still fighting over affairs which did not directly involve Abigail. The first mention that is made of her is in a letter from Anne.

My fever is not quite gone and I am still lame, I cannot go without limping. I hope Mrs Freeman (Sarah) has no thoughts of going to the opera with Mrs Hill (Abigail), and will have a care of engaging herself too much in her company, for, if you will give way to that, it is a thing that will insensibly grow upon you… for your own sake, as well as poor Mrs Morley’s (Anne) have as little to do with that enchantress as ’tis possible and pray pardon me for saying this.

Although Sarah did not know it, Anne was already under Abigail’s spell.
Abigail is a shadowy character; unlike Sarah she did not have much to say for herself. Jonathan Swift, who considered her an indisputable weapon in the Tory war said of her:

My lady Masham was a person of a plain sound understanding, of great truth and sincerity, without the least mixture of falsehood or disguise, of an honest boldness and courage superior to her sex, firm and disinterested in her friendship and full of love, duty and veneration for the queen her mistress.

On the other hand, the Earl of Dartmouth would have her:

exceedingly mean and vulgar in her manners, of an unequal temper, childishly exceptious, and passionate… the Queen had the suspicion that she or her sister listened at the door the whole time I was with her.

Abigail was not sufficiently grateful to her cousin to escape her cruel wit. Sarah tells of a visit to Bath in 1703 (well before she had any idea of what was going on between Abigail and Anne.)  Abigail did not care for her lodgings and said she would ‘Sett-up’ all night

Upon which there was the most ridiculous scene as Mrs Danvers acted it and that ever I saw of Mrs Hills sorely ill bred manner and the Queen going about the room after her and begging her to goe to bed, calling her dear Hill twenty times over.

In 1706, despite not yet knowing of Abigail’s closeness to Anne, Sarah was  causing Anne some anxiety. Anne wrote two letters that year which Sarah later identified (correctly it would seem) as being prompted by a guilty conscience.

I cannot forbear telling you why I disowned my being in a spleen this morning and the cause of my being so. My poor heart is so tender that I durst not tell you what was the matter with me, because I knew if I had begun to speak I should not have been fit to be seen by anybody… The reason of my being in the spleen was that I fancied by your looks and things you have sometimes let fall, that you have hard and wrong thoughts of me. I should be very glad to know what they are that I might clear myself, but let it be in writing for I dare not venture to speak to you for the reason I have told you already… don’t let anybody see this strange scrawl.

I hope you will not go to Woodstock without giving me one look, for whatever hard thoughts you may have of me I am sure I do not deserve them and I will not be uneasy if you come to me, for though you are never so unkind I will ever preserve a most sincere and tender passion for my dear Mrs Freeman.

Sarah’s annotation of this letter is as follows:

she was under the witchcraft of Mrs Hill, however she says she does not deserve the hard thoughts I may have of her and… she adds that she will not be uneasy if I would come to her and calls me unkind, but nobody of common sense can believe that I did not do all that was possible to be well with her, it was my interest to do so. And though I had all the gratitude imaginable for the kindness she had expressed to me for so many years, I could have no passion for her that could blind me so much as to make me do anything that was extravagant. But it wasn’t possible for me to go to her as often as I had done in private, for let her write what she will, she never was free with me after she was fond of Mrs Hill, and whoever reads her letters will find a great difference in the style of them when she really loved me from those where she only pretended to do so.

Sarah’s comments are of course prompted by malicious hindsight, vindication of her own role and with an eye to publishing. One wonders what ‘extravagant’ actions she had in mind that she was so careful to refute them. For all Sarah’s expressions of duty rather than passion, the hurt and indignation she feels at no longer being loved comes over loud and clear.

Another letter from the Queen, undated, in much the same form as the others, attributes Sarah’s displeasure to lies spread by others about Anne and again demands communication in written form only, ending:

and that for jesus’ sake as soon as it is possible, for I am on the rack and cannot bear living as we do now.

Sarah’s response is that this letter was:

    …certainly writ when she feared her kindness for Mrs Hill was discovered and… she feared blushing when I said anything upon that subject…

Unfortunately the situation was not going to improve. In 1707 Abigail secretly married Samuel Masham. This should not have caused a problem but for the fact that Sarah was the only person from whom it was secret. Sarah wrote to her husband expressing her suspicion that Abigail was in favour and she was out. His reply can scarcely have cheered her:

What you say of [Abigail] is very odd, and if you think she is a good weather cock, it is hie time to leave off struggling; for believe me nothing is worth rowing against wind and tyde; at least you wil think so when you come to my age.

When Sarah eventually discovered the full extent of Abigail’s betrayal of her trust her fury swept through the court, lasting years and causing untold damage and embarrassment to all concerned. It is worth quoting her version of events at some length to get a taste of what Anne had to contend with.

As for Mrs Masham herself, I had so much kindness for her and had done so much to oblige her, without having done anything to offend her, that it was too long before I could bring myself to think of her other than as a true friend and forbear rejoicing at any instance of favour shown her by the queen. I observed indeed at length that she had grown shy of coming to me, but I imputed this to her peculiar moroseness of temper and for some time made no other reflection upon it.
The first thing which led me to enquiries about her conduct was the being told that my cousin Hill was privately married to Mr Masham… I embraced her with my usual tenderness and very heartily wished her joy… I then enquired of her very kindly whether the queen knew of her marriage, and very innocently offered my service if she needed it to make the matter easy. She had by this time learnt the art of dissimulation pretty well and answered with an air of unconcernedness that the bedchamber women had already acquainted the queen
with it, hoping by this answer to divert any further examination into the matter. But I went presently to the Queen and asked her why she had not been so kind as to tell me of my cousin’s marriage… all the answer I could obtain was… I have a hundred times bid Masham tell it you, and she would not.
The conduct of both the queen and Mrs Masham convinced me there was some mystery in the affair… and in a weeks time I discovered that my cousin was become an absolute favourite, that the queen herself was present at her marriage…. that Mrs Masham came often to the queen when the prince was asleep and was generally two hours a day in private with her.

Sarah also recounts an episode which she sees as proving Abigail’s position with the Queen.

(She) unlocked the door with a loud familiar manner and was tripping across the room with a gay air, but upon seeing me she immediately stopped short and  acting a part like a player, dropped a grave courtesy when she had gone a good way without making any, and in a faint, low voice cryed, ‘Did your majesty ring, pray?’

Sarah’s opinion of Abigail at this point was at an all time low. Quite apart from what she herself had to lose from the situation, there was the ingratitude of it all:

To see a woman whom I had raised out of the dust put on such a superior air and hear her assure me by way of consolation that the queen would always be kind to me! At length I went on to reproach her for her ingratitude and her secret management with the queen to undermine those who had so long and with so much honour served her majesty. To this she replied that she never spoke to her majesty on business.

For a while Abigail avoided seeing her cousin, and Sarah complained to Anne who replied that Abigail was ‘mightily in the right not to come near‘ since she was afraid that Sarah was angry with her. Abigail’s version of events is less colourful, but just as full of vitriol. She wrote to her cousin Robert Harley on September 29th 1707:

In the evening [of September 22nd] about eight o’clock a great lady came and made visit til almost ten. I was in the drawing room by good luck, and as she passed by me I had a very low curtsey, which I returned in the same manner, but not one word passed between us, and as for her looks, indeed, they are not to be described by any mortal but herself. Nothing but my innocence could have supported me under such behaviour as this.

Sarah was quickly to see the result of Abigail’s ‘management’. In December 1707 she went to wish Anne a merry Christmas:

I went to pay my respects to the queen… and before I went in. I learnt from the page that Mrs Masham was just then sent for. The moment I saw her majesty, I plainly perceived she was uneasy. She stood all the while I was with her, and looked as coldly upon me as if I should no longer doubt of my loss of her affections. Upon observing what reception I had, I said I was sorry I had happened to come so unseasonably. I was making my curtsey to go away, when the queen, with a great deal of disorder in her face and without speaking one word took me by the hand. And when thereupon I stooped to kiss hers, she took me up with a very cold embrace and then without one kind word let me go.

Sarah could not resist telling Anne how she felt about this incident:

If Mrs Morley will be so just as to reflect and examine impartially her last reception of Mrs Freeman, how very different from what it has been formerly, when you were glad to see her come in and sorry when she went away; certainly you can’t wonder at her reproaches, upon an embrace that seemed to have no satisfaction in it but of getting rid of her in order to enjoy the conversation of one who has the good fortune to please you so much better…

Sarah was not one to let matters rest and retire gracefully as her husband had suggested. Instead, she launched a hate campaign, writing poison pen letters to Abigail, inventing libellous ballads and tormenting Anne. In this she had the assistance of her secretary, Mr Mainwaring. They were almost certainly the authors of the ballads that Sarah sent to Anne.

 A new ballad to the tune of Fair Rosamund
I
When as Qu—- A— of Great Renown
Great Britain’s Scepter sway’d,
Besides the Church she dearly lov’d
A Dirty Chamber Maid.
II
O! Abi— that was her Name,
She starched and stitch’d full well,
But how she pierc’d this Royal Heart,
No Mortal Man can tell.
III
However for sweet Service done
And Causes of great Weight,
Her Royal Mistress made her, Oh!
A Minister of State.

IV
Her Secretary she was not,
Because she could not write;
But had the conduct and the Care
Of some dark deeds at Night.
V
The Important Pass of the Back-Stairs
Was put into her Hand;
And up she brought the greatest R—
Grew in this fruitful land.
VI
And what am I to do, quoth he,
Oh! for this Favour great!
You are to teach me how, quoth she,
To be a sl— of State.
VII
My Dispositions they are good,
Mischievous and a Lyar;
A saucy, proud, ungrateful B—-,
And for the Church entire.
VIII
Great Qualities, quoth Machiavel!
And soon the world shall see,
What you can for your Mistress do,
With one small Dash of me.
IX
In Counsel sweet, Oh! then they sat,
Where she did Greifs unfold,
Had long her grateful Heart oppress’d;
And thus her Tale she told.

X
From Shreds and Dirt in low Degree,
From Scorn in piteous State,
A Dutchess bountiful has made
Of me a Lady Great.
XI
Some Favours she has heap’d upon
This undeserving Head,
That for to ease me, from their Weight,
Good God, that she were dead!
XII
Oh! let me then some means find out,
This Teazing Debt to pay;
I think, quoth he, to get her Place
Would be the only way.

…And so on, concluding wishfully:

       XXXV
However, taking safe Advice
From those that knew her well,
She Ab—-l turn’d out of doors,
And hang’d up Machiavel.

Sarah’s hand is clear in this. She gets in everything: Abigail’s politics, her connivance with her Cousin Harley, a leading Tory; Abigail’s ingratitude for her own generosity; and of course a thinly veiled suggestion of lesbianism. Hell clearly had no fury of the kind Sarah could muster. She seems to have completely lost her head and thrown caution to the winds; she knew she was risking her own reputation, and didn’t give a damn. All she wanted to do was discredit Abigail and humiliate Anne. She shows no interest in resolving her differences with Anne, she just wanted to hurt her, to repay Anne for the hurt she had herself received.
Another of Sarah and Mainwaring’s probable inventions is a pamphlet containing an imagined conversation between Abigail and Mme de Maintenon (Louis XIV’s mistress). This is entitled ‘sThe Rival Duchess’ and claims to have been written by Mme de Maintenon herself. In it Abigail is depicted as saying:

Especially at court I was taken for a modish lady, was rather addicted to another sort of passion of having too great a regard for my own sex in so much as few people thought I would ever have married.

Sarah wrote to Anne summarising the contents of the ‘Rival Duchess’ saying that ‘there is stuff not fit to be mentioned, of passion between women.”
Sarah also wrote to Lord Hamilton, Anne’s doctor and their occasional intermediary:

I hear there is some [pamphlet] lately come out which they said were not fit for me to see, by which I guess they are upon that subject that you may remember I complained to you, and really it troubl’d me very much upon my own account as well as others, because it was very disagreeable and what I know to be a lye, but something of that disagreeable turn there was in an odious ballad to the tune of fair Rosamund, printed a good while ago… but that which I hated was the disrespect to the Queen and the disagreeable expressions of the dark deeds in the night.

This suggests not only that Sarah had discussed Anne’s lesbianism with her doctor, but also that she was beginning to regret having thrown mud that might stick to herself. She is covering up her involvement in the production of these Pamphlets in case Hamilton tells Anne who is behind them. It also suggests that the Lesbian relationship between Anne and Abigail is what concerns her most. Why? The obvious answer is jealousy, although we can hardly expect that Sarah would admit it, which in turn suggests that Anne and Sarah had indulged in some ‘dark deeds’ all of their own.
Sarah’s persistent complaints about Abigail were occasionally answered by a harassed Anne:

[I] beg you would not mention that person any more who you are pleased to call the object of my favour, for whatever character the malicious world may give her, I do assure you it will never have any weight with me knowing she does not deserve it, nor can I never change the good impressions you once gave me of her, unless she should give me cause, which I am very sure she never will.

In July 1708 Marlborough won a decisive battle at Oudenarde, and a thanksgiving was arranged to be held at St. Paul’s, despite Anne’s cry of ‘Oh Lord when will this bloodshed cease?‘ As the wife of the conquering hero, Sarah travelled with her Queen in the royal coach; as Groom of the Stole, she selected the jewels the Queen would wear for the occasion. En route she discovered that her selection was not in evidence, and concluded that Abigail was to blame. They arrived at the Cathedral in the middle of the ensuing row, which rumbled and excalated through numerous accusatory letters.
Despite the rift, Sarah continued to visit Anne, largely at the instigation of the ‘mallitious’ Mr Mainwaring (as Lady Sunderland called him), who wrote:

I am persuaded that whenever your grace appears Mrs Abigail will lead an uncomfortable life, and hardly venture to peep abroad. May I hope your presence will turn her into a bat, and that I shall see her come into a room where my Lady Hervey is at play, and set her good ladyship a-crying.

The frequent rows became more heated and more public. Sarah could not leave well alone and wrote to Anne taxing her with the likely outcome of her relationship with Abigail:

I remember you said… of all things in the world you valued most your reputation, which I confess ,surprised me very much, that your majesty should so mention the word after having discovered so great a passion for such a woman, for sure there can be no great reputation in a thing so strange and unaccountable… nor can I think the having no inclination for anyone but one’s own sex is enough to maintain such a character as I wish may still be yours.

On October 28th 1708 Anne’s husband died. Sarah was with her, and did her best to comfort her, but managed to ruin what could have been a reconciliation by keeping Abigail away in spite of Anne’s requests to see her. Sarah’s lack of tact came to the fore again when she told Anne off for wanting to stay with the body, and dragged her away to St. James’s. On the way to the waiting coach they passed Abigail and the Queen ‘Not withstanding her great affection for the prince, at the sight of this charming lady, as her arm was on mine, which she had leaned upon, I found she had strength to bend down towards Mrs Masham like a sail, and that cruel touch over, of going by her with me, she turned about in a little passage room and gave orders about her dogs and a strong box.’
In her memoirs Sarah goes even further, attributing Anne’s insistence on staying with the body, and her subsequent sojourn in Prince George’s rooms to the fact that the stairs adjoining them led direct to Abigail’s apartments.
Abigail is no kinder in her treatment of Anne’s bereavement; they both seem to have forgotten that she might have feelings outside their wrangles.

Since the misfortune, the Lady Pye [Sarah] has hardly left her so long as to say her private prayers, but stays constantly with her, My lady’s friends say it is fit that she should, to keep that jade, my cousin Kate [Abigail] away from her.

Anne persisted, in spite of Sarah’s goading, to try to come to terms with her and find some common ground. To this end she did more grovelling than could be imagined reasonable from a queen to her subject, or even between friends.

I must own I have of late bin afraid to speak on any subjects that we differed upon, because you have bin pleased to think I have shutt my eyes, that I am infatuated, that I am fond of some people (who I care no more for than for ye pen in my hand)…
You are pleased to accuse me of several things in your last letter very unjustly, especially concerning Masham. You say I avoided giving you a direct answer to what I must know is your greatest uneasiness… It is very true I had the minute before you came into the door, sent for Masham to come to prayers she being in waiting and as soon as you were gone I went to public prayers, and the minute they were over went into my closet to make an end to my private one, and did not think it necessary when I writ last to trouble you so much on this subject, hoping you would have believed the short answer I then gave you.

1710 was the last year of Sarah’s influence with the Queen. She started the year with petty bickering over whether Abigail had been using her lodgings at Kensington, and ended it stripped of her post at court. Arguably she lost her final chance when she vetoed a plan put forward by her son-in-law to put the matter of Abigail’s undue influence before Parliament. Sarah would not allow it, not because ‘it is impossible for any man of sense, honour or honesty to come in to an address to remove a dresser from the Queen… only to gratify Lady Marlborough’s passions‘, as one Whig gentleman put it, but because even she realised that it would be a personal affront that Anne would never forgive: the only precedent for such a move being the petition for the removal of Edward II’s lover, Piers Gaveston.

Abigail’s triumph was not complete, however. She had to share her place of honour with another, newer favourite, Elizabeth Percy, Duchess of Somerset.
Elizabeth had plenty of opportunity to supplant Abigail, who was frequently away from court tending to her children, although when she was in labour with her second son:

The Queen was very much concerned for her… she was pleased to sit by her three hours late at night by her bedside.

Not withstanding this evident devotion on Anne’s part, Swift felt it necessary to comment in 1713:

Lady Masham’s eldest boy is very ill: I doubt he will not live, and she stays at Kensington to nurse him which vexes us all. She is excessively fond, it makes me mad. She should never leave the Queen but leave everything to stick to what is so much the interest of the, public as well as her own. This I tell her, but talk to the winds.

There is no evidence to suggest any personal rivalry between Abigail and Elizabeth, but little survives of the correspondence of either.

Anne died in 1714.
Abigail was for a while at least  still in the limelight, although none too favourably. Peter Wentworth commented on August 20th that Abigail and her sister:

Roared and cried enough whilst there was life, but as soon as there was none they took care of themselves.

And later, with less vitriol:

The town tells a world of stories of Lady Masham now, as that on Friday she left the Queen three hours to go and ransack for things at St. James’. I can’t say if this is true or false, on Saturday I remember particularly I saw her go away, but as I thought. with too much grief to have thoughts of herself. I hope people wrong her, for she would be a monster in nature to be ungrateful and to forget a Queen so soon that raised her from nothing.

Abigail retired gracefully to her country home with the coming of the new king, George I, faded into obscurity and died in 1734.

(Taken from my own readings of multiple books and documets of the era)

© Cherry Potts 2014