Born in 1665, Anne did not look the part of the usual Stuarts. She would grow up to be short and stout, unlike her tall and beautiful relatives. However, she would make just as much of an impact on history as the lot of them.
Anne was the younger daughter of James Stuart, Duke of York, and his first wife, Anne Hyde. She would grow up with an elder sister Mary, with whom she shared a household. The sisters would be educated by private tutors, with heavy instruction in the tenets of the Anglican faith. Anne’s piety would stick with her until the day she died. In 1670, when Anne was just a small child, her mother died. Three years later, the Duke of York married the Catholic Princess Mary of Modena, who was just six years older than Anne.
The education of the young Lady Anne consisted of mostly religious doctrine. Per her Uncle King Charles II’s decree, both Anne and her sister Mary were to be educated and raised in the Anglican faith. Anne lived her entire life distrustful of Catholics and “popery”, which would further complicate the family situation, when before his remarriage, the Duke of York converted to Catholicism.
Even though they were still young, the marriages of the Stuart girls started to be debated. In 1677, Anne was ill with smallpox and unable to attend the wedding of her sister to Prince William of Orange. Anne’s own marriage came into question soon after, and a suitable Protestant husband was found in Prince George of Denmark, brother to King Christian V of Denmark, whom she wed in 1683. Despite the political nature of their marriage, Anne and George loved each other dearly, and would be devoted to one another. The only “unsuccessful” part of their marriage would be their continued childlessness. Over the many years of their marriage, Anne would be pregnant an estimated 17 times, with none surviving past childhood.
In 1685, Anne’s father, James, became King of England and Scotland after the death of Charles II. As his daughters were still his heirs, people were accepting of him, because his Catholicism was seen as a temporary abhorrence. This would all change in 1688, when Anne’s half-brother James was born to Mary of Modena. He would, of course be raised as a Catholic, the religion of his parents. This was unacceptable to a Protestant clergy and nobility. Rumors began to fly immediately that the child was not a Prince, King James’ son had died, and the baby of a peasant brought in to take his place. Although there were many witnesses, Anne was not among them, and she wrote to her sister Mary saying she would never be satisfied the child was really her brother.
Family tensions finally came to the breaking point in 1688 when Anne’s brother in law, William, Prince of Orange landed in England at the head of army, sparking what we call the “Glorious Revolution”. Anne immediately sided with William, and soon after, James fled for France where his wife and young child were already waiting. The Revolution was largely bloodless, and Anne fully supported her brother in law. Her father lamented in the loss of his daughters, writing that his children had forsaken him. In early 1689, Parliament declared that James had abandoned the throne, and named William and Mary joint rulers of the nation with Anne as their heir.
Sadly all would not be well between the sisters. Almost immediately they began to clash over Anne’s relationship with Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. Anne’s refusal to remove Sarah from her household was a further rift between the sisters, and in 1692, Mary visited Anne for the last time after Anne gave birth to a stillborn baby. Mary died in 1694, and William reconciled with Anne, now the heir presumptive to the crown.
In 1702, William died and Anne became Queen in her own right. She would give her husband and the Marlboroughs various offices in the military and court. Her reign would last twelve eventful years, in which we would see the Acts of Union between Scotland and England, the War of Spanish Succession, and an attempted invasion by her half-brother, the Catholic James Stuart. Anne is also the last British monarch to deny Royal Assent to a Parliamentary bill. Her health declined further through the years, especially after the death of her husband in 1708. Already seriously afflicted with gout at her accession and unable to walk, by 1713, the concerns for her health were very serious. She was ill several times throughout the year, eventually recovering until she had a stroke on July 30th, 1714. Anne died the next day, aged forty-nine. With the death of the childless Anne, the succession of the British crown fell to the Protestant cousins from the House of Hanover, according to the terms of Act of Settlement from 1701.
Both of the Stuart sisters are brushed over by history for various reasons. But both were fascinating, intelligent women, who deserve History’s attention and the same adoration some other Queens receive.
Further reading: “Queen Anne” by David Green, “Sovereign Ladies” by Maureen Waller, “Royal Panoply” by Carolly Erickson, The Seventeenth Century Lady website