Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough,
Abigail Hill Masham
Westminster Abbey, 20 Deans Yd, Westminster, London SW1P 3PA, Regno Unito
'''Anne''' (6 February 1665 – 1 August 1714) became Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland on 8 March 1702. On 1 May 1707, under the Acts of Union, two of her realms, the kingdoms of England and Scotland, united as a single sovereign state known as Great Britain. She continued to reign as Queen of Great Britain and Ireland until her death.
In 1742, Sarah Churchill, Dowager Duchess of Marlborough, published a detailed
and intimate account of her close friendship with the late Queen Anne. The two
women had been childhood friends, playing together as young ladies-in-waiting
and referring to each other as equals by aliases, Mrs Morley and Mrs Freeman.
However their relationship was gradually undermined by political differences,
and Anne, growing increasingly resentful at Sarah's attempts to influence
policy, began a new friendship with Sarah's lower-ranking relative,
Abigail Hill Masham.
Anne was born in the reign of her uncle Charles II, who had no legitimate children. Her father, James, was thus heir presumptive to the throne. His suspected Roman Catholicism was unpopular in England, and on Charles's instructions Anne and her elder sister, Mary, were raised as Anglicans. Three years after he succeeded Charles, James was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Anne's sister and Dutch Protestant brother-in-law and cousin William III of Orange became joint monarchs. Although the sisters had been close, disagreements over Anne's finances, status and choice of acquaintances arose shortly after Mary's accession and they became estranged. William and Mary had no children. After Mary's death in 1694, William reigned alone until his own death in 1702, when Anne succeeded him.
Anne was plagued by ill health throughout her life, and from her thirties, she grew increasingly lame and obese. Despite seventeen pregnancies by her husband, Prince George of Denmark, she died without surviving issue and was the last monarch of the House of Stuart. Under the Act of Settlement 1701, which excluded all Catholics, she was succeeded by her second cousin George I of the House of Hanover, whose maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, was a daughter of James VI and I.
During her reign, Anne favoured moderate Tory politicians, who were more likely to share her Anglican religious views than their opponents, the Whigs. The Whigs grew more powerful during the course of the War of the Spanish Succession, until 1710 when Anne dismissed many of them from office. Her close friendship with Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, turned sour as the result of political differences. The Duchess took revenge in an unflattering description of the Queen in her memoirs, which was widely accepted by historians until Anne was re-assessed in the late 20th century.
Around 1671, Anne first made the acquaintance of Sarah Jennings, who later became her close friend and one of her most influential advisors. Jennings married John Churchill (the future Duke of Marlborough) in about 1678. His sister, Arabella Churchill, was the Duke of York's mistress, and he was to be Anne's most important general.
Bishop Compton officiated at the wedding of Anne and George of Denmark on 28 July 1683 in the Chapel Royal. Though it was an arranged marriage, they were faithful and devoted partners. They were given a set of buildings, known as the Cockpit, in the Palace of Whitehall as their London residence, and Sarah Churchill was appointed one of Anne's ladies of the bedchamber. Within months of the marriage, Anne was pregnant, but the baby was stillborn in May. Anne recovered at the spa town of Tunbridge Wells, and over the next two years, gave birth to two daughters in quick succession: Mary and Anne Sophia.
William of Orange invaded England on 5 November 1688 in an action, known as the Glorious Revolution, which ultimately deposed King James. Forbidden by James to pay Mary a projected visit in the spring of 1687, Anne corresponded with her and was aware of the plans to invade. On the advice of the Churchills, she refused to side with James after William landed and instead wrote to William on 18 November declaring her approval of his action. Churchill abandoned the unpopular king on the 24th. Prince George followed suit that night, and in the evening of the following day James issued orders to place Sarah Churchill under house arrest at St James's Palace. Anne and Sarah fled from Whitehall by a back staircase, putting themselves under the care of Bishop Compton. They spent one night in his house, and subsequently arrived at Nottingham on 1 December. Two weeks later and escorted by a large company, Anne arrived at Oxford, where she met Prince George in triumph. "God help me!", lamented James on discovering the desertion of his daughter on 26 November, "Even my children have forsaken me." On 19 December, Anne returned to London, where she was at once visited by William. James fled to France on the 23rd. Anne showed no concern at the news of her father's flight, and instead merely asked for her usual game of cards. She justified herself by saying that she "was used to play and never loved to do anything that looked like an affected constraint".
Soon after their accession, William and Mary rewarded John Churchill by granting him the Earldom of Marlborough and Prince George was made Duke of Cumberland. Anne requested the use of Richmond Palace and a parliamentary allowance. William and Mary refused the first, and unsuccessfully opposed the latter, both of which caused tension between the two sisters. Anne's resentment grew worse when William refused to allow Prince George to serve in the military in an active capacity. The new king and queen feared that Anne's financial independence would weaken their influence over her and allow her to organise a rival political faction. From around this time, at Anne's request she and Sarah Churchill, Lady Marlborough, began to call each other the pet names Mrs. Morley and Mrs. Freeman, respectively, to facilitate a relationship of greater equality between the two when they were alone. In January 1692, suspecting that Marlborough was secretly conspiring with James's followers, the Jacobites, William and Mary dismissed him from all his offices. In a public show of support for the Marlboroughs, Anne took Sarah to a social event at the palace, and refused her sister's request to dismiss Sarah from her household. Lady Marlborough was subsequently removed from the royal household by the Lord Chamberlain, and Anne angrily left her royal lodgings and took up residence at Syon House, the home of the Duke of Somerset. Anne was stripped of her guard of honour; courtiers were forbidden to visit her, and civic authorities were instructed to ignore her. In April, Anne gave birth to a son who died within minutes. Mary visited her, but instead of offering comfort took the opportunity to berate Anne once again for her friendship with Sarah. The sisters never saw each other again. Later that year, Anne moved to Berkeley House in Piccadilly, London, where she had a stillborn daughter in March 1693.
In 1706, Godolphin and the Marlboroughs forced Anne to accept Lord Sunderland, a Junto Whig and the Marlboroughs' son-in-law, as Harley's colleague as Secretary of State for the Southern Department. Although this strengthened the ministry's position in Parliament, it weakened the ministry's position with the Queen, as Anne became increasingly irritated with Godolphin and with her former favourite, the Duchess of Marlborough, for supporting Sunderland and other Whig candidates for vacant government and church positions. The Queen turned for private advice to Harley, who was uncomfortable with Marlborough and Godolphin's turn towards the Whigs. She also turned to
Abigail Hill Masham, a woman of the bedchamber whose influence grew as Anne's relationship with Sarah deteriorated. Abigail was related to both Harley and the Duchess, but was politically closer to Harley, and acted as an intermediary between him and the Queen.
The Duchess of Marlborough was angered when Abigail moved into rooms at Kensington Palace that Sarah considered her own, though she rarely if ever used them. In July 1708, she came to court with a bawdy poem written by a Whig propagandist, probably Arthur Maynwaring, that implied a lesbian relationship between Anne and Abigail. The Duchess wrote to Anne telling her she had damaged her reputation by conceiving "a great passion for such a woman ... strange and unaccountable". Sarah thought Abigail had risen above her station, writing "I never thought her education was such as to make her fit company for a great queen. Many people have liked the humour of their chambermaids and have been very kind to them, but 'tis very uncommon to hold a private correspondence with them and put them upon the foot of a friend." While some modern commentators have concluded Anne was a lesbian, most have rejected this analysis. In the opinion of Anne's biographers, she considered Abigail nothing more than a trusted servant and was a woman of strong traditional beliefs, who was devoted to her husband.
Westminster Abbey, London
At a thanksgiving service for a victory at the Battle of Oudenarde, Anne did not wear the jewels that Sarah had selected for her. At the door of St Paul's Cathedral, they had an argument that culminated in Sarah offending the Queen by telling her to be quiet. Anne was dismayed. When Sarah forwarded an unrelated letter from her husband to Anne, with a covering note continuing the argument, Anne wrote back pointedly, "After the commands you gave me on the thanksgiving day of not answering you, I should not have troubled you with these lines, but to return the Duke of Marlborough's letter safe into your hands, and for the same reason do not say anything to that, nor to yours which enclosed it."
My published books:
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- A Lesbian History of Britain, Love and Sex Between Women Since 1500,
by Rebecca Jennings