Target Health Blog

Queen Anne of Great Britain - Her Life and Illnesses

March 25, 2019

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History of Medicine
Source:

Coat of Arms of Great Britain from 1707 to 1714 used by Queen Anne
Graphic credit: by Sodacan This W3C-unspecified vector image was created with Inkscape. - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10952388
Anne with her husband, Prince George of Denmark, painted by Charles Boit, 1706
Painting credit: By Charles Boit - Royal Collection object 421497, Public Domain,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9097648

Anne (6 February 1665 - 1 August 1714) was the Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland between 8 March 1702 and 1 May 1707. 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 1714.

Anne was born in the reign of her uncle Charles II, who had no legitimate children. Her father, Charles's younger brother 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. On Charles's death in 1685, James succeeded to the throne, but just three years later he was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Mary and her husband, the Dutch Protestant William III of Orange (a cousin to Anne and Mary), 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.

During her reign, Anne favored 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. The recent film starring Olivia Coleman (2019 Oscar winner for best female actor), The Favorite, corrects misconceptions of Queen Anne.

Anne was plagued by ill health throughout her life, and from her thirties, she grew increasingly ill and obese. Despite seventeen pregnancies by her husband, Prince George of Denmark, she died without having an heir, 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. As a child, Anne suffered from an eye condition, which manifested as excessive watering known as “defluxion“. For medical treatment, she was sent to France, where she lived with her paternal grandmother, Henrietta Maria of France, at the Chateau de Colombes near Paris. Following her grandmother's death in 1669, Anne lived with an aunt, Henrietta Anne, Duchess of Orleans. On the sudden death of her aunt in 1670, Anne returned to England. Her mother died the following year.

As was traditional in the royal family, Anne and her sister were brought up separated from their father in their own establishment at Richmond, London. On the instructions of Charles II, they were raised as Protestants. Placed in the care of Colonel Edward and Lady Frances Villiers, their education was focused on the teachings of the Anglican church. Henry Compton, Bishop of London, was appointed as Anne's preceptor. 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.

King Charles II had no legitimate children, and so the Duke of York was next in the line of succession, followed by his two surviving daughters from his first marriage, Mary and Anne - as long as he had no son. Over the next ten years, the new Duchess of York had ten children, but all were either stillborn or died in infancy, leaving Mary and Anne second and third in the line of succession after their father. There is every indication that, throughout Anne's early life, she and her stepmother got on well together, and the Duke of York was a conscientious and loving father. King Charles looked for an eligible prince who would be welcomed as a groom by his Protestant subjects but also acceptable to his Catholic ally, Louis XIV of France. The Danes were Protestant allies of the French, and Louis XIV was keen on an Anglo-Danish alliance to contain the power of the Dutch. A marriage treaty between Anne and Prince George of Denmark, younger brother of King Christian V, and Anne's second cousin once removed, was negotiated by Anne's uncle Laurence Hyde, who had been made Earl of Rochester, and the English Secretary of State for the Northern Department, Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland. Anne's father consented to the marriage eagerly because it diminished the influence of his other son-in-law, William of Orange (Dutch), who was naturally unhappy at the match.

The Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688, was the overthrow of King James II of England (Anne's father, James VII of Scotland) by a union of English Parliamentarians with the Dutch stadtholder William III, Prince of Orange, who was James's nephew and son-in-law. William's successful invasion of England with a Dutch fleet and army led to his ascension to the throne as William III of England jointly with his wife, Mary II, James's daughter (and Anne's older sister), after the Declaration of Right, leading to the Bill of Rights 1689. Anne's father, King James, was a Catholic, who therefore had strong ties to France. The Protestant movement in England (started by Martin Luther in Germany) became strengthened after Henry VIII declared himself the head of the Church of England. In January 1689, a Convention Parliament assembled in England and declared that James had effectively abdicated when he fled to France, and that the thrones of England and Ireland were therefore vacant. The Parliament or Estates of Scotland took similar action, and William and Mary were declared monarchs of all three realms. The Bill of Rights 1689 and Claim of Right Act 1689 settled the succession. Anne and her descendants were to be in the line of succession after William and Mary, and they were to be followed by any descendants of William by a future marriage. On 24 July 1689, Anne gave birth to a son, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, who, though ill, survived infancy. As King William and Queen Mary had no children, it looked as though Anne's son would eventually inherit the Crown.

Bishop Compton officiated at the wedding of Anne and George of Denmark on 28 July 1683 in the Chapel Royal. Although 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 early 1687, within a matter of days, Anne miscarried, her husband caught smallpox, and their two young daughters died of the same infection. Lady Rachel Russell wrote that George and Anne had “taken [the deaths] very heavily. Sometimes they wept, sometimes they mourned in words; then sat silent, hand in hand; he sick in bed, and she the carefullest nurse to him that can be imagined.“ Later that year, she suffered another stillbirth. Anne's final pregnancy ended on 25 January 1700 with a stillbirth. She had been pregnant at least seventeen times over as many years, and had miscarried or given birth to stillborn children at least twelve times. Of her five liveborn children, four died before reaching the age of two.

Anne suffered from bouts of “gout“ (pains in her limbs and eventually stomach and head) from at least 1698. Based on her fetal losses and physical symptoms, she may have had disseminated lupus erythematosus, or Hughes syndrome. Alternatively, pelvic inflammatory disease could explain why the onset of her symptoms roughly coincided with her penultimate pregnancy. Other suggested causes of her failed pregnancies are listeriosis, diabetes, intrauterine growth retardation, and rhesus incompatibility. Rhesus incompatibility, however, generally worsens with successive pregnancies, and so does not fit with the pattern of Anne's pregnancies, as her only son to survive infancy, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, was born after a series of stillbirths. Experts also rule out syphilis, porphyria and pelvic deformation as incompatible with her medical history. Anne's gout rendered her lame for much of her later life. Around the court, she was carried in a sedan chair, or used a wheelchair. Around her estates, she used a one-horse chaise, which she drove herself “furiously like Jehu and a mighty hunter like Nimrod“. She gained weight as a result of her sedentary lifestyle; in Sarah's words, “she grew exceeding gross and corpulent. There was something of majesty in her look, but mixed with a gloominess of soul“. Sir John Clerk, 1st Baronet, described her in 1706 “under a fit of the gout and in extreme pain and agony, and on this occasion everything about her was much in the same disorder as about the meanest of her subjects. Her face, which was red and spotted, was rendered something frightful by her negligent dress, and the foot affected was tied up with a poultice and some nasty bandages. I was much affected by this sight“.

Anne's sole surviving child, the Duke of Gloucester, died at the age of eleven on 30 July 1700. She and her husband were “overwhelmed with grief“. Anne ordered her household to observe a day of mourning every year on the anniversary of his death. With William childless and Gloucester dead, Anne was the only individual remaining in the line of succession established by the Bill of Rights 1689. To address the succession crisis and preclude a Catholic restoration, the Parliament of England enacted the Act of Settlement 1701, which provided that, failing the issue of Anne and of William III by any future marriage, the Crown of England and Ireland would go to Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and her Protestant descendants. Sophia was the granddaughter of James VI and I through his daughter Elizabeth, who was the sister of Anne's grandfather Charles I. Over fifty Catholics with stronger claims were excluded from the line of succession. Anne's father died in September 1701. His widow, Anne's stepmother, the former queen, wrote to Anne to inform her that her father forgave her and to remind her of her promise to seek the restoration of his line. Anne, however, had already acquiesced to the new line of succession created by the Act of Settlement.

Anne became queen upon the death of King William III on 8 March 1702, and was immediately popular. In her first speech to the English Parliament, on 11 March, she distanced herself from her late Dutch brother-in-law and said, “As I know my heart to be entirely English, I can very sincerely assure you there is not anything you can expect or desire from me which I shall not be ready to do for the happiness and prosperity of England.“ Soon after her accession, Anne appointed her husband Lord High Admiral, giving him nominal control of the Royal Navy. Anne gave control of the army to Lord Marlborough, whom she appointed Captain-General. Marlborough also received numerous honors from the Queen; he was created a Knight of the Garter and was elevated to the rank of duke. The Duchess of Marlborough was appointed Groom of the Stool, Mistress of the Robes, and Keeper of the Privy Purse.

Anne was crowned on St George's Day, 23 April 1702. Afflicted with gout, she was carried to Westminster Abbey in an open sedan chair, with a low back to permit her train to flow out behind her. On 4 May, England became embroiled in the War of the Spanish Succession, in which England, Austria, and the Dutch Republic fought against France and Bourbon Spain. Charles II of Spain had died childless in 1700, and the succession was disputed by two claimants: the Habsburg Archduke Charles of Austria and the Bourbon Philip, Duke of Anjou. She took a lively interest in affairs of state, and was a patron of theatre, poetry and music. She subsidized George Frederic Handel with 200 English Pounds a year. She sponsored high-quality medals as rewards for political or military achievements. They were produced at the Mint by Isaac Newton and John Croker. She knighted Newton when she visited Cambridge in 1705.

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