Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Anne

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

ANNE, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, was born on the 6th of February 1664. She was the second daughter of James Duke of York, afterwards James II. She was only seven years old when her mother, Anne Hyde, died, having previously professed adherence to the Church of Rome, a step which was immediately imitated by her husband. The duke, however, had to allow his daughters, the princesses Mary and Anne, to be brought up as Protestants ; and Anne always continued to be attached, zealously and even bigotedly, to the Church of England. In her twentieth year she was married to Prince George, the brother of the King of Denmark. In the establishment then formed for her, a place was given, on her own earnest desire, to her early playfellow Lady Churchill, afterwards Duchess of Marlboro ugh; and this ambitious and imperious woman, acquiring rapidly an irresistible authority over the feeble mind of the princess, thenceforth ruled her absolutely for more than twenty years. Not long afterwards, when the Duke of York had become king, he made repeated attempts to convert the princess Anne to his own creed ; he engaged that, if she would become a Roman Catholic, she should be placed in the line of succession to the throne before her elder sister Maiy. Prince George appears to have received those overtures favourably ; but he, an indolent and goodnatured man, who cared for nothing but good eating and field-sports, never had any influence over his wife. She remained firm in her Protestantism, lived in retirement during the whole of her father s reign, and did not allow her opinions or feelings any further vent than that which they found in her private correspondence with the Princess of Orange. When, in 1688, James s queen gave birth to a son, the sisters took a lively interest in the suspicions and inquiries that arose ; and Anne was easily led to believe that the child was supposititious ; though later in her life she must have been convinced that he was really her brother. Before the landing of the Prince of Orange Prince George was pledged to join him ; and his wife and Lady Churchill abandoned King James on the first opportunity.

From the Revolution till the death of William III., Anne s way of life was as quiet and obscure as it had been during the reign of her father. She did, indeed, on the prompting of her favourite, acquiesce in the act of the convention-parliament, which, postponing her place in the succession, gave the throne to William in case he should survive Mary. But the sisters soon quarrelled, and never were reconciled. The misunderstanding began in trifling- questions of etiquette, quite fitted to the calibre of both of the royal minds; but considerations of real import ance soon compelled the king himself to interfere. The Churchills, traitorous to their new sovereign, as they had been to the old, were known to be intriguing for the restora tion of James ; and they induced Anne to write secretly to her father, and declare repentance for her desertion of him. Even when William dismissed Marlborough from all his places, the princess obstinately persisted in retaining his wife in her household. After Queen Mary s death the king and his sister-in-law went through the forms of a reconciliation ; but there was no confidence on either side ; and indeed the secret correspondence with Saint Germains was still carried on. The state of the succession to the crown threatened new difficulties. Anne had seventeen children, but most of them were still-born ; and the Duke of Gloucester, the only one who survived infancy, died in 1700 at the age of eleven. The Jacobites, however, were unable to prevent the passing of the Act of Settlement, which placed the Electress of Hanover after Anne in the succession to the crown.

On the 8th of March 1702, Anne became queen of England by the death of William, being then thirty-eight years of age. Into her short reign there were crowded events possessing vast importance, both for the British Empire and for the whole of Europe ; and her name is customarily associated with one of the most characteristic epochs in the history of English literature. Marlborough and Peterborough commanded her armies ; her councils were directed in succession by Godolphin and Somers, by Harley and St John ; Berkeley and Newton speculated and experimented ; and the " wits of Queen Anne s time" were mustered, in poetry and in prose, under such chiefs as Prior and Pope, Swift, Addison, and Steele, Arbuthnot and Defoe. But no sovereign could have exerted less of real and personal influence than Queen Anne did, either on the national polity or on the national enlightenment. A blessed thing it was that she should have been thus powerless. For, beyond her own epicurean comforts, and the petty ceremonial of her court, there were just three ideas which her narrow and uninstructed intellect admitted : each of these ideas was full of danger to the peace and happiness of the state; and each of them was cherished by her with the hereditary stubbornness of a Stuart. She was as eager as any one of her race to enlarge the pre rogatives of the crown : her father s devotion to the Church of Rome was not stronger than was her desire to increase the power of the Church of England ; and she never ceased to wish earnestly that her exiled brother should be her successor on the throne. In no stage of Anne s reign was even the last of these designs impracticable : there were always able statesmen inclined to lead the way; and more than once the tide of public opinion set towards absolutism, both political and ecclesiastical. The queen, however, was not only dull and ignorant, but also indolent, fond of flattery, and accustomed from her youth to let herself be guided by stronger and more active minds than her own. Whatever her wishes might be, her actions were ruled by her female favourites. Fortunately the earlier of her two directresses, a woman of extraordinary force of character, was both willing and able to keep in check the queen s private inclinations : not less fortunate was it that the sway exercised by the next possessor of the royal favour was speedily cut short by her mistress s death. The course of English history might have flowed less smoothly if the Duchess of Maiiborough and her husband had not become convinced that their own interest lay in supporting the principles of the Revolution ; and those principles might have sustained a rude shock, if Mrs Masham and her Jacobite allies had been allowed a few months longer to mature the queen s plans and their own.

The reign of Queen Anne, lasting for twelve years, falls naturally into two unequal periods.

During the first of these, the Duke of Marlborough was paramount in the houses of parliament, and his wife in the royal closet. A ministry of Tories was formed on the queen s accession ; but the leaders of it were Marlborough and Godolphin, who immediately began to edge off from their party. The principal measures were, from the begin ning, in substantial conformity to the policy of King William : the war with France, hardly resisted then by any part of the nation, was prosecuted with ardour and success ; and the victories of Oudenarde, Eamillies, and Blenheim, gained by the consummate generalship of Marlborough, made England formidable and illustrious throughout Europe. In the internal affairs of the kingdom, Whig principles for a time prevailed more and more ; the party acquired a decided majority in the House of Commons; and the ministry came to be composed almost entirely of Whigs, some of the Tories being dismissed, and others, like the two leaders, showing the accommodating flexibility of opinion which was so rife among the statesmen of that slippery age. The union of England and Scotland was carried through in the face of many difficulties ; and, while the proceedings of the ministry in the matter were by no means perfectly pure, the measure owed its success mainly to the independent and honourable assistance of the best man among the Whigs, the accomplished and patriotic Lord Somers. During several years, in short, barriers were gradually and firmly built up against the old system and the old parties. But other days were at hand. The domineering favourite of the queen presumed rashly on her power, and offended the self-esteem of her mistress. Mrs Masham, a poor relation of the duchess, whom she had introduced into the royal household, soothed Anne s fretful temper, gratified her vanity, and quickly, though secretly, acquired her confidence and affection ; and, under the guidance of the new favourite, and her prompter Harley, the queen was encouraged to hope for the attainment of all her most cherished aims. The state of public opinion underwent a corresponding change. Even under the masterly government of William, disappointments had been felt by those who expected impossibilities from the Revolu tion ; discontent now diffused itself very widely, the main cause being the increase of taxation which had been rendered necessary by the Continental war. The Tories and Jacobites, led by some of the ablest of the statesmen, and assisted by some of the most skilful and energetic of the political writers, dexterously used the combustible materials that were accumulating, and made the church also an active engine of mischief. The ministry saw their parliamentary majorities wasting away ; they were personally treated at court with open contumely ; and their ruin was completed when, still relying too boldly on their supposed strength, they impeached Sacheverell for publicly preaching in favour of^ Jacobitism and the divine right of kings. In August 1710 the Whig administration was ignominiously discarded.

The second period of the queen s reign began at this point. She was thenceforth governed by Mrs Masham; Mrs Masham was governed by Harley and St John, the chiefs of the new ministry ; and these able and unscrupulous men exerted themselves to the utmost of their power in undoing all that had been done by their predecessors. The fruits of the war were immediately abandoned, and the allies of England shamefully betrayed, by the treaty of Utrecht. If open attacks were not made on the con stitution, it was only because the Parliament could not be trusted in such a case, and because, also, the two ministerial leaders became jea!ous of each other, and formed separate intrigues. Harley, the Sinon of the time, corresponded both with St Germains and with Hanover ; St John, more decidedly Jacobite, plotted with Mrs Masham and the queen to procure the crown for the Pretender, on the ostensible condition of his professing Protestantism. But these cabals oozed out sufficiently to alarm the honourable Tories, and to array them and the bishops against the ministry in Parliament. The time, likewise, during which the danger was growing, proved too short to allow it to become ripe. Harley and Mrs Masham came to an open quarrel one evening in Anne s presence ; after they had squabbled for hours, the poor queen just retained strength enough to insist that the minister should resign on the spot ; she then retired at two in the morning, and lay down on her deathbed. She was seized with apoplexy, and died on the 1st of August 1714. St John s schemes were not ready for execution ; and, by the prompt activity of a few patriotic statesmen, the accession of George I. was immediately and peaceably secured.

(w. s.)

(See Earl Stanhope s History of England, comprising the Reign of Queen Anne until the Peace of Utrecht, Lond. 1870.)