Stories From English History: III - Alfred J. Church

Good Queen Anne and Her Son

Anne was the younger of the two daughters of James II., by his first wife, Anne Hyde, daughter of the Earl of Clarendon. There were other children of the marriage, but these two only lived to grow up. Mary married William Prince of Orange, himself a grandson of Charles I., and reigned with him as joint sovereign till her death in 1694. It had been settled that if she left no children the crown should pass to Anne, but that William should be king for the rest of his life. He lived till 1702, and then Anne succeeded.

She had been married at nineteen to George, Prince of Denmark, a cousin of her own, and had had many children, of whom one only, William Duke of Gloucester, lived beyond infancy. The Prince was born July 24, 1689, and grew up to be a very interesting child. He was weakly and ailing, for at four years of age he was scarcely able to walk without support, but he had plenty of life and cleverness. Indeed, the disease from which he suffered is one that often makes children seem older than their real age. His chief amusement seems to have been playing at soldiers. He had a band of boys whom he called his "horse-guards," and he used to exercise them in the gardens of Campden House, in Kensington, where his father and mother resided. Young as he was, he had a very clear notion of his own importance. He knew, for instance, that he was heir to the throne, and ought to have honours shown to him. One day when King William came to inspect his boy soldiers, and he had promised that the King should have them to help him in his war against the French, he turned to Queen Mary and asked, "Why does not my mamma have guards as well as you?" Anne had had her guards taken from her by the King and Queen, with whom she was on very bad terms. The Duke's little soldiers seem to have been very ill-behaved, giving themselves the airs of grown men, and taking what they pleased from the houses round, just as if the place belonged to them. The poor child seems to have been foolishly treated by his father on the one side, who wanted to harden him by rough amusements for which he was not strong enough, and, on the other, by his mother and her ladies with their petting. In January 1696 the King gave the young Duke the Order of the Garter, and did him the honour of buckling it on with his own hands. "Are you not glad to have this?" some one asked him. "I am gladder of the King's favour," was the wise answer of the prudent little boy. In the summer of this year he was taken for the first time to Windsor, which his mother had now for a summer residence. Four boys from Eton School, one of them the son of the Duke of Marlborough, of whom you have read in Chapter IX., were sent for to be his playfellows. He immediately ordered a sham fight, in which they were to take part. In the course of their wars he got a scratch on the arm from a sword, but said nothing about it till the fight was over, when he asked whether there was a surgeon at hand. On July 24 he was present at a "chapter" or meeting of the Knights of the Garter, and sat down with the grown men who were his companions at the great banquet of the day. Not long afterwards, when a plot for the murder of the King had been discovered, the Duke sent him an address, in which he declared that he was his Majesty's most dutiful subject, and had rather lose his life in his Majesty's cause than in any one else's.

Campdon House


His eleventh birthday was kept with much rejoicing. He reviewed his boy regiment, had a great exhibition of cannon and fireworks, and sat at the head of the table at a grand banquet. The next day he complained of sickness, headache, and sore throat. The family doctor was called in, and, after the common fashion of the day, bled him. This naturally did him more harm than good. Dr. Radcliffe, who had the reputation of being the most skilful physician of the age, was sent for in haste. When he came, he pronounced the boy to be suffering from scarlet fever, and asked who had bled him. The doctor in attendance owned that it had been done by his orders. "Then," said Dr. Radcliffe, "you have destroyed him, and you may finish him, for I will not prescribe." On July 30, 1700, five days after his birthday, the Duke died. Queen Anne herself is not so interesting a person as her little son. Great events happened in her reign, and there never was a time in English history more distinguished for great men, soldiers, statesmen, and writers. But she herself had no greatness about her. She was weak and fickle, ruled first by one favourite, then by another. In the early part of her reign it was the wife of the Duke of Marlborough that was in power, so to speak. The two used to write to each other under the names of Mrs. Morley (the Queen) and Mrs. Freeman (the Duchess). But the Duchess was a very haughty and self-willed person, and in the end the Queen tired of her. After many angry letters and conversations, a final quarrel took place, and the Queen's favour was transferred to Lady Masham, who had once, as Abigail Hill, held a quite humble post in the household. There was, indeed, something political as well as much that was personal in these changes. The Duchess of Marlborough was on the side of the Whigs, Lady Masham on the side of the Tories.

Why she has been called Good  Queen Anne it is not very difficult to see. As long as King William lived, she had the advantage of being compared with him. William was a remarkably cold, ungracious person, unlucky as a soldier, and getting little credit even for his good qualities. Anne, who was always kindly and good-humoured, was popular by contrast. And then, as has been said, she had the good fortune to be served by great men. William scarcely ever won a victory, though he was both skilful and brave; Anne had not a little of Marlborough's glory reflected upon her. She was disposed to be generous, though indeed real generosity is not easy for a person who has never any occasion to deny herself. Still, she was ready to give away, and did not care either to save money or spend it upon herself. Her allowance as Queen was smaller than that enjoyed by any Sovereign either before or after. Her name is preserved by what is called Queen Anne's Bounty. In the second year of her reign she gave certain sums of money, which used to be part of the revenue of the Crown, to be used for increasing small livings of the Church of England. It may, of course, be said that in this she was scarcely giving away money of her own; still, it was a kindly thought that prompted the act, and when she did it she was moved by the belief that she was helping the Church.

She and her sister have been greatly blamed for their conduct to their father, King James. They were, it has been said, most undutiful children. Yet it is difficult to say how they could have acted otherwise than they did. They could not refuse to reign when the country demanded that they should, and if their father was banished for his misdeeds, that was not their fault.