Anne Somerset has written some excellent historical biographies and, in this latest effort, she turns her attention to Queen Anne. This is an exhaustive and well researched biography about a woman who never thought she would become Queen. Her father, James, Duke of York, was the younger brother of Charles II. When he secretly married a woman already pregnant and not of royal blood, it caused a scandal that Charles II, who had only fairly recently regained the throne his father lost, was deeply unhappy with. Luckily for Anne, Charles refused her fathers suggestion that his daughter Anne be beheaded, and took her side eventually. After a difficult start, James and Anne had two daughters, Mary and Anne. Having no living boy, and with Charles II childless, James re-married when he was widowed in that desperate search for an heir. James eventually became King and, if she hoped to ever inherit the throne, Anne had to make a choice between her father's wish that she become a Catholic, or remain a Protestant as the people would not trust a Catholic monarch.
This book looks at the marriage of Anne's sister Mary to William of Orange and her own marriage to the compatible, amiable and devoted Prince George of Denmark. There is a terrible and tragic account of births, miscarriages, stillbirths, phantom pregnancies and early deaths. Anne herself endured pregnancy after pregnancy in her attempt to produce a healthy child and, when her father's wife had a healthy son, she was so horrified that she believed the rumours that the baby was an imposter who had been smuggled into the palace in a warming pan.
During the whole of this book there is political turmoil, much related to the issue of the succession. William of Orange's invasion, Anne's political desertion of her father, the constant friction between Protestants and Catholics, almost endless wars, the Whigs and Tories, political infighting, Jacobite plots and intrigue abound. However, where this book comes alive is in Anne's personal relationships, most notably with her sister Mary and her favourites, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough and later, Sarah's cousin Abigail. Her deep love and friendship for the, somewhat sly and malicious Sarah, ended in recrimination and threats. It is almost painful to read their letters and the glee with which Sarah refers to Anne as "that thing" and worse in hysterical outbursts that still shock so many years later in their sheer vitriol.
In many ways, Anne comes across as a sad and friendless person with little to cling to. Her husband, although caring, was often side-lined and her need for an heir overwhelmed her. When Anne did become Queen, she faced huge challenges persuading her subjects that the Act of Settlement was safe in her hands. There were worries that her Catholic half-brother, the Pretender, was poised to reclaim his inheritance and many feared civil war. She was horrified at the prospect of her unloved and distant Hanoverian cousins residing in England during her lifetime, yet had no closer, protestant family to leave the Crown. She indulged political prejudices, often allowed private quarrels to impinge on state affairs and had great passion for her favourites. Yet, she also strove to preserve the political equilibrium, believed strongly in her ability to lead her country and ultimately tried to bring peace to her people. This is a very interesting account of a turbulent time and of a woman who rose to the challenge when she became Queen and was, ultimately, a successful monarch. Lastly, I read the kindle edition of this book and the illustrations were included.