Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion Paperback – 13 Sep 2012
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‘Proves no period of history is ever dull… A wonderfully pacy and absorbing read.’ John Harding, Mail on Sunday
‘One of the most enjoyable biographies I’ve read in the past year, elegantly written and with an encyclopaedic grasp of the period. I loved every page of it’ Literary Review
‘It has taken immense patience and skill ….to create a new and subtler image of the last of the Stuart monarchs. Anne Somerset has done a real service both to us and to her namesake.’ Sunday Times
“With a great deal of literary panache … Queen Anne emerges as intelligent and sympathetic despite the cruelty of her gynaecological history” Antonia Fraser, Sunday Telegraph, Books of the Year
‘This magisterial new biography paints a fascinating picture of an often-overlooked monarch….on the basis of this incisive and compelling portrait, none could argue that she did not keep the interests of her people close to her heart.’
‘A scholarly account of a truly dreadful woman’ Jane Ridley
About the Author
Anne Somerset is the acclaimed biographer of Elizabeth I and the author of many books including Unnatural Murder, an account of the sensational Overbury murder, which was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger award for non-fiction; and The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV.
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But once as queen, this writer suggests that Anne made her mark. There is a lot of information about her illnesses, the death of her son, the series of pregnancies ending in tragedy. Her husband, Prince of George of Denmark's health problems, and death when she was queen. Anne's emotional dependency on Sarah Churchill's friendship. Anne died in 1714, surviving her husband and children. This makes the book tough going in places.
Yet Anne took and active interest in the politics of the day, and the military progress of the Wars of Spanish Succession. There is a great emphasis on the Whig v. Tory political in fighting and easy to lose track of all the politicians mentioned. Anne somehow could rule in a volatile political climate and seemed keen to work with parliament. This writer gives the case that Anne genuinely tired of the Wars of Spanish Succession and generally wanted to end them. There could be more analysis here ....how much of a threat was Louis XIV to Britain ? Could Britain have stayed aloof from this conflict ?
Anne managed to dislodge Sarah Churchill ( who does not come out well in this biography) and develop a close friendship with Abigail Hill. Anne was adamant that Britain must remain Protestant and would not accept her half Brother James Stuart as her successor. She was also shrewd enough to forbid the House of Hanover gaining a foothold in Britain until their succession, realising the danger of an 'alternative' court being formed.
Anne also showed no inclination to hunt down and execute 'traitors' which was unusual for a Stuart monarch. In other words, besides the suffering that Anne went through, she found her own way to rule and developed her own policies.
Anne Somerset reveals Anne's life and times largely through intensive scrutiny of her letters and of relationships at her court. This includes an analysis of her stormy relationship with Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough. The period was an eventful one in which the map of Europe was being redrawn. The reader is introduced to the birth of party politics. Anne's heart was with the Tories but she recognised the importance to government of being able to maintain alliances with the Whigs. Somerset is good on painting the roguish personalities on both sides of the party divide. Readers are also offered a bed-side seat as Anne's heath steadily declines through a lengthy history of miscarriage and disabling gout. Somerset is particularly good on the medical details and the limited treatments available at the time.
Anne emerges as a woman complete with the prejudices of her time, but as a more astute politician than perhaps has been recognised previously.
This is very much biography and the story of the great and the good living in and around the London court. Readers interested in a broader picture of the period and how London politics influenced life in the provinces, Ireland or in the colonies would need to look elsewhere. The book is a solid and informative read for the reader prepared to persist with the level of intricate personal detail offered by Somerset.
It makes the film look very poor. Yes, Anne had two favourites, Sarah Churchill and Abigail Masham, but there is no real evidence for the raunchy stuff in the film. Sarah Churchill turns out to be a thoroughly nasty piece of work and dominated Anne quite distressingly, but one wonders why Anne allowed that in the first place.
Somerset goes deeply into the political wrangling between the Whigs and Tories, and frankly Brexit just seems like a blast from the past. It is a very readable book and I am glad to have caught up with that bit of history.
The Kindle version gives much better versions of the portraits but not good for the Family Tree which is essential reference material.