Let’s talk about the ladies at the center of the upcoming drama, The Favourite!!You can watch the trailer here if you missed it on Friday. This is LONG, but so rich in girl shit. This movie is going to be so great. Let us start with Queen Anne, the last of the Stuart monarchs, who WAS MARVELOUS despite what has been written. Although there were significant political achievements during Anne’s reign, I’m going to focus on her relationships with Abigail Hill and Sarah Churchill.
Much like Victoria, Anne was a woman who unexpectedly found herself sitting on the throne. When Charles II died without issue, her father, James, became King. He was wildly unpopular due to his suspected papist ways and marriage to a Catholic princess (England was still swinging hard toward Protestantism), and was eventually deposed during the Glorious Revolution after four bleak years of rule. The throne then went to Anne’s eldest sister, Mary, and her husband, William (who was a Dutch prince), who were asked to take the throne as joint monarchs after James was ousted.
Anne was born in 1665 as one of eight children, but one of only two to survive into adulthood. Anne became close friends with Sarah Jennings (later Churchill) when they girls. Sarah and Anne were almost exact opposites. Anne was considered to be plain looking, was plagued by poor healthy, and had a general air of reserve. She also grew more portly throughout her life which Sarah later described as “exceedingly gross and corpulent” which is just plain RUDE. Sarah was charismatic, beautiful, and strong-willed.
Anne married Prince George of Denmark in 1683, and they enjoyed a good marriage and relationship. Poor Anne went through actual hell with her pregnancies and children. She experienced five stillbirths, suffered at least seven miscarriages, and only one of her five living babies survived to see their second birthday.
William and Mary (W&M) invaded England in 1688 during the Glorious Revolution. The Churchills advised Anne to side with William, and she wrote to him after the invasion to declare her support. Her father, the deposed King James, issued orders to arrest Sarah in her home, but she and Anne fled Whitehall Palace together. W&M rewarded the Churchills by granting them the Earldom of Marlborough.
Anne and Sarah grew closer, and called each other by their childhood pet names of Mrs. Morley and Mrs. Freeman. In 1692, W&M dismissed Sarah’s husband from court after they began to suspect he was conspiring with James’ followers. Anne took Sarah to a social event at court to show support and refused to dismiss her. Anne would not hear anything negative about Sarah, and Anne’s devotion to her was almost slavish at this point. The Lord Chamberlain eventually removed Sarah from court and Anne left with her.
In retaliation, Queen Mary stripped Anne of her guard of honor, courtiers were barred from visiting her, and people were told to ignore her. Anne fled to the home of the Duke of Somerset where she later gave birth to a son who died minutes later. Mary went to visit her, but instead of giving sympathy, she berated Anne about Sarah Churchill. And that was the last time Anne ever saw that witch Mary.
Mary died of Smallpox in 1694 and William continued his rule alone. Anne became heir apparent since Mary had died childless, and Anne and William reconciled. He even restored the Marlboroughs. Sarah’s influence on Anne increased and she acted almost like a stage manager for Anne’s life.
Witnesses claimed to have seen an “immoderate passion” between to the two and rumors were flying. Many believe that Sarah Churchill was the great love of Anne’s life, even if it was never a romantic relationship. Their letters to each other are what would be considered romantic or sexual in today’s world, but it was a common writing style between female friends at the time.
In 1700, tragedy struck Anne again as her only living child, the Duke of Gloucester died at the age of 11. Parliament passed the Act of Settlement 1701 to address the shaky succession situation, and named Sophia, Electress of Hanover as the future heir should Anne and William both die childless. There were more than 50 Catholics with a stronger claim to the throne who were skipped.
William kicked the bucket in 1702, and Anne was an immediately popular queen. She bestowed the Marlboroughs with numerous honors including elevating them to duke and duchess. The Duke was appointed Captain-General of the army and Sarah became the Groom of the Stole, Mistress of the Robes, and Keeper of the Privy Purse.
Anne began spending increasing amounts of time away from court as she oversaw the building of her new estate. It’s super ugly and small. Despite physical absence, Sarah maintained her control over the royal finances and who had access to the queen. Sarah was famous for being direct with Anne instead of flattering her, but Anne eventually longed for more kindness and compassion from her friend (and attention, clearly). Sarah used Anne to get more Whigs into power and even tried to sway Anne to join her political party. In 1704, Anne confided to a counselor that she was not sure that she and Sarah could remain friends as Anne was a staunchly religious conservative.
Enter Abigail Hill.
When Sarah learned of the existence of her impoverished cousin Abigail, she brought her to court in the hope of finding a place for her. She was installed as the Lady of the Bedchamber in 1704. Abigail was the complete opposite of Sarah and was exceedingly kind to the Queen. She never attempted to influence her politics and did not attempt to manipulate her. During Sarah’s long absences at her estate, Abigail and Anne grew closer. Anne even attended Abigail’s secret wedding to Samuel Marsham which occurred without Sarah’s knowledge.
Sarah was shocked to discover how close they had grown and that Abigail often saw the Queen alone in private. Sarah was also surprised to learn of Abigail’s secret marriage, and when she went to inform the Queen, Anne told her that she had begged Abigail to tell Sarah. Sarah was suspicious of this story, and after some junior detective work around the palace, she learned that Anne had been present and had even provided Abigail’s dowry. Sarah was outraged. As the Keeper of the Privy Purse, she had no idea this payment had been made, and was angered by Anne’s duplicity.
Anne and Sarah engaged in an argument on their way to a thanksgiving service for the victory at the Battle of Oudenarde when Sarah pressed Anne to support the Whigs. As an ardent Tory, Anne was PISSED. And then Sarah told Anne to be quiet which… yikes.
Sarah eventually realized her error and apologized, but the damage was done. Sarah continued to vehemently support the Whigs and Anne felt used and abused. She found comfort in her friendship with Abigail. As the friendship with Sarah deteriorated, Anne moved Abigail into the court rooms that were rarely used by Sarah, and boy was Sarah PISSED. Anne kept her rift with Sarah from the public as she felt it would undermine the Duke’s military authority (and he is remembered as one of the best in English history, so good move).
Sarah kept her official offices, but they were NOT FRIENDS. Sarah lobbied with the Whigs to make a parliamentary demand that Abigail be dismissed due to her Tory influence on Anne. Anne met with political leaders to beg that they oppose the motion, and in the end, the Marlboroughs looked ridiculous for creating such a stink over a trivial matter. Around this time, Sarah exacted her revenge by sharing a tacky poem she wrote that insinuated that Anne and Abigail were secret lesbians.
In 1708, George died which left Anne devastated. After his death, Sarah insisted that Anne leave the palace against her wishes. Sarah also removed a portrait of George from Anne’s room and refused to return it as she believed it was unnatural to see the papers or belongings of dead loved ones. Anne was deeply resentful of Sarah’s behavior, and when Sarah refused to wear suitable mourning clothes, Anne took it as a sign that Sarah was not grieving the Prince’s death.
Sarah continued to be pissy of Anne’s friendship with Abigail, and the Queen even wrote to Sarah’s husband asking him to tell her to cool her jealous jets. Sarah and Anne saw each other for the last time in April of 1710. Sarah felt that the Queen was being unnecessarily bitchy and threatened her with judgement of God! Anne forced Sarah to resign her court offices in 1711.
The Duke begged the Queen to reconsider and give them nine months so they could retire with honor, but Anne was DONE with these people. Sarah had to return her gold key which is a symbol of authority in the royal household and Abigail took over as Keeper of the Privy Purse.
Anne had made a prior promise to give Sarah’s offices to her children, but she appointed others to take over Sarah’s roles. They lost state funding for Blenheim Palace construction and left England in disgrace. Anne died in 1714 at the age of 49. Sarah did not hesitate to disparage Anne in her memoirs which led many biographers to conclude that Anne was a weak woman beset by cat fights with her gal pals. History remember’s Anne as basically useless thanks to good ol’ Sarah.
In reality, Anne attended more cabinet meetings than any of successors or predecessors and reined during a period of advancement in the arts, economy, and politics. She was an active, engaged, and intelligent ruler. After Anne’s death, Abigail retired to private life and lived quietly in the country until her death in 1734.
The Marlboroughs weren’t done though and they returned to England after Anne’s death. The Whig party supported King George I while the Tories were accused of being Jacobites, and the Whigs were rewarded. George was friends with the Marlboroughs as he and the Duke had fought together during the War of Spanish Succession and the Marlboroughs had spent time with him during their exile. The King restored the Duke as Captain-General of the Army.
After the Duke’s death in 1722, Sarah continued to purchase land and manage the family assets which was unusual for the time. She even owned Wimbledon estate at one point (she thought that clay was CRAP)! Sarah passed away at the age of 84 in 1744. My favorite quote about Sarah is that she was described as having “an almost pathological inability to admit the validity of anyone else’s point of view.”
Her descendants include Diana, Princess of Wales and Winston Churchill. Sarah was a lady before her time.