A polished biography that illuminates the life and reign of Anne Stuart (1665-1714), queen of England.
Independent historian Cromwell (Florence Nightingale, Feminist, 2013, etc.) makes a convincing case for Queen Anne’s shrewdness at navigating the political extremes of her time, calling her the “least known and most underrated” of England’s female monarchs. Her father, King James II, was a Catholic who tried to pack Parliament with like-minded thinkers, but Anne resisted conversion attempts and remained a Protestant. In a highly polarized atmosphere, she formed a government, Cromwell notes, made up of moderate Whigs and Tories. After the reign of the Dutch-born William of Orange (who’d married Anne’s sister, Mary), Anne, who married the Danish Prince George, “felt she must restore Englishness to the crown.” The Duke of Marlborough was one of her key advisers during a war against France, and his wife, Sarah Churchill, was her particular friend. Cromwell pinpoints the three main issues of Anne’s reign from 1702 to her death in 1714: war and domestic political strife; physical struggles, including painful gout and numerous miscarriages; and a troubled relationship with Sarah, whom Mary thought of as “Anne’s evil genius.” While estranged from Anne, Sarah spread rumors about Anne’s supposed dalliances with women—and about the attention that the queen paid to Anne’s favorite servant, Abigail Masham. Cromwell refutes this, citing Anne’s letters to Sarah as proof of “passionate platonic love between women,” but she fully explores the continuing controversy over Abigail’s place at court. The book is thus well timed to capitalize on the recent success of the award-winning 2018 film The Favourite, which portrays Anne in a different way. The author’s scene-setting comments about the weather don’t always ring true (“a frivolous little breeze blew over London”), but her details regarding royal food, clothing, and gardens are vivid and sumptuous. A good number of quotes are taken from primary sources and supply the flavor of period speech. The intricacies of Whig and Tory machinations threaten to become tedious, but Cromwell wisely keeps the focus on the “extremely popular” monarch.
A fine blending of the personal and the political.