Vulture has come out with a pretty good rundown of the historical context of the upcoming movie, The Favourite. The Favourite is about Queen Anne, who is the subject of my just-finished novel, An Unlikely Queen.
I’ve spent over six years doing research on Anne and her historical context. Here are some of my thoughts in response to the article (I’ve not yet seen the movie, as it has not yet opened locally):
Anne Probably Had Lupus, Not Gout
Anne Somerset, in her recent biography of Queen Anne, makes a strong case that Anne did not, in fact, suffer or die from gout, but instead probably had lupus. She died of a stroke that was probably associated with the disease and it also explains why she had so many (14) miscarriages and stillbirths. (She had three living children; two daughters died before the age of 3 of smallpox; her son William, as the article notes, died at the age of 11, probably of pneumonia).
One of the points Somerset makes is that it was pretty unusual for a young woman to suffer from gout, and a lot of her symptoms were inconsistent with gout. Also, she had the telltale rash associated with it. I think it’s important to note this, because it’s a disease that still affects many people and is often invisible.
What Happened to Prince George (Her Husband)?
They left Prince George out of the movie? That seems not only sad but an opportunity for some good humor missed. (He drank a lot. Maybe that’s why.)
It also speaks to another aspect of Anne that becomes invisible — while she did love women, she also had a very happy marriage with a man. So here again, an opportunity to make visible a group of people often made invisible — people who identify as bisexual.
Anne Wasn’t Simply Sarah’s Puppet
Somerset, and some of her other biographers, also argue that Anne was actually a bit smarter and exerted more power than she’s often given credit for. She went to many Parliamentary sessions and had regular meetings with her Cabinet (every Sunday). If necessary, they happened in her bedchamber. Sarah was expressly not invited.
Anne was not as well-educated as she should have been (nobody thought she’d really ever be queen!). Plus, she was in pain for probably one-third of her lifetime. Yet very few decisions were made without her. Did she rely a lot on advisors? Most likely, yes. But she tried very hard to put the country first – above party politics.
It should also be noted that early biographies based much of their information on Sarah Churchill’s observations, which are suspect, as they were written after Sarah had been dismissed.
Indeed, it was because she *disagreed* with Sarah so much, which annoyed Sarah to no end, that their friendship started to fray. Also, Sarah brought on Abigail not simply out of guilt, but because it eased her own burdens as the First Lady of the Bedchamber (among her other duties – she basically ran the queen’s household).
Sarah had a large family and a lot of commitments; her husband was away much of the time, which left much of the “business” of the family up to her (planning her five daughters’ weddings, hosting parties, seeing to the building of Blenheim Palace, advocating for her family’s security). She also tragically lost both her sons. It’s no wonder she wanted someone there to help with the more menial work!
Anne and Mary and The Glorious Revolution
Most of the politics outlined here seems pretty accurate from all the history I’ve read.
It should be noted, however, that
1) Both Anne and Mary helped conspire to overthrow their father, James, though it was mostly William’s and Churchill’s doing and
2) Sacheverell’s sermon was controversial because he basically implied that Anne did not have legitimate authority to the throne because her position was the result of the Glorious Revolution. The issue of whether or not citizens had a right to drive out their monarch was very much in debate, and gave rise to the theories underpinning the American Revolution.
By the way, if you think politics now is ridiculous, just read a bit about the Glorious Revolution, and how it hinged on the claim that James’ son was not really his and was smuggled into the birthing room in a bedpan. It’s frankly hilarious. (If you’re a fan of Outlander, this is some of the history behind the Jacobite Rebellion.)
All that said, I’m very anxious to see the film and will share my thoughts once I have!
An Unlikely Queen: The Story of Anne Stuart, a novel, is currently a finished manuscript at about 420 pages. If you’re an agent or publisher interested in reading my manuscript of An Unlikely Queen, please contact me at email@example.com.
Photo credit: Yorgos Lanthimos