She was a great queen, apparently, but nobody cared because they were too busy gossiping about her private life.
Though the term homosexuality is relatively new, we all know it’s always existed, and despite the many attempts to make it be seen as an abnormality or one of the worst sins, the fact that it has been around since the dawn of humanity, at least for me, is proof that it’s as normal as any other preference or human relationship. Now, there are many cases in history where important figures have been called homosexual as a way of damaging their reputation or to make these characters look incapable, weak, or even monstrous. Still, in many cases, they didn’t really achieve their purpose, and in others, it has been kept a secret to keep their names intact.
In Britain, for instance, we have the case of King James I, who, according to accounts from his time and further investigation, was an openly gay man who did his job brilliantly. It’s interesting that, when it comes to the history of the monarchy, he’s basically the only gay figure we talk about. But even more interesting, it's the fact that he wasn’t the only one. In the last few decades, many historians and biographers have devoted their life to studying of one of Britain’s least known monarchs and her alleged preference for other women. She’s Queen Anne of Great Britain, who until recently was considered to be the blandest queen ever.
She had been portrayed as a poorly educated woman with an unattractive personality; an unintelligent, insipid woman who ruled at a relatively calm time in history. However, the real story is very different. One of the most relevant questions to make is about her sexual preference and how it shaped her as a monarch. But first things first, let’s meet our protagonist. Anne was born in 1665 under the reign of her uncle King Charles II. At the time, the turmoil over religious differences was still all over the territory, and for that reason, since her father was Catholic, her and her elder sister Mary were taken to be raised in a Protestant household. When Charles II died, his brother (Anne’s father) succeeded him.
However, after almost three years in power, he was deposed in what is known as the Glorious Revolution. His daughter Mary and her husband (also her cousin) William III of Orange, led an army towards the country to topple the King. During this time, Anne had to remain distant from the issue, not before pledging loyalty to her sister and husband, now the new King and Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland. After the death of her sister in 1694, William III remained as the only and rightful King for another eight years. However, the couple didn’t have any successors, and after his death in 1702, the controversy about succession started once again. When Anne’s mother died of breast cancer, James married Mary of Modena, with whom he had a male heir, Prince James, who was nicknamed the “Old Pretender.” The only problem was that Prince James was Catholic, and there was a new succession law that banned Catholics from reaching the English throne. So, under this new law, Anne was the only legitimate heir to succeed her brother-in-law.
So, in 1702, she was crowned Queen Anne of England, Scotland, and Ireland, until 1707, when her title changed to Queen of Great Britain and Ireland after the Acts of Union, approved by the Parliament, agreed on the merging of both realms. It was during her 12-year reign that England emerged as a major power in Europe and started positioning itself as a really strong and powerful empire in the world. Now, let’s get to the juicy part of her story. She married Prince George of Denmark and Norway in 1683. During their marriage, she got pregnant seventeen times; twelve were miscarriages or stillbirths, and four died in their first years (even minutes) of life. They only had one son that survived through childhood: Prince William, who died at the age of 11, two years before his mother was crowned Queen.
Now, though it’s believed that the relationship with her husband was cordial and even friendly, rumor has it that the real love of her life was actually Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (ancestor of Winston Churchill), Anne’s childhood best friend and wife to one of the most influential military men in the realm. According to accounts from the time, they were always together, they looked like they loved each other, and even had fights and arguments like a married couple. In the letters they exchanged, we can see the great devotion and passion way with which they talked to each other, which obviously became very controversial gossip.
After a lot of research on Queen Anne’s life, historian and biographer Anne Somerset tackles to the core of the relationship. According to her, though Sarah Churchill did care about Anne, the truth is that at the moment of her coronation, she saw her friend as the best opportunity for her and her husband to go up in the social pyramid and get as much as they could. Now, Anne wasn’t stupid, and although she really loved Sarah, she knew that her affection came at a cost. It’s even said that Sarah was a very strong and manipulative person who wanted to take a lead role in the government. However, Queen Anne never let her get that involved in government matters, and the Duchess of Marlborough wasn't happy.
At the time, taverns and pubs were the main centers of news. These were the places where gossip and current events were discussed, and Sarah Churchill was very aware of it. After pushing the Queen to do her will and being denied more power, the relationship started to fizzle out. Anne replaced Sarah with Abigail Masham, Sarah’s cousin (her husband would eventually be dismissed from the army as well). Of course, this infuriated Sarah so much to the point that she decided to spread the rumor of the Queen’s love affair to her new favorite. Moreover, she also said that the Queen had frequent encounters with many of her ladies. And as if this weren't enough, she wrote and published memoirs where she represented herself as a victim of the Queen’s malevolent schemes. This document was one of the only references available for studying the life of this monarch, which is why the historical image of her remained biased for centuries.
Anne had always had suffered from weak health, and in August 1714, she had a stroke that took her life. She was buried next to her husband and children, and that was the end of her 12-year reign as a Queen. To this day, although there’s much more information about her, the question that always surrounds her is whether she was a lesbian or not. Now, besides the letters and accounts from the time (which aren’t very objective), there’s not really a way to know, but does that matter? What we have to understand is that our preferences don’t really define who we are or should matter more than our deeds. If she was, great for her. If she wasn’t and it was just a rumor, well, it didn’t really work since she kept ruling, and according to new studies, in a very good way.
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