The death of Queen Mary in 1695 had left her sister Anne heiress to the throne. Brought up in danger and turmoil, Anne had become a timid girl, pure in morals, simple in mind, strong in feeling, and seeking consolation and courage in a devoted and humble friendship with her childhood companion, the lively, laughing, skeptical, positive, confident Sarah Jennings. In 1678 Sarah, who was five years older than Anne, married John Churchill, and in 1683 Anne married Prince George of Denmark. Both marriages prospered, but they did not interfere with the close intimacy of the two women. Anne waived all formality, playfully called Sarah (now her lady of the bedchamber) “Mrs. Freeman,” and insisted on being called not “Princess” but “Mrs. Morley.” When the two husbands deserted James for William, Anne had to make a bitter choice between father and mate. Her love for her husband and her friend decided her to leave for Nottingham (November 26, 1688). On December 19 she and Sarah returned to London and an alien King.
She never learned to like William III. She felt insulted and injured when he gave to one of his friends the estate of her father, to which she had a partial claim. By 1691 she was longing for the return of her father to the throne. William reasonably suspected both Churchill (now Earl of Marlborough) and his wife of intrigues with the deposed ruler. Queen Mary ordered Anne to dismiss Sarah from her entourage. Anne refused. On the next morning (January, 1692) Marlborough was dismissed from his offices, and he and Sarah were banished from the court. Rather than be separated from her friend, Anne, defying King and Queen, left Whitehall Palace to live with Sarah at Sion House. On May 4 Marlborough was sent to the Tower. Sarah often visited him there, and proposed to end her association with Anne to appease the Queen. Whereupon Anne wrote to her:
The last time he [the Bishop of Worcester] was here, I told him that you had several times desired that you might go from me. . . . I beg it again for Christ Jesus’ sake that you would never name it any more to me. For be assured, if you should ever do so cruel a thing as to leave me, from that moment I shall never enjoy one quiet hour. And should you do it without asking my consent (which if I ever give you, may I never see the face of Heaven) I will shut myself up and never see the world more, but live where I may be forgot by human kind. 50
As the evidence of Marlborough’s participation in any plot to restore James proved inconclusive, William, who needed good generals, released him, and restored him to favor and authority.
When Anne, now thirty-eight, became Queen, her preference for morality, fidelity, and privacy changed the character of the English court. The roisterers found no entry there, and retired disgruntled to the coffeehouses and the stews. The moral Addison replaced the riotous Rochester, and Steele wrote The Christian Hero. Anne’s avoidance of the theater, and the example of her life, had some influence in improving the tone of the English stage. She expressed her piety by turning over to the poorer clergy of the Established Church the royal share of ecclesiastical “first fruits” and tithes (1704); this “Queen Anne’s Bounty” is still paid annually by the British government. She bore children with almost yearly regularity, but all except one died in childhood; none survived her; and her spirit was darkened by many funerals.
If she could have determined national policy she would have made peace with France, and would have acknowledged her dead father’s son as what he claimed to be—James III. But the strong will of William III had committed England to the Grand Alliance; the dominant man in her counsels, whom she had raised from Earl to Duke of Marlborough soon after her accession, induced her to reign unhappily over ten years of bloody and costly war. She was still under the influence of her friend, now duchess, mistress of the robes and comptroller of the privy purse—i.e., the Queen’s personal finances. Sarah received £ 5,100 a year, and used her almost hypnotic influence over Anne to advance the fortunes of her husband. Marlborough was appointed captain general of the land forces, and it was at his suggestion that his friend Sidney Godolphin was made secretary of the treasury; for Godolphin was anomalousy honest as well as financially competent, and could be relied upon for prompt remittances to army leaders, whose soldiers adjusted their courage to their pay. It is pleasant to record that after spending half a lifetime in charge of the treasury, Godolphin died a poor man. The hardheaded Duchess of Marlborough thought him “the best man that ever lived.” 51 However, he gave his leisure to cockfighting, horse racing, and gambling, which were considered such mild vices as to verge on virtue.
Anne’s freedom from intellect allowed her ministers to appropriate much of the authority and initiative that Parliament had left to the Crown; the political battles hereafter (except under George III) were to be between Parliament and ministers rather than between Parliament and sovereign. In 1704 new figures entered her ministry: Robert Harley as secretary of state, and Henry St. John as secretary for war. Both of these men touched the history of literature: Harley as employer of Defoe and Swift, and St. John—under his later title of Viscount Bolingbroke—as influencing Pope and Voltaire, and as himself the author of once famous essays, Letters on the Study of History and Idea of a Patriot King. Both these ministers were hard drinkers, but this was no distinction in the England of that day. Both entered office with the support of Marlborough, but turned against him on the charge that he was unnecessarily prolonging the War of the Spanish Succession.
St. John, born (1678) under Charles II, and dying (1751) in the first yep. of the Encyclopédie, personified the passage of Europe from the English Restoration to the French Enlightenment. He received too much religion in his childhood, and shed too much of it in his manhood. “I was obliged while yet a boy,” he tells us, “to read over the commentaries of Dr. Mantón, whose pride it was to have made 119 sermons on the 119th Psalm.” 52 At Eton and Oxford he sought and won pre-eminence in brilliance of mind, careless idleness, and graceful dissipation. He boasted of holding the maximum of wine without intoxication, and of keeping the most expensive prostitute in the kingdom. 53 In a monogamous moment he married a wealthy heiress; she soon abandoned him because of his infidelity, but he continued, with some interruptions, to enjoy her estates. He found it comparatively inexpensive to get elected to Parliament in 1701. There his handsome presence, his quick intelligence, and his fluid eloquence gained him great influence in the Commons. He was only twenty-six when he entered the ministry.
The outstanding achievement of that ministry was the parliamentary union of England and Scotland. The two countries, though under the same sovereign, had had their distinct parliaments, conflicting economies, and hostile faiths; each had made war upon the other; and their jealous tariffs had impeded trade. On January 16, 1707, the Scottish Parliament accepted, and on March 6 the Queen ratified, the Articles of Union by which the two kingdoms, while retaining their independent religions, were to become the United Kingdom of Great Britain, under one British Parliament, and with complete freedom of trade. Sixteen Scottish peers were to be seated in the House of Lords, forty-five Scottish members were to be elected to the House of Commons, and the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew were combined in a new flag, the Union Jack. The Scottish masses did not welcome the merger, and for half a century the old enmities luxuriated; but by 1750 the union was recognized as beneficent. Scotland was spared many duplicative expenditures, and her intellectual energy was freed to produce, in the second half of the eighteenth century, a bright flowering of literature and philosophy.
Harley and St. John were deposed from the cabinet by a Whig victory in October, 1707, but Harley continued to influence the Queen through his cousin, Mrs. Abigail Masham. This lady had been introduced to Anne by the Duchess of Marlborough. Her calm and complaisant temper soothed the Queen, whose nerves, on edge with her new responsibilities, were rasped by Sarah’s rampant voice and views. Sarah for a time welcomed her release from constant attendance at the court, but she was soon alarmed on discovering how rapidly her influence with the Queen was fading. Anne was almost by nature a Tory, a pietist, and a lover of peace; Sarah was a Whig of little faith, who laughed openly at the divine right of rulers as humbug for the masses, and insisted on the Queen’s support of Marlborough’s desire for a war to the finish against France. Anne developed a new firmness of mind as Sarah receded; and when Sarah raged at her insolently she dismissed her from the court (1710). The Queen declared that she felt now as if she had been freed from a long captivity.
In that year a Tory victory at the polls restored Harley and Bolingbroke to power. Harley replaced Godolphin at the treasury, Bolingbroke took the war office, and Jonathan Swift became their most effective pamphleteer. Harley was made Earl of Oxford (1711), and St. John was named Viscount Bolingbroke (1712). The courtesans of London, on hearing of Bolingbroke’s elevation, rejoiced, saying, “Bolingbroke gets eight thousand guineas yearly, and all for us!”* The Tory majority put through both houses (1711) a measure requiring, for eligibility to Parliament, the possession of landed property worth a minimum of three hundred pounds a year for borough representatives, and six hundred pounds yearly for county delegates. 54 Now was the hedyday of the landed aristocracy in England.
The new ministry was resolved—Marlborough refused—to end the war by making a separate peace with France. In 1711 Harley brought before the Commons an indictment of Marlborough on charges of peculation. It was alleged that the Duke was amassing a large private fortune as captain general of the British forces, and through other offices held by him; that in addition to his annual salaries of some sixty thousand pounds he had received six thousand a year from Sir Solomon Medina, the contractor who sold him bread for the army; and that he had deducted for his own use two and a half per cent of the sums received by him from foreign governments for the pay of foreign troops under his command. No one except Sir John Vanbrugh, its architect, liked the architecture of the immense Blenheim Palace that Marlborough was building at Woodstock, near Oxford, and for which the Queen had ordered the government to pay. Begun in 1705, it was only half finished in 1711, and had already cost £ 134,000; 55 before its completion it would cost £ 300,000, of which the government paid four fifths. 56
Marlborough replied that the two-and-a-half-per-cent deduction was by custom allowed to the commander to finance, without public record, the secret service and espionage which he had guided to good results; he produced the Queen’s signed warrant authorizing him to make this deduction; all the foreign allies affirmed that they too had authorized the deduction; and the Elector of Hanover added that the money had been wisely applied, and had “contributed to the gaining of so many battles.” 57 On the Medina subsidy Marlborough’s defense was not so convincing. The House condemned him by a vote of 276 to 175, and the Queen dismissed him from all his offices (December 31, 1711). He departed into voluntary exile, and remained in Holland or Germany till the end of the reign. The ministers appointed James Butler, second Duke of Ormonde, to command the British armies, and authorized him to make the same deductions from the bread contracts and the foreign payments as those for which Marlborough had been condemned. 58But Marlborough’s fall was accepted by the British people as a step toward peace.
The Tories and the Whigs found a new source of strife in the problem of succession to the throne. In 1701, Anne’s last surviving child having died, Parliament, to forestall another Stuart restoration, had passed an Act of Settlement by which, in default of issue of William III and Princess Anne, the crown of England would pass to “Princess Sophia or the heirs of her body, being Protestants.” Sophia, wife of the Elector of Hanover, was safely Protestant, and fractionally of royal British blood, as a granddaughter of James I. Anne had accepted this arrangement as guaranteeing a Protestant England; but now that her life neared its end her sympathy for her disowned brother grew warmer, and she left no doubt that if James III would consent to abandon Catholicism she would support his claim to the throne. The Whigs gave their full support to the Hanoverian succession, the Tories inclined to the Queen’s view. Bolingbroke negotiated with James; the Prince refused to surrender his Catholic faith; but Bolingbroke, to whom religions were but diverse garments to dignify death, pulled every wire to have the Act of Settlement repealed, and give James the succession. He quarreled with Harley for moving too slowly in this matter; at his suggestion Anne reluctantly dismissed Harley, and for two days Bolingbroke seemed supreme.
But on July 29 the Queen, agitated and depressed by the quarrels of her ministers, fell seriously ill. The Protestants of England armed themselves to resist any attempt at a Stuart restoration. The Privy Council rejected Bolingbroke’s policy, and persuaded the vacillating Queen to make the Duke of Shrewsbury lord high treasurer and head of her government. On August 1, 1714, Anne died. Sophia had died two months before, but the Act of Settlement was still in force. The Council sent word to Sophia’s son, the Elector of Hanover, that he was now George I, King of England.
The reigns of William and Mary and Anne (1689–1714) were vital years in the history of England. Despite moral laxity, political corruption, and internal strife, they accomplished a dynastic revolution, they declared England irrevocably Protestant, and they definitively transferred governmental supremacy from the Crown to the Parliament. They saw the development of powerful ministers still further reducing the role of the monarch, and they witnessed in 1707 the last royal veto of parliamentary legislation. They established a wider degree of religious toleration and freedom of the press. They peacefully united England and Scotland in a stronger Britain. They turned back the attempt of the most powerful of modern kings to make France the dictator of Europe; instead, they made England mistress of the seas. They expanded, to historic effects, England’s possessions in America. They saw the victories of English science and philosophy in Newton’s Principia and Locke’s Essay concerning Human Understanding. And the brief twelve years of the gentle Anne saw such an outburst of literature—Defoe, Addison, Steele, Swift, and the first period of Alexander Pope—as was not matched in that age anywhere in the world.