Over on twitter this week we are marking the 300th anniversary of the death of Queen Anne and the Hanoverian succession with a series of daily ‘live tweets’ under the hashtag #Anne1714. In today’s accompanying guest blogpost, Professor William Gibson, Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Oxford Brookes, discusses the relationship between Anne and her successor, George I…
Queen Anne got some satisfaction at having outlived her heir, Sophia. The Electress had, even a few days before her death, agitated for a member of her family to come to England to secure the Hanoverian succession. It was an agitation that Anne found offensive and had repeatedly resisted for over a decade. Contemporaries gossiped about whether Anne would prefer to be succeeded by her half-brother, James Edward Stuart. According to John Wesley, Queen Anne told Archbishop John Sharp of York,
I love my brother well: but I never had the least thought or desire of resigning my crown in his favour. I would not, if I could: for it can never be good for England to have a Papist on the throne. And I could not place him upon it if I would: my people would not suffer it.
So for contemporaries the issue was whether and how the Hanoverians would succeed. Today assumptions are often made about how closely related Anne and George I were. Jacobites liked to emphasise how distant the Hanover family connection was, as well as George’s ‘alien’ German ways. Historians have often followed this, even suggesting that there were between thirty and fifty people more closely related to Anne disbarred from the succession by the Act of Settlement of 1701 because of their Catholicism. In fact the number who stood between Anne and George were very few. There were only six living people with a closer kinship to Anne than George. The reason for this is partly because of the extraordinary poor health of the Stuarts.
Anne herself, of course, was the end of a line of Stuart descent, her sister Mary having died childless in 1694 and her brother-in-law William, also a Stuart through his mother, in 1702. Anne’s father, James II had died in 1701 (leaving Francis Edward as his heir) and his brothers, Charles II and Henry Duke of Gloucester, had both died without legitimate issue. James II’s sister, Henrietta, had married Phillip d’Orleans and converted to Catholicism. Henrietta had four children, only one of whom was still alive in 1714, Anne Marie d’Orleans, who had married Victor Amadeus of Savoy. Anne Marie had two children, Charles Emmanuel and Victor Amadeus, both of whom were Catholics. But Henrietta’s descendants in 1714 represent three of the six cousins who stood between Anne and George of Hanover.
In the generation above James II, Charles II and Henrietta, the Stuart line had also been unlucky: James I and Anne of Denmark had eight children, six of whom died young or without issue. These included Henry Prince of Wales, who died of typhoid in 1612 and is often thought of as a great renaissance prince. This left Charles I and his sister Elizabeth, who married Frederick of the Palatine. Elizabeth and Frederick were, briefly, the elected King and Queen of Bohemia, reigning less than a year before they were ejected from their new kingdom by the Catholic Hapsburgs. Thereafter, Elizabeth, often called the ‘Winter Queen’, lived in Holland and for the last two years of her life in London following Charles II’s restoration. Elizabeth was hugely popular in England, having suffered for her Protestantism. Her portraits were some of the most widely copied and there can have been few English men and women in the period 1660-1714 who did not admire her. Elizabeth had thirteen children; of these only two had legitimate issue. The first was Edward, who became a Catholic and had two daughters, Anne Henrietta and Benedicta, both of whom were alive in 1714. These are the other two living cousins who were closer in kinship to Anne than George of Hanover. Elizabeth of Bohemia’s youngest daughter was Sophia, who married Ernest Augustus of Hanover in 1658.
Elizabeth, the Winter Queen, died in 1662, and was interred in Westminster Abbey. As the sister of the executed Charles I, and mother of the royalist heroes Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice, she had been briefly feted in England in the last two years of her life. Her daughter Sophia was also strong in her identity as a Stuart princess. When after 1701 some tried to portray her as a foreign princess she indignantly emphasised that she regarded herself as thoroughly English. She read the English newsletters, received visitors from England and had a number of English correspondents.
It is moreover to Sophia that a little-known feature of royal law is due: the Sophia Naturalisation Act of 1705. This confirmed that Sophia was a naturalised British citizen and inadvertently granted that right to all their heirs of her body, together with the style of prince or princess of Great Britain and Ireland. It is to this act, confirmed in a legal ruling in 1957, that the current princes of Hanover claim British citizenship and also the right to the title prince of Great Britain and Ireland.
When in May 1714 the eighty four year old Sophia of Hanover died, Queen Anne referred to the event as ‘chipping porridge’ –meaning it had no significance for her. This was not because Sophia was such a distant cousin, but because Anne wanted to disguise the annoyance she had felt from Sophia’s repeated requests for a family member to come to England ready to claim the throne on Anne’s death. It was, as Queen Elizabeth I had said, like having her own shroud laid out before her. However it would be a mistake to assume that George of Hanover was a remote kinsman, he was a close Stuart cousin.
- J. N. Duggan, Sophia of Hanover: From Winter Princess to Heiress of Great Britain, London, Peter Owen, 2010.
- Edward Gregg, Queen Anne London: Routledge, Kegan & Paul, 1980.
- F. Holmes, The Sickly Stuarts, The Medical Downfall of a Dynasty, Stroud, Sutton Publishing, 2003.
- Rosalind K. Marshall, The Winter Queen, The Life of Elizabeth of Bohemia, 1596-1662, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 1998.
- J. Wesley, Concise History of England, London, 1775-6, 4 vols.
- James Anderson Winn, Queen Anne, Oxford University Press, 2014.
Professor William Gibson is Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Oxford Brookes University and Director of the Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History.
To follow the events of 1714 ‘as they happened’, follow us on twitter @HistParl or #Anne1714.