More memories from Westminster: New oral history material added to

Our national oral history project has now interviewed more than 100 former MPs, and to celebrate we have added some more webpages dedicated to our interviewees. These pages include brief biographies, full interview summaries and extracts from the interviews themselves. The six new MPs added – Kenneth Baker, Patrick Jenkin, John Osborn, Christopher Price, James Prior and Sir Teddy Taylor – were also photographed by Michael Waller-Bridge, now you can see all of his wonderful portraits, commissioned by Dods for this project, on our website.

One of our oral history project’s strengths is in documenting the personal experiences and emotions of the interviewee – feelings that rarely show up in Hansard! Some of our new audioclips really highlight the MPs’ lives and lifestyles. For example, the former Scottish Conservative MP Sir Teddy Taylor remembered that hardly anyone spoke to him on his first day at Westminster, and recalls his impressions on first encountering the strict divisions in place in the tea and dining rooms:

Two other former MPs reflected on the personal impact of losing political support (and their quite different responses). Patrick Jenkin, MP for Wanstead and Woodford, remembered losing his Ministerial post when Heath’s government fell in 1974 – but it wasn’t just the job he missed, but the personal trappings that went with it!

For John Osborn, MP for Sheffield Hallam, his retirement from politics was prompted after his constituency association had “had enough” of him – but he was able to enjoy a more leisurely lifestyle:

Our other new clips explore selection processes, internal Labour party politics and the increased amount of lobbying entering politics in the later part of the 20th century. Of course you can listen to many of our interviews in full in the British Library, but we’ll be adding more to our website as soon as we can.


For more on our national oral history project, and to hear extracts from some of our interviewees, visit:

If you would like to get involved in our oral history project we would love to hear from you – this doesn’t have to be as an interviewers! Please contact if you are interested.

For more on our ‘From the Grassroots’ oral history project in Devon, visit:

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The battle of Bosworth: consequences for winners and losers

The battle of Bosworth took place on this day in 1485. Dr Charles Moreton, senior research fellow of the Commons 1422-1504 project, discusses the contrasting consequences for parliamentarians on both sides of the battle…

At the battle of Bosworth the last Plantagenet King, Richard III, met his death. For some leading parliamentarians who had taken up arms on his behalf it also marked the end, either immediately through death on the field, or in the days and months that followed Henry Tudor’s victory. For others, it proved a very serious setback from which recovery was nevertheless possible. For others who took the field for Tudor and survived, Bosworth saved or made their careers.

Apart from Richard himself, the foremost victim of Bosworth was his leading supporter among the nobility, John Howard, duke of Norfolk. Created duke by Richard in 1483, Howard had previously sat as an MP and attended the Lords after his elevation to the peerage in 1470. A lesser lord who fell fighting for Richard was Walter Devereux, Lords Ferrers of Chartley, a long-term supporter of the House of York. One of the knights of the shire for Herefordshire in the Parliament of 1460, he had the rare distinction of having also fought at Towton, the bloody battle by which the first Yorkist King, Edward IV, secured his newly-won throne. Like Howard, he suffered a posthumous loss of lands and title in the first Parliament of Henry VII’s reign. Fortunately for his family, his son John Devereux had known Henry since boyhood and was willing to accept the new King. Summoned to the Lords in 1487, John secured the reversal of his father’s attainder in the following Parliament of 1489.

Among those taken prisoner at Bosworth were the duke of Norfolk’s son, Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey, and William Catesby. Before becoming earl, Thomas had twice sat in the Commons. Wounded at the battle, he spent three years in the Tower of London and forfeited his lands and title in Henry VII’s first Parliament. The recovery of the Howards was a good deal more tortuous than that of Devereux but Thomas was the ultimate survivor and, upon his release, dedicated himself to regaining lands and status through loyal service to the Tudors. Henry VIII made him duke of Norfolk – a new creation – following his famous defeat of the Scots at the battle of Flodden in 1513. His fellow prisoner, Catesby, the Speaker in Richard III’s only Parliament (1484), was not so fortunate. The only important figure to suffer death among those captured at Bosworth, he was beheaded three days later at Leicester and was attainted in the following Parliament. His son and heir George had managed to recover most of the Catesby estates by his own death in 1505, although the far greater prospects that his family might have hoped for had Richard III kept this throne were gone for ever.

Among Richard’s supporters who escaped the field was the diehard Humphrey Stafford, an MP for Worcestershire on several occasions in the mid-fifteenth century.. Stafford fled Bosworth with the chamberlain of Richard’s household, Francis, Viscount Lovell, with whom he found sanctuary in Colchester abbey. Eight months later, they broke out of sanctuary to raise rebellion against the Tudor monarch. Following the failure of this uprising, Stafford again managed to find sanctuary, this time in the abbot of Abingdon’s liberty at Culham, Oxfordshire. Here his luck ran out. Just two days later, on the night of 13 May 1486, a pursuing force dragged from his refuge and, in due course, he suffered death on the scaffold at Tyburn. Like the Howards, Devereux and Catesby, Stafford was attainted in Henry VII’s first Parliament, and his manors of Grafton and Upton Warren in Worcestershire were granted away to Sir Gilbert Talbot, one of their adversaries at Bosworth.

A younger son of the 2nd earl of Shrewsbury, Talbot had commanded Tudor’s right wing at Bosworth. He sat in three of Henry’s Parliaments before becoming the King’s lieutenant of Calais. He died possessed of a substantial landed estate in 1517. Among Talbot’s comrades in arms at Bosworth were Sir James Blount, Walter Hungerford and Humphrey Stanley. A former member of the Yorkist Household, Blount had already sat in the Commons for Derbyshire over a decade before the battle. Attainted in the Parliament of 1484 after deserting Richard III, he fled to France to join Tudor, who knighted him at Milford Haven when they returned in the following year. Like Talbot, he later sat in Henry’s Parliament of 1491.

The story of Hungerford, the youngest son of Robert, 3rd Lord Hungerford, and a member of a firmly Lancastrian family, is as dramatic as Stafford’s. Lord Robert was among those diehards who held out against Edward IV in northern England until his capture and execution in 1464, and Walter’s elder brother, Sir Thomas Hungerford, suffered death at the scaffold for treason in 1469. Notwithstanding these events, Walter subsequently entered the Commons while Edward was on the throne, although he found it necessary to obtain a general pardon at the accession of Richard III, who later ordered his arrest. Yet he managed to escape and make his way to Tudor. At Bosworth, he killed Sir Robert Brackenbury, lieutenant of the Tower of London, receiving a knighthood on field from Henry for his exploits. He returned to the Commons, again as an MP for Wiltshire, and served the first two Tudor monarchs as a councillor and diplomat.

Stanley, a younger son of a Staffordshire landowner, was likewise knighted at Bosworth by Tudor. Thereafter he joined the King’s household and, like his father before him, he was elected as a knight of the shire for Staffordshire in at least two Parliaments. No paragon of virtue, he gained election in 1495 even though he had procured the murder of his neighbour and fellow household man, William Chetwynd, in the previous year. In spite of such behaviour, he was awarded the honour of burial in Westminster Abbey following his death in 1505.



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Jonathan Swift and the Union with Scotland

In the latest in our series on Anglo-Scottish relations throughout the centuries, Dr Ruth Paley, editor of the House of Lords 1660-1832 section, discusses the satirist Jonathan Swift’s provocative attack on the Scots during the early days of union and the political consequences that followed…

The winter of 1713-14 was fraught with political tension. The queen’s health, never good, was visibly deteriorating, sparking fears of a contested succession. Her ministry, led by Robert Harley, earl of Oxford, was grappling with the fall out from the peace of Utrecht which ended the war that had wasted the revenue and cost countless lives since before the queen came to the throne in the spring of 1702. The previous summer had seen an attempt to dissolve the as yet fledgling Union of England and Scotland led by Scots upset at what they perceived to be infringements of the articles of Union. The ministry itself faced problems controlling its more extreme Tory supporters and was riven by factional infighting between supporters of Oxford and his disgruntled secretary of state, Viscount Bolingbroke. Furthermore the ministry had a very shaky grasp on Parliament, and was particularly weak in the House of Lords. Oxford’s problems were further compounded by his own increasing reliance on alcohol. Not surprisingly all these factors provided considerable scope for exploitation by opposition Whigs hoping to destabilise the ministry and return to power.

Early in 1714 the Whig propagandist and MP for Stockbridge, Richard Steele, published The Crisis – a pamphlet that amounted to a panegyric on the previous (Whig) ministry and attacked all those who were suspected of opposition to the Hanoverian succession (i.e. Tories in general and the Oxford ministry in particular). He also included an anti-Catholic diatribe. Without the Hanoverian succession Britain stood in danger of becoming a province of France or of being ruled by a ‘train of popish princes’ intent on ‘the extirpation of our religion, laws and liberties’. Steele’s recital of events leading up to and following the Revolution of 1688 included a brief reference to the Union with Scotland – the Union had after all been pushed through to ensure that there would be no chance of Scotland choosing to opt out of the Hanoverian succession.

So successful – and so extensively dispersed – was Steele’s pamphlet that it demanded a Tory response. Fortunately the Tories had their own skilled propagandist in the person of Jonathan Swift. Swift quickly set to work, producing The Public Spirit of the Whigs by the end of February. Designed to counter ‘the malice and falsehood of every line’ of The Crisis, Swift overstepped the mark by including an extraordinarily provocative and vitriolic attack on the Union, on the leading Scots peers, Argyle and Islay, and describing Scotland and the Scots as an economic drain on English resources. The Whigs were quick to pounce. The Scots peers complained to the queen and on 2 March the Junto leader Wharton made a formal complaint in the House of Lords. The House resolved

that the said Pamphlet is a false, malicious, and factious Libel, highly dishonourable and scandalous to the Scotch Nation, tending to the Destruction of the Constitution, and most injurious to Her Majesty, who has often declared from the Throne, That the Union of the Two Kingdoms of England and Scotland was the peculiar Happiness of Her Reign.

Although Swift’s authorship was widely suspected, the pamphlet had been published anonymously and so the only targets available for censure were the printers. Given the known connections between the printers, Swift and the ministry, the Whigs must have been confident that they would be able to out Swift and pin responsibility for the pamphlet firmly on Oxford, but Oxford out-manoeuvred them. On 6 March, Lord Mar, the secretary of state for Scotland, rose to inform the House that he had ordered the printers to be prosecuted for seditious libel, thus stifling the Lords’ enquiry and wresting a degree of control back to the ministry. The Whigs did not give up. They used their strength in the House of Lords to secure a vote to petition the queen for a proclamation offering a reward for the discovery of the author. The proclamation was issued but the reward was deliberately low and Oxford had already bought off the only people who could have identified Swift – the printers. He disguised his handwriting and sent an anonymous letter to Swift enclosing £100 purportedly sent by ‘an obscure person but charitable’ desirous of assisting the printers. He made it clear that this was but a down payment and that the printers could expect to receive more.

Even before the complaint in the Lords, Swift and the ministry were conducting a damage limitation exercise; the printers recovered all the unsold copies and prepared a new edition in which the most inflammatory sentences were removed; all the offensive paragraphs were removed from yet another edition published in mid-March. The Tories were also preparing to go onto the offensive. In the Commons, where they were more assured of a majority, they began a concerted attack on Steele. As a result of a complaint made by Thomas Foley, Steele was ordered to attend the Commons on 13 March when several paragraphs from The Crisis and another publication The Englishman were lambasted as seditious. Steele spoke for three hours in his defence on the 18th. The Whigs were convinced that they had won the argument, but the House nevertheless found by an overwhelming majority that Steele’s writings were ‘scandalous and seditious libels’ and expelled him.


You can read the other blogposts in our Anglo-Scottish series here:

Dr Andrew Spencer on ‘Parliament and Bannockburn’,

MPs at the Battle of Flodden’,

Dr Alan MacDonald onScotland and the Jacobean Union of 1604-7

Dr Patrick Little on Union with Scotland: Cromwellian style

More to follow soon!


Posted in 18th Century history, England and Scotland | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Battle of Blenheim and British Politics

In August 1704 the duke of Marlborough led allied forces to a great victory at Blenheim. Dr Charles Littleton, Senior Research Fellow in our Lords 1660-1832 section, discusses the effect the news of victory had on British politics…

In these days of the internet, of Facebook and Twitter, and of 24-hour rolling coverage of news, we can take it for granted that information of what ‘is going on’, even on the other side of the world, is only an apparently instantaneous ‘click’ away. That was certainly not the case in the eighteenth century when long distances often had to be covered to convey the news of events far away. This lag in communication could often play havoc with the calculations and judgements of contemporaries.

Today marks the 310th anniversary – according to the Gregorian calendar which was then in use on the European continent, but which was only adopted in Britain in 1752 – of the Battle of Blenheim, the stunning victory in the War of the Spanish Succession for the Allied forces commanded by their captain-general the duke of Marlborough, by which the threat of a combined French and Bavarian occupation of Vienna and the Holy Roman Empire was stopped in its tracks. (The English of the time, still using the old Julian calendar, would have considered it 2 August, as it often appears in history books). Having won this decisive battle, Marlborough scribbled a hasty note on the back of a tavern bill to his wife Sarah, duchess of Marlborough announcing to her that the queen’s army ‘has had a glorious victory’. He entrusted this message to Col. Daniel Parke who set off with this note across continental Europe. It took him eight days to journey from the banks of the Danube deep in Bavaria to the English capital.

Those days while Col. Parke was making his way across Europe were uncomfortable for Marlborough’s fellow minister, the lord treasurer Baron Godolphin. The war had not been going well for the Allies for the previous two campaigns and there was no evidence so far that it would be any more successful this summer. Disgruntlement over the war and the way it was being waged had already led to the dismissal or resignation the previous April of numerous ‘High’ Tory members of the ministry and the formation of a new and inexperienced ministry. Furthermore the Scottish Parliament was aggrieved that the Hanoverian Succession ensured by the Act of Settlement of 1701, had been decided on by the English Parliament with little, if any, consultation with the Scots. Taking advantage of the perceived weakness of the Allied war effort, the Scottish parliament in spring 1704 had threatened not to raise money for the maintenance of Scottish troops in Marlborough’s army until the queen gave her royal assent to their Act of Security, which provided that upon the death of the childless queen, the Scottish Parliament would chose its own successor to the Scottish throne. This threatened the union of crowns of England and Scotland which had existed since 1603 and Godolphin had to use all his diplomatic and persuasive powers to convince the reluctant queen to give her royal assent to the measure on 16 August 1704, 5 August by the contemporary English reckoning.

The situation was transformed after Col. Parkes finally delivered Marlborough’s brief exultant message to the queen on 21/ 10 August. She immediately wrote back to Marlborough, overjoyed that the victory ‘will not only humble our enemies abroad but contribute very much to the putting a stop to the ill designs of those at home’. The earl of Peterborough similarly expressed himself to Marlborough shortly after the battle, asserting that its success would make Godolphin’s ‘winter campaign’ in the forthcoming session of parliament ‘easy’. Indeed the new ministry of moderate Tories was able to go into the next session of Parliament in late October with renewed confidence and purpose, justified in the earlier decision to jettison those most obstructive to Marlborough’s continental land war strategy. The ministry was also now on a stronger footing with regard to Scotland. Marlborough’s resounding military success made quite a difference in the calculations of those on both sides of the border. The ministry quickly retaliated against the earlier humiliation of the Act of Security by passing, with the vital assistance of the Whigs, who were to become the linchpin to the ministry’s parliamentary majority from this time, the Alien Act. This measure declared that, unless the Scottish Parliament appointed commissioners to negotiate a union of the two kingdoms, the Scots would after Christmas Day 1704 be considered ‘aliens’ in England, with all the severe travel and trade restrictions that entailed. Many Scottish statesmen, looking upon the result of Blenheim, must have felt it was wiser to side with the militarily resurgent Protestant country to the south which could produce a victory– in which, it is important to emphasize, the Scottish regiments played a large and important role – to a Catholic continental power harbouring the Jacobite Pretender which now appeared to be on the back foot. These pro-union Scots were able to push through legislation in Edinburgh, though often in the midst of turbulent scenes in the chamber and with razor-thin majorities, which appointed commissioners to negotiate the Treaty of Union, completed in 1706 and ratified by the Parliaments in both Edinburgh and Westminster in 1707.

Not only did the battle of Blenheim transform the course of the war, but it changed the balance of forces in English domestic politics, with the queen’s government turning away from her ‘natural’ supporters the High Church Tories to the Whigs in order to help prosecute the war. The events far away on the banks of the Danube furthermore helped form and shape the Anglo-Scottish Union, whose ultimate fate is now on the verge of being decided, three centuries on and in a very different European context.


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Union with Scotland – Cromwellian Style

Today’s post is the next in our series looking at Anglo-Scottish relations in the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum. Our own Dr Patrick Little Senior Research Fellow on the Commons 1640-1660 Section, discusses attempts at union during the Protectorate…

With the political spotlight on Scottish independence, historians have naturally tended to focus on the treaty and acts of union of 1707, when the Scots were ‘bought and sold for English gold’. Commentators have, however, ignored another experiment at union between the two nations that was tried fifty years before the reign of Queen Anne, during the protectorate of Oliver Cromwell and his son, Richard.

The ordinance passed by the protectoral council in 1654 and ratified as an act by parliament in 1657, began with the aspiration that union ‘might conduce to the glory of God and the peace and welfare of the people in this whole island’. The claim of Charles II to be king of Scotland was annulled; the saltire would be ‘received into and borne from henceforth in the army of this commonwealth, as a badge of this union’; all customs and excise taxes between the two nations were abolished, and other levies made ‘proportionable’ between them; and the complicated laws affecting land-holding and the ‘heritable’ rights that gave the Scottish nobility such influence were to be pruned back. Above all, the Scottish parliament would not be called – instead, 30 Scottish MPs, covering all the shires and the royal burghs, were now entitled to sit at Westminster.

That was the theory. In practice, the brief tenure of the protectorate – which lasted barely five more years until it fell victim of a military coup in May 1659 – meant that the union remained an aspiration rather than a reality. The parliaments of 1654-5, 1656-8 and 1659 did indeed include Scottish MPs, although over half those returned for the northern seats were actually Englishmen. The saltire, with the cross of St George and the harp of Ireland formed part of the protectoral coat of arms. Free trade was established, and worked well enough to provoke grumbling from the ports of north east England, who now had rivals in the coal and salt trades. Moves to unravel the legal system were more hesitant, however, and the main thing that kept the Scottish noble in check was massive indebtedness rather than law reform. Worse still, there were still immense tensions between the two nations, not least over religion, and the hoped-for amity between the two was never achieved.

The irony was that the English, rather than the Scots, were the main opponents of the Cromwellian Union. This can be seen in the debates in parliament in 1659, when critics of the government were concerned that MPs from north of the border were government placemen, who could hold the balance of power if they voted in a bloc, influencing legislation that affected England as well as Britain. Almost without exception, the native Scots who contributed to the discussions spoke in favour of the union, with one, William Ross of Drumgarland, MP for Dumfriesshire, making the extraordinary statement: ‘I think myself at home when I am here’. One wonders what Alex Salmond would have said in reply to that!


You can read the other blogposts in our series here:

Dr Andrew Spencer on ‘Parliament and Bannockburn’,

MPs at the Battle of Flodden’ and

Dr Alan MacDonald onScotland and the Jacobean Union of 1604-7

More to follow soon!


Posted in diplomatic history, Early modern history, England and Scotland, social history | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The ‘White Warfare of the South’: Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition and the First World War

This week the country is marking the 100th anniversary of Britain’s entry into the First World War. As Dr Robin Eagles, Senior Research Fellow in our House of Lords 1660-1832 section, explains, this was rather unfortunate timing for the explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton…

Travelling to the Antarctic might appear a relatively extreme way of avoiding the opening action of the First World War, but this is what Sir Ernest Shackleton and his companions did in August 1914. Of course, there was no intention of avoiding anything; quite the reverse.

Almost from its inception, Shackleton’s expedition, which aimed to stage the first crossing of the continent, had experienced problems. After the disaster of the Scott expedition, appetite for this sort of venture had declined markedly. The Navy’s attitude was neatly summed up by the first lord of the admiralty, Winston Churchill: “Enough life and money has been spent on this sterile quest. The Pole has already been discovered. What is the use of another expedition?” [Roland Huntford, Shackleton, p.364] Shackleton, unsuccessful Liberal Unionist candidate for Dundee in 1906, was forced to call upon all his reserves of charm and charisma to persuade the establishment that another polar expedition was precisely what was needed and that the conquest of the continent could still be claimed for the Empire.

It was not just the purpose of the expedition that caused comment. Much of the funding came from private donation, but public money was involved as well in the shape of a government grant of £10,000. This had been queried in the Commons by one Member (Sir Arthur Fell) on 23 March and again in July by James Hogge, who wished to know which fund was being drawn on for the grant. The MPs’ concerns were valid. Shackleton spent much of his time avoiding frustrated creditors.

In spite of their reservations, Shackleton eventually persuaded the Admiralty to let him have one serving officer and any members of Scott’s expedition still in the Navy who were close to retirement. The army allowed him two officers, while Colonel Beveridge, a pioneer in the science of nutrition, helped design appropriate rations.

With just over a month to go, the international situation took a turn for the worse. On 29 June the papers ran with two prominent stories. One was of a substantial gift to Shackleton made by the Scots millionaire, Sir James Caird, bt.; the other carried a warning to Archduke Franz Ferdinand not to visit Bosnia. The latter proved rather late as the archduke was already dead, assassinated by the Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip, the previous day. Throughout July as Shackleton continued to ready his ship for departure, negotiations between the great powers gradually broke down.

On 1 August, the expedition ship, Endurance, pulled out of port in London and made its way down the Thames, waved off by a small crowd and a single bagpiper. Two days later, Endurance was moored at Margate by which time Germany’s war machine had entered Luxembourg and was demanding unhindered passage through Belgium. By the time Shackleton stepped onto the quay, Britain’s Navy had been mobilized and his two army officers had quit the expedition to rejoin their regiments. The skipper of the Endurance, the Australian Frank Worsley, even advocated a small detour via a scrap with the German fleet before proceeding south. Shackleton cabled the Admiralty placing his men, ship and supplies at their disposal, but the Admiralty responded with just one word: ‘proceed’. Endurance left Margate almost at the same time that Germany formally declared war on France. Another stop at Eastbourne gave Shackleton another chance to assess the fast-changing pace of affairs. He was given another blessing (and union flag) by the king, though while he dallied he lost another member of his crew who had decided now was not the time to head for the Antarctic. Worsley too made an effort to be taken on by the Navy as a reservist, but was turned away. When Endurance finally left Plymouth on 8 August Shackleton was still in England settling last minute affairs and making a final attempt to offer his services to the Navy but was again rebuffed. He accepted his fate and headed south to rejoin his ship. An Austrian rival, Dr König, was not so fortunate. He and all his men were pressed into the Austro-Hungarian military and their vessel, Deutschland, commandeered by the Austrian Navy. It was later sunk in the Adriatic.

In the event, the expedition proved to be a disaster. Shackleton and his men never reached the mainland of Antarctica as their ship was caught in pack ice and crushed. Yet here too Shackleton proved his worth and was able to transform what might so easily have been a humiliation into a very British sort of success story. The expedition team salvaged what they could from the dying ship and made for the relative safety of solid ground in the form of Elephant Island. Shackleton and a small party then took to the open seas in one of the life boats, the James Caird, and made for the whaling station on South Georgia 800 miles away. Having arrived on the wrong side of the island, they were forced to traverse the forbidding mountain range dividing them from the station but made it there in time to telegraph for a relief ship from Chile to rescue the abandoned men.

Shackleton and his party returned to England in May 1917 beaten yet triumphant. Most promptly volunteered for service in a conflict that had far outlasted its original anticipated Christmas 1914 termination point. Shackleton himself was ruled out on grounds of poor health. Instead, he was despatched to South America to attempt to bring Chile into the war on the allied side. Of the 53 surviving members of the expedition, three were killed in the war and another five were wounded. Shackleton himself, who had been keen to emphasize the sacrifices of his men in answer to those criticizing the expedition, died a few years later while en route to yet another Antarctic expedition. He was buried on South Georgia.


Further reading: Sir Ernest Shackleton, South (1919); Roland Huntford, Shackleton (1985).

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How Closely Related Were George I and Queen Anne?

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.


Further reading:

- 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.

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