Queen Anne, the younger of James II’s surviving daughters from his marriage to Lady Anne Hyde, was born at St. James’ Palace in London on 6th February 1665.
Most unusually for Stuart and Hanoverian royal children, their parents were not related to each other.
The clandestine marriage between the then Duke of York and the Chancellor’s daughter produced 8 children, but 6 died in infancy.
Anne and her older sister Mary were the only two children to grow to adulthood.
Medieval and early modern statistics on pregnancy and infant mortality tend to make any modern mother wince and be grateful for health care and antibiotics.
But Anne was particularly unfortunate, and her obstetric history was a real tragedy.
Accession to the throne
Anne’s older sister took the throne as Mary II in 1689 after their father, James II, was deemed to have abdicated during the Glorious Revolution.
Queen Mary ruled as joint monarch with her husband, William, Prince of Orange.
Queen Mary II married William of Orange, her first cousin, when she was only 15 years old, in an arranged marriage.
Mary was pregnant 3 times, and suffered two miscarriages and a stillbirth.
King William III and Queen Mary II reigned jointly until Mary’s death from smallpox on 28nd December 1694. William of Orange then ruled alone until his own death on 8th March 1702.
As William and Mary had no children, Anne inherited the throne.
Queen Anne’s Marriage
When she was 18 years old, in July 1683, Anne married her second cousin, Prince George of Denmark.
George was suitably protestant, which was essential given the dislike and fear of Catholics which still prevailed in the country. George was not a member of the Church of England, and never became one – he was a Lutheran.
The marriage was arranged by Anne’s uncle, Charles II (Anne’s father’s older brother).
George was blond-haired, blue-eyed, and considered fairly good-looking. He was also monumentally dull, and not over-blessed with brains.
Charles II said of him after the marriage, I have tried him drunk, and I have tried him sober; and there is nothing in him.
George also suffered from asthma, and a contemporary said that his heavy breathing was the only thing which confirmed he was alive.
Anne herself was not particularly attractive (see the portraits on this page and judge for yourself).
Both George and Anne ate and drank with enthusiasm, and became extremely large.
George and Anne’s marriage appears to have been a happy one, despite the frequent tragedies. When George died in 1708, Anne mourned him sincerely and deeply.
Queen Anne’s Pregnancies, Miscarriages and Stillbirths
Different sources quote different numbers of miscarriages and stillbirths, as the line between one and the other is not always clear.
What does appear to be the case is that Queen Anne was pregnant 17 or 18 times, with 18 or 19 children, between the ages of 18 and 34.
1. Stillborn daughter, 12th May 1684
2. Mary, 2nd June 1685
3. Anne Sophia, 12th May 1686
4. Miscarriage, January 1687
5. Stillborn son, 22nd October 1687
6. Miscarriage, 16th April 1688
7. William, Duke of Gloucester 24th July 1689
8. Mary, 14th October 1690
9. George, 17th April 1692
10. Stillborn daughter, 23th April 1693
11. Stillborn child, 21st January 1694, about 7 months gestation, and a 3 month foetus (dead twin)
12. Stillborn daughter, 18th February 1696
13. Miscarriage, 20th September 1696
14. Stillborn daughter, 25th March 1697
15. Miscarriage, December 1697
16. Charles, 15th September 1698
17. Stillborn daughter, 25th January 1700
There was also another probable miscarriage in 1688.
Queen Anne’s Children
As can be seen from the list above, Queen Anne gave birth to 6 living children.
Of those 6, the 3 born in the 1690s, Mary, George and Charles, all died within 24 hours of birth.
Mary and Anne Sophia, born in 1685 and 1686, were healthy girls. They both died of smallpox in February 1687, within a few hours of each other.
Prince William, Duke of Gloucester
William, born on 24th July 1689, was the only one of Queen Anne’s children to survive infancy.
A British Medical Journal Article from 1982, For the want of an heir: the obstetrical history of Queen Anne states that he suffered from a mild form of hydrocephalus, also known as water on the brain.
The article is available online at the BMJ free, although you must register to read it.
This is based partly on portraits (see to the right, for example) and partly on medical descriptions of the boy when he was alive.
William had a large head, and had some trouble learning to walk. He was not a particularly healthy child. He was of normal intelligence and development otherwise, though.
At the age of 11, William caught a fever and possibly pneumonia as a result, and died on 30th July 1700.
What was the Cause of Queen Anne’s Tragedy?
There is little doubt that, even by the standards of the worst maternal care and infant mortality, Queen Anne and Prince George were desperately unlucky.
The couple produced only 3 healthy children out of 18 or 19 in total. The fact that none of those three lived to adulthood is not attributable to any obvious cause – the girls were in perfect health until they died of smallpox, which was a common and deadly illness – Queen Mary II, the girls’ maternal aunt, died of it too.
Prince William may have been sickly as a small child, and certainly had an odd head, but neither seemed to kill him; rather, it was the result of a fever and pneumonia, which could and did kill many children at the time.
The 14 or 15 children who were miscarried late, stillborn, or died very shortly after birth does seem to suggest a problem, however. It is a statistically significant number.
There are two explanations often given. The first is that Queen Anne was Rhesus factor negative, and Prince George was rhesus factor positive. If that was the case, then after the first rhesus positive baby, Anne’s body would have been inclined to reject rhesus positive babies, leading to the large number of ante-natal and short-lived deaths.
The BMJ article referred to above suggests that Queen Anne may have suffered from the auto-immune disease disseminated lupus erythematosus. The article refers to the severe gout she is said to have suffered from the age of 33 (rare in pre-menopausal women), the face rashes she had at the same time as the gout attacks, the dropsy (oedema) she suffered from periodically, and the eye problems she had from the age of 5.
Lupus is also strongly associated with increased and increasing difficulty in carrying healthy children to term in pregnancy.
Queen Anne was also massively obese from the age of about 30, which is not helpful for healthy pregnancies either.
Lack of Heirs and the Hanovers
Whatever the reasons, Queen Anne’s childbearing and pregnancies must have been almost unbearable for both her and her husband.
It caused problems for the country, too. After Queen Anne’s death at the age of 49, the House of Stuart was extinct, and the throne passed to the Hanover Kings – George I, George II, George III, George IV, and William IV.
Taken as a group, the Hanoverian royals were dull, boring, not intelligent,badly educated, often illiterate, and prone to wasting absolutely huge sums of money and running up enormous debts.
As the childhood rhyme has it:
Of all the Georges, George the First
Is said by most to be the worst
But then again, by some t’is reckoned,
Even worse was George the Second
But of the three, so I have heard,
The greatest fool was George the third
When George the Fourth to hell descended
Thank the Lord the Georges ended!
There are many different versions of this poem – this one is my Dad’s favourite take on it. The original was, I believe, by Thackeray:
George the First most vile was reckoned;
Viler still was George the Second ;
And what mortal ever heard
Any good of George the Third ?
When George the Fourth to hell descended,
God be praised! the Georges ended!