Queen Anne’s Tragedy: 18 Pregnancies, no Children & Hanover Kings

By , June 21, 2010 9:18 am



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.

Queen Anne in 1705

Queen Anne in 1705, aged 40

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.

Queen Mary II, Queen Anne's older sister

Queen Mary II, Queen Anne's older sister

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.

George, Prince of Denmark, Queen Anne's husband

George, Prince of Denmark, Queen Anne's husband

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

Queen Anne aged 18, at the time of her marriage to Prince George of Denmark

Queen Anne aged 18, at the time of her marriage to Prince George of Denmark

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)

Queen Anne in 1700, aged 35

Queen Anne in 1700, aged 35

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

Prince William, Duke of Gloucester: Queen Anne's longest-lived child

Prince William, Duke of Gloucester: Queen Anne's longest-lived child

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.

 Queen Anne and her son, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester

Queen Anne and her son, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester

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!

23 Responses to “Queen Anne’s Tragedy: 18 Pregnancies, no Children & Hanover Kings”

  1. [...] 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 … View full post on lutheran – Google Blog Search [...]

  2. Joanna says:

    Being Rh (rhesus) negative myself, I doubt the Rh factor was the culprit in Anne’s obstetric tragedies. Without the antidote given today immediately after each delivery (and in extreme cases, during the pregnancy) when the mother is Rh negative and the father positive, the first pregnancy would’ve resulted in a live birth, possibly the second, but none after that.

    More likely a then-unknown chronic, vaginal infection like clamidia, an STD transmitted to Anne by George from sowing wild oats before the marriage. This would account for so many stillbirths and miscarriages among the live births. Given her weight, diabetes could also have been a factor.

    How sad for her no matter the cause.

    • Blog author says:

      I’m quite possibly wrong, but wouldn’t that only apply if the father was rh + / rh +? That way all the babies would also be positive, and the problems you talk about would have happened.

      But if the father had one gene which was positive, and one which was negative, half the babies (statistically) would have been negative, and Anne’s body would not have rejected them?

      • Joanna says:

        Rh factor applies to blood type, positive or negative. A person is either one or the other. No Only babies whose mothers have a negative blood type (A-, B-, AB- or O-) and whose fathers have a positive blood type are at risk. The other way around (mom +, dad -), no problem.

  3. hels says:

    I love this era :)

    “George was blond-haired, blue-eyed, and considered fairly good-looking. He was also monumentally dull, and not over-blessed with brains.” That may well have been true or it may have been a language problem. But Anne, who was a giggly virgin and didn’t know the first thing about men, suddenly adored married life. Apparently she and George couldn’t get enough of each other and courtiers were constantly finding them in bed instead of doing their royal duties.

    There is a painting of Anne in later life, large and supported on a small carriage pulled by horses. The students always think it is hilarious that she was too big to walk and too heavy to carry in a sedan chair. But if any of us had 18 pregnancies, we would all be heavy and uncomfortable. Her uterus must have looked like blancmange.

    • Blog author says:

      Yes, they seem to have been very keen on each other.

      I dread to think what 18 pregnancies would do to any woman’s body! I’ve only had one child, and one pregnancy is something of a strain on its own.

      • Jennie says:

        There are some Amish ladies, who I knew that had 17 – 20 kids. The one lost 3. Different set of problems though. They all are heavy set now, but not drastically. Just wanted to add this.

  4. [...] Read more: Queen Anne’s Tragedy: 18 Pregnancies, and no live Children [...]

  5. Lauren says:

    It always amazes me to think what royals put their bodies through for an heir. They had no choice guess, however it would have made sense after a still born and miscarriage to stop completely. Regardless of an heir, the child would have turned out with some deficiency or such.

    • Blog author says:

      I agree – but producing an heir was one of the most important royal duties throughout history, as it was then seen.

  6. [...] Queen Anne's Tragedy: 18 Pregnancies, no Children & Hanover Kings … [...]

  7. [...] Queen Anne’s Tragedy: 18 Pregnancies, no Children & Hanover Kings | History and traditions… [...]

  8. shan digs says:

    Is it just me, or does this article say that many of these births occurred before Queen Anne was married? “When she was 18 years old, in July 1693, Anne married her second cousin, Prince George of Denmark.” and later “1. Stillborn daughter, 12th May 1684.. etc”

    • Blog author says:

      Not just you, no. I’d foolishly written “1693″ instead of the correct “1683″. I’ve now changed it, thanks for pointing it out.

  9. High Pressure says:

    i think the married life is the most special time where a man and woman shares each others blessings and commitment;`:

  10. stuart halliday says:

    I’m inclined to think this must have had something to do with a venereal infection, either passed from Prince George to his wife or possibly inherited by Anne from her father, James II. VD was endemic in the 17th century, especially amongst the upper echelons of society. James II also had a poor record of child survival in terms of both his wives – Anne Hyde had 6 children out of 8 die in infancy, Mary of Modena 5 out of 7. This (4 survivals out of 15 pregnancies) was almost as bad as Anne’s record (1 out of 18). Too much of a coincidence, I think.

  11. Tonya says:

    Enjoyed reading this very much. Having been someone in search of their own family history I can tell you that I have discovered just within my own direct family members a tendancy to have upper respiratory problems. And they seem to hit every generation. Problems with conception,still births,miscarriages,and delivery have all been issues amongst the women of child bearing years in my family. And there was no clamidia in any of those cases. Most of us in my family are very small framed petite women. I can tell you from experience that I can look at a photo of food and gain weight practically. And diabetes does run in the family, and we are of Scots/Irish descent. My thoughts on the Rh thing is that it would more than likely affect every person differently. Reading the article almost felt like reading about my own family. Thank you very much.

  12. Julie says:

    Most likely she had SLE which caused the complications of her pregnancies. Queen Anne according to a book I’m reading was described to have had red spots on her face and body,joint pains, swelling and she could hardly walk. These symptoms are indicative of lupus and the fact that she lost most of her babies by miscarriage I tend to believe that it was lupus and it’s complications that caused the miscarriages and stillborn births. Lup

  13. Janet says:

    This was very interesting to me as I am decended from James 11. In our family there have been a lot of still births,infant deaths befor 1 year and failure to concieve at all. I do not know what the causes were. I can tell you that we are not petite women, we are tall. I wonder what the childbirth history of other decendant famalies are? It would be an interesting genetic study for someone. I myself have had no problems but a sister and an aunt and a great aunt could not have children and I know there were still births.

  14. Holly says:

    absolutely fascinating. Thank you very much for the interesting information. I simply can not imagine her emotional pain, after 5 or 6, one would have to be terrified to bear another child.

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