Listen to a story from Queen Anne's court...
Creator: Jasmine Brady, Volunteer Guide, Bridging Binaries LGBTQ+ Tours
Hello, I’m Jasmine and I am a volunteer tour guide for the Bridging Binaries LGBTQ+ tours at the Fitzwilliam Museum.
This is a dish depicting Queen Anne. It would have been part of a dinner service, and you can see the other dishes around it depicting other members of the Stuart family. Anne was the last monarch of the Stuart family and lived from 1665 to 1714. Her coronation was in 1702, and under her reign England and Scotland unified as Great Britain making Anne the first Queen of Great Britain and Ireland in 1707.
Anne was a popular monarch, but her relationships were tempestuous. Perhaps her most famous lover was Sarah Churchill, a fellow aristocrat Anne had known since childhood. When Anne was crowned she made Sarah a Duchess and employed her as Lady of the Bedchamber and Keeper of the Privy Purse, meaning she had unrestricted access to the Queen as well as full control over her finances.
Sarah was known for being sometimes brutally honest with the Queen which eventually led to the breakdown of their relationship as Sarah grew bolder with her criticisms and political ambition. Sarah had introduced her poor cousin, Abigail Masham, to the Queen, hoping for her to find employment in the palace. Anne soon began to favour Abigail as she was far kinder and more compassionate than Sarah.
As Anne and Abigail grew closer, Sarah became increasingly jealous and angry. She sponsored the publication of a lewd poem insinuating that Anne and Abigail were in a sexual relationship. Some of it read “When as Queen Anne of great renown Great Britain’s sceptre swayed, Besides the Church she dearly loved a dirty chambermaid”.
Sarah wrote to Anne threatening her with its publication and asking her to dismiss Abigail, citing her ‘passion for a woman’ and ‘no inclination for any but one’s own sex’ as things her public would be shocked to hear about. Instead, Anne dismissed Sarah and banished her from the palace. In retaliation, Sarah stole all of the brass locks from the doors of her residence, alongside a considerable sum of money from the Privy Purse.
Abigail replaced Sarah as Lady of the Bedchamber and Keeper of the Privy Purse up until Anne’s death. Sarah continued to criticise the Queen long after she had died, contributing to the misconception that she was an unpopular monarch at the time she lived. It was only in the 20th Century that historians began to examine more neutral accounts of her reign. Perhaps this story illustrates the importance and influence of personal relationships and the dangers of romantic jealousy.