The Politics of Passion. A Biography
Harper Press, 2012
In 1702, fourteen years after she helped oust her father from his throne and deprived her newborn half-brother of his birthright, Queen Anne inherited the crowns of England and Scotland. Childless, despite seventeen pregnancies that had either ended in failure or produced heartrendingly short-lived offspring, in some respects she was a pitiable figure. This poorly educated and chronically shy invalid seemed ill-equipped to take on the responsibilities of sovereignty, but against all expectation she proved Britain’s most successful Stuart ruler.
Her reign was marked by many triumphs, including Union with Scotland and glorious victories in war against France. Yet even while her great general, the Duke of Marlborough, was performing feats of military genius on the continent, Anne’s relationship with his wife Sarah was becoming ever more rancorous. Political differences partly explained why the Queen’s earlier passionate adoration for this wilful and outspoken woman transformed to loathing, but Sarah precipitated the final rupture with the startling claim that, despite Anne’s ostensibly happy marriage, it was the Queen’s lesbian infatuation with another lady-in-waiting, Abigail Masham, that had destroyed their friendship.
Having lost the will to continue a ruinously expensive war that the Marlboroughs and their political allies favoured, the Queen changed her ministers and embarked upon a peace process that some condemned as dishonourable.
Drawing widely on unpublished sources, Anne Somerset vividly depicts the clashes of personality, party rivalries and backstairs intrigues that aroused such strong feelings at the time, and made politics so contentious. Traditionally depicted as a weak ruler dominated by female favourites and haunted by remorse at having deposed her father, Queen Anne emerges rather as a woman whose great good sense and unshakeable commitment to duty enabled her to overcome private tragedy and painful disabilities, setting her kingdom on the path to greatness.
The Politics of Passion
This is a must-read for all those who love English royal history and, after three centuries of misogyny and misunderstanding, Anne Stuart has found a worthy champion in Anne Somerset.
Out of this impeccably written and researched new biography emerges the portrait of a wise, loving, tolerant woman who held the reins of government in calm, capable hands. Somerset dispels the shadow cast over the last of the Stuarts by her great friend and implacable enemy, Sarah Churchill, First Duchess of Marlborough.
Henceforth we will be able to speak of “Good Queen Anne” without irony or condescension. Vivat Regina!
Gillian Gill - author of ‘We Two: Victoria and Albert, Rulers Partners, Rivals’ and ‘Nightingales: the Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale’.
‘Anne Somerset has written the definitive biography of the first Queen of modern Britain. Here, in brilliant detail, unfolds the passionate highs and tragic lows of a woman who fought to place her own mark in history. Queen Anne is a triumph of research and empathy’.
Amanda Foreman - author of ‘Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire’
and ‘A World on Fire’.
‘One of the most enjoyable biographies I’ve read in the past year, elegantly written and with an encyclopaedic grasp of the period. I loved every page of it. Somerset guides us expertly and effortlessly through the labyrinthine party politics of the reign ....Brings [the characters] to life with flair and scholarship’. Adrian Tinniswood Literary Review
‘In this admirably objective study, [Somerset] sets out to rescue Anne’s unfortunate reputation from her critics ....and to restate the case for this shy and sickly ruler as one of our most unexpectedly effective monarchs. It is in apprising Anne’s skills as a monarch that Somerset performs her most valuable repairs to our damaged portrait of the queen. It has taken immense patience and skill to create a new and subtler image of the last of the Stuart monarchs. Anne Somerset has done a real service both to us and to her namesake‘. Miranda Seymour, Sunday Times
‘While the last of the Stuarts has been judged as a weak, uninteresting ruler at the mercy of her favourites, Somerset’s wonderfully pacy and absorbing read presents us with a different picture. It’s a story dominated by the friendship of two women, full of behind-the-scenes intrigue including threats of blackmail and royal lesbianism’. John Harding, Daily Mail
‘Anne’s surprisingly successful and significant reign is widely overlooked, but this 550-page biography sets the record straight and makes for fascinating and rewarding reading. History may have been unkind to her but in this excellent biography Anne’s reputation is reclaimed’. Aline Reed, Sunday Express
‘One of the English monarchs most neglected by historians, Queen Anne receives judicious treatment in this sympathetic and engaging biography. Somerset brings Anne’s anxious and dutiful character to life with delicacy’. Christopher Silvester, Daily Express
‘[A] fine, quietly scholarly narrative, [with] a human interest core to the story, which has all the horrid, guilty fascinating of modern accounts of a celebrity marriage breakup .... If you want a coherent, engrossing account of the reign of Anne, and one that will leave you with a better understanding of the monarch and the woman, this is the book for you’. Daniel Szechi, BBC History Magazine
‘The fullest, best and most sympathetic account of poor old Anne yet written’. Lucy Worsley, Evening Standard
‘Anne Somerset, always such a sympathetic historian, tells Anne’s story movingly. Without overstating the case, she concludes that the Queen was both good and wise ....There is so much rich material in this book’. Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph
‘This magisterial new biography paints a fascinating picture of an often-overlooked monarch who, against considerable odds, emerged as the most successful ruler of the Stuart dynasty ....Incisive and compelling’. Martin Williams, Country Life
‘This well researched and readable book .... ably documents all the twists and turns of ....courtly and ministerial intrigues’. Stella Tillyard, Standpoint
‘Anne Somerset has written what must be the definitive modern account of this often-overlooked monarch, drawing on a huge range of sources. This is a triumph of scholarship: it is a detailed and sympathetic account that can only serve to bring this quietly courageous, compassionate and dutiful woman more to the fore. It’s hard to see how this could be bettered’. Trevor Heaton, Eastern Daily Press
‘The short reign of Queen Anne - a peevish, insecure woman plagued by health problems, receives overdue attention in Somerset’s scintillating history which recreates the feuds and betrayals of her court’. Benjamin Evans, Sunday Telegraph
‘It has been a rich year for royal biography... Anne Somerset’s Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion takes a monarch generally perceived as much less exciting than her Stuart forebears and, with a great deal of literary panache, demonstrates that something like the reverse was true. Queen Anne emerges as intelligent and sympathetic despite the cruelty of her gynaecological history’. Antonia Fraser, Sunday Telegraph Books of the Year 2012