Last Friday, the 1 August, we observed the 300th anniversary of the death of Queen Anne, the end of the Stuart dynasty and the beginning of the Georgian/Hanoverian period. 1714 was a major year in British and European history. In recent days, I have been pleasantly surprised at the number of people wanting to learn more about this tragic, yet successful, queen.
I met playwright and actress Kate Glover last Thursday right before we were on Radio 4’s ‘Woman’s Hour’ with Jenni Murray. In our conversation, we discussed Queen Anne – the last of the Stuarts – who is often overlooked by most people today. I had a wonderful experience that morning, and the huge amount of feedback I’ve received since has been really kind. (Especially to you, my fans – I really was touched by some of your supportive comments, especially as it was my first time on worldwide radio! Around or over 3 million people heard it – no pressure, eh?).
Last night, I went to see the penultimate performance of Glover’s play, ‘Queen Anne’, at the Curtains Up Pub & Barons Court Theatre in Barons Court, London. The theatre, below the pub, was small, intimate, and a little too hot at times. I was tickled to find that many of the attendees had heard about the play on ‘Woman’s Hour’ and had really enjoyed the segment! I met several very nice people, and at intermission, they asked me about the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough (so important in Anne’s life) and more – and it was a pleasure to converse about such things.
From the flyer – Three hundred years after the death of Queen Anne in 1714, a new play by Kate Glover highlights the intrigue, plots and squabbles in a tantalisingly little known reign.
Directed by Kenneth Michaels, Glover’s play Queen Anne is the latest production by Historia Theatre Company. It opened in early July at the Barons Court Theatre.
When Queen Anne, shy, gout-ridden and overweight, ascends the throne in 1702, the Jacobites, proto-terrorists, will stop at nothing to kill her and put her half-brother, the Roman Catholic James Stuart, on the throne. James just happens to be supported by the hugely powerful Louis XIV of France. Court favourites vie for influence with the Queen. Coalition politics spark off intense rivalries between Whig and Tory politicians. With her husband and children all dead, how will the Queen cope?
The plot centres on Anne’s relationship with Sarah Churchill (nee Jennings). Theirs was a strong relationship, though it was one in which Sarah strongly manipulated the princess, and later queen.
Politics were an important feature of the tale – incorporating the rumours of the ‘Warming-pan baby’ (James Francis Edward Stuart, lesbianism, and more from 1688-1714. It portrayed well Anne’s state of mind during her betrayal of her father in favour of her Protestant brother-in-law, William III, and how Sarah coaxed her into doing things she was reluctant to do.
“My dear Mrs Freeman”
Mrs Freeman was, of course, the pseudonym adopted by Sarah Churchill in her letters and in person with Anne. The latter used “Mrs Morley” and the women’s husbands were referred to as “Mr Freeman” (Lord Churchill) and “Mr Morley” (Prince George of Denmark). Other topics, such as Anne’s seventeen or eighteen pregnancies – most of which resulted in stillbirths, miscarriages, or did not not survive infancy. Her only child to survive infancy was William Henry, Duke of Gloucester, though he tragically died following his eleventh birthday.
The play was performed by an excellent cast who really brought Anne’s inner circle to life. Also, Sophia, Electress of Hanover plays a major role in the story – as she, along with Jonathan Swift, narrate the tale. Indeed, the actress playing Sarah nearly stole the show – as her character was so abominably cruel at times, naming the Queen “stupid” and speaking to her in a very disrespectful manner. Sarah’s jealousy is aroused to threatening levels when Anne begins to prefer the sweet Abigail Masham instead. Following years of domination under Sarah Churchill and finally having enough of her bullying, Anne rightly decides to sever ties with her once best friend.
The whole thing was done with such sensitivity to Anne’s story, that I was really pleased – usually she is labelled as dull and stupid, but she was really just a very shy, stubborn person – someone, I think, had always admired the older, beautiful Sarah but who finally found the strength within to realise she deserved much better.
Tonight, at 7:30 pm, is the last performance. I don’t know if there are any seats left, and I’m sorry the play is ending its run, but if you do get a chance to see this – I very much recommend it.