Queen Anne Part Three
Princess Anne’s relationship with Sarah Jennings, the future Duchess of Marlborough, would last into her middle age.
Sarah, a year younger than Anne’s fifteen year-old stepmother, was the daughter of a landed gentleman and the younger sister of Frances Jennings, a maid of honour, appointed to serve Anne’s mother.
At the age of twelve, Sarah, who would play such a crucial role in Anne, the Cinderella princess’s life, was appointed as one of her attendants. Years later Sara wrote: We had used to play together when she was a child and she even then expressed a particular fondness for me. This inclination increased with our years. I was often at Court and the Princess always distinguished me by the pleasure she took to honour me, preferably to others, with her conversation and confidence. In all her parties for amusement, I was sure by her choice to be one.
Kneller’s portrait of the teenage Sarah reveals a pretty girl with an oval face, broad forehead, fair hair and confident blue eyes. Yet no portrait could reveal her vivacity and charm.
It is not surprising that the motherless, Cinderella princess living in the shadow of her older, cleverer sister, Mary, and the six daughters of her governess, Lady Frances Villiers, became deeply attached to Sarah.
Anne was pretty with plump features, red-brown hair and her mother’s elegant hands, of which she was very proud. However, she was shy, easily ignored and all too aware of her short-comings – her poor education did nothing to boost her confidence. As Sarah said years later: Your Majesty has had the misfortune to be misinformed in general things even from twelve years old.
Undoubtedly, there was no reason to provide Anne and her sister with a better education because it was likely that the Queen would provide an heir to the throne. In Anne’s day few women could read and write – perhaps as few as one in a hundred. For Anne it is probable that little more than dancing, drawing, French and music were required to prepare her for life at court. Her general education was neglected but not her intensive religious education which founded her life long belief in the teachings of the Anglican faith.
Anne and Mary lived apart from the court at Whitehall and their indulgent Roman Catholic father and step-mother. Expected to be virtuous, the sisters could not have been totally unaware of the licentiousness of their uncle’s court and that their uncle, the king, and her father had acknowledged illegitimate children. Indeed, their governess, Lady Frances Villiers, wife of Colonel Villiers, the nephew of the ill-fated Duke of Buckingham, a favourite of James I and his son, Charles I, was the daughter of the king’s notorious mistress, Barbara Castlemaine.
Lax though King Charles II’s morals were he took some interest in Anne, who played the guitar better than many professional musicians. She also had a pleasing voice and the king ordered the actress, Mrs Barry, to give Anne and Mary elocution lessons. These stood Anne in good stead when, as Queen, she addressed Parliament and no doubt later on when she and Mary took part in some of the plays popular at Court.
However, ‘Cinderella’ and Mary grew up in the company of clerics and women, secluded from Whitehall with little to entertain them. One can imagine the boring conversations, stifling closets (small rooms) and endless card games. Sarah declared: I wished myself out of Court as much as I had desired to come into it before I knew what it was.
In spite of the boredom and whatever storms lay ahead, Anne dearly loved her sister. So much so that when Mary married her Dutch cousin, William of Orange, in 1677 and Anne lay sick of smallpox, her father, who visited her every day, ordered that she should not be told her sister had departed for the Continent. The charade went as far as messages purported to be from Mary asking about her health being delivered to Anne.
While Anne’s tutor fretted in case Anne’s fanatical Roman Catholic nurse influenced her while Anne was ill, as soon as she recovered, Anne had to cope with the death of her governess. Fortunately, she still had Sarah’s companionship and enjoyed the vast grounds of Richmond Palace, leased by the king for both his nieces. However, this tranquillity would soon be disturbed by the so called ‘Popish Plot’. And it is not unreasonable to suppose that her mind would be occupied with thoughts of who she would marry.
Tangled Hearts set in Queen Anne’s England received five star reviews and is available now.