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26 Aug 2021

Mary and Anne – powerful Stuart queens

Written by Debbie Reid, Visitor Services Manager at Culloden
Left: Queen Mary II by Jan Verkolje, oil on canvas, circa 1688. Right: Queen Anne, studio of John Closterman, oil on canvas, circa 1702, based on a work of circa 1702. Both © National Portrait Gallery
When we think about Jacobite history, we too often focus on the male line of the Stuarts. Here we find out about the women of the family, who ruled Britain and made some key moves in history.

Mary and Anne were the two surviving daughters of James VII & II and his first wife Anne Hyde. While their father followed Catholicism, both Mary and Anne were raised as Protestants at the request of their uncle, Charles II.

James would eventually be deposed in 1688 after the birth of a male heir, also named James. In a move that became known as the Glorious Revolution of 1688–89, Mary and her husband, William of Orange, were asked to take the thrones by the English Parliament, by way of the Declaration of Rights in February 1689. In December of 1689 the Declaration would be formally enacted, and become one of the most important document in English history: the Bill of Rights. This bill limited the powers of the monarch and set about the principles of frequent parliament, free elections and freedom of speech within parliament. The main principles of the act are still in force today, and the Bill of Rights was used as a model for the United States Bill of Rights of 1789, and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

However, in Scotland it was more complicated. Since James had fled London for France, the English Parliament were able to claim this as abdication. Scotland couldn’t do the same, and so the Convention of the Estates assembled, to discuss what should be done. They decided to also offer Mary and William the throne, on the grounds of the Claim of Right (the Scottish equivalent to the Declaration of Rights) in April 1689.

A portrait, oil on canvas, of Queen Mary II
Queen Mary II: by Jan Verkolje, oil on canvas, circa 1688 (NPG 606) © National Portrait Gallery, London

Though both the English Parliament and the Convention of the Estates of Scotland offered Mary and William the throne as joint monarchs, there were people across England, Ireland and Scotland that violently disagreed with the move. Known as Jacobites, they supported – and fought for – the restoration of the House of Stuart to the throne (the name ‘Jacobite’ is derived from the Latin for James, ‘Jacobus’, in reference to the deposed king James VII & II). Several attempts were made to restore the Stuarts to the throne. There were Jacobite risings from 1689 onward; the last ended in 1746, with the bloody defeat of Prince Charles Edward Stuart on Culloden Moor.

After just five years on the throne, Mary contracted smallpox in 1694, aged 32. She sent away anyone who had not already had the disease, and even turned away her sister Anne (who was pregnant at the time) because she did not want her to risk becoming infected. Mary died in December of the same year and left her husband William to reign on his own. With no children and heirs, when William passed away in 1702 it was Anne who succeeded to the throne.

A portrait of Queen Anne, oil on canvas, which shows her in a white and gold dress holding a gold orb and sceptre.
Queen Anne: studio of John Closterman, oil on canvas, circa 1702, based on a work of circa 1702 (NPG 215) © National Portrait Gallery, London

Anne, like Mary and William, was a Protestant, and also like Mary and William she had no living heir. Anne had at least 17 pregnancies but miscarried or gave birth to stillborn children at least 12 times. Her sole surviving child died at the age of 11 in 1700, which left a crisis in terms of who would succeed the throne after her. Thus, in 1701 the Act of Settlement was passed which stated that Catholics were not eligible to take the throne, and the line of succession would pass to the House of Hanover if no other heirs were produced.

However, the Act of Settlement only applied to England and Ireland – not Scotland. Anne declared that it was necessary to finalise a union between the three nations, and talks began in 1702, the year Anne took the throne. In 1707, after much work and back-and-forth, the nations were finally unified into the single kingdom called Great Britain.

During the time of Queen Anne’s reign, England captured Gibraltar, and the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 ensured the England had a presence on the Spanish mainland. She died in August 1714, following a long string of illnesses. The throne passed to the House of Hanover, skipping over her brother James.

Mary and Anne are oft-forgotten Stuarts but they proved to be powerful members of the family. The Acts they set about during their reigns changed the history of Britain and the path it would follow for years to come.

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