After I read Anne Somerset’s full-length biography on Queen Anne, Britain’s last Stuart monarch, it dawned on me that I had not only gained a greater understanding of Anne’s life and reign, but that I had developed a deeper level of respect for her too. As I kept saying whilst reading this book: “Queen Anne is an absolute bae!” – (Ok, slightly cringy I know! Please don’t judge me)!
Admittedly, before I read this book my knowledge surrounding Queen Anne was relatively limited. To make matters worse, what I associated with Queen Anne was not particularly glorifying or endearing, (which is unfortunately common amongst most people I think)…
I mean let’s face it, Anne has gone down in history as a rather dull character! To start with Anne did not appear regal, for her ill health and obesity could have rivalled that of Henry VIII’s. What’s more, her lack of education and social confidence, meant that she was woefully unprepared for her interactive and sociable role as Queen. Even Anne’s friends declared that her attempts at inspiring interesting conversation was simply dire! In other words, poor Anne just did not possess the required levels of wit, charisma and temperament found amongst other female monarchs, notably Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria.
Or did she?
Anne Somerset set out to prove exactly that! Her biography of this much maligned queen is jam-packed with scandalous tales, family feuds, political intrigue, emotional trauma and momentous transformations. There was no doubt that Somerset’s research into her subject was extensive, and she was able to bring the character of Anne and her reign vividly to life. This was helped by the author’s regular feature of contemporary correspondence, alongside her refreshing willingness to highlight Anne’s flaws. To Anne Somerset, this last Stuart monarch deserves to be remembered. She argues that not only was Anne successful in governing her kingdom, but it was under Anne’s rule that Britain emerged into the superpower that we recognise today. Furthermore, Somerset unveils a monarch who not only influenced tremendous change, but was also a relatable woman whose life story was anything but boring!
The human aspect of Queen Anne’s story is highlighted throughout Somerset’s work. Within this book, readers will encounter a woman who was incredibly trusting, committed, ambitious, forward-thinking and principled. Anne possessed many admirable qualities, included her firm commitment to her friends during times of trouble, and her unwavering stubbornness surrounding religious issues and constitutional monarchy. On the other hand, the traumatising loss of her eighteen children drags the reader into an overwhelming sense of sympathy and sadness. They emphasise with a woman who dreams of bearing a child, but is cruelly denied this wish. What’s more, the lifetime of agonising pain and illness endured by Queen Anne, only increases the feelings of appreciation experienced amongst Somerset’s readers. This will only be encouraged after they learn that despite Anne’s physical pain, she remained dedicated to royal duty by attending public ceremonies and supervising numerous cabinet meetings long into the night.
Not only does the book delve into Anne’s private life, but it also focuses on how the ever-changing political landscape impacted upon her reign. If political history floats your boat, then you will enjoy this book immensely. Somerset’s description of political developments did prove to be a little challenging for me at times.There were just so many characters involved and the book tended to become deeply immersed into the 18th century’s political world, (a little daunting for a novice like me!)… Political history is certainly not my strong point, yet I will say that it is a testament to Somerset’s writing style, that she managed to keep me entertained and engaged throughout despite this setback.
All in all, I would recommend this book to anybody who has an interest in British history, female history, early-modern history, or any element of history for that matter! This book is a rare gem that dwells on an underrated figure in British history, and you will be pleasantly surprised at what you’ll discover. Within the pages of this book, you will not only encounter a fascinating female character, but will also catch a glimpse into the diminishing Stuart world, and the dawn of the modern era.
Due to my ignorance, my perception of Queen Anne was initially critical and dismissive. Yet Anne Somerset succeeded in opening my eyes and completely transforming my view on this fascinating ruler, whose legacy undoubtedly deserves to be elevated to that of Elizabeth I’s and Queen Victoria’s. My wish is that after more people have read this book, they too will come to the same conclusion and endeavour to make that a reality.
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AMAZON UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Queen-Anne-Politics-Passion-Somerset/dp/0007203764/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1512211229&sr=8-1&keywords=queen+anne
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