‘The Favourite’ is an unconventional period comedy set in early 18th century England. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, it hits our British screens on 1st January 2019. The film tells the story of Queen Anne of Great Britain and Ireland and two women in her court, the beautiful and charismatic Sarah Churchill and her cousin Abigail Masham, who both compete for her attention and affection. An eccentric, over-weight, gout-ridden Queen Anne is played by Olivia Colman who is getting used to royalty as she also takes the role of another English Queen, this time Elizabeth II in series three of The Crown.
Blue Badge Tourist Guides know a lot about Queen Anne as they regularly guide in places around London with links to this lesser-known English monarch. Here are some of those places with stories about Queen Anne and her more famous favourite, Sarah Churchill.
St James’s Palace
This is the birthplace of Princess Anne on 6th February 1665. She was the second daughter of the Duke of York who would go on to become King James II. She also married her husband Prince George of Denmark in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace. However, their attempts to create a family were met with only tragedy as poor Anne had 17 unsuccessful pregnancies, seven of which ended in miscarriages. Only one child, a son, survived up to the age of 11. It was because of this lack of a surviving heir that four King Georges from the German Hanoverian line subsequently ruled Britain until 1830.
Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill maintained an intimate relationship over many years, keeping up a correspondence in which they gave each other pet names to escape royal protocol: Sarah was Mrs. Freeman and Queen Anne was Mrs. Morley. Kensington Palace bore witness to many stages of this relationship which was somewhat tempestuous especially given Sarah’s domineering nature. The love letters lead many to believe this was a lesbian relationship. However, Anne could stand Sarah’s manipulations no more and finally on Good Friday 1710, the two women met for the last time in the Queen’s Closet when Sarah was banished from the palace. Despite pleading for their old relationship to be maintained, the Queen replied, “You may put it in writing.” An exhibition of costumes from ‘The Favourite’ will be on display at Kensington Palace from 14th December to 8th February 2019.
Now the home of the Commonwealth Secretariat, this red brick and white stone building in between The Mall and Pall Mall and opposite St James’s Palace was once the grand London home of Sarah Churchill. Sarah became the Duchess of Marlborough after Queen Anne knighted her husband, John Churchill and it was she who secured a lease of the site on crown land from the queen. She even took over supervision of the building’s completion herself after falling out with Sir Christopher Wren, the designer. Sarah died at Marlborough House in 1744 outliving her husband, Queen Anne and the other favourite, Abigail Masham.
Saint Paul’s Cathedral
Outside Saint Paul’s Cathedral, there is a statue of Queen Anne who was the reigning monarch when Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece was officially completed in 1711. She had been a great supporter of Wren who suffered constant trials and tribulations throughout the 36 years it took to build the cathedral. The position of the statue (now a copy of the original that had weathered badly) was used by the Queen’s distractors who made fun of her love of brandy:
Brandy Nan, Brandy Nan, you’re left in the lurch,
Your face to the gin-shop, your back to the church
Queen Anne of Great Britain & Ireland was crowned at Westminster Abbey on St George’s Day 1702 aged 37. She did not enjoy good health and in later life, the terrible gout she suffered made it almost impossible to walk. She was carried everywhere by sedan chair- even inside the palace. Anne died at Kensington Palace in 1714, but her body was so swollen with dropsy that she had to be interred in a vast square-shaped coffin inside the royal vault in the Abbey. She died without signing a will – perhaps her last symbol of defiance against the people who tried to control her.
Let a Blue Badge Tourist Guide take you on a Royal London Tour for a rich history full of stories of monarchs before and after the colourful and intriguing 12-year reign of Queen Anne of Great Britain & Ireland.