Queen Anne is the topic of this episode of The Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast with Heather Rose Jones. The social and historic context of Queen Anne of England and the basis for the rumors of lesbianism associated with her court.
In this episode we talk about
- A brief historic timeline
- Passionate friendships and libertine sex in Restoration England
- Some dramatis personae:
- Princess/Queen Anne
- Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough
- Abigail Hill Masham
- Delariviere Manley
- English politics during the reign of Queen Anne
- Anne and Sarah’s break-up
- Where the lesbian accusations came from
- Were they or weren’t they?
- Links mentioned in the text:
- LHMP publications used in this research
- Andreadis, Harriette. 2001.Sappho in Early Modern England: Female Same-Sex Literary Erotics, 1550-1714.University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226020099
- Crawford, Julie. 2009. “Women’s Secretaries” in Queer Renaissance Historiography, Vin Nardizzi, Stephen Guy-Bray & Will Stockton, eds. Ashgate, Burlington VT. ISBN 978-0-7546-7608-9
- Donoghue, Emma. 1995.Passions Between Women: British Lesbian Culture 1668-1801. Harper Perennial, New York. ISBN 0-06-017261-4
- Lanser, Susan S. 2014.The Sexuality of History: Modernity and the Sapphic, 1565-1830. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN 978-0-226-18773-0
- Traub, Valerie. 2010. “’Friendship So Curst’:Amor Impossibilis, the Homoerotic Lament and the Nature of Lesbian Desire” in Lesbian Dames: Sapphism in the Long Eighteenth Century. Beynon, John C. & Caroline Gonda eds. Ashgate, Farnham. ISBN 978-0-7546-7335-4
- Other research sources
- Wikipedia: Anne, Queen of Great Britain
- Potts, Cherry – A blog series about the women in Queen Anne’s life.
- This topic is discussed in one or more entries of the Lesbian Historic Motif Project here:
- A transcript of this podcast is available here.
Listen to this podcast here
Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online
Links to Heather Online
please note this transcript has not been edited and is automatically generated meaning certain words will be incorrect
This is Heather Rose Jones with the lesbian historic motif podcast this weekly podcast looks at lesbian themes in history and literature and historic research into gender and sexuality we talk about current historical fiction with queer female characters including fantastic versions of the past and have interviews with authors who write those stories and in months when we have a fifth show we’re proud to present new original lesbian historical fiction for your enjoyment inspired by the release of the movie the favorite I decided to do this month sa on its subject Queen Anne her circle of female favorites especially Sarah Churchill Duchess of Marlborough and Abigail Mansion and the rumors of lesbianism that circled around them originally I was going to include a review of the movie as part of this episode but the essay ran long enough that I’m saving the review for later Queen and of England reigned for a bare dozen years at the very beginning of the 18th century marking the end of the Stuart dynasty and participating in the complex wrangling over the intersection of politics and religion that had disrupted much of the later 17th century and would continue in the unsuccessful claims of the Catholic branch of the Stuart’s well into the mid 18th century all this has only the barest relevance to the topic of today’s essay but it may help to set the stage a little and lay out the major players and timelines Anne was the younger daughter of King James ii of england who had succeeded his dashing brother king charles ii charles had restored the monarchy to england after the English Civil War and the lable restoration with all its life sánchez associations covers the period of Anne’s birth and childhood though Charles fathered over a dozen children by his various mistresses he left no legitimate children to inherit the throne Charles had treated religious adherents as something of a political strategy flirting with Catholicism when it might secure French support but bowing to Parliament’s pressure to support the Anglican Church but his brother James had converted to Catholicism in midlife which didn’t sit well with the English establishment which was very violent ly anti-catholic at a time when religious and political loyalties could not be entirely separated James’s Catholicism and support for the inclusion of Catholics and government led to his ouster only three years after his coronation in what was called the Glorious Revolution the idea of deposing monarchs was still a touchy subject after the execution of Charles and James’s father King Charles the first earlier in the century the Glorious Revolution was led by James’s Dutch son-in-law William of Orange resulting in the co rule of William and Mary the degree to which William came down on the anti-catholic side still leaves traces today in how both the name and color orange is associated with anti-catholic political groups in Northern Ireland to appease the anti-catholic elements in parliament king charles ii had required that James’s two surviving children from his first marriage Mary and Anne be raised in the Church of England while allowing the children James had from his second marriage to be raised Catholic religion would complicate the succession in various ways William and Mary had reigned jointly as equal monarchs an unusual approach given that typically the Monarchs spouse would not have any independent claim to the throne when Queen Mary died childless William continued reigning but with the stipulation that if he remarried his children from that marriage would come after Anne’s children in the succession this left Ann and her descendants as the next in line but by 1700 Anne had gone through 17 pregnancies that ended in seven miscarriages seven still births or deaths within a day or so of birth and two early deaths from smallpox the only child who lived beyond his first couple of years had just died at age 11 the 18th century was not a kind time to be a monarch trying to produce heirs anat Mary were the only survivors of their mother’s eight pregnancies Mary did not bring any pregnancies to term faced with the prospect of the next prospective heirs being Catholic an Act of Parliament stipulated that after Anne the succession would pass to her cousin Sophia of Hanover and Sophia’s Protestant descendants thus the sequence of King George’s a year later at Williams death Anne came to the throne she just barely missed having to deal with the continuing claims by her father James who had died the year before her half-brother James steward known later as the Old Pretender was supported by several Catholic Monarchs on the continent but saved most of his active opposition until after Anne’s death in 1714 so that’s the political and family background of Anne’s life and reign so why are we talking about her in a lesbian theme podcast you’ll often hear about the phenomenon of romantic friendship in the context of the Victorian era the later 19th century the term describes a social context where women were expected to have passionate same-sex friendships that were expressed in language and behaviors similar to that expected of male-female romantic couples in fact female parrots could be even more intense in the expression of their emotional bond than was considered proper between heterosexual couples but there have been regular cycles throughout history of a public culture of passionate friendships between women one of those cycles occurred in the second half of the 17th century it can be seen expressed in the Society of friendship of Katherine Phillips and the poems she addressed to her closest female friends or the somewhat more erotic poetry of Aphra Behn it can be seen in the precio cite a movement brought from the parrot salons and associated with Queen Henrietta Maria the wife of Charles the first that elevated women’s platonic friendships over marriage and heterosexual lust and it can be seen in the female authors toying with the idea of women only societies such as in Margaret Cavendish’s the convent of pleasure or della Riviere Manley’s the New Atlantis though not so much in a utopian sense in the latter work as a satirical one we’ll come back to the New Atlantis in a little bit especially among the aristocracy and literati the idea of passionate attachments between women was normalized so when a young Princess Mary Anne’s sister wrote the following to courtier Francis Apsley it was not considered outside acceptable forms of expression I love you with a flame more lasting than the Vestals fire thou art my life my soul by all that heaven can give deaths life with you without you death to live what can I say to persuade you that I love you with more zeal than any lover can I love you with a love that narrow was known by man I have for you excess of friendship more of love that any woman can for woman and more love than even the constant test lover had for his mistress you are loved more than can be expressed by your obedient wife very affectionate friend humble servant to kiss the ground where once you go the young princess Ann had passionate correspondences with several older female friends including a rivalry with her sister / Francis absolutely affection there’s some indication that those around her felt that some of those attachments were more intense than was desirable Mary Cornwallis was a lady of the bedchamber a type of lady in waiting to Princess Anne but was dismissed from service by Anne’s father due to concerns about the relationship this doesn’t necessarily mean sexual concerns there are always reasons to be concerned when someone appears to have an undue influence on a potential heir to the throne but King Charles was later said to have commented that no man ever loved his mistress as his niece and did mrs. Cornwallis which certainly has suggestions of erotic overtones but Am’s deepest and longest lasting such relationship began when she was perhaps 6 years old with a girl named Sarah Jennings who would have been 11 at the time Sarah was a great beauty ferociously intelligent and witty and politically savvy though not without her blind spots the friendship must have seemed something of an odd couple though the later stereotype of an as dull frumpy and overweight does her something of a disservice and comes in part from the biased memoirs Sarah wrote after their breakup Anne would become a dedicated and knowledgeable participant in government and in later years she dealt with crippling chronic pain and illness which contributed to her physical problems but I get ahead of myself eighteenth-century society interacted with women’s same-sex relationships on several different layers there was the mode of intense platonic friendship that might use the language of romance but was treated as being sexless there was something of a middle ground where people might acknowledge the erotic possibilities but deflect their potential in various ways this can be seen in a poem of 1670 about two women in a marriage of two beauties written by a male author in a female voice the poems persona expresses jealousy of male rivals and laments that the two great resemblance between her and her friend prevents any romantic success other poems written from a male point of view address intimate female couples urging them to consider their love impossible to fulfill so that they will except the poet’s intentions instead I’ve included these poems in a previous podcast on homoerotic poetry over the 17th century but this was also the era of libertine sexual excess and an era when the concept of binary sexuality the idea that one had either heterosexual or homosexual desires had not yet taken solid hold in the court of Charles ii it was no secret that women might engage in sexual affairs with other women a French visitor to the court reported on love affairs between the maids of honor to the Queen and the Kings mistresses when King Charles discovered that his mistress Hortense Mancini was having an affair with an Countess of Sussex his disapproval was only because the Countess of Sussex was his own illegitimate daughter I had fun including this affair in my historic novel let the master net and the musketeer this isn’t to say that there was no stigma attached to same-sex relationships aunts brother-in-law King William also attracted rumours of homosexual relationships with close friends after Queen Mary’s death in part because of his lack of female mistresses a striking lack in that era and in part because it was a popular political weapon against relationships that were felt to exert undue influence or reap undue rewards such as titles when and favorites came in for criticism the primary reason was due to their political influence accusations of lesbianism were only a tool to bring to bear on that concern on the other hand extramarital relationships with the opposite sex were similarly looked askance when influence and profit were involved it’s unclear whether there was any basis to the rumours about Williams relationships but they contribute to our understanding of the socio-political climate of the times note that unlike sexual relations between women those between men were a crime under English law this climate of romantic and even sexual possibilities between women doesn’t mean that we should interpret the subject of rumor as being lesbian in the modern exclusive sense both Anne and Sarah were happy in their marriages though of course they would have had little choice but to marry even if they hadn’t been there is plenty of evidence that Sarah and John Churchill were passionately in love and during there long separations due to his military career their correspondents smolder so furiously it’s a wonder it didn’t spontaneously combust and was perhaps less overt in expressions of affection to her husband but she regularly supported Prince George against the criticism of her family and and 17 pregnancies in the first 17 years of marriage attest to a consistently active sex life I’ll discuss further evidence for the public image of women’s same-sex relationships a bit later when I talk about della Revere Manley’s political fantasy the New Atlantis having looked at the social context of sexuality in the later 17th century let’s introduce several other major players besides an aunt childhood friend Sara Jennings married an evil and ambitious army officer named John Churchill and devoted much of her energy to furthering his career shortly after and married her cousin a Danish Prince named George she almost married a different cousin George the Hanoverian Prince who would later succeed her as George the first and as a married woman she was entitled to set up her own household Sarah Churchill became Anne’s lady of the bedchamber serving not only as friend and confidante but as an able and loyal adviser the one who made no distinctions between what she wanted and what she thought the princess should want the position of lady of the bedchamber always had political implications due to the direct access it provided to royal women and father James disapproved Sarah’s appointment fearing that the strong-willed Sarah would dominate his daughters opinions and decisions he wasn’t wrong Anne was infatuated with her friend Sarah and several times defied pressure to send her away but Sarah in turn provided a rock of loyalty and support in a turbulent social context when Anne had few people she could rely on that utterly Princess Anne wanted the illusion of equality between the two of them in private the ideal concept of platonic philosophy a year after Anne’s marriage she wrote to Sarah let me beg of you that you not call me your highness at every word but be free with me as one friend ought to be with another and you can never give me greater proof of your friendship than in telling me your mind freely in all things which I do beg you to do they had pet names for each other to emphasize this informality and was mrs. Morley and Sarah was mrs. Freeman for the rest of Anne’s life both the strength and weakness of that relationship was that Sarah took her at her word and told her her mind freely in all things speaking without distinction of rank two years after Anne’s marriage her uncle King Charles the second died and her father James came to the throne three years later King James was deposed by his daughter Mary and son-in-law William through the turmoil of the transition Sarah was at Anne’s side advising her to distance herself from her father and helping her escape the palace by night to go join the opposition Sarah was also behind aunts maneuverings to achieve a financial independence from William and Mary’s purse strings and as a result contributed to a falling out between the sisters that rebounded on her the Churchill’s were moving up in the world he had been named Earl of Marlborough but between Queen Mary’s hostility and the work of political enemies they had a reversal of fortunes Marlborough was accused of conspiring with the exiled James and dismissed from his post though the accusation was later found to be based on forged documents and loyalty to them was unshaken and she moved out of the palace rather than obey Queen Mary’s death command to dismiss Sarah from her service and wrote to Sarah I have a thousand melancholy thoughts and cannot help fearing that they should hinder you from coming to me though how they can do that without making you a prisoner I cannot imagine but let them do what they please nothing shall ever vex me so I can have the satisfaction of seeing dear mrs. Freeman and I swear I would live on bread and water between four walls with her without repining for as long as you continue kind nothing can ever be a real mortification to your faithful mrs. Morley who wishes she may never enjoy a moment’s happiness in this world or the next if ever she proves false to you in a presentiment of the later dynamics of their relationship when Sarah suggested that they might go along with Queen Mary’s demand that they separate for a time and replied if ever you should do so cruel a thing is to leave me from that moment I shall never enjoy one quiet our and should you do it without asking my consent I will shut myself up and never see the world more but live where I may be forgotten by humankind the royal sisters never reconciled from the conflict over Sarah Churchill and Mary died of smallpox two years later leaving no living children and was now officially the next in succession now we come to Abigail Hill mash’em at some time during this period I haven’t been able to pin down exactly when Sarah Churchill took into her household a poor relation named Abigail Hill along with two of Abigail’s siblings the impulse may have been one of charity but the two must have developed a close and strong relationship because Sarah was happy to promote Abigail’s career I haven’t found a reference to what position Abigail held in the Churchill household but some time later Sarah got her appointed as one of Princess Anne’s bedchamber women to be clear there was a distinction between sarah’s position as lady of the bedchamber and the post of woman of the bedchamber which was less ceremonial and involved more of the duties of a personal maid but both were positions typically filled by upper-class women and involved regular intimate access to the person they served in addition to whatever family loyalty prompted Sarah to place abigail in this position she clearly expected Abigail to service her surrogate and representative in Anne’s household especially when Sarah’s other obligations took her away from court for extended periods this would be a mistake Sarah’s other major mistake with regard to Abigail was to assume that they were aligned on the same political side I’ll talk more about that when we move on to the political context unlike for Sarah Churchill we don’t have much documentary evidence from Abigail for herself regarding her life and physician contemporary descriptions of her personality and motivations aligned very strongly to political allegiance those who considered her an ally said she was a person of plain sound understanding of great truths and sincerity without the least mixture of falsehood or disguise of an honest boldness and courage superior to her sex firm and disinterested in her friendship and full of love duty and veneration for the Queen her mistress those on the opposite political side described her as exceedingly mean and vulgar in her manners of an unequal temper childishly accept us and passionate since we don’t have Sarah’s letter sent to an only the memoir she wrote after they became estranged we don’t have an even-handed image of what she thought about Abigail before they became rivals and after that estrangement Sarah’s opinions were sharply personal viewing Abigail as a traitor and a viper who failed a proper gratitude to Sarah for furthering her career some time after Anne became Queen Abigail married Samuel mash’em but that belongs to the discussion of how Anne and Sarah began falling out so we’ll come back to it later another woman who is useful for understanding why lesbian rumors stuck to Queen Anne’s Court is a writer named Adela Riviere manly who combined entertainment with political satire and walked a perilous line between being a paid political operative and drawing legal censure for the pointedness of her works man there was not a member of Queen Anne’s Circle quite the contrary but she was a sharp observer of the court in 1709 near the middle of Anne’s reign della Revere manly published a Roman à clef the new Atlantis which was a satire of British politics set on the fictional island of Atlantis manly so clearly depicted the targets of her critique that she was arrested and questioned about it in preparation for a libel case against her she steadfastly maintained the work was entirely fictional and the case was eventually dropped but no one was fooled the primary targets for satire is over the ruling Whig party and in particular the Marlboros among the material incorporated into the New Atlantis was the skit entitled the secret history of Queen Zara that’s Zara with a Z which gives you a sense of how flimsily disguised the characters were the New Atlantis focused heavily on sex and relationships as an alleged driver of the workings of government and of the aristocratic social circles that were intertwined with the official structures dela Riviera knew something of interpersonal drama herself after a peripatetic childhood accompanying her father’s military postings and his death she and her sister became Ward’s of a cousin John manly within a few years Manley had married her apparently forgetting that he was already married a few years after the birth of their son della Revere left her husband for the household of Barbara Villiers Duchess of Cleveland the one-time mistress of King Charles the second Villiers threw her out half a year later allegedly for flirting with her son della Riviera spent several years after that writing plays but only became famous after the publication of the New Atlantis from there she moved on to a career as a political pamphleteer though she returned later to drama in sensational novels although the criticisms encoded in the New Atlantis were wide-ranging the section that concerns us here focuses on a group of women identified as the new cabal the work makes clear the Houma erotic sexual exploits of the group while entirely avoiding any description of specific physical acts invoking the reader’s imagination to fill the silences the targets of this satire are Queen Anne and her court especially her female favorites mainly perhaps felt more free to write about the topic than most authors of the day because her own moral position was fairly abandoned but she was also writing from position of criticism rather than depicting desires that she shared the crucial aspect of her writing is that it reflects ideas and images that were in currency during Anne’s reign though the descriptions of the woman’s activities in the novel mostly go no further than kisses and embraces the rules of the new cabal not only exclude men but exclude women who have voluntary romantic relationships with men marriage is grudgingly tolerated as a necessary evil but male lovers are right out the women join in loving couples who pledge not only devotion and secrecy but a sharing of property and wealth between them most of the descriptions of the women including those meant to represent contemporary figures don’t rent and gender role play or cross-dressing cross-dressing wasn’t yet a trope is strongly associated with lesbian relationships but there are a few exceptions one woman is described as mannish and behavior though not in dress and another is described as preferring to mask her diversions in the habit that is the clothing of the other sex but this is not as part of a butch femme relationship for her female partner also cross dresses and together they are said to wander through the seedy parts of the city picking up prostitutes for their shared enjoyment but for the most part the women described in the satire are feminine presenting and partner with other feminine presenting women the exclusively female nature of the group is only emphasised by a grudging allowance for one bisexual member who was intended to represent Lucy Wharton who in real life had a female lover in opera singer Catherine Tufts another real-life couple in the New Atlantis represents Catherine Coulier Duchess of Portman Dorchester who was paired with a character representing playwright Catherine Trotter whose work Agnes de Castro also has seems a passionate friendship between women one thing in common between all the women depicted in this satire is that they were associated with the Whig political party and now it’s time to talk about English politics around 1700 I’m going to really really oversimplify this discussion but it’s kind of important to have at least a vague idea of the sides at the time England was only starting to develop something identifiable as political parties the underlying power struggle between absolute a constitutional monarchy was in full swing keep in mind that the 17th century was when Parliament flexed its muscles and executed King so general interest groups and affinities were just starting to aggregate and align as fixed political parties that competed for control of Parliament ministers of state were still generally appointed directly by the monarch although influenced by the practical need to gain cooperation for goals and policies the concept of a prime minister hadn’t really gelled yet but we can identify two named political parties during Anne’s reign and the direct competition between them set the stage for the more personal conflicts within Anne’s household the Whig party which by the way had nothing to do with a male fashion for wearing elaborate artificial hair pieces at this time played a major role in ousting James the second in the Glorious Revolution they were strongly anti-catholic although that changed in later centuries often aligned with commercial interests and Protestant dissenters and promoted the concept of constitutional monarchy their rivals the Tory party supported the primacy of the Anglican Church against a more broad-minded acceptance of religious diversity and were more inclined to support royal power having their origins in royalist elements during the English Civil War although the key players during an Train sometimes fell indeterminately in the moderate middle between these parties and sometimes shifted allegiance I’m going to oversimplify and identify them by party affiliation toward the latter part of her reign three powerful men were at the core of Queen Anne’s first government Sidney Godolphin as First Lord of the Treasury and the Duke of Marlborough did I mention that the Churchill’s were elevated to a Duchy when Anne came to the throne he was named commander of the armies both men had begun as moderate Tories but became increasingly associated with the Whigs due to that party’s support for the ongoing wars on the continent Oh and due to Sara Churchill’s overwhelming support for the Whig party so let’s just consider them functionally Whigs for the purpose the third important man in Anne’s initial government was Robert Harley Speaker of the House of Commons who started out a moderate Whig but then shifted tutorial’ legions so we’re gonna consider him the primary Tory figure in this struggle confusing I know Queen Anne leaned toward the Tories that whole royalist thing you know but was under significant pressure not only from Sarah Churchill to appoint more Whigs to her administration this pressure was all the more painful as she personally disliked some of the permanent weak leaders Harley initially came into power through the influence of Kadal Fionn in Marlborough but as the right interests diverged he engaged the power of political writers like Daniel Defoe Jonathan Swift and dela Revere manly to influence the public opinion toward the Tory side via satirical pamphlets he also engaged the surfaces of a cousin Abigail Hill now Abigail measum after marrying one of Prince George’s grooms Sarah Churchill was perhaps the most influential person at court at the beginning of Anne’s reign far more influential than the official ministers Marlborough and Godolphin treated her as a political equal and she was trusted to represent Marlboros interests at court while he was abroad with the military Sarah not only had the means ear but she was a powerful gatekeeper she could decide who the queen had time and interest to meet with and who she was too busy for Sarah Churchill’s power was not only unofficial and had named her keeper of the Privy Purse the official in charge of finances for the royal household if Wikipedia is to be believed in the entire history of the English monarchy only one monarch has ever named a woman to this post Queen Anne and she named to Sarah Churchill and then later as her replacement Abigail Masham the anxieties around the Queen’s favorites were not simply about social influence but about real financial and political power and to some extent about men freaking out over women holding that power and excluding them from the innermost circles of decision-making so when Sarah through her considerable influence ian on the side of the Whigs people took notice and worried and when hardly saw a chance to counter that influence with an agent inside the Queen’s inner circle of favorites and confidants you can bet he took that chance especially after he was forced out of office in 1708 by Whig pressure by then Abigail mansion was displacing Sarah Churchill in the Queen’s affections though Sarah hadn’t realized that yet Abigail might have family feelings and personal loyalty for Sarah but her own political inclinations were solidly on the Tory side she didn’t need persuading to act as Hartley’s agent within the court and with that we move on to how the interpersonal dynamics played out as abigail displaced Sarah in Queen Anne’s life the lesbian talk-show relies on support the support of you our listeners the support of those who like and review our show on their favourite podcast app the support of our patrons on patreon and the support of our sponsors we hope you’ll continue to enjoy and support the lesbian talk show the relationship between Ann and Sarah had always been lopsided but not always in the same way let’s noted previously Sarah was beautiful brilliant savvy and charming she also had as one historian puts it an almost pathological inability to admit the validity of anyone else’s point of view she was certain of the rightness of her opinions and positions and considered it her duty to make Ann see the light and agree with her she had promised Anne that she would always preacher as equal and be forthright with her but Ann didn’t always want brutal honesty sometimes she wanted support companionship and comfort Sarah had provided that support and companionship in Anne’s youth and that built up a lot of credit but when Anne came to the throne Sarah’s advice and persuasion was no longer directed at helping and navigate tricky political waters from a vulnerable position now it was directed at shaping Anne’s government and policy into the Marlboros desired form Sarah ordered and to appoint her own Whig analysed cabinet posts lectured her about affairs of state and generally treated her like a child and wanted to please her closest friend but she had her own ideas about government that was developing the will and stubbornness to pursue them and Sarah was increasingly spending her time away from the court something that became a sore point between them and independence caused immediate friction in the first year of her reign a courtier noted the Duchess of Marlborough has lately had two terrible battles with the Queen and she came out from her in great heat and when the Queen was seen afterwards her eyes were red and it was plain she had been crying very much such conflicts were all the more painful because of the bond between them what we know of the internal dynamics of Anne and Sarah’s relationship comes largely from Sarah’s memoirs written at a time of separation and bitterness but that bitterness itself gives evidence of the depth of Sierra’s attachment even if not a single-minded his aunt was to her Anne was besotted with Sarah writing if I read whole volumes I could never express how will I love you Sarah later complained that and desired to possess her holy Anne was jealous of Sarah’s other female friends and her expectations regarding Sarah’s attention and presence would become part of their fracture Anne wrote I know I have a great many rivals which makes me sometimes fear losing what I so value and regarding one specific friend Lady Anne Sunderland you have often told me that I have no reason to be jealous of her and therefore I will not complain any more till I see more reasons for it but I assure you I have been a little troubled at it the earliest surviving mention of Abigail hill in the correspondent Sarah received from Anne appears to portray Abigail as one of those other friends that Anne is jealous of keep in mind here that references to mrs. Freeman are to Sarah and Anne’s references to mrs. Morley are to herself my fever is not quite gone and I’m still lame I cannot go without limping I hope mrs. Freeman has no thoughts of going to the Opera with mrs. Hill and will have a care of engaging herself too much in her company for if you will give way to that it is a thing that will insensibly grow upon you for your own sake as well as poor mrs. Morley’s have as little to do with that enchant recessed as possible and pray pardon me for saying this but Anne herself was already under the spell of the Enchantress Abigail Hill though her enchantments say it may have been as simple as being attentive and kind and far more circumspect in how she attempted to use political influence with the Queen by around 1706 the Queen’s irritation with the Marlboros led her to turn to their rival parley for political advice and though they weren’t aware of it at the time abigail was a conduit for those communications this personal and political defection may have given an something of a guilty conscience in a letter to Sarah she wrote I cannot forbear telling you why I disowned my being in a spleen this morning and the cause of my being so my poor heart is so tender that I Durst not tell you what was the matter with me because I knew if I had begun to speak I should not have been fit to be seen by anybody the REE my being in the spleen was that I fancied by your looks and things you have sometimes that fall that you have hard and wrong thoughts of me I should be very glad to know what they are that I might clear myself but let it be in writing before I dare not venture to speak to you for the reason I have told you already don’t let anybody see this strange scroll Sara later annotated this letter with she was under the witchcraft of mrs. Hill however says she does not deserve the hard thoughts of mayham of her and she adds that she will not be uneasy if I would come to her and calls me unkind but nobody of common sense can believe that I did not do all that was possible to be well with her it was in my interest to do so and though I had all the gratitude imaginable for the kindness she had expressed to me for so many years I could have no passion for her that could blind me so much as to make me do anything that was extravagant but it wasn’t possible for me to go to her as often as I had done in private for let her write what she will she never was free with me after she was fond of mrs. Hill and whoever reads her letters will find a great difference in the style of them when she really loved me from those where she only pretended to do so what were the extravagant things Sara declined to do was that only a matter of not feeling required to dance constant attendance on the Queen historians have sometimes seen coated references in texts like this but it’s hard to be certain what is certain is that Sara felt hurt and rejected even if the reason for that hurt was Ann’s refusal to obey and forgive her at every turn a year later in 1707 Abigail’s betrayal became overt while Sara was absent from court Abigail Hill married Samuel madam a member of Prince George’s household it was something of a secret wedding secret at least from Sarah Churchill though not from the Queen who was present as witness but Sara was blindsided and belatedly came to understand how solidly embedded Abigail was in the Queen’s confidence Sara recorded her outrage that her cousin was become an absolute favorite that the Queen herself was present at her marriage and doctor breath knits lodgings at which time Her Majesty had called for a round sum out of the Privy Purse that mrs. Madame came often to the Queen when the prince was asleep and was generally two hours every day in private with her and I likewise then discovered beyond all dispute mr. Harley’s correspondence an interesting Court by means of this woman I’ve seen some writers interpret the bit about Abigail coming to the Queen and being private with her as referring to sexual encounters but it looks more ambiguous to me the simple personal intimacy at private time together would be enough of a challenge to Sara’s position the Duke of Marlborough more wisely cautioned Sara to let things be writing what you say of Abigail is very odd and if you think she is a good weathercock it is high time to leave off struggling for believe me nothing is worth throwing against wind and tide at least you will think so when you come to my age but sara had no intention of ceding the field so easily she raged to see a woman whom I had raised out of the dust put on such a superior air and hear her assure me by way of consolation that the Queen would always be kind to me at length I went on to reproach her for her ingratitude and her secret management with the Queen to undermine those who had so long and with so much honor served her majesty to this she replied that she never spoke to her majesty on business whether or not Abigail was truthful about not advising the Queen on the business of government Sara saw her hand at work in Anne’s loss of confidence in the Whig leaders and pressured Marlborough and Godolphin to force Harley to resign from his government positions but she was no more successful in pressuring and to dismiss Abigail that anyone had ever been in pressuring Anne to dismiss Sara herself with relations strained the beginning of the end came in 1708 in the context of a church service celebrating a significant military victory on the continent as part of her formal office for the Queen it was Sarah’s due date to select the jewels that Anne would wear for the event in the coach ride to the church she discovered that the pieces she’d chosen were not being born and she concluded that Abigail had contradicted her directions she and the Queen had a terrible quarrel spilling over in public as they arrived at the cathedral and Sarah did an unforgivable thing impatient with Anne’s continued argument she told the Queen to be quiet even Sarah realized she’d gone too far she tried unsuccessfully to apologize but Anne refused to respond to her letters or allow her into her press saying that she had been told to be quiet and therefore she would give no answer the only reason that sara was not immediately stripped of her court offices was to avoid a public break with her husband who was still a vital part of the war efforts if that weren’t bad enough later in that year Prince George died and even as Sarah used the logistics of the funeral as a context for coming back into contact with Anne she made the event all about her continuing conflict with Abigail and we now get a glimpse of Abigail’s viewpoint in a letter to an ally indicating that she too was more concerned about using Anne’s bereavement as a site for their power struggle rather than being concerned about comforting the Queen the break played out in correspondence for some time with a on alternately begging for a reconciliation and standing fast against Sarah’s demands that she dismiss Abigail some of Abigail mash’ems enemies even suggested putting the matter of her influence over the Queen before Parliament the one prominent Whig objected it is impossible for any man of sense honour or honesty to come into an address to remove a dresser from the Queen only to gratify Lady Marlboros passions perhaps even Sarah realized that her campaign against Abigail could only bring ridicule and ruin on herself by the end of 1710 Sarah had lost her official positions at court the prestigious post of keeper of the Privy Purse was given to her rival Abigail while the posts of mistress of the robes a groom of the stole were transferred to a new favorite Elizabeth Seymour Duchess of Somerset like Abigail Seymour’s closeness to the Queen made her a target of political attacks even as Sarah lost her struggle Seymour was moving into Abigail’s place as favorite Duda the latter often being away from court on family business although there’s no evidence that the two of them had the sort of personal rivalry that had marked the transition from Sarah to Abigail with the end of the war in Europe the Duke of Marlborough became somewhat more dispensable by the end of 17:11 he too had lost his government offices based on a trumped-up charge of embezzlement with the decline of the Marlboros and the Whig party Harley again climbed in power and influence though his resurgence was short-lived he fell out of favour shortly before Queen Anne’s death in seven 18:14 but this essay isn’t about the men emma Donahue’s book passions between women opens with the contradictory use of the word passion in the correspondence between Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill for years their letters had concluded with salutations assuring each other that they were most passionately and tenderly yours and speaking of a sincere and tender passion felt between them but when Sarah turned her poison pen against Abigail mash him she warns the people were linking Anne and Abigail’s names together with descriptions of stuff not fit to be mentioned two passions between women with additional insinuations that made it clear that sexual relations were the topic did these two uses of passion have separate and distinct meanings to the two women or did they represent two points on a continuum of meaning for the word if Queen Anne became associated in the public mind with lesbian relationships with her favorites the irony is that Sarah Churchill was one of the sources of that association even though she herself was an obvious candidate for the same suspicions how was that association built and do we have evidence to determine whether it was true either in Abigail Madam’s case or in Sarah Churchill’s Donahue’s book tackles the general background to the relationship between romantic friendship and sexual relations across the long eighteenth century but we’re concerned with a narrower slice of history here the dichotomy between an acceptable image of chaste but emotional friendship between women and an unacceptable image of sordid same-sex erotics has often been used to shield the upper-class women who participated in the culture of romantic friendship from accusations of lesbianism the argument is that the openness and pervasiveness of romantic friendships must mean that they could not have been accompanied by sexual desire or sexual activity this thinking has a strong streak of nice girls don’t in which women capable of expressing the elevated sentiments of friendship in literature or in their own lives are thought incapable of engaging in anything so perverted as lesbian sex these interpretations are not only complicated by the prejudices that modern historians bring to their studies but also by the different attitudes and language used by women in history for physical expressions of love when women speak of chaste kisses it could mean something rather different for a woman who classifies only penetrative sex with a man as unchaste suspending judgment regarding any sexual component of the relationship between Anna and Sarah it’s clear the overall shape of that relationship including its intense expressions and fierce jealousies is indistinguishable from a romantic and sexual one and yet Sarah Churchill was a major source of the rumors that Abigail measum participated in a lesbian relationship with the Queen or at least that the relationship was being interpreted as such Sarah wrote to Anne warning her I remember you said of all things in the world you valued most your reputation which I confess surprised me very much that your Majesty should so mention the word after having discovered so great a passion for such a woman for sure there can be no great reputation and a thing so strange and unaccountable nor can I think that having no inclination for anyone but one’s own sex is enough to maintain such a character as I wish may still be yours that seems quite ambiguous in terms of what is being implied the word unaccountable is something of a code word for sexually suspect relationships between women but the word often brings seen issues of class as well as gender when Sarah complaints of so great a passion for such a woman is it specifically the homoerotic aspect of their relationship that she’s targeting or might there be an element of considering Abigail to low-class to be worthy of the Queen’s affections although Sarah and Abigail were cousins there was a clear distinction of birth between the two branches of the family as I noted earlier in this essay the sexual possibilities between women were solidly in evidence in the restoration court that Anne was born into given this can Sarah’s accusations be taken as evidence that her own relationship with Anne was not sexual or as Sarah simply so deeply invested in using any tool necessary to dislodge Abigail but she was unconcerned with the implication after all Sarah derided Abigail as an ungrateful bitch a viper and concerned with her own political interests above the Queen’s welfare which all could reasonably be applied to Sara as well in any event Ants response to the previous was sure I may love whom I please but Sara wasn’t done an anonymous Ally quite probably her secretary mr. Mainwaring wrote a long scurrilous ballot ranting about Abigail mash’ems offenses her ingratitude her political connivance with Harley her devoted allegiance to the Anglican Church and with only the thinnest veils over the suggestiveness the assertion that she performed sweet service and dark deeds at night to gain her place the publication of this ballot was no longer a serious campaign to win back an attention it was intended to discredit Abigail and to hurt and humiliate the Queen and revenge for the slights Sara believed herself to have received The Ballad is given to the tune of fair Rosamund and here are a few of the more suggestive of the 35 verses I’ve expanded the coded references that were given as initials in the original The Ballad tune itself carries meaning as the Rosalind of the title and the original ballad was a mistress of king henry ii and the song tells of how she was poisoned by the Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine did Sara see herself as the avenging spouse poisoning her partner’s mistress a new ballad to the tune of fair Rosalind when as Queen Anne of great renowned Great Britain’s scepter swayed besides the church she dearly loved a dirty chambermaid Oh Abigail that was her name she starched and stitched full well but how she pierced this royal heart no mortal man can tell however for sweet service done and causes of great weight her royal mistress made her Oh a minister of state her secretary she was not because she could not write but had the conduct and the care of some dark deeds at night the important paths of Backstairs were put into her hand and up she brought the greatest rogue grew in this rueful land well what am I to do quoth he Oh for this favor great you are to teach me how quoth she to be a of state and so on a great length concluding with a hopefully if a rational prediction that the subject of the song would be rejected and cast out another likely output of Sarah and Mainwaring’s collaboration was a pamphlet entitled the rival duchesses with an imagined conversation between Abigail Masham and Madame de Maintenon the official mistress of king louis xiv of france in it abigail boasts especially at court I was taken for a more modish lady was rather addicted to another sort of passion of having too great a regard for my own sex and as much that few people thought I would ever have married but to free myself from that aspersion some of our sex labour under for being too fond of one another I was resolved to marry as soon as I could fix to my advantage or inclination at which Madame the Maintenon asks and does that female vice which is the most detestable in nature reign among you as it does with us in France – which abigail responds Oh Madame we are arrived – as great perfection and sinning that way as you can pretend to having almost certainly participated in the creation and circulation of these two items Sarah Churchill then called them to the Queen’s attention writing with studied casualness I had almost forgot to tell you if a new book that has come out the subject is ridiculous and the book not well written but that looks so much the worse for it shows that the notion is extensively spread among all sorts of people it is a dialogue between Madame Maitland and Madame Masham and there is stuff not fit to be mentioned of passions between women Sarah even brought aunts physician into the matter confiding to him I hear there is some pamphlet lately come out which they said were not fit for me to see but which I guess they are upon that subject that you may remember I complained to you and really it troubled me so very much upon my own account as well as others because it was very disagreeable and what I know to be a lie but something of that disagreeable turned there was in an odious ballot to the tune of fair Rosalind printed a good while ago but that which I hated was disrespect to the Queen and the disagreeable expressions of the dark deeds in the night Sarah was not the only one implying lesbian goings-on among the court as noted before in the midst of the conflict between Sarah and Abigail della Revere manly satire the New Atlantis was published implying romantic and erotic relationships among an all-female cabal who were clearly identifiable with prominent women of the Whig party I plant into an entire episode on the Atlantis at some point so I won’t hunt down excerpts for this episode were lesbian relationships actually common in those circles or was it simply a smear tactic was the satire inspired by Anne’s close relationships with her female favorites or was it simply one more example of anxieties about power and class being translated into anxieties about sex when King William the third was rumored to have a homosexual relationship with a close male friend one can trace some of the motivation for the rumors in jealousy over the man’s rapid rise to high rank the power and influence that both Sarah Churchill and Abigail measum had with the Queen certainly provoked jealousy and anxiety not only in each other but among the male establishment who felt shut out of the largely female structure of Anne’s household sexual accusations have always been handy women’s to use against women who are felt to have risen above the rightful station this isn’t to say that the free-floating motivations for people to make sexual accusations against Anna her favourites makes those accusations untrue only that it provides a context in which the rumors stuck to the point where the Dowager Duchess of Orleans in France writing after Anne’s death reported English men and women to picked Queen Anne horribly here saying she would get drunk after which she’d make love with women being however fickle and changing often lady sandwich did not tell me anything but she told my son I had little contact with her because she disgusted me admitting that she had allowed herself to be used for such perversions Queen Anne gets something of a bad rap in all this she seemed through it all to have been doing her best to balance personal desires with what she believed to be the good of the state all while suffering in terrible pain from chronic illnesses if she shifted her affections regularly from the women who left her to the women who were there to comfort and support her who can blame her when one digs through the coded language the self-deception the imagery and the strength of the emotional reactions it seems quite plausible to me that answer relationships with women had an erotic component and that the gymnastics gone through to exclude that possibility in historic analysis most often reflect the biases of the analyst even if one takes an extremely conservative position that the sexual allegations were all politically motivated it’s undeniable that Ann’s deepest and most lasting emotional relationships were with women like Sarah Churchill and Abigail mash’em and that those relationships existed in a cultural context where other women with such bonds definitely were engaging in sexual relationships so lesbian or not the distinction seems scarcely worth making I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of the lesbian historic motif podcast if you want to follow up on anything we’ve covered see the show notes for links and to contact me with questions book announcements or topic suggestions if you enjoyed this podcast please read it and subscribe on iTunes stitcher or pod bean and consider supporting our patreon and if you’re on Facebook check out the lesbian talk show chat group [Music]