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Queen Anne by John Closterman: The Act of Union was the great achievement of her reign 

Towards the end of Queen Anne's reign, Anne Somerset herself suggests that Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, said that the kingdom — which by then comprised Scotland as well as England and Wales — was blessed in having "so good and wise a Queen". Anne Somerset notes that the duchess, who by this time had fallen from royal favour, meant the opposite, but suggests that, "Anne was deserving of both epithets." Somerset's comprehensive new biography aims both to show and to explain why. 

It is not an easy job. Alexander Pope, in his mock heroic jeu d'esprit, The Rape of the Lock, sums up Anne's reign in another, more familiar, way. Anne's court, he declares, is the site of gossip and tittle-tattle, where, "At ev'ry Word a Reputation dies./Snuff, or the Fan, supply each Pause of Chat,/With singing, laughing, ogling, and all that", while in the figure of the queen herself  politics is reduced to the level of mere social exchange: "Thou, great Anna! whom three Realms obey,/Dost sometimes Counsel take — and sometimes Tea." 

Beyond being a brilliant comic satirist who looked wearily upon the follies of the age, Pope was a Jacobite sympathiser and a Catholic, and thus likely to belittle the sagacity and influence of the Queen. Somerset does indeed make the case that there was more to Anne than Pope allows. What emerges from this well-researched and readable book is that dogged stubbornness and unflinching religious convictions enabled Anne to remain loyal to the Act of Settlement and thus guarantee the Protestant succession to the crown on her death in 1814. The Hanoverian succession and the Union of England and Wales with Scotland in 1707 were her great achievements, and the consequences of both are very much still with us. 

Anne was the second daughter of Charles II's younger brother, James, Duke of York, born in England after the Restoration. She had little formal education, though she became a fine French speaker, and the cornerstone of her emotional and intellectual sense of self became an unwavering high Anglicanism. She called the Church of England "the only true Church", mistrusted Dissenters and called Catholic doctrine, "wicked and dangerous and directly contrary to the scriptures". It was this faith, more than any political allegiance or tortured friendship, that determined the course of her life. It meant that she, rather than her legitimate younger half-brother James, the Old Pretender, acceded to the throne when her brother-in-law William of Orange died in 1702, and ensured that, once there, she never made any concessions to her brother or his heir, Bonnie Prince Charlie.

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