In January 1687, Anne, Princess of Denmark and daughter of King James II, was the wife of Prince George of Denmark. She was the mother of two little girls, The Lady Mary, born 1685, and Lady Anne Sophia, born the previous year. Anne was in her fourth pregnancy, less than a year after the birth of Anne Sophia. A baby daughter had been stillborn in 1684, the year of the portrait above.
On January 21, 1687, three weeks into the new year, Anne suffered a miscarriage, the first of seven she would endure in her lifetime. A harbinger of sadness to come too soon.
Less than two weeks later her husband and children came down with smallpox. (1,2). Lady Anne Sophia died on February 2nd and was buried in Westminster Abbey two days later. The Lady Mary followed her, dying on February 8, and buried two days later in the abbey, joining their stillborn sister. (2)
The following October, on the 22nd, Anne suffered the second stillbirth of her life. That baby, a boy, was born at seven months but was thought to have died at least a month before. He was buried with his siblings in the vault of Mary, Queen of Scots, joining that queen, Arbella Stuart, Anne Hyde, Elizabeth of Bohemia, and eleven infants of James II. (2) The sight of all those tiny coffins must have been mind-numbing.
Anne had had a minor case of smallpox as a twelve-year-old and was one of approximately seven House of Stuart descendants of Charles I who had contracted it. Five of those members died from it. Her only son who lived past early childhood, William, Duke of Gloucester, has been said to have died of smallpox, “strep throat”, scarlet fever, and pneumonia.
Prince George, Anne’s consort, the first male royal consort, died in 1708. He’d suffered for years from asthma and some type of “dropsy”, known in modern terms as edema.
Modern science has looked back on Anne’s pregnancies and found signs of at least one medical condition which might have caused her repeated miscarriages and stillbirths.
Losing a child by miscarriage is harrowing enough, but to have lost five in approximately three years defies human comprehension. Unfortunately, a tragic pattern was established that would play out over Anne’s life.
- Milo Keynes, Smallpox and Queen Anne, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Volume 90, January 1997, page 60.
- The Reverend Arthur P. Stanley, Dean of Westminster, Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey (1869)
Her reign as Queen of England was short in comparison to some British Monarchs, from March 8, 1702, to May 1, 1707. She was the last Stuart monarch, daughter of James II, granddaughter of Charles II, great-granddaughter of Charles I, great-great-granddaughter of James I, and great-great-great-granddaughter of Mary, Queen of Scots. One might look at her predecessors and see a fairly large dark cloud over the house of Stuart. Two beheadings, two kings divested of their kingdom, throw in The Interregnum and The Restoration, The Glorious Revolution, and The Old Pretender, and even Shakespeare would’ve been pressed to make the Stuarts a believable story.
Then there were the infant and child deaths. Anne’s father, James II had twenty-seven children from two marriages and two mistresses. Of those twenty-seven, one illegitimate daughter had three children. One survived to adulthood and died without issue.
Much has been disparagingly said of Queen Anne, but the lens through which history looks has always been harsh on female monarchs. She succeeded Mary II, her sister, and William III in 1702.
During her marriage to Prince George of Denmark, Anne had seventeen pregnancies. Of those seventeen, seven were miscarriages, five were stillbirths, three lived minutes or hours, one died of smallpox as a toddler, and one lasted until eleven-years-old. That last child, Prince William Duke of Gloucester, was the Protestant hope after his grandfather, James II, a Catholic, was deposed. Mere weeks after Prince William was born he suffered convulsions, which may or may not have been from meningitis, and later developed a type of hydrocephalus that endangered him all during his childhood.
He was in poor health most of his life, despite the efforts of his parents, doctors, and caretakers. On the night of his eleventh birthday, it is thought he started showing symptoms of what’s now known as Strep Throat, followed by what might have been Scarlet Fever. After being subjected to treatments thought inhuman by today’s standards, blistering and bloodletting, he failed to rally. Six days after his birthday, Prince William, Anne’s only surviving child, passed away.