Re-writing Queen Anne

I recently watched The Favourite (2018, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos). It’s a nicely made film shot in a quirky style. It’s also rather rude, and it certainly deserves its 15 rating. It portrays Queen Anne as something of a lesbian, engaging in sexual behaviour with her friend Sarah and servant Abigail. Earlier in the year, however, I read Gila Curtis’ The Life and Times of Queen Anne, edited by Antonia Fraser. In this good quality biography from the 1970s, there was little hint that Anne enjoyed same-sex activity. It’s odd that Cutis and Fraser would have missed so interesting a facet of their subject’s life. Unless they didn’t miss it at all, because it wasn’t there.

Queen Anne had 17 pregnancies and her marriage to Prince George of Denmark had been “a successful marriage, marked by mutual love and affection” (Tracey Borman). Deeply religious Anne sounds like a classic heterosexual to me. Nevertheless, she did enjoy female friendships. She and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, had pet names for each other and were close, Anne telling her:

“lett me beg you not to call me your highness but be as free with me as one friend ought to be with another & you can never give me any greater proofe of your friendship then in telling me your mind freely in all things.” (quoted in Gregg, Queen Anne). 

However, there was saucy gossip about her, with London’s scurrilous singers of political rhyme repeating:

When as Queen Anne of great Renown

Great Britain’s scepter sway’d,

Beside the Church, she dearly lov’d

A Dirty Chamber-Maid.


O! Abigail that was her name,

She stich’d and starch’d full well,

But how she pierc’d this Royal Heart

No Mortal Man can tell.


Her Secretary she was not

Because she could not write

But had the Conduct and the Care

Of some dark Deeds at Night.


AE Larsen in the blog An Historian Goes to the Movies ~ Exploring History on the Screen concludes “To my mind, this fact—that the Queen paid Sarah so much money to not publish her letters—is the only serious evidence that Anne may have been a lesbian” (emphasis mine). This doesn’t sound like an overwhelming case to me and certainly not enough to justify writing it repeatedly into a film script.

Our culture is becoming saturated with the idea of sexual identity. Since the 1980s, writers have been ‘queering the past’, revising and reimagining what happened in history through the lenses of the new LGBT+ prism. This is why Queen Anne must be a lesbian- not because she was, but because our ‘progressive’ culture’s world view requires it. In a hundred years’ time, cinema buffs will realise that The Favourite revealed more about life in 2019 than 1709. In the same manner, John Sponge claimed Paul of Tarsus was homosexual and Paul Oestreicher said so of Jesus. In order to justify our lifestyles and worldview, we seek to project and impose them on historical figures. Anne Fortier in The Lost Sisterhood remarks “those who control the present can rewrite the past.” Since the 1960s, western culture has shifted away from its Judaeo-Christian basis to this brave new world of sexual liberty and sexualised identity. 

Brian Doerksen’s 2004 hymn From Everlasting, contrasts our mercurial culture with the solidity of our God:

In holiness You stand secure,

Through culture's shifting sands;

Unchanged by all the vanities of man.

And as the nations rise and fall,

Your sovereignty remains;

You are, You are, You are the one true God.


“His truth endureth to all generations.”

Psalm 110:5


Image by Thierry Milherou from Pixabay