1st Duke of Marlborough, Lady Sarah Churchill, Queen Anne of Great Britain and Ireland, Tories, War of the Spanish Succession, Whigs
Anne’s reign was marked by the further development of a two-party system. In general, the Tories were supportive of the Anglican church and favoured the landed interest of the country gentry, while the Whigs were aligned with commercial interests and Protestant Dissenters.
As a committed Anglican, Anne was inclined to favour the Tories. Her first ministry was predominantly Tory, and contained such High Tories as Daniel Finch, 2nd Earl of Nottingham, and her uncle Laurence Hyde, 1st Earl of Rochester. It was headed by Lord Treasurer Lord Godolphin and Anne’s favourite the Duke of Marlborough, who were considered moderate Tories, along with the Speaker of the House of Commons, Robert Harley.
The Whigs vigorously supported the War of the Spanish Succession and became even more influential after the Duke of Marlborough won a great victory at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. Many of the High Tories, who opposed British involvement in the land war against France, were removed from office. Godolphin, Marlborough, and Harley, who had replaced Nottingham as Secretary of State for the Northern Department, formed a ruling “triumvirate”.
Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough, incessantly badgered the Queen to appoint more Whigs and reduce the power of the Tories, whom she considered little better than Jacobites, and the Queen became increasingly discontented with her.
In 1706, Godolphin and the Marlboroughs forced Anne to accept Lord Sunderland, a Junto Whig and the Marlboroughs’ son-in-law, as Harley’s colleague as Secretary of State for the Southern Department.
Although this strengthened the ministry’s position in Parliament, it weakened the ministry’s position with the Queen, as Anne became increasingly irritated with Godolphin and with her former favourite, the Duchess of Marlborough, for supporting Sunderland and other Whig candidates for vacant government and church positions.
The Queen turned for private advice to
Harley, who was uncomfortable with Marlborough and Godolphin’s turn towards the Whigs. She also turned to Abigail Hill, a woman of the bedchamber whose influence grew as Anne’s relationship with Sarah deteriorated. Abigail was related to both Harley and the Duchess, but was politically closer to Harley, and acted as an intermediary between him and the Queen.
The division within the ministry came to a head on 8 February 8, 1708, when Godolphin and the Marlboroughs insisted that the Queen had to either dismiss Harley or do without their services. When the Queen seemed to hesitate, Marlborough and Godolphin refused to attend a cabinet meeting.
Harley attempted to lead business without his former colleagues, and several of those present including Charles Seymour, Duke of Somerset refused to participate until they returned. Her hand forced, the Queen dismissed Harley.
The following month, Anne’s Catholic half-brother, James Francis Edward Stuart, attempted to land in Scotland with French assistance in an attempt to establish himself as king. Anne withheld royal assent from the Scottish Militia Bill 1708 in case the militia raised in Scotland was disloyal and sided with the Jacobites.
She was the last British sovereign to veto a parliamentary bill, although her action was barely commented upon at the time. The invasion fleet never landed and was chased away by British ships commanded by Sir George Byng. As a result of the Jacobite invasion scare, support for the Tories fell and the Whigs were able to secure a majority in the 1708 British general election.