In this instalment of our Queen Anne blog series we move into the years of Queen Anne’s reign in which many political upheavals and cultural changes came about. On-going War with Spain, resolution of long-standing tension with Scotland and the development of a two-party political system are all notable issues Anne dealt with during this period. Anne’s confidence in dealing with and influencing such matters increased, evidenced by her vetoing an Act of Parliament in 1708, the last time this has ever happened. It may be said that this was the period in which Anne truly ‘reigned’ in the full sense of the word.
Culturally, although it refers to the years just after Anne’s reign, the refined and graceful ‘Queen Anne’ style of architecture, furniture and art, with rich patterns and fine materials, is still admired today. ‘Late Baroque’ is the more accurate style name for the period of Anne’s reign.
Two Kingdoms United
The most significant political event of this period is, of course, the Act of Union that came into force on 1 May 1707, formally uniting England and Scotland (Wales already being part of the kingdom of England since 1282). The two kingdoms had, in fact, existed in personal union under one monarch since 1603, but this Act now finally united the two crowns. In creating the kingdom of Great Britain, Anne, the last monarch of the Stuart dynasty, became the first official monarch of Great Britain.
Sadly, Anne’s husband Prince George died the following year, and although he is reported to have had little influence politically, they were known to be a devoted couple and she was devastated at his death. Great Britain was already at war with Spain and unifying the nation would not easily be achieved; to make things worse, Anne now faced the many challenges ahead without her husband’s support.
Two Mints Aligned
An issue to be addressed urgently was that of the coinage of the new realm, with English and Scottish coins circulating separately at that time. Mints had long been operating in London and Edinburgh. Post 1707 it became obvious that, in order to produce a uniform coinage for Great Britain, their working practices now had to be aligned. Moneyers were therefore sent north from The Royal Mint, still operating at that time in the Tower of London, to work with their counterparts at the Edinburgh Mint.
Coins struck at the Edinburgh Mint bore the mintmark ‘E’ below the Queen’s effigy to distinguish them. All coins were now to be produced to the same standard and by the same methods as those struck in London. In evidence of this, the Royal Mint Museum holds a handsomely engraved set of troy weights dated 1707, made to ensure accuracy of standards in coin production between the two Mints.
The Edinburgh Mint, thought to have been situated where Gray’s Close meets the Cowgate, opposite High School Wynd, finally ceased to operate in 1710. The building itself seems to have survived until it was finally demolished in 1877.
Two Coin Designs
The Royal Arms changed following the Act of Union, as was reflected on the coinage. The picture below shows the post-union coat of arms reverse design.
Anne’s coinage is considered to be of particular importance by numismatists, for the beauty of its designs and the rare coins of the period, such as Vigo five-guinea pieces.
Slightly differing versions of Anne’s effigy were used on her gold and silver coins. Both were modestly draped portraits, reflecting her personality. Interestingly, an undraped trial piece was made but never adopted – to this day the original remains in the Royal Mint Museum, still not approved by Anne!
Artistic and cultural advancement, political stability and most notably a United Kingdom – all achievements of Queen Anne, the last Stuart queen and the first queen of Great Britain. Her life and legacy are truly worthy of celebration and in her honour The Royal Mint has proudly struck the 300th Anniversary of the Death of Queen Anne £5 Coin. Now available in stunning precious metals, this beautifully designed coin will appeal to coin collectors, historians and art lovers alike.