Anne ascended the throne on 8th March 1702 following the death of her unpopular brother-in-law, William of Orange. He had shared the throne with Anne’s sister Mary since 1689, and had inherited it for life following Mary’s death in 1694. He and Mary had no children so Anne was the undisputed heiress to the throne following his death in 1702. In contrast to many Kings and Queens before her, Anne came to the throne peacefully…
At this major turning point in her life, she was a mature woman of 37 years of age who had been married to George of Denmark for 19 years. She had experienced 17 pregnancies during those years, many of them ending sadly. Only five had resulted in live births, with four babies dying before the age of two. Her son Prince William survived until 11 years of age. His death in 1700 must have been the greatest tragedy of Anne’s life, and she and her husband were said to have been “overwhelmed with grief”. The effects of that grief and her frequent ill-health undoubtedly left its mark on her, which maybe explains the modesty for which she was known.
In that connection, something that had to be decided very early in her new role was the portrait of her that would appear on the coins of her reign. Previous royal portraits were undraped on gold coins and draped on silver to prevent silver coins being plated and passed off as gold ones. An early pattern piece for the gold coinage can be found in The Royal Mint Museum, showing an undraped version of the bust of Queen Anne, but such was her reported modesty, Anne broke with tradition and insisted that both her gold and silver effigies be draped. In addition, the figure of Britannia on 1714 farthings was said to have been based on Anne and is notable for its distinct modesty compared to previous Britannias! Although there is no firm evidence that Anne requested this change, or that the figure of Britannia is based on the Queen, her virtuous and modest personality suggests that she may well have done so.
Within two weeks of Anne’s coronation England became caught up in the War of the Spanish Succession. This expensive war dragged on throughout Anne’s reign until its conclusion with the Peace of Utrecht in 1713. The Battle of Vigo Bay, a naval battle fought in October 1702, was an overwhelming success for the allies and it resulted in English ships seizing silver and gold from a Spanish treasure fleet in the Bay. The precious metal was melted down and five-guinea pieces were struck by the Mint. A specimen of these now-rare ‘Vigo Bay’ five-guinea pieces are still held here in The Royal Mint Museum and are detectable by the VIGO mark under Anne’s bust.
Anne was Queen during a notable period for The Royal Mint, as Isaac Newton was Master of the Mint throughout her reign. The Royal Mint Museum contains many items and artefacts from the period, including a cabinet said to have belonged to Newton during his time at the Mint. Of classic Queen Anne period design, it still stands in a prominent position in the Museum.
Specimens of her Coronation medal and the Peace of Utrecht medal that marked the end of the Spanish Succession War are also preserved in the Museum.
The next instalment in this series will concentrate on how Anne’s confidence and political ability grew during her reign, and how she became the first Queen of Great Britain, an event that still resonates today!