The other night I picked up Churchill’s Marlborough, His Life and Times, for bedtime reading. As I mentioned earlier, I had begun re-reading these volumes with an eye towards visiting the battlefield in Blenheim, but then could not put them down. I have been engaged with them fitfully since – too heavy to bring on a trip, other books with a claim on my more immediate attention. As luck would have it, this week got me to 1707 and the Act of Union with Scotland. The issues then were political and, largely, dynastic. The Queen still held enormous influence and even power and the issue of union was, for her, complicated by her conscience. Here is an extract:
But the Lord Treasurer [Sidney Godolphin], who had long lost all hold upon the Tories and had only a temporary working agreement with the Whigs, now found himself in daily contact with the highly discontented Queen. Anne’s thoughts strayed often to the “young man in France.” “Maybe ‘tis our brother.” She knew – every one knew – he was her brother. She would not give up the throne to him, even had she the power to do so. She would fight to the last against it. But was she bound to ensure the succession to the house of Hanover she detested so cordially? And to the very prince who had insulted her maiden charms? This Act of Union which her trusted friends the General [Marlborough] and the Treasurer pressed upon her forced her to rob James of almost his only remaining hope – the crown of Scotland. Perhaps it must be so. What could she do, one woman among all these domineering statesmen with their passions, their intense personalities, their fierce rivalries, their massive arguments? She thought it was necessary to bring about the Union. It was right and wise; it was her duty; but she was not in the mood at any moment to rejoice in that duty. Her heart did not warm to those, even her most trusted friends and proved, sagacious guides, who held her so firmly to her task. Mr Freeman [her sometimes name for Marlborough in private correspondence] was at the wars – he was always at the wars. She was deeply conscious of the glory and power with which his sword had invested her reign. But Mr Montgomery [her name for Godolphin in friendly correspondence] – she did not often call him that now – was pressing her too hard. He had not the same claim to her favour. Anyone can be a Minister. All her ablest subjects were seeking, contriving, and conspiring to be Ministers. He asked too much. After all, he hung only by the thread which she could cut; but perhaps she hung by that same thread herself. Thus the queen.
The Act of Union passed and, in the event, triggered a set of events that would lead to the dismissal of both Godolphin and Marlborough from the Queen’s favor.