Memoirs and letters

Memoirs and letters: More on Queen Anne 

Since last week’s blog, while life and teaching and housework and gardens and travel have gone on much as usual, the interstices have been filled by quietly consuming the two volume Memoirs of Sarah Duchess of Marlborough. These are memoirs of (not by) Sarah Churchill, written either at the time or subsequently by other people. They were published in 1839, edited by ‘Mrs AT Thomson’ (whose personal name was apparently Katherine).

The two volumes make use of a very wide selection of documents, primarily extracts from people’s letters, and has stitched these together within an editorial narrative. They add up to an extended account of the ‘life, happenings and times’ of Sarah Churchill and are surprisingly well referenced to both primary and secondary sources, given that even up to the 1940s academic biographies were often bereft of such information. Fascinating in their writing style and terminology in throwing the light on the conventions of the later 1830s, they don’t add a great deal regarding the hot topic of whether there was something out of the ordinary about the relationship between Queen Anne, Abigail Masham nee Hill, and Sarah Churchill. What they do add is as follows.

1 There is a veiled editorial comment fairly near the start of volume 1 about the untoward expression of Queen Anne‘s feelings and that these were over the top.

2 There is a long extract from a letter from Queen Anne which comments about love and devotion and passion for Sarah Churchill. However, there is also a letter included from Queen Anne to John Churchill, Sarah’s husband, which uses almost exactly the same phrasing, and consequently undercuts any sense that the one to Sarah might have been about sexual passion.

3 Apart from this, extracts from Queen Anne’s letters to Sarah Churchill are generally calm and measured, or cold and withdrawn.

4 There are many extracts from letters and other documents by Sarah Churchill which contain repeated expressions of enormous feeling towards Queen Anne. These are often negative and scolding, but often also expressive of love and devotion; and while to an extent this latter is part of the conventions of the day, what also comes across is the sheer torrent of feeling involved on her side.

Many of the references made are to documentary material that is now archived. So it is still a case of, back to the manuscript letters and other documents when this is possible.

Mrs AT Thomson, ed. (1839) Memoirs of Sarah Duchess of Marlborough. London: Henry Colburn, Publisher.

Last updated:  21 February 2019