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British Politics in the Age of Anne

Chronology (Tories are underlined)


  • March Death of William III
  • April-May Anne's first ministry formed under Godolphin (Lord Treasurer) and Marlborough. Includes 9 Tories and only 3 moderate Whigs
  • May Declaration of war on France and Spain


  • January Occasional Conformity bill amended in Lords and dropped
  • December Second Occasional Conformity bill defeated in Lords


  • April Fall of High Tory ministers - Nottingham, Seymour and Jersey.
  • Harley and St John (Bolingbroke) enter cabinet
  • October Attempt to 'tack' third Occasional Conformity bill to Land Tax bill defeated in Commons by ministry and Whigs
  • December Godolphin saved from censure by Whig peers. Third
  • Occasional Conformity bill defeated in Lords


  • March Aliens Act - exerted pressure on Scotland to join union
  • April Newcastle replaces Buckingham as Lord Privy Seal
  • May General election: Whig gains leave parties equal in Commons
  • October Cowper replaces Wright as Lord Keeper. Smith elected Speaker after contest with Bromley


  • March Regency Act - provides for an interim administration after death of Anne
  • July Treaty of Union with Scotland concluded
  • December Sunderland replaces Hedges as Secretary of State, first member of Whig Junto in cabinet since 1700


  • March Act of Union
  • May-October Rift between Junto and ministry over rewards due to Whigs for their support


  • February Resignation of Harleyites: Boyle replaces Harley and Walpole St. John
  • May General election. Clear Whig majority
  • November Somers and Wharton, Junto members enter cabinet


  • November Sacheverell sermon. Last Tory in cabinet, Pembroke, resigns


  • January Marlborough threatens to resign over influence of Anne's new favourite, Mrs Masham
  • March Sacheverell trial
  • April Shrewsbury replaces Kent as Lord Chamberlain
  • June Dartmouth replaces Sunderland as Secretary of State
  • August Godolphin dismissed. Harley, Poulet and Anglesey enter cabinet
  • September Fall of Whigs: Boyle, Somers, Devonshire, Orford, Cowper and Wharton dismissed/resigned. Rochester, St John and
  • Buckingham enter cabinet
  • October General election. Overwhelming victory for Tories. Harcourt and Ormonde enter cabinet


  • February Tory October club members campaign in Commons against moderation of Harley. Bill imposing landed qualification passed
  • March Attempt to assassinate Harley. Ways and Means obstructed by October Tories
  • May South Sea bill passed. Harley created Earl of Oxford.
  • September Bishop Robinson succeeds Newcastle. No Whigs remain in cabinet
  • December Whig peers defeat ministry on its policy of 'Peace without Spain', resolved by creation of 12 Tory peers and dismissal of Marlborough


  • January Marlborough and Walpole censured by Commons for alleged peculation (embezzlement)
  • June-July Most Whigs remaining in civil office dismissed
  • October Cabinet clash between Oxford and Bolingbroke


  • March Peace treaties between Britain and France signed
  • May-June Crisis over Malt Tax and Union
  • August-September Oxford defeats Bolingbroke in struggle for control over Ministry. Bromley and Mar appointed to cabinet. General Election, Whigs defeated heavily in England, gain ground in Scotland


  • April Both Houses vote that Protestant succession not in danger
  • June Schism bill passes through Lords
  • July Oxford dismissed. Shrewsbury succeeds him
  • August Death of Anne. Elector of Hanover proclaimed as George I.
  • Government by regency. Bolingbroke dismissed
  • September George I arrives in England. First administration dominated by Whigs

A consensus view has emerged over the last 20 years about politics in the Age of Anne - the period was dominated by party politics and party strife. Four factors help establish this trend: a) the monarch; b) the Triennial Act c) party conflict in the country and d) conflict in the Church


The last parliament of William's reign ushered in this 'rage of party': Whig Junto ministers were impeached; the Grand Alliance split the parties; the Act of Settlement highlighted Tory anxieties; the Pretender was declared King James III of England and VIII of Scotland

Queen Anne

Anne made great use of managers in her relations with party and parliament: firstly to Godolphin and Marlborough and later to Harley and to a lesser extent Shrewsbury. Signified the growing influence of Parliament. Anne was also influenced by favourites, notably Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough and Mrs Abigail Masham, but their influence is more mythical than actual.

Course of Politics

Anne's reign falls into 2 phases: the first from 1702-10 dominated by Marlborough-Godolphin alliance. The latter, 1710-14 by Robert Harley.

The first was dominated by foreign policy and the War of the Spanish Succession. Suffered party pressure from the High Tories, the Whigs and moderate Tories led by Harley. Major domestic pieces of legislation were the Regency Act, the Act of Union. Godolphin brought down by public disquiet about the war and the Sacheverell crisis.

1710-1714 marks the end of the Tories as an effective force in Parliament for at least 45 years. However, during that period they win overwhelming majorities in 2 elections, negotiate a popular peace treaty and tackle the natural Whig majority in the Lords by the creation of Tory peers. They are largely destroyed from within. The October Club, a backbench organisation puts forward a mass of legislation, the leadership of Harley faces a successful challenge from Bolingbroke, the party alienates the future George I and begins negotiations with the Pretender. Even before the death of Anne, the party is hopelessly and fatally divided.