A of all, she definitely was a lesbian, and I’m not going to have this argument with you. She lesbianed all over Great Britain, and every woman she ever lesbianed with made the ultimate mistake of forgetting that Anne was the Queen, the rightful head of God’s true church and the lawful ruler of the Empire, ruining their chances of staying in her good graces for the duration of her reign, Sarah Churchill.
Someday, I’m sure, Nicole will walk us through her survival plan for getting and keeping Henry VIII’s affections, but that day is not today. Today is for explaining how I would have outlasted every one of Queen Anne’s favorites and ridden out her reign in unquestioned trust and support.
Step One: Avoid scandal. This isn’t the Tudor Court, and Anne isn’t Henry. You’re not going to be able to marry her or give her an heir, so get married and stay married, to someone either too thick to notice or too distracted to care that you’re sleeping with the Queen. It’s a mistake to pick someone overly devoted to you, because he’s going to start resenting Anne’s demands on your time. Pick a man who just wants to see you at dinner and to sire four or five children, or else someone with a sizable stable of mistresses of his own. Keep him happy. Don’t knock yourself out doing it, but don’t ignore him either. The cover of a respectable marriage goes a long way, and it’s probably your greatest asset. Cultivate it. Without it, the second Anne dies her heirs are going to toss you out of court for unspecified moral turpitude.
Step Two: Know when to stop disagreeing with her. I have a naturally mutinous tongue. This would be hard for me. But do you know what near-absolute monarchs absolutely loathe? Lovers who try to shove in with their non-royal opinions.
Anne, however, expected kindness and compassion from her closest friend. Sarah was not forthcoming in this regard and frequently overpowered and dominated Anne. One major political disagreement occurred when Sarah insisted that her son-in-law, Charles Spencer, the third Earl of Sunderland, be admitted into the Privy Council. Sarah allied herself more strongly with the Whigs, who supported the Duke of Marlborough in the war; and the Whigs hoped to utilise Sarah’s position as royal favourite. Anne refused to appoint Sunderland: she disliked the radical Whigs, whom she saw as a threat to her royal prerogative.
Don’t do this! Let the Queen offer your relatives prized sinecures. This way she gets to feel gracious and benevolent, which royals love to feel. If you push her into giving your shitty nephew a job when she hates his politics, what are you going to do when you need a real favor? If I were Queen Anne’s girlfriend, I would disagree with her just enough that she felt like I kept her on her toes and “challenged her,” but never so much that she thought I had forgotten my place. I would memorize my place.
Step Three: Choose innocuous pet names. This, at least, Sarah got right. Mrs Freeman and Mrs Morley? Who could object to that? The trick is to always fly under the radar of “They’re just really good friends.”
Step Four: Never introduce potential rivals to her. Your beautiful, charming, impoverished, unmarried cousin? Yeah, don’t bring her to court. She’s hungry, and she has more free time. You can never show jealousy in front of the Queen, obviously, which is an irritating limitation, but what you can do is keep obvious challengers with more pliable personalities and suppler skin from wandering into court. Be friendly to any of the Queen’s other favorites – if you play your cards right, they will come and go, while you stay constantly in the center of her orbit – but don’t hand someone else the knife to stab you in the back with.
Step Five: Let others nag her. You exist to offer her unqualified support and a respite from the pressures of ruling the country. You think a woman who has to worry about her fourteen dead children and the future of the British crown wants to fight over what jewels she wore to church?
On the way to the thanksgiving service at St Paul’s Cathedral, Sarah engaged in a furious argument with Anne about the jewels Anne wore to the service, and showed her a letter from the Duke of Marlborough which expressed hope that the Queen would make good political use of the victory. The implication that she should publicly express her support for the Whigs offended Anne; at the service Sarah told the Queen to “be quiet” after Anne continued the argument, thus offending the Queen still further. Anne’s next letter to Sarah was an exercise in chilling hostility, referring sarcastically to the “command” Sarah had given her to be silent: as a result Sarah, who rarely admitted that she was in the wrong, realised that she had gone too far and apologised for her rudeness, but her apology had little effect.
If you’re going to become the Queen’s mistress, you cannot nag or criticize her. You don’t have the safety of the title of royal consort. You have nothing but the Queen’s good will, and she has been raised from birth to believe she is God’s representative on earth. This is not a relationship of equals!
Step Six: When and if your own lesbian affair with the Queen comes to an end, accept your fate with cheerful good humor, that she might grant you a distant earldom to live out your retirement in peace.
The passion [Anne] showed for Abigail, and the stubborn refusal to dismiss her, angered Sarah to the point that she implied that a lesbian affair was taking place between the two women. During the mourning period for Anne’s husband, Sarah was the only one who refused to wear suitable mourning clothes. This gave the impression that she did not consider Anne’s grief over his death to be genuine.
Sarah Churchill was damn lucky Anne wasn’t a Tudor; if anyone had tried to pull this shit a hundred years sooner they would have had their heads removed five times over.
Messy accusations are never a good post-breakup look, and it’s all the more ill-advised when your ex is the Queen of Damn England and also Scotland Now and lesbian affairs are SUPER frowned upon. You cannot win them all. You had a good run. Take your consolatory minor palace and try not to remind the Queen of her youthful indiscretions. Get out while the getting is good!
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.