19. A Statue of Queen Anne

By Emily Rhodes (@elrhodes96)

Presiding over the library in Blenheim Palace, the seat of the Dukes of Marlborough, is a marble statue of Queen Anne, carved by Flemish sculptor John Michael Rysbrack. The inscription dedicates the statue to the monarch, thanking her for the gift of land and funds which enabled the building of the palace. It also praises the military success of John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough for whom the palace was constructed.

However, this flattering inscription masks a much more interesting story. In reality, Churchill’s wife, Sarah, had a tumultuous relationship with Anne that began in childhood. When Anne ascended to the throne in 1702, ‘Sarah was better placed than any female subject in England … to exercise influence’, as noted by historian Frances Harris. However, Sarah failed to realise that ‘the essential prerequisite for doing so was to maintain her personal friendship with the Queen’.[1] As Anne’s confidence in ruling grew, Sarah’s influence and the relationship deteriorated. By 1711, Sarah had lost both her court positions and funding for Blenheim’s construction and the Churchills left England in disgrace. These events are depicted — though heavily fictionalised — in the 2018 film, The Favourite, which envisions a sexually manipulative relationship between the women. While the true nature of their relationship remains uncertain, the film also fails to show the aftermath of Sarah’s fall from grace. Despite the break between the two women, Sarah commissioned the memorial to her old friend on her return to England after Anne’s death, displaying the complexity of the women’s relationship.

Image: A statue of Queen Anne at Blenheim Palace. Photo taken by author.

[1] Frances Harris, A Passion for Government: The Life of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 2.

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