Anne Hyde was born on 12 March 1637 as the daughter of Frances Aylesbury and Edward Hyde, later created Earl of Clarendon. She was born in Cranborne Lodge in Windsor Park, the home of her grandfather. She was named after Edward’s first wife, Anne Ayliffe of Grittenham who died six months into their marriage. We know very little about her life before 1649. She fled with her family to the Netherlands after the execution of the deposed King Charles I and settled in Breda, where she acted as a maid of honour for Mary, Princess Royal and Princess of Orange. Mary sheltered and provided for many of the English refugees. Even Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen of Bohemia, was glad to hear of the appointment.
“I heare Mrs Hide is to come to my neece in Mrs Killigrew’s place which I am verie glad of. She is verie fitt for itt, and a great favorit of mine.”
17-year-old Anne wrote to her father,
“I have received yours of the 13th and shall euer make it soe much my business strickly to observe all your commands in it that when euer I transgress any of them in the least degree it shall be out of ignorance and not willfullness soe that I hope you shall neuer have cause to repent of the good opinion you are pleased to have of me and which I shall dayly endeuour to increase, and since you thinke it fitt for me, shall very cheerfully submit to a life which I have not much desired but now looke upon not onely as the will of my Father, but of Almighty God and therefore doubtles will prove a blessing ; but Sr. you must not wonder if being happy in soe excelent a Father and Mother I cannot part with them without trouble, for though as you say I have been soe unfortunate as allways to live from you yet I looke upon myself now as still more unlikely to be with you or see you, and though I shall often heare from my Mother and I hope see her, yet that will be but little in respect of being continually with her.
I say not this that I repine at goeing to the Princess for I am confident that God that has made her soe gracious in desiring me will make me happy in her service, but I should be the worst of chilldren if I were not very sensible of leaving soe good a Mother and leaving her so much alone ; but I hope you will be together this winter, and in the meane time I beseech you to perswad her to stay as long as shee can wth vs at the Hague, that shee may be as little as is possible alone heare ; I humbly beg your blessing vpon “Sr . ” Your most dutifull and obedient daughter, “ANNE HYDE.”
It was in Mary’s service that Anne met the Duke of York, brother of King Charles II and both were living in exile at the time. They managed to keep their affair secret for quite some time, and a definite date is difficult to set. Nevertheless, at some point, James promised marriage to Anne. When the news finally broke in the family, not all were happy with it. On 3 September 1660 James and Anne again pledged themselves to one another, before witnesses.
“I, James Duke of York do testify and declare that after I had for many months sollicited Anne my wife in the way of marriage, I was contracted to her on the 24th November 1659, at Breda in Brabant and after that tyme and many months before I came into England I lived with her (though with all possible secrecy) as my Wife and after my coming into this Kingdome, And that we might observe all that is enjoyned by the Church of England I married her upon the third of September last in the night between 11 and 12 at Worcester House, my Chaplain, Dr Crowther performing that office according as is directed by the Book of Common Prayer the Lord Ossory being then present and giving her in marriage of the truth of all which I do take my corporall oath this 18 February 1660-61. JAMES.”
By that time Anne was several months into her first pregnancy, and she gave birth to a son named Charles on 22 October 1660. He would die of smallpox just seven months later. The couple would go on to have seven more children, but only two, her daughters Mary and Anne, would live to adulthood. Anne appears to have taken on her new role with pride. James said of her, “Her want of birth was made up by endowments, and her carriage afterwards became her acquired dignity.” She may have become arrogant later on as a Bishop Burnet wrote, “She soon understood what belonged to a Princess, and took state upon her rather too much.” She was on friendly terms with Charles’s Queen, Catherine of Braganza, but there is no evidence that Catherine influenced Anne’s conversion to Catholicism. She was formally reconciled to the Church of Rome by Father Hunt in August 1670, but her husband did not follow her example until eight or nine years later.
By then she was certainly very ill already. She gave birth to a short-lived daughter on 9 February 1671 but had been ill throughout the winter. At the end of March, she took to her bed. Queen Catherine sat by her side, praying with a rosary in her hands. Her last words were, “Duke, Duke, death is terrible death is very terrible!” She died on 31 March 1671 of breast cancer at the age of 34.
Margaret Blagge, who had nursed her wrote of Anne, “The Duchess dead, a princess honoured in power, had muchwitt, much money, much esteeme. She was full of unspeakable torture, and died (poore creature) in doubt of her religion, without the Sacrament or divine by her side, like a poore wretch. None remembered her after one weeke, none sorry for her; she was tost and flung about and every one did what they would with that stately carcase.”1
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