Despite the fact that Anne was, by all accounts, a happily married woman, she certainly had strong female friendships. This began at the age of 12 when Anne had a schoolgirl crush on Frances Apsley. They often wrote to each other in affectionate terms, and this may have foreshadowed the strong friendships she would form with other women later in life.
Anne had known Sarah Jennings since 1673 when Sarah became a part of her stepmother’s household. Sarah married John Churchill, Anne’s father’s Master of the Robes, in late 1677 and it was most likely a love match. They became closer over the years, and Anne became godmother to Sarah’s second daughter in 1683. Shortly after, Sarah’s husband wrote to his wife, “Lady Anne asks for you very often, so I think you would do well if you write to her to thank her for her kindness in enquiring after your health.” Sarah was said to be physically dazzling with red-gold hair. She was not well educated but had utter confidence in her opinions, and she and Anne could not be more different.
It was most likely Sarah herself who suggested to Anne that she should become her lady-in-waiting. Anne became devoted to Sarah and meekly wrote to her, “It is no trouble to me to obey your commands.” Sarah realised the convenience of a friendship with Anne and would later say that the hours she spent with Anne were “a confinement indeed for her” and said that she found Anne “extremely tedious.” Anne realised she was being somewhat compulsive and wrote to Sarah, “You will think me mad, I believe, for troubling you so often.” Anne asked that Sarah not show her letters to anyone, while Sarah insisted that Anne destroy hers. Therefore, we do not know any of Sarah’s replies. We do know that they adopted pen names for each other, to eliminate the awkwardness of their disparity in rank. They became Mrs Morley (Anne) and Mrs Freeman (Sarah), and Anne also insisted that she be less mindful of etiquette. She wrote, “Ceremony is a thing you know I hate with anybody and especially with you.”
But did all of this mean that Anne was also sexually attracted to Sarah? Sarah herself later insinuated that Anne had lesbian tendencies and had a sexual relationship with her dresser Abigail Masham. Both Sarah and Anne were sexually active with their own husbands, as proven by their frequent pregnancies. There is no evidence that Sarah and Anne ever had sexual relations with each other. Meanwhile, John Churchill was created Lord Churchill in 1682, Earl of Marlborough in 1689 and finally Duke of Marlborough in 1702. It was Sarah who convinced Anne to accept William as King. Anne always found it hard when Sarah was away, as she often was because of her young family, and Anne commissioned several paintings of Sarah.
Around 1690, Sarah found out that some of her relations were living in penury. Her grandfather had fathered 22 children, and his youngest daughter married a merchant named Mr Hill. This Mr Hill went bankrupt and died shortly after, leaving his wife and four children destitute. His eldest daughter was Abigail, and she had been working in domestic service. Sarah took Abigail into her household and “treated her with as great kindness as if she had been my sister.” When one of Anne’s Women of the Bedchamber became unwell, Sarah asked if Abigail could take her place. Abigail’s previous employment meant that she was quite unfit for royal service, but nevertheless, Anne was delighted to be “serviceable to dear Mrs Freeman.”
For now, Anne took little notice of Abigail, and she continued to dote on Sarah. When Sarah’s eldest daughter Harriet was set to marry Lord Godolphin’s son, Anne offered the sum of £10,000. Sarah accepted only £5,000 and asked that the rest be given to her other daughter Anne when she married. When Anne became Queen in 1702, Sarah suggested bringing over the Hanoverian Prince who would one day rule in England, Anne was insulted and “not very well pleased.” Sarah later recalled, “We were still friends at the old rate.” The problems came when it became clear that Sarah and Anne were opposed in their political views with Sarah priding herself on being a “true born Whig.” Sarah later wrote, “The disputes at first were only about Whig and Tory… and those sort of difference can’t be irreconcilable.” Sarah was completely inconsiderate of Anne’s opinions and was aggressive about it. They soon no longer discussed politics.
After the death of Sarah’s only son, she became distant and rarely came to court. Anne desperately wrote to her, “Have pity on me and hide nothing… but open your dear heart freely, for I can have no ease till everything is set right between us.” Sarah maintained that she believed that Anne’s feelings for her were cooling and that she had become fond of Abigail Hill, who had slowly risen from lowly servant to trusted confidante. Sarah believed that by 1707, “all the family knew more of that fondness than I did.” Anne would continually refer to Abigail with her surname. In June 1707, Abigail secretly married Samuel Masham, who was also in royal service and while Anne attended the service, Sarah was not even informed of it. This led to several accusations back and forth between Sarah and Anne with Sarah hinting that there was something morally reprehensible about Anne’s relationship with Abigail. Nevertheless, Anne refused to sever ties with Sarah completely.
In the end, there was nothing to suggest that the friendship between Anne and Abigail ever came close to that between Anne and Sarah at first. The use of Abigail’s surname suggests that Anne wished to preserve the gap in rank between them. Sarah’s later allegations completely brush aside the loving relationship Anne had with her husband. Abigail too had a loving relationship with her husband and “produced babies annually.” In 1710, Anne finally cut all ties with Sarah, who had threatened to publish her letters. Abigal now became Keeper of the Privy Purse, a position that Sarah had held before. In 1712, Samuel was created Baron Masham of Otes, making the lowly servant Abigail a baroness. Anne was adamant that Abigail would continue her normal service, even though peeresses normally did not “do several inferior offices.” Abigail “was very well pleased.”
After Anne’s death in 1714, Abigail and her husband were evicted from their lodgings. Their apartments at St James’s Palace were later allocated to the new Prince and Princess of Wales. Sarah went on to produce her memoirs and published some of Anne’s letters.1