Was Queen Anne really a lesbian? The truth behind The Favourite

Painting of Queen Anne in the 18th century next to Olivia Colman as Queen Anne in The Favourite, a tale about a LGB monarch

The Favourite is a 2018 historical movie about the scandalous love affairs between Queen Anne and two women, who are cousins, during the 18th century, which constantly has people wondering: ‘Was Queen Anne a lesbian?’

The Favourite is directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and based on a screenplay written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. The main location for filming was at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, UK.

The historical comedy-drama film The Favourite delves into the personal and political life of frail Queen Anne while England and France are at war.

During this time, it was indeed common for royalty to pick a ‘court favourite.’ This refers to the intimate companion of a ruler – in this case, Queen Anne (portrayed by Olivia Colman) during her reign. The individual chosen as the favourite is given political power and ultimately influence over the nation.

The movie follows her relationships with two women, Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), and Abigail Masham, née Hill (Emma Stone), who are competing to be ‘the favourite’ as the royal mistress – and lesbian lover.

But how much of the plot is actually true? Was Queen Anne a lesbian? We took a deep dive into the facts.

The Favourite: fact vs fiction

The love triangle between Queen Anne and the women is historically correct, however, there are several differences between the movie and reality.

In real life, Queen Anne had several stillborn births, miscarriages and children who tragically died. This was represented with Queen Anne’s fictionalised pet rabbits in the movie.

You will also notice the queen is very frail in the movie, relying on walking sticks and then a wheelchair. This does reflect reality as she had an autoimmune disease.

The movie also politically portrays the queen as ditsy and indecisive, but this is a bit more of a deviation: many historians argue that she did have leadership qualities, regardless of this common perception.

Who was Sarah Churchill in The Favourite and real life?

Sarah Churchill, an ancestor of Winston Churchill, was a childhood friend of the queen, and they did highlight this in The Favourite.

As depicted in The Favourite, the queen actually did shower Sarah with gifts including an entire palace for her to stay.

Sarah was the  Keeper of the Privy Purse and Duchess of Marlborough. She was Queen Anne’s adviser and secret lover, essentially making her the ‘favourite’ before her cousin came into the picture. Was Queen Anne a lesbian as we would describe sexuality today? It’s unlikely she would have used that term, but her interest in Sarah was certainly romantic.

Sarah and the queen would often swap sexual love letters and were close friends. Historical accounts also support this.

Of course, Sarah’s motives were of a political nature and despite their friendly relationship, Sarah was known to be manipulative.

Who was Abigail Masham née Hill in The Favourite and real life?

Played by Emma Stone, Abigail Masham, née Hill, was the younger cousin of Sarah. Unlike her already somewhat influential cousin, Abigail had little to do with politics and she did lowly work in the castle when she arrived for employment.

Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz in lesbian film The Favourite

Abigail and Sarah in The Favourite (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Much like in reality, Abigail had explained that her father gambled away the family fortune, which is why she needed to work.

Indeed, Queen Anne quickly took notice of the girl due to her charming personality.

And it wasn’t long until Abigail learned of her older cousin’s lesbian affair with Queen Anne, and that’s when she decides to fight for the influence and become the favourite herself. The real motive behind Abigail’s sexual interest in the queen is unclear.

The fight to become Queen Anne’s favourite

With Sarah Churchill’s attention drawn towards the politics surrounding the English and French war, younger cousin Abigail was able to get close to Queen Anne in an attempt to steal her affections.

As in the movie and real life, Queen Anne and Abigail formed a sexual lesbian relationship.

However, such a dramatic sex scandal wouldn’t stay buried for long.

Was poisoned tea really involved?

The secret lesbian affair between Queen Anne and Abigail Masham, née Hill, soon became clear to the Duchess of Marlborough. With her existing influence, she constantly tried to have Abigail sent away so her position was not threatened, but the queen said: “I do not want to.”

Then, the movie takes a fictionalised turn. Emma Stone’s Abigail makes the dire decision to poison her cousin’s tea. In The Favourite, this rendered Sarah unconscious and missing for days. It was finally time for Abigail to make her political move.

The conniving Abigail then got permission to marry a baron in Queen Anne’s court, ultimately securing her power. Much like reality, she was later promoted to Keeper of the Privy Purse, replacing her cousin.

In reality (sorry to be the bearer of boring news) there was no poisoned tea. Instead, Sarah got stripped of her powers due to her constant meddling to get rid of Abigail.

Blackmail and scandal

In The Favourite, when Sarah Churchill was back in court, the Duchess made a great error in judgement. She decided to blackmail her supposed friend Queen Anne.

Indeed, the blackmailing threat was historically accurate, and there are historian’s notes about the relationship turning sour. (Of course, in reality, this did not suddenly happen due to poisonous tea. It happened while they were all around.)

Sarah had demanded that her younger cousin be taken away or else she would leak her personal letters that she and the queen had exchanged, detailing their sexual lesbian relationship.

This ultimately crumbles Sarah’s relationship with the queen.

The Favourite: movie awards

The Favourite has certainly lived up to its name becoming an award-winning movie. It won a record of 10 out of 13 honour prizes at the 21st annual British Independent Film Awards.

Olivia Colman won the Best Actress gong for her portrayal of Queen Anne, and Rachel Weisz won Best Supporting Actress.

The movie was also recognised with the awards for Best British Independent Film, Director and Screenplay as well as several others.

IMDb scored the movie an applaudable 8.3/10

The Favourite: watch the trailer

So, was Queen Anne a lesbian? Well, yes, in short. To all intents and purposes, anyway.

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