Was Queen Anne a secret Jacobite?

Background on Hermann Mohll

Hermann Mohll was one of about twenty Lutheran swordmakers who left Solingen, Germany and moved to Shotley Bridge, England. Mohll arrived there in 1687 and was buried in nearby Ebchester in 1716. He returned to Solingen at least once because he was arrested on his return to England and imprisoned in Morpeth Gaol in December 1703 for smuggling c.1,400 Solingen blades into England. Mohll was released in February 1704, following a letter from Queen Anne’s Secretary of State, Lord Nottingham, which stated that he was not suspected of treason but that the queen left the final decision up to the local justices. One of the justices was Colonel Henry Villiers. For more information about him, please read my original research article and/or the article about Col. Villiers and his conviction for smuggling alongside the known Jacobite, Captain Thomas Gordon.

What is curious about this case is Queen Anne’s lenient treatment of Mohll, Villiers and Gordon when each might have faced treason charges. In Mohll’s case, international negotiations may be a factor because in December 1703, Anne concluded a treaty with the King of Prussia for troops to assist the Duke of Savoy, so perhaps, given her need for soldiers, the queen looked the other way.[1]

Black background with gold lettering. The o of Running Wolf is a pool of molten gold, with a wolf running through it. Above is a Dutch warship beneath 9 swords set out as a sunray.
The Running Wolf by Helen Steadman

Connections between Henry Villiers and Queen Anne

Her lenience with Villiers and Gordon may stem from Villiers’ mother being Anne’s former governess,[2] who died of smallpox in 1677, after caring for her mistress when she was quarantined with that disease. [3] In addition, Anne showed reluctance to execute Jacobites and their supporters, and Edward Gregg points out the lack of political executions during her reign, noting the impeachment of the incendiary preacher Henry Sacheverell in 1710 ended ‘with a ludicrously mild punishment’,[4] although this compassion did not extend to William Gregg, Robert Harley’s clerk, executed in 1708 for high treason after selling state papers to the French.[5] It is tempting to suppose Anne secretly supported a Stuart succession, but there are other factors at play.

Background on Queen Anne

As the younger daughter of James II, Anne reigned from 1702 to 1714 as the last Stuart monarch. Despite her father’s Catholic conversion, she was resolved ‘to suffer all extremities, even death itself, rather than be brought to change her religion.’[6]  Anne conceived 18 children (including twins), but only William, Duke of Gloucester, survived infancy, dying aged 11 in 1700. One possible candidate for succession after Anne was her half-brother, James Francis Edward Stuart (the exiled twelve-year-old Prince of Wales later known as the Pretender and then the Old Pretender), who might be converted to Anglicism. Following her son’s death, Anne reputedly wrote to the exiled court of St Germain, ‘asking permission to succeed William and promising to restore the Prince of Wales thereafter’, although Gregg argues this promise was purely an attempt to manipulate the Jacobites to attain accession.[7] 

The Succession

William III decided that after Anne, the succession would go to a Protestant granddaughter of James I: Sophia, dowager Electress of Hanover and heirs, and the Act of Settlement was passed in 1701 with Anne’s apparent support, but this Act so restricted ‘future Hanoverian monarchs that the elector, Georg Ludwig, suspected that the Tories wished to make the succession so unpalatable that Hanover would reject it, thereby opening the way to the Prince of Wales’.[8]

Louis XIV of France

Following James II’s second stroke in 1701, and in contravention of the Treaty of Ryswick, Louis XIV of France recognised the Prince of Wales as James III of England, Scotland and Ireland, causing uproar and rallying the English behind William, who then called a General Election, thereby diluting Tory influence, allowing him to recommend ‘an oath of abjuration against the Pretender’ and to pave the way for union, not least to prevent a Stuart monarch in Scotland.[9]

Anne appeared ambivalent concerning the Hanoverian succession and while outwardly expressing support, she went to considerable lengths to prevent the Hanover heirs from entering England, even faking a pregnancy to thwart William’s plan to bring the electoral prince to England.[10] There are hints that this was due to Anne hating the prince who, in 1680 ‘had spurned her hand’,[11] but Gregg argues this was purely a rumour circulated by her enemies. [12]

Queen Anne’s dislike of the Hanovers

When Anne acceded to the throne, her annual income increased by £100,000 to match William’s, but she returned this addition during the war, conveniently providing a ‘reasonable excuse for declining to provide an English household for the heiress apparent’,[13] which infuriated Sophia.[14] Anne continued preventing the Hanoverians from entering England and wrote to Marlborough on 13 November 1705: ‘The disagreeable proposal of Bringing some of the house of Hanover into England (which I have bin afraid of soe long) is now very neare being brought into both houses of parliament which gives me a great deal of uneasynes, for I am of a temper always to feare ye worst.’[15]

The Regency Act

Two days later, when the High Tories moved to invite Sophia to England, Anne was ‘incensed by Nottingham’s support of the invitation,’ and went on to support the Whig’s Regency Act in 1706 whereby, on her death, a regency council would exercise sovereign power until the successor entered England, enabling her to support the Protestant succession while barring the Hanover heirs from England during her lifetime, although Rowland Gwynne hinted that Anne was ‘motivated by Jacobite principles,’[16] indicating support for a Stuart succession, with or without the Anglican conversion of the Pretender.

This is undermined by her vetoing the Scottish Parliament’s 1703 Bill of Security to ensure the next monarch of Scotland would be a Protestant, but not the English monarch (allowing for an Anglican Prince of Wales), and she only assented when Scotland threatened to not only ‘withdraw from the present war but also become a base for France.’ [17]

Did Queen Anne mislead her father and the Jacobites?

Anne is often considered to sympathise with the Jacobite cause, but Gregg argues this was a ruse to negate the risk of the Pretender becoming William and Mary’s Protestant heir: ‘they continually held out false hopes to St Germain that the princess (and later the queen) secretly sympathized with the exiled Prince of Wales and would essay his restoration ‘at the right time’ (a time carefully left unspecified).’[18]

Evidently, Anne continued to deceive her father and Gregg posits that ‘For the benefit of their French paymasters, the Jacobites at St Germain repeated their allegations that the princess favoured their cause, but while Gloucester lived, they could not have seriously believed this’[19] and he argues that ‘There is no proof worthy of the name that the queen contemplated the restoration of the Pretender, even if he should be converted to Protestantism’.[20]

The ‘warming pan myth’

According to Gregg, ‘By the spring of 1713, the queen and her Tory ministers were widely suspected of trying to bring in the Pretender’,[21] but he stresses ‘there is no valid reason to believe that the queen favoured her half-brother’ and  cites several examples to support this stance, including her reputed cheerfulness at the revival of the ‘warming pan myth’ surrounding James II’s son, whereby an infant was smuggled into the quarters of his wife, Mary of Modena, and passed off as her own.[22] He goes on to say of Anne that ‘Never was her capacity for deception better illustrated than by the hopes which she consistently held out to the Jacobites after 1691 that “at the proper time” she would support the Pretender’[23] going on to say that this impression ‘had no basis in fact.’[24]

A pragmatic and compassionate queen

On this basis then, Anne’s lenient treatment of Mohll, Villiers and Gordon appears not to be evidence of her support for a Stuart succession. Rather, there are several factors to consider: first, the lenient treatment of suspected Jacobites plays into the ruse of pretending to support a Stuart succession; second, in Villiers’ case, there may also be an element of compassion based on loyalty to his mother on account of Frances Villiers effectively being a mother figure to the queen in childhood; third, in the case of Mohll, the treaty with the King of Prussia in order to gain much-needed additional troops may have influenced her decision.


The Version of Record of this manuscript has been published and is available in Northern History, September 2020, http://www.TandFonline.com <doi 10.1080/0078172X.2020.1802548>. If using this article, or parts of it, in an article of your own, please cite the following source:

Steadman, Helen, ‘The Shotley Bridge Swordmaker, Hermann Mohll: A simple case of smuggling, or getting away with High Treason in 1704?’, Northern History, September 2020, doi 10.1080/0078172X.2020.1802548.

Thank you to the publishers, Taylor & Francis, who have kindly permitted me to share this manuscript on my personal website, helensteadman.com.


[1] William Blackley (ed), The Diplomatic Correspondence of the Right Hon. Richard Hill (London: John Murray, 1845), p. 180

[2] Edward Gregg, Queen Anne (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), p.75. (Interestingly, Gregg states that Edward, Earl of Jersey was the Villiers’ only son.)

[3] Gregg, p. 17.

[4] Gregg, p. 403.

[5] Gregg, pp. 256–261.

[6] Gregg, p. 49.

[7] Gregg, pp. 121–122.

[8] Gregg, p. 123.

[9] Gregg, pp. 127–131.

[10] Gregg, p. 123.

[11] Gregg, p. 23.

[12] Gregg, pp. 24–25.

[13] Gregg, p. 154.

[14] Gregg, pp. 182–183.

[15] Gregg, p. 211.

[16] Gregg, pp. 211–213.

[17] Gregg. pp. 184–185.

[18] Gregg, p. 82.

[19] Gregg, p. 108.

[20] Gregg, p. 150.

[21] Gregg, p. 363

[22] Gregg, p. 365.

[23] Gregg, p. 402.

[24] Gregg, p. 261.

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