The questionable spending habits of Queen Anne discovered at Blenheim

By Lily Rodgers at

Nestled among the repository of archives within Blenheim Palace are some 18th century accounts which have recently been rediscovered. The accounts belonged to Queen Anne and cover a three year period from 1708-1711, providing historians with a fascinating insight into the Queen’s life.

The records were scrupulously kept by Queen Anne’s close friend Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, who prided herself on her bookkeeping. Sarah acted as ‘Keeper of the Privy Purse’ to Anne and supervised the Queen’s expenditures, including her supply of pocket money, play money and charity money.

Dr Alexa Frost, Blenheim Palace archivist, re-discovered the documents during a search of the archives. She said: “Sarah was a meticulous book-keeper and her insistence that every penny was accounted for was really quite revolutionary.”

For the first time, the multi-million pound cost of running the court and country were being accurately recorded. Dr Frost added: “She even insisted on the Queen personally signing off all the expenditures.”

Along with detailing the huge sums of money involved, the accounts also reveal a treasure trove of new information and mysterious entries. Records such as a payment of £10 and 15 shillings, equivalent to around £2,250 in today’s money, to the ‘Mad Spaniard’ and £1,000 (£220,000 today) to a ‘Mr M by the Queen’s order of Secret Service’ along with a payment of nearly £7,000 (in today’s currency) to a Mr Gilliard for making an anthem on Thanksgiving Day.

More surprising was the astonishing amount the Queen spent on tea and chocolate.

Dr Frost added: “On 2nd May 1709 there is a payment of almost £50 to a Mrs Hyde for chocolate. That would equate to about £11,000 today. A year later a similar amount was paid to a Mrs Devet for tea. Chocolate had been the most fashionable female breakfast drink among the aristocracy before the introduction of tea and both were extremely costly but even taking that into account it does appear to be a large sum to pay.”

According to the accounts, the Duchess and Queen Anne were heard to argue in public during a thanksgiving service at St Paul’s Cathedral celebrating Sarah’s husband, the Duke of Marlborough and his victory over the French at the Battle of Oudenarde. Although their friendship survived many storms, this public row is believed to be one of the key points in the unravelling of their long relationship, which eventually led to Queen Anne banishing Sarah Churchill from Court.

Historian Dr Janina Ramirez is releasing ‘Art Detective’ podcast interviews with Ophelia Field and Dr Alexa Frost about the relationship between Sarah Churchill and Queen Anne. Listen to the episodes at acast.com/artdetective