Show Summary Details

Page of
PRINTED FROM Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single article in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Anne [née Anne Hyde], duchess of Yorklocked

  • John Miller

Anne, duchess of York (1637–1671)

by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1660

Anne [née Anne Hyde], duchess of York (1637–1671), first wife of James II, was born on 12 March 1637 at Cranbourne Lodge, Windsor Park, the eldest daughter of Sir Edward Hyde (1609–1674), created earl of Clarendon in 1661, and Frances, daughter of Sir Thomas Aylesbury, bt (bap. 1617, d. 1667).

Early life and marriage

While her father remained at Charles II's court at Paris, Anne and her mother, sister, and brothers settled in the Low Countries, first at Antwerp and then at Breda. There Charles's sister Mary, princess of Orange, appointed Anne one of her maids of honour in 1655. The queen mother, Henrietta Maria, loathed Sir Edward Hyde and was said to have become ill because Princess Mary insisted on keeping Anne in her service. Sir Edward also regretted it because it caused friction between mother and daughter. In 1656 Anne accompanied Mary to Paris, where she first met James, duke of York, the future James II. By 1659 James and his brothers were based in Brussels and made frequent visits to their sister. During this time James fell in love with Anne, and in either August or November (accounts differ) he made a marriage contract with her, which he later took back. In the spring of 1660 Anne discovered that she was pregnant. By now, with the king's restoration imminent, James's marriage prospects were much improved; moreover, as Charles had yet to marry, James's choice of wife had important implications for the succession. James found himself torn between his passion for Anne and his duty to his brother, who refused him permission to marry her. At last Charles relented, and on 3 September the couple were secretly married by James's chaplain, Dr Crowther, in the presence of James Butler, earl of Ossory, and Anne's maidservant Ellen Stroud.

On 22 October the duchess of York gave birth to a son, Charles, created duke of Cambridge. Questioned repeatedly during her labour, she insisted that James was the father and that she was married to him. James had previously denied that he was married, but now confessed it, only to come under sustained pressure to deny it. His mother still detested Hyde and was furious that Charles had made him lord chancellor and chief minister; she rushed over from France to break the marriage. Hyde was acutely embarrassed. Well aware that he would be accused of unbridled ambition in marrying his daughter into the royal family, he suggested that she should be sent to the Tower and even executed. Meanwhile, James's leading servants, notably Charles Berkeley and Henry Jermyn, who hated Clarendon, regaled their master with claims that they had enjoyed Anne's favours on numerous occasions. Once more James vacillated, but Charles did not. Having given his permission and been convinced that the marriage was legal, he insisted that it should stand. He rebuffed suggestions that it should be annulled by an act of parliament, saying that he would never allow parliament to meddle with the succession. His mother's sulks and tantrums failed to move him and she was peremptorily ordered by Cardinal Mazarin to accept the marriage with the best grace she could. In December James and Anne appeared publicly as man and wife, and on 1 January 1661 the queen mother dined with her family and gave all of them her blessing, including Anne.

Married life

James was well pleased with his bride. According to Anthony Hamilton, the duchess of York 'had a majestic air, a pretty good shape, not much beauty, a great deal of wit', and 'an air of grandeur in all her actions' appropriate to her new-found rank (Hamilton, 110). A French envoy found her witty and sociable and commented on the excellence of her French (Bartet to Mazarin, 2/12 and 10/20 Jan 1661, Archives du Ministère des Affaires Étrangères). Sir John Reresby, who met her in 1665, thought her 'very handsome' with 'a great deal of wit'. He was also impressed that she handled without flinching a small snake that he had with him (Memoirs of Sir John Reresby, 55). Pepys thought her 'a plain woman and like her mother' and remarked more than once that she was proud (Pepys, 2.80; 3.64, 8.286–7). She and James seemed well suited. In 1663 Pepys noted that they showed 'impertinent and methought unnatural dalliances … before the whole world, such as kissing of hands and leaning upon one another' (Pepys, 4.4). When James went to the fleet in 1664, she vowed to receive no visitors, not even her mother, until he returned, and spent her days in prayer. Already, however, James was showing that he could never confine his attentions to one woman. A succession of mistresses followed, driving Anne into paroxysms of jealousy. Only once did she seem to retaliate, flirting with her handsome master of the horse, Henry Sidney. After a series of furious rows, and days on which James refused to speak to her, Sidney was banished from court. Perhaps in compensation for James's infidelities she became 'one of the highest feeders in England' and 'grew so fat and plump that it was a blessing to see her' (Hamilton, 274). Her added girth did not detract from her stateliness or her strength of character. The French ambassador called her a 'très brave femme' and commented on her courage and firmness (Comminges to Louis XIV, 28 March/7 April 1664, Archives du Ministère des Affaires Étrangères). Her husband was certainly no match for her. He was widely seen as under her thumb: 'the duke of York, in all things but his codpiece, is led by the nose by his wife' (Pepys, 9.342). She also appears to have managed the duke's household finances with considerable firmness, while at the same time ensuring that she had plenty to spend, especially on jewels. Her extravagance, and the sheer size of James's household, ensured that through most of the 1660s expenditure exceeded income by £20,000 a year or more. This led to a rare quarrel with her father, whom she blamed for what she saw as her husband's inadequate allowance.


As a woman of intelligence and determination, Anne was not prepared to spend all her time in domesticity and pleasure. The political importance of her father (now earl of Clarendon) and her husband drew her into political life. French ambassadors thought her influential and her support for the sale of Dunkirk to the French was rewarded with a generous gift. As James and Clarendon generally agreed on politics, she rarely had to choose between them, but when James complained of the chancellor's opposition to war with the Dutch, Anne sided with her husband. With Clarendon's fall from power late in 1667 James's position became vulnerable. In 1660 Clarendon had feared that people would suspect him of contriving his daughter's marriage so that one of his grandchildren would inherit the crown. Such charges became all too plausible as the queen, Catherine of Braganza, failed to produce a child, although she suffered more than one miscarriage. There were allegations that Clarendon, who had negotiated the marriage, had deliberately chosen a woman who could not bear children. By contrast, Anne gave birth to eight, of whom Mary (1662–1694) and Anne (1665–1714) survived to become queens of England. For the rest there were two daughters and four sons, three of whom bore the title duke of Cambridge. All died in infancy: Charles (1660–1661), James (1663–1667), another Charles, duke of Kendal (1666–1667), and Edgar (1667–1671).

In the years after Clarendon's fall, therefore, James had heirs—a small, sickly son and two healthy daughters—and Charles had none. Clarendon's enemies—notably Henry Bennet, earl of Arlington, and George Villiers, second duke of Buckingham—were determined to ensure that he did not return from exile and resume power. They were therefore eager to drive from office and from the court all who might support Clarendon's return, among whom James and Anne were the most conspicuous. To this end they sought to make Charles jealous of his brother's influence and ambitions and to supplant him from his position as heir presumptive. One possibility was that Charles might vest the succession in his son James Scott, duke of Monmouth, but there was no doubt that Monmouth was illegitimate, so a more promising expedient seemed to be for Charles to divorce the queen on the grounds of sterility. In this context the bill in parliament to divorce John Manners, Lord Roos, from his unfaithful wife attracted considerable attention. James and Anne vigorously mobilized opposition to the bill, leaving them open to claims that they did not wish to see Charles have children. In the event, there was no royal divorce, but the position of James and Anne appeared precarious through much of the period 1668–70.

Conversion and death

It was in these years that both James and Anne converted to Roman Catholicism. Anne was a devout woman who had practised secret confession since the age of twelve and who clearly valued the visual and the ritual elements in worship: Pepys saw her in James's 'little pretty chapel' at her 'silly devotions' (Pepys, 9.163–4). In 1669 a visiting Italian remarked that she spent much of her time shut away with her spiritual advisers. When James became a Catholic, he showed her a number of works on the Reformation, notably those of Peter Heylin, who suggested that the destruction of the old religion in England was motivated primarily by greed for church property. In April 1670 James told the French ambassador that Anne had decided to become a Catholic and that they both were eager for the completion of the secret treaty of Dover so that they could avow their religion. In December Charles remarked that Anne had not taken communion for some time, nor had her Anglican chaplains said prayers for her during her recent illness. James admitted that she had decided to be received into the Roman church (which she was soon after by the Franciscan Father Hunt). Charles asked him to keep it very secret (Bodl. Oxf., MS Carte 180, fols. 34–5, 58; Mignet, 3.164; Clarke, 1.452). By now she was seriously ill; her condition was not helped by the fact that she was pregnant again. She gave birth to her eighth child, a daughter, on 9 February 1671, but by now her fatal illness, probably breast cancer, was in an advanced stage. For a while her health seemed to improve. On 30 March she ate a hearty dinner, but fell ill that night and died at 3 p.m. the following day. James and the queen sat with her. She told them she did not wish to see a bishop; if one insisted on coming to her, they were to tell him not to trouble her with controversies. James told Walter Blandford, bishop of Oxford, of her conversion. He replied that he would not dispute with her, as he was sure it was not for worldly ends, made 'a short Christian exhortation', and left. As her agony grew, her senses faded. According to different accounts, her last words were either 'Duke, Duke, death is terrible, death is very terrible' or else the word 'truth', repeated over and over again (Seventh Report, HMC, 489; Burnet's History, 1.537–9). She was buried on 5 April in the vault of Mary, queen of Scots in Henry VII's chapel at Westminster Abbey.


  • The life of Edward, earl of Clarendon … written by himself, new edn, 3 vols. (1827)
  • A. Hamilton, Memoirs of the court of Charles II (1846)
  • The life of James the Second, king of England, ed. J. S. Clarke, 2 vols. (1816)
  • Calendar of the Clarendon state papers preserved in the Bodleian Library, ed. O. Ogle and others, 5 vols. (1869–1970)
  • The Nicholas papers, ed. G. F. Warner, 4 vols., CS, new ser., 40, 50, 57, 3rd ser., 31 (1886–1920)
  • F. A. M. Mignet, Négociations relatives à la succession d'Espagne, 4 vols. (1835–42)
  • Memoirs of Sir John Reresby, ed. A. Browning, 2nd edn, ed. M. K. Geiter and W. A. Speck (1991)
  • J. Miller, James II (1978)
  • Burnet’s History of my own time, ed. O. Airy, new edn, 1 (1897)
  • Seventh report, HMC, 6 (1879)
  • correspondance politique, Angleterre, Archives du Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, Paris [dispatches of the Fr. ambassadors in London; incomplete transcripts in TNA: PRO, PRO 31/3]


  • Archives du Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, Paris, correspondance politique, Angleterre, dispatches of the French ambassadors in London
  • TNA: PRO, dispatches of the French ambassadors in London, 31/3 [transcripts, incomplete]


  • P. Lely, oils, 1660, Scot. NPG [see illus.]
  • P. Lely, oils, 1662, Royal Collection
  • P. Lely, 1662–1666, Royal Collection; version, NPG
  • P. Lely, oils, 1663 (with her husband), Petworth House, Sussex; version, NPG
  • miniature, 1670 (after P. Lely), NPG
  • oils, 1670 (after P. Lely), NPG; version, Knole, Kent
  • P. Lely and B. Gennari, group portrait, oils, 1674 (with family), Royal Collection
Camden Society
Historical Manuscripts Commission
S. Pepys, ed. R. Latham & W. Matthews, 11 vols. (1970–83); repr. (1995); repr. (2000)