Opposing Dissenters now and then
Did you know that Queen Anne is dead?’ is a proverbial expression used to indicate that someone’s so-called news is in fact outdated. It is sometimes used nowadays in the sense of ‘Your attitudes are behind the times!’
Freedom of religion
The phrase entered the English language because the legal position with regard to freedom of religion changed dramatically with the death of Queen Anne in 1715.
At that point, freedom of religion for those who dissented from the established Church of England had been in place for 26 years. Those who hated this freedom had never ceased to attack it. (There is a striking parallel with the present attacks on the practice of biblical Christianity in the UK.)
The Glorious Revolution of 1688 led to the Toleration Act of 1689. Before that, non-conformity in England to the Anglican Church was illegal. Non-conformists could not legally build meeting-houses (‘chapels’ is a later usage), nor open schools.
All this changed when the Act was passed. Non-conformity, which was illegal, gave way to Dissent, which was ‘tolerated’. Under certain conditions, there was freedom of Protestant religion for Presbyterians, Independents, and Baptists, among others.
Opposition to religious freedom
This was anathema to the strong high church party, who sought to overturn it. They had little success under William III, but not for want of trying. Indeed, some who were considered moderate Anglicans, such as bishops Stillingfleet and Tillotson, urged the government to prevent the setting up of academies to train dissenting ministers.