Friday, June 10, 2011

James Francis Edward Stuart and the Settlement Act of 1701

Usually, the birth of a royal child is an occasion of great joy! When the royal child is a boy, the joy is usually even greater! The succession is assured--even though early modern rates of infant mortality might not guarantee that assurance--and the dynasty's future is secure.

In the case of the birth of James Francis Edward Stuart, son of King James II and VII of England, Ireland and Scotland and his second wife Mary Beatrice of Modena on this date in 1688--the response was muted to say the least. His half-sister Anne, James's youngest daughter by his first wife, Anne Hyde, helped spread the rumor that the baby boy was an imposter, smuggled in to the chamber in a warming pan while his mother pretended to give birth. Instead of receiving congratulations, his father had to testify to the fact that he was the father and his wife and queen the mother.

The problem for this baby boy was that he was a Catholic born heir to the throne of a Protestant country and the stability of a Catholic succession in England was not welcome news. It was received first by the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and then by the Act of Settlement in 1701, deposing his father and denying his right to succeed, respectively.

Recently I reported that the current UK government attempted to introduce reforms to the 1701 Act of Settlement, removing the restriction from any heir to the throne or occupant of the throne to be Catholic or married to a Catholic. That Act of Settlement is part of the British Constitution and Queen Elizabeth II herself may have prevented any changes to it, especially in view of the vows she took on her Coronation Day. (King George III prevented Catholic relief legislation during his reign from going any farther than it did because of those vows to protect the Church of England and the Protestant religion). Anglicans feared that James II and his son would not fulfill those vows, especially as the king was trying to prepare a Parliament that would pass his Declaration of Indulgence.

So remembering the birth of a baby boy on June 10, 1688 has current implications. That baby prince would live in exile from England from the age of about four months. His half-sister would repent of her lie about the circumstances of his birth--for his resemblance to her father and stepmother would advertise the truth--but not enough to even attempt to preserve his right to succeed their father, crowned and anointed king, in 1701. Upon Anne's death the Hanoverian dynasty would come to the throne of England.

I will be on the Son Rise Morning Show this morning at 6:45 Central, 7:45 Eastern to discuss this birthday and its current impact on the relationship between church and state in the United Kingdom.

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