Act of Settlement Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Act of Settlement ensured the Protestant succession to the English throne and increased the power of Parliament. As a result of its passage, the Hanover Dynasty was installed as the ruling family of Great Britain in 1714, and the Stuarts were permanently disenfranchised.

Summary of Event

The 1701 Act of Settlement anticipated the likelihood that the succession to the English throne as limited by the Bill of Rights, England Bill of Rights of 1689 would fail. Earlier, in 1687 and 1688, in an attempt to procure liberty of conscience for his Christian subjects, the Catholic Catholic Church;England James II (James VII in Scotland) had issued proclamations that bitterly alienated the Church of England. Anglican Church Protestantism;England He had also eluded the Test Act Test Act (1673) of 1673, which excluded Catholics from all civil and military offices and Parliament by providing them with military commissions, and promoting them to high office. These affronts to Parliament contributed to his overthrow, which was accelerated by the birth of his son in June, 1688. The notion of a Catholic succession led the parliamentary opposition to solicit James’s elder daughter Mary and her Dutch Protestant husband, William III of Orange, to accept the British monarchy. On February 13, 1689, Mary and her husband William were jointly offered the throne, and on April 11 she, as James’s daughter, became Queen Mary II, and William, her husband, became King William III. [kw]Act of Settlement (June 12, 1701) [kw]Settlement, Act of (June 12, 1701) Protestant succession Hanoverian succession Settlement, Act of (1701) [g]England;June 12, 1701: Act of Settlement[0090] [g]Scotland;June 12, 1701: Act of Settlement[0090] [g]Ireland;June 12, 1701: Act of Settlement[0090] [c]Government and politics;June 12, 1701: Act of Settlement[0090] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;June 12, 1701: Act of Settlement[0090] Anne, Queen George I James II Mary of Modena Mary II Sophia (electress of Hanover) William III

The Bill of Rights concluded the bloodless Glorious Glorious Revolution (1688-1689) Revolution and settled the succession on Mary’s children and, in default of issue, on the children of her sister Anne and then on those of William. Yet Mary died childless in 1694, as did William in 1702. Anne ascended the throne, but Queen Anne’s only surviving child, the duke of Gloucester, had died in 1700. According to the principle of strict hereditary right, the Crown should have descended to the children of James II by his second marriage to Mary of Modena, a Catholic. This branch of the Stuart Dynasty Stuart Dynasty was Roman Catholic, however, and to the great majority of a nation as fiercely Protestant as the English, a Catholic king was anathema.

The Act of Settlement, passed June 12, 1701, accordingly provided that if the line of succession described twelve years earlier in the Bill of Rights should be exhausted, the Crown was to pass to the aged Sophia, electress of Hanover, the last surviving offspring of Elizabeth, daughter of the Stuart king James I and Frederick V, elector Palatine, or to her Protestant descendants. Sophia was the wife of Ernest Augustus, who in 1692 became the first elector of Hanover. The principle of succession, first enunciated in the Bill of Rights and still enshrined in the British constitution, Constitution, British was reaffirmed, that the sovereign must not be a Roman Catholic or even be married to one. The Act of Settlement, by requiring the king to “take an oath to uphold the Church of England as by law established,” also prescribed, as the Bill of Rights had not, that the sovereign must be a communicant of the Church of England, evidence that the Church enjoyed a somewhat stronger position than in 1689.

The act’s major provisions, including the provision that the ruler be an Anglican, were not to take effect until the Hanoverian line succeeded to the throne. This occurred when Queen Anne died in 1714. Sophia’s son George I succeeded Anne to the throne in 1714, and the house of Hanover, the ruling dynasty of the electorate (later kingdom) of Hanover in Germany, supplied five British monarchs between 1714 and 1837.

Because the Hanoverian kings would be foreigners and rulers also of a sovereign state in Germany, which they might be expected to favor, the Act of Settlement imposed on them certain restrictions calculated to protect England from such conflict of interest. Yet the restrictions were equally a reaction against the practices of the unpopular William III, who was himself a foreigner and stadtholder of Holland. In an effort to control him, Parliament had refused to support his costly anti-French campaigns and compelled him to accept the Bill of Rights in 1689 and the 1694 Triennial Act, which required that a new Parliament should meet at least once every three years.

The Act of Settlement stipulated that the sovereign might not leave the British Isles or wage war in defense of his non-British dominions without the consent of Parliament. No foreigner, even though a naturalized British subject, was to be a privy councillor, or a member of the House of Commons or the House of Lords, or hold any office civil or military, or receive any grant of land from the Crown. These prohibitions, however, did not altogether prevent the Hanoverians George I and George II from troubling British politics. Since females were barred from the Hanoverian throne, the connection was severed on the accession of Queen Victoria to the throne of Great Britain in 1837.

Several clauses of the Act of Settlement were designed to reduce the sovereign’s considerable part in government and increase the role of Parliament. Parliament;British Instead of the large and unwieldy Privy Council, William III consulted a small and informal group of confidential advisers giving collective advice and known as the “cabinet council,” a body unknown to the constitution. This practice made it difficult for Parliament to influence royal policy because it could not easily identify for possible future indictment particular advisers responsible for measures it disliked. It also enabled William to ignore leading politicians whose advice he did not want. The act therefore required not only that matters of state were to be transacted in the Privy Council but also that resolutions of that council were to be signed by the person who had advised and approved them.

Parliament’s mood soon changed, however, and the clause was repealed in 1705, long before it could take effect. Another clause, excluding from the House of Commons any person “who has an office of place of profit under the king, or receives a pension from the crown,” was intended to deprive the king of one of his chief means of influencing the Commons. That clause was substantially modified before 1714, however, so that members of the House of Commons, whenever they accepted an office, had only to resign their seats and stand for reelection.

Judicial independence was assured in effect by giving judges tenure during good behavior; henceforth the king might remove them only on the request of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. They were, moreover, to receive fixed salaries in lieu of fees. Finally, persons impeached by the House of Commons could no longer plead the royal pardon, which prevented the king from protecting unpopular ministers from the wrath of Parliament.

Significance

The Act of Settlement determined the course of British royal history through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Despite ongoing threats from Roman Catholic Stuart pretenders, Pretenders to the throne George I was succeeded by his son George II in 1727, by his great-grandson George III in 1760, and by George IV in 1820 and William IV in 1830. In 1837, the British throne passed to a granddaughter of George III, Victoria, while the kingdom of Hanover, which could not be inherited by females, passed to the next male descendant of George III. Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, at which time the British royal family acquired the surname of Wettin, which it kept until the name was changed to Windsor in 1917.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Black, Jeremy. The Hanoverians: The History of a Dynasty. London: Hambledon and London, 2004. Although this book focuses on the reigns of the five Hanoverian monarchs, chapter 1, “The House of Hanover,” includes a brief description of the events leading to the Act of Settlement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kemp, Betty. King and Commons, 1660-1832. London: Macmillan, 1959. Discusses the power relations between the British monarchy and Parliament and how the Act of Settlement solidified Parliament’s position.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kishlansky, Mark. A Monarchy Transformed: Britain, 1603-1714. Vol. 6 in The Penguin History of Britain. London: Allen Lane, 1996. Chapter 12, “A European Union, 1689-1702,” provides information about the Hanoverian succession.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ogg, David. England in the Reigns of James II and William III. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1955. Scholarly work that argues that the Act of Settlement was a completion of the Bill of Rights, a restraint on the Hanover Dynasty, and instrumental in the creation of parliamentary supremacy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Redman, Alvin. The House of Hanover. Reprint. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1969. While this work covers the entire Hanover Dynasty, it provides a section on the importance of the Act of Settlement and a complete bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Trevor, Meriol. The Shadow of a Crown: The Life Story of James II of England and James VII of Scotland. London: Constable, 1988. Biographical account of James’s life that includes his alienation of the Church of England, affronts to Parliament, and dismissal from the throne, as well as the ascension of his daughter Mary and son-in-law William III of Orange.

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