Page 9 - History 2020
P. 9

The important point is that there was no single revolutionary moment which created

            our parliamentary system, but rather a process over time. 1688 was one of many
            milestones along this road. It indirectly made Parliament supreme, in an almost
            accidental way.

            Queen Mary, much loved for her open, generous nature, died young and childless
            aged 30 in 1694. William was grief-stricken. He died in 1702, less loved but liked for
            his devotion to Mary. William was succeeded by his sister-in-law Anne whose tragic
            trials with unsuccessful pregnancies are well known. When Anne’s last surviving son

            died aged 11 in 1700, the English had to face the prospect of another problematical
            succession. Their response was the 1701 Act of Settlement. This unexpectedly turned
            out to be a really important law.

            James II died in 1701; his Catholic son James Stuart was next in line. He was a
            Catholic; he lived in exile and had been befriended by Louis XIV; he was therefore
            completely unacceptable to the English. The search began to identify the next

            suitable, i.e. Protestant, heir to Queen Anne. This meant passing over no fewer than
            55 Catholic Stuart descendants. The search ended with the Protestant Sophia,
            Electress* of Hanover (1630-1713), Anne’s cousin once removed, a granddaughter of
            James 1, a niece of Charles I, and by the 1701 Act of Settlement, suddenly heir to the
            British throne! In an amazing stroke of bad luck, she died in June 1714, less than two
            months before she would have succeeded as Queen Sophia I of England. Instead her
            son George succeeded, the first of the Hanoverians.#

            *”Elector” meant a ruler who helped elect the Holy Roman Emperor.

            #Sophia would have been an able and interesting Queen. She became a friend, admirer and
            correspondent of Leibniz, the foremost philosopher and mathematician of the age, while he was
            librarian at the court of Hanover. Their published correspondence reveals her exceptional
            intellectual ability and curiosity. She was well-read in the works of other leading philosophers
            Descartes and Spinoza, and improved the Hanoverians’ summer palace and also its gardens which
            still exist.

            The point about the 1701 Act of Settlement was that it laid down strict conditions for

            George’s accession. The motive was not to assert parliamentary supremacy, but
            rather exasperation at the prospect of yet another annoying Protestant foreigner
            coming to the British throne. The Act therefore said that future monarchs had to be
            practising Anglicans and couldn’t marry a Catholic. They couldn’t pardon anyone
            impeached by parliament. Also the annoying things William had done - frequently
            leaving the country without permission, packing the Privy Council with his own

            foreign advisers, inveigling us into a prolonged and expensive war on behalf of his
            former homeland - were forbidden and made strictly the prerogative of parliament.
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