The Act of Settlement - 1701


                                                 

The Act of Settlement of 1701 was designed to secure the Protestant succession to the throne, and to strengthen the guarantees for ensuring a parliamentary system of government.

The Act also strengthened the Bill of Rights (1689), which had previously established the order of succession for Mary II’s heirs.

Mary’s father, James II, had fled England in 1688 during events described as the ‘Glorious Revolution’. James’s Roman Catholic sympathies and belief in the divine right of the Crown, resulted in disgruntled parliamentarians offering the throne to his eldest Protestant daughter, Mary. She accepted it, on condition that she could reign jointly with her Dutch husband, William of Orange, who became William III.

From this time onwards the Bill of Rights proved to be of fundamental importance for the evolution of constitutional monarchy. The Act of Settlement reinforced the Bill of Rights, in that it strengthened the principle that government was undertaken by the Sovereign and his or her constitutional advisers (i.e. his or her Ministers), not by the Sovereign and any personal advisers whom he or she happened to choose.

Although the Bill of Rights had established the order of succession with the heirs of Mary II, Anne and William III, neither of James II’s daughters had surviving heirs casting uncertainty on the future of succession. Mary had died of smallpox in 1694, aged 32, and by 1700 William was dying. Anne's only surviving child (out of 17 children), the Duke of Gloucester, had died that same year at the age of 11. Without a confirmed heir, the decision was made by parliament to ensure that succession of future sovereigns remained within the Protestant faith.


            
                                                            The Act of Settlement 0f 1701

According to the 1701 Act, succession to the throne went to Princess Sophia, Electress of Hanover (James I's granddaughter) and her Protestant heirs. However, Sophia died before Queen Anne, therefore the succession passed to her son, George, Elector of Hanover, who, upon Queen Anne's death in 1714, became King George I. The act was later extended to Scotland, as a result of the Treaty of Union enacted in the Acts of  Union of 1707.

The Act also laid down the conditions under which the Crown could be held. No Roman Catholic, nor anyone married to a Roman Catholic, could hold the English Crown. The Sovereign now had to swear to maintain the Church of England (and after 1707, the Church of Scotland).


The Act of Settlement not only addressed the dynastic and religious aspects of succession, it also further restricted the powers and prerogatives of the Crown.

Under the Act, parliamentary consent had to be given for the Sovereign to engage in war or leave the country and judges were to hold office on good conduct and not at Royal pleasure - thus establishing judicial independence.

The Act was signed by King William III and passed by Parliament on June 12th 1701.


 
                                                    
           
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                                                                    Recent Debate


Although Tony Blair threatened to abolish the Act of Settlement 1701, he never did; but now the issue is firmly on the table.
The Act is a huge pillar in the (largely-unwritten) UK Constitution  and to make substantial change to it, could fundamentally affect the political and religious fabric of the nation and further destabilize the basis on which contemporary society and government are based.

The Act of 1701 was written in a post-Reformation Britain and in stipulating that only a Protestant could become sovereign, effectively paved the way for the subsequent Acts of Union of 1706 and 1707. The latter effectively ratified the terms of the Treaty of Union, which changed Scotland's status from that of a sovereign nation and created, through the union with England, the United Kingdom as we now know it. Without the guarantee regarding a continuing Protestant line of succession, the Scots would never have agreed to the union.

But the underlying (and main) point is about 'headship'. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope is the undisputed head, and all Roman Catholics throughout the world - irrespective of gender, rank or status - sit under his authority. (It is not without significance that on any occasion in which the Queen meets with the Pope, she is obliged to wear black, whilst the Pontiff is adorned completely in white. The symbolism is powerful and should not be underestimated.)

In the United Kingdom, the Queen is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. If we confine the Act of Settlement to the dustbin of history, are we to see a Roman Catholic as Supreme Governor? or is that position to go, along with the Act in an effort to appease the liberals, Roman Catholics or those who would drive us down the road to a completely secular society? The monarch governs under God (a relationship enshrined in the Coronation oaths), through her Prime Minister and Parliament, which in turn is elected by the people and overseen by the House of Lords - in which Anglican bishops and archbishops sit as 'Lords Spiritul' amongst the 'Lords Temporal'.

This prospect is of course very appealing to Roman Catholics (who have felt displaced since the Reformation), secular humanists who want no truck with a sovereign God, and also every other person of faith and non-faith, who would aspire to have a representative from their constituency sit on the throne. 

Any repeal of the Act would also delight the Scottish SNP, as the party could then better attract the (Scottish) Catholic vote whilst simultaneously and significantly undermining the constitutional and legal ties between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

In terms of the House of Lords, the 'Lords Spiritual' could (and no doubt would) be drawn from any and every faith grouping. Whilst this is apparently beneficial and more equitable, it is worth remembering that the laws which govern our daily lives are based firmly on Christian precepts rather than (for example) Sharia law. However if as a nation, we wish to cast the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob adrift, then prospect of repealing the Act of Settlement offers a huge opportunity to those who might wish to do so.



The Grand Orange Lodge of England, along with the World Orange Council, strenuously, oppose any alteration, amendment or reduction in the terms of the Act of Settlement 1701. We re-affirm, our commitment to the Act of Settlement of 1701 and urge those in authority to uphold the Constitution as handed down to our generation.


                               



                             The Complete Wording of The Act is as follows:

 

I. Whereas in the first year of the reign of Your Majesty, and of our late most gracious sovereign lady Queen Mary (of blessed memory), an Act of Parliament was made, entitled, An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown, wherein it was (amongst other things) enacted, established, and declared that the crown and regal government of the Kingdoms of England, France, and Ireland, and the dominions thereunto belonging, should be and continue to Your Majesty and the said late Queen, during the joint lives of Your Majesty and the said Queen, and to the survivor: and that after the decease of Your Majesty and of the said Queen, the said Crown and regal government should be and remain to the heirs of the body of the said late Queen; and for default of such issue, to Her Royal Highness the Princess Anne of Denmark, and the heirs of her body; and for default of such issue to the heirs of the body of Your Majesty. And it was thereby further enacted, that all and every person and persons that then were, or afterwards should be reconciled to, or shall hold communion with the see or Church of Rome, or should profess the popish religion, or marry a papist, should be excluded, and are by that Act made for ever incapable to inherit, possess, or enjoy the Crown and government of this realm, and Ireland, and the dominions thereunto belonging, or any part of the same, or to have, use, or exercise any regal power, authority, or jurisdiction within the same: and in all and every such case and cases the people of these realms shall be and are thereby absolved of their allegiance: and that the said Crown and government shall from time to time descend to and be enjoyed by such person or persons, being Protestants, as should have inherited and enjoyed the same, in case the said person or persons, so reconciled, holding communion, professing or marrying, as aforesaid, were naturally dead: After the making of which statute, and the settlement therein contained, your majesty's good subjects, who were restored to the full and free possession and enjoyment of their religion, rights, and liberties, by the providence of God giving success to your majesty's just undertakings and unwearied endeavours for that purpose, had no greater temporal felicity to hope or wish for, that to see a royal progeny descending from Your Majesty, to whom (under God) they owe their tranquillity, and whose ancestors have for many years been principal assertors of the reformed religion and the liberties of Europe, and from our said most gracious sovereign lady, whose memory will always be precious to the subjects of these realms: and it having since pleased Almighty God to take away our said sovereign Lady, and also the most hopeful Prince William, Duke of Gloucester (the only surviving issue of Her Royal Highness the Princess Anne of Denmark) to the unspeakable grief and sorrow of Your Majesty and your said good subjects, who under such losses being sensibly put in mind, that it standeth wholly in the pleasure of Almighty God to prolong the lives of Your Majesty and of Her Royal Highness, and to grant to Your Majesty, or to Her Royal Highness, such issue as may be inheritable to the Crown and regal government aforesaid, by the respective limitations in the said recited act contained, do constantly implore the divine mercy for those blessings: and Your Majesty's said subjects having daily experience of your royal care and concern for the present and future welfare of these Kingdoms, and particularly recommending from your throne a further provision to be made for the succession of the Crown in the Protestant line, for the happiness of the nation, and the security of our religion; and it being absolutely necessary for the safety, peace, and quiet of this realm, to obviate all doubts and contentions in the same, by reason of any pretended title to the Crown, and to maintain a certainty in the succession thereof, to which your subjects may safely have recourse for their protection, in case the limitations in the said recited act should determine: therefore for a further provision of the succession of the Crown in the Protestant line, we Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, do beseech Your Majesty that it may be enacted and declared, and be it enacted and declared by the King's most excellent majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, That the most excellent Princess Sophia, Electress and Duchess Dowager of Hanover, daughter of the most excellent Princess Elizabeth, late Queen of Bohemia, daughter of our late sovereign lord King James the First, of happy memory, be and is hereby declared to be the next in succession, in the Protestant line, to the imperial Crown and dignity of the said Realms of England, France, and Ireland, with the dominions and territories thereunto belonging, after His Majesty, and the Princess Anne of Denmark, and in default of issue of the said Princess Anne, and of His Majesty respectively: and that from and after the deceases of His said Majesty, our now sovereign lord, and of Her Royal Highness the Princess Anne of Denmark, and for default of issue of the said Princess Anne, and of His Majesty respectively, the Crown and regal government of the said Kingdoms of England, France, and Ireland, and of the dominions thereunto belonging, with the royal state and dignity of the said Realms, and all honours, styles, titles, regalities, prerogatives, powers, jurisdictions and authorities, to the same belonging and appertaining, shall be, remain, and continue to the said most excellent Princess Sophia, and the heirs of her body, being Protestants: and thereunto the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, shall and will in the name of all the people of this Realm, most humbly and faithfully submit themselves, their heirs and posterities: and do faithfully promise, that after the deceases of His Majesty, and Her Royal Highness, and the failure of the heirs of their respective bodies, to stand to, maintain, and defend the said Princess Sophia, and the heirs of her body, being Protestants, according to the limitation and succession of the Crown in this act specified and contained, to the utmost of their powers, with their lives and estates, against all persons whatsoever that shall attempt anything to the contrary.

 

II.Provided always, and be it hereby enacted, That all and every person and persons, who shall or may take or inherit the said Crown, by virtue of the limitation of this present act, and is, are or shall be reconciled to, or shall hold communion with, the See or Church of Rome, or shall profess the popish religion, or shall marry a papist, shall be subject to such incapacities, as in such case or cases are by the said recited act provided, enacted, and established; and that every King and Queen of this Realm, who shall come to and succeed in the imperial Crown of this Kingdom, by virtue of this act, shall have the coronation oath administered to him, her or them, at their respective coronations, according to the act of Parliament made in the first year of the reign of His Majesty, and the said late Queen Mary, intituled An Act for Establishing a Coronation Oath, and shall make, subscribe, and repeat the declaration in the act first above recited mentioned or referred to, in the manner and form thereby prescribed.

 

III. And whereas it is requisite and necessary that some further provision be made for securing our religion, laws and liberties, from and after the death of His Majesty and the Princess Anne of Denmark, and in default of issue of the body of the said Princess, and of His Majesty respectively; be it enacted by the King's most excellent majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same,

That whosoever shall hereafter come to the possession of this Crown, shall join in communion with the Church of England, as by law established;

That in case the Crown and imperial dignity of this Realm shall hereafter come to any person, not being a native of this Kingdom of England, this nation be not obliged to engage in any war for the defence of any dominions or territories which do not belong to the Crown of England, without the consent of Parliament;

That no person who shall hereafter come to the possession of this Crown, shall go out of the dominions of England, Scotland, or Ireland, without the consent of Parliament;

That from and after the time that the further limitation by this act shall take effect, all matters and things relating to the well governing of this Kingdom, which are properly cognizable in the Privy Council by the laws and customs of this Realm, shall be translated there, and all resolutions taken thereupon shall be signed by such of the Privy Council as shall advise and consent to the same;

That after the said limitation shall take effect as aforesaid, no person born out of the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, or Ireland, or the dominions thereunto belonging (although he be naturalized or made a denizen, except such as are born of English parents) shall be capable to be of the Privy Council, or a member of either House of Parliament, or to enjoy any office or place of trust, either civil or military, or to have any grant of lands, tenements or hereditaments from the Crown, to himself or to any other or others in trust for him;

That no person who has an office or place of profit under the King, or receives a pension from the Crown, shall be capable of serving as a member of the House of Commons;

That after the said limitation shall take effect as aforesaid, judges commissions be made quamdiu se bene gesserint, and their salaries ascertained and established; but upon the address of both Houses of Parliament it may be lawful to remove them;

That no pardon under the Great Seal of England be pleadable to an impeachment by the Commons in Parliament.

 

IV. And whereas the laws of England are the birth-right of the people thereof, and all the Kings and Queens, who shall ascend the throne of this Realm, ought to administer the government of the same according to the said laws, and all their officers and ministers ought to serve them respectively according to the same: the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, do therefore further humbly pray, That all the laws and statutes of this Realm for securing the established religion, and the rights and liberties of the people thereof, and all other laws and statutes of the same now in force, may be ratified and confirmed, and the same are by His Majesty, by and with the advice of the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, and by authority of the same, ratified and confirmed accordingly.