A significant royal anniversary recently passed us by, and I did not want to let it go by completely unnoticed or without comment. I don’t find as much time to post on this blog as I might like to do, but this is an important milestone for our Monarchy.
The 1st of August 2014 marked the three hundredth anniversary of the death of Queen Anne of Great Britain, the last of the unfortunate Stewarts to reign over Scotland and England. The reigns of her predecessors, stretching back to her great-grandfather, James VI of Scotland and I of England, were often marred by ill relations with Parliament. Few others are more well-known for their dealings with the House of Commons than Anne’s grandfather, Charles I, whose head was among the many things rent asunder by Cromwell and his cronies. And James II, Anne’s unfortunate father, was driven from his kingdom for his Catholicism. James’ ‘abdication’ paved the way for the accession of his daughter and son-in-law, Mary and William, the champions of “The Protestant Succession”, and later his second daughter, Anne.
By the time of Queen Anne’s death, however, relations between Sovereign and Parliament were somewhat improved, but it was at the expense of the Royal Prerogatives and Powers. It would the next several Sovereigns who succeeded Queen Anne who completed the process of evolution towards Constitutional Monarchy in Britain and thus also in Canada.
Queen Anne was succeeded by Georg Ludwig, Elector of Hanover, who was a descendant of James I through his daughter Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, and who became King George I. Queen Anne had far less distant relations who could have become the next Sovereign (a wikipedia list gives a list of 55 individuals who had a better claim to the throne than Georg Ludwig at the time of the Queen’s death in 1714) but the Act of Settlement, 1701, barred them from the throne for their Catholicism. This discriminatory part of the British Constitution (and subsequently of the constitutions of the independent nations of the Commonwealth) was repealed prior to the birth of Prince George of Cambridge, along with male primogeniture and the 1774 requirement for all descendants of George II to ask the Queen’s permission to marry.
The succession of the Hanoverian dynasty changed the course of British and Commonwealth constitutional history. That much is certain. It led to the two Jacobite Rebellions and all the associated unpleasantness between England and Scotland. There’s little point in speculating exactly how differently things would have turned out if King James’ son “The Old Pretender” has ascended the throne in place of the George I. Might the old Stewart belief in the Divine Right of Kings have reared its head and caused the downfall of the Monarchy? Or might the dynasty which established British rule over America have been more successful in avoiding the Revolutionary War? The “what ifs” are endless.
What we do know is the the reigns of the first four Georges, William IV and Queen Victoria ushered in the style of constitutional monarchy which we enjoy today. It was an era during which the Sovereign ceased to rule and instead reigned over his/her subjects. And it undoubtedly the flexibility of the Monarchy in Britain and the Commonwealth which has allowed it to survive in an era where Kings and Queens are far outnumbered by Presidents and Dictators.