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What is the Act of Settlement?

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  • Written By: Dee S.
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2016
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On 12 June 1701, the English Parliament began to regulate the succession to the throne of Great Britain. This has often been called the Act of Settlement or the Act of Settlement 1701. It was also extended to cover Scotland through the Treaty of Union.

The origins of the Act of Settlement are very interesting. Before its creation, the throne of England was regulated by the 1689 Bill of Rights. Under the Bill of Rights, James II –- who was Roman Catholic -- was considered to abdicate the throne when he retreated to France during the Glorious Revolution. James II had many supporters, even though he was in exile. So, Parliament decided it was important to directly lay out the rules of who could rule from the throne of England.

As a result of James II’s flight, his daughter, Mary II and her husband William III, ruled over England. The Bill of Rights clearly stated that the throne would succeed to the children of William and Mary, then to Mary’s sister Anne and her descendants, and then to any children of William III, if he were to remarry and have children. As it turned out, Mary II died without any children and William III did not marry again. Then, Anne’s only child died and it was determined that she would probably not have any additional children.

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Consequently, a new law was needed to make sure that the throne would continue to have the Protestants reign after Anne. Thus, the Act of Settlement was passed by Royal Assent in 1701. It was decreed that the crown would pass to Sophia of Hanover – the grand daughter of James I. It also stated that it would continue on to her heirs, if they were Protestant. The main concern was that James II, his son James Francis Edward or his daughter Louisa Maria Teresa Stuart, or a Catholic would try to take over the throne.

The Act of Settlement not only regulated the succession of the throne, but it also covered other key provisions. It directly stated that all future successors must be part of the Church of England – a Roman Catholic was unabashedly barred from becoming a successor. In addition, it decreed that if a successor is not native to England, then England does not have to defend any territories that are not under English rule, such as Hanover. It also stated that judges can be impeached by both of the houses of Parliament. Lastly, it decreed that any impeachments could not be pardoned by the ruling monarch.

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