|Sophia, Electress of Hanover|
The Act of Settlement 1701 was passed in the long shadow of the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688, which resulted in the deposition and flight into exile of King James II and the substitution by Parliament of the elder daughter of his first marriage, Princess Mary, and her husband William of Orange (the son and heir of King Charles I’s only daughter), who reigned jointly until Mary’s death. William III was succeeded by Mary’s younger sister, who from 1704 reigned as Queen Anne. None of these three produced an heir who survived infancy or early childhood. The sobering task facing the Parliament in 1701 was therefore to investigate such claims to the throne as might legitimately exist much farther afield. The heir presumptive to (1) the heir apparent, Princess Anne, her only surviving son, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, a sickly child, died the previous year, aged eleven. The first and nearest subsequent claimants were (2) the twelve year-old Prince James Francis Edward Stuart, the only son of James II by his second wife Mary of Modena. Prince James, known subsequently as “the Old Pretender,” was therefore the catholic half-brother of Mary II and Anne. (3) His younger sister, Princess Louisa Maria Teresa, was only eight. As catholics both were completely unacceptable. The posterity of King Charles I was therefore almost exhausted. Princess Anne died in 1640, aged three and a half. Princess Elizabeth died in 1650, aged not quite fifteen. Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, died in 1660, aged twenty. Charles II died in 1685 without a legitimate heir, but innumerable illegitimate ones. James II had been dealt with, which left their only sister Princess Mary (the Princess Royal), who in 1641 married William, Prince of Orange, Stadholder of the Netherlands. The Princess Royal had only one son, also William of Orange, who, under the settlement of 1688, as we have seen, reigned jointly with Mary II and, in fact, signed the Act of Settlement into law. There remained, however, one surviving line of descent from King Charles I, that of his youngest child and daughter Princess Henrietta, Duchess of Orléans, who died in 1670, aged thirty-six. Of her two daughters, Marie-Louise of Spain died childless in 1689, but (4) Anne-Marie, the younger, was in 1701 Queen consort of Sardinia. She had four children (5) Marie Adélaïde of Savoy, Duchess of Burgundy (later Dauphine of France); (6) Maria Luisa of Savoy, later Queen of Spain; (7) Victor Amadeus of Savoy, in due course Prince of Piedmont, who was less than two years old in 1701, and (8) and the infant Charles Emmanuel of Savoy, a future King of Sardinia. All were catholic, and therefore unacceptable.
Having eliminated all descendants of Charles I, Parliament turned to such living descendants of King James I as remained in the picture. Henry, Prince of Wales died childless in 1612, but a third child, Princess Elizabeth, Electress Palatine of the Rhine (and briefly Queen of Bohemia, also known as “the Winter Queen”) had a daunting brood of twelve children. Of these, the Princes Louis and John Frederick died in infancy, as did Princess Charlotte; Henry Frederick of the Rhine, died in 1629, aged fifteen; Princesses Elizabeth and Louise Hollandine were both nuns; Princess Henriette Marie also died childless in 1651, followed by Prince Maurice the following year, also childless. This left three, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, whose only daughter (9) Ruperta was still alive in 1701, though married to Lieutenant-General Emanuel Scrope Howe. However, Ruperta Howe was illegitimate, and therefore out of the question. Now, Charles I Louis, Elector Palatine of the Rhine, died in 1680, but in 1701 one child of his first marriage (10) Elisabeth Charlotte, Princess Palatine, Duchess of Orléans, was alive but catholic. Three further children of his second marriage were also alive: (11) Princess Luise von der Pfalz, (12) Princess Amalie Elisabeth von der Pfalz, and (13) Prince Karl Moritz von der Pfalz. It is not clear to me why none of these would do, but it seems that the taint of catholicism must have attached somehow to all of the Von der Pfalzes. This left the Winter Queen’s youngest child, (14) Sophia, Electress of Hanover, who, in the end, was fortunate to be nominated by Parliament, together with her heirs and successors.
However, before that decision was reached, and to investigate as exhaustively as possible all prior or existing claims, Parliament turned, first, to the surviving descendants of King Henry VIII (there were none), and even of King Henry VII (Henry Tudor). In this latter case, Princesses Elizabeth and Katherine died in infancy, as did the Princes Edmund and Edward. Princess Margaret, Queen of Scotland, was the avenue by which, after the death of Queen Elizabeth, King James I eventually claimed the throne via Mary, Queen of Scots, so that line had already been dealt with and was, indeed, the fons et origo of the whole problem in 1701. Arthur, Prince of Wales, died childless, but there remained Princess Mary, Duchess of Suffolk, the fate of whose granddaughter Lady Jane Grey (executed in 1553) was probably sufficient to rule out all of her other descendants, although they were in any case relatively few and definitely unpromising. I can only imagine that the claims of the remaining approximately thirty candidates were based upon even more remote lines of royal descent, from the era of Lancaster and York or even earlier—all as murky and doubtful as could be. It had to be Sophia, whose son and heir duly became King George I when Queen Anne died in 1714.