The Succession

When Englishmen recalled the Tudor dynasty they thought of the splendid reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, the Field of the Cloth of Gold and victory over the Spanish Armada, the foundation of the true Protestant religion and its consolidation after the resurgent threat of Catholicism under 'Bloody' Mary. The political instability that the dynastic chaos of the Tudors and the failure of its last queen to marry or nominate her successor were, for many, obscured by nostalgic retrospective.

The question of the succession to the throne in England once again became a central political issue under the later Stuarts. When it became clear that England was not going to have its ideal of a patriotic Protestant king who respected the rights of his subjects, political crisis emerged once again. The problem ensued under Charles II as the first legitimate heir to the throne became the Catholic James, Duke of York. With fears over the growth of Catholicism in England largely through the Court, Parliament attempted to prevent the Duke of York from the succession. The King resisted these attempts during the Exclusion Crisis, resolving to rule the kingdom for the remainder of his reign without Parliament. The problem still remained however, and when Charles died in 1685 the Duke of York ascended to the throne. James's reign brought the fears the Whigs had articulated in the late 1670s and 1680s into practice.

The Revolution of 1688 exacerbated the succession problem in two ways. First there was the political controversy whether William and Mary and after them Anne could legitimately govern the kingdom and if Parliament had the right to declare James II to have abdicated. Many Tories refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of William III and Anne as monarchs and stressed that they were Regents acting on his, the rightful king's, behalf during a period of absence. After the death of Queen Anne in 1714 the succession issue became more than a theoretical problem within the political élite and a series of small risings against the government. 1715 brought the example of the new threat to the monarchy, military rebellion against the new Hanoverian dynasty.

The second issue was more explosive and dangerous to the stability of the monarchy. When James II and his progeny were excluded from the English throne, a Jacobite movement grew with strong support in Scotland and parts of Ireland and more limited, largely theoretical support in England. The Act of Succession established the course of the succession of the throne: after William and Mary it pass to Anne, and after the latter died the right to the throne would first go to the Electress of Hanover. This course of succession was acceptable to the Anglican majority of the English political élite, but James II's descendants challenged this arrangement. In England Jacobitism was largely an issue within the machinations of the political nation, but the Stuart claimants to the throne found strong support in Scotland, particularly in the Highlands. Scotland was the homeland of the Stuart dynasty and until the benefits of the Union of 1707 persuaded the majority to remain loyal to Hanoverian dynasty, many Scots sympathised or actively supported Jacobite intrigue. The stability of the succession to the throne was not guaranteed until the defeat of the second major Jacobite rising in 1745 by George II at the Battle of Culloden.

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