Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland

Glasgow Church

Unsettling the Settlement


by Chris Richards

This article, by Mr Chris Richards of the Protestant Alliance, was published in the last issue of The Reformer, the official organ of the Alliance. It explains and sums up very well the past history of, present dangers to, and future prospects for, The Act of Settlement. It is used here by kind permission of Mr Richards and the Alliance.

ONCE again there have been calls for the repeal of the Act of Settlement from several quarters. These include Roman Catholic Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Members of the Scottish Parliament, the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, the Church of Scotland and the Archbishop of York. This call is nothing new. In post-war times there have been several prominent personalities who have from time to time called for the repeal of the Act. What is new and concerning is the concerted effort by the powerful individuals and bodies mentioned above to not let the matter drop from the headlines this time.

The Act of Settlement – What it is

The Act of Settlement was enacted in 1701. It settled succession to the Throne through the Protestant Hanoverian line. It ensured that the Romanist Stuarts were unable to ascend to the Throne by debarring a Roman Catholic, or anyone married to a Roman Catholic, from occupying the Throne. Its wording, along with that of the earlier Bill of Rights, states:

And whereas it hath been found by experience that it is inconsistent with the safety and welfare of this Protestant Kingdom to be governed by a Popish Prince or by any king or queen marrying a Papist. . . .

The key word in these documents is experience.

The Act of Settlement – Why it Was Framed

James II, a Roman Catholic, so outraged the Country by his dictatorial government that he was declared unfit to govern. The vacant Throne was taken up by William and Mary at the invitation of Parliament. These events, known as the Glorious Revolution, ended the practice whereby monarchs ruled by the so called Divine Right of Kings, a doctrine of the Roman Church.

At the coming of William and Mary the Bill of Rights and Coronation Oath Act were placed into Law. The former made a Roman Catholic, or a claimant married to a Roman Catholic, ineligible to occupy the Throne. The Coronation Oath required the monarch to pledge that he or she was Protestant and did not believe in transubstantiation (this part of the Oath was repealed in 1910).

As William and Mary were childless and the heir apparent, Anne, had no children who survived to adulthood, Parliament passed the Act of Settlement in 1701. At that date William was in old age and Anne was in bad health. She seemed to be too favourable to Romanist Stuart relatives succeeding her. Therefore the Act of Settlement was passed to ensure that the Throne went to the Brunswicks who were Protestant and had claim to the Throne through Sophia, the Electress of Hanover. Sophia was a granddaughter of James I.

Parliament went to such lengths because our nation had learnt by bitter experience that when a Roman Catholic monarch is upon the Throne, civil and religious liberty is lost. This was the experience under monarchs until the Reformation. The experience was relived under Mary Tudor and the Stuart monarchs. The Roman Church decrees that her adherents’ first loyalty is to the Roman Church and its Popes, not to the land of which they are citizens or even monarchs.

The Act of Settlement and other statutes ensuring a Protestant Constitution are not the result of blind bigotry but the effort of people who had felt Rome’s persecutions to preserve their successors from Roman dominance and cruelty. These Acts have served our nation well. We repeal them at our peril.

The Act of Settlement – Why it is Being Attacked

The Act of Settlement’s provision excluding Roman Catholics from taking the Throne is attacked as discriminatory. This point is continually made by all critics, Muslim, ecumenical and those of no religion. Amidst the united cry against the Act however is a difference of emphasis which indicates a differing agenda. Secular, heathen, and ecumenical voices cry "repeal", Roman and High Churchmen cry "amend". This little-noted but significant differing of emphasis has been most prominently articulated by an Anglo Catholic who called for the change to "support Christianity rather than Protestantism". Could it be that Rome, having the Throne in her sights, has no desire to open the monarchy to those of any or no religion but preserve it for those of the "Christian" persuasion, preferably Roman?

A further strand in the attack on the Act is from the newly established Scottish Parliament. Before power was devolved, the Government was warned that those who want the break up of the United Kingdom, usually Romanists, would use the Parliament to seek a confrontation with the Westminster Parliament. This has come to pass. Tuition fees, the resettlement of asylum seekers and the Act of Settlement have all been raised in Edinburgh. The tactic is to raise an issue that is outside the remit of Edinburgh, to provoke London. To date the response of Westminster is to appease Edinburgh.

The Act of Settlement – Will it Survive?

Lord Forsyth, a member of the Church of Scotland, introduced a Bill in the House of Lords to repeal the Act of Settlement. It failed because it was not wide enough in scope.

What has maintained the Act of Settlement on the Statute book to date is not the fact that there was widespread support for it amongst our governors, but rather that our forebears made the Protestant Constitution so watertight that it would be very difficult to undo it!

The Bill of Rights of 1689, The Coronation Oath of 1689, The Act of Settlement of 1701 and The Act of Union of 1707 all uphold the Protestant Constitution and Throne. In short, no less than nine Acts would need to be repealed. On top of this, fifteen Commonwealth Countries of which the Queen is Head of State would also have to enact similar legislation. Even with minimal or no opposition the parliamentary time involved would be colossal. Repeal would also touch on the establishment of the National Church which could lead to other problems for the Government.

Our forebears have left us a wonderful legacy in our Protestant Constitution. Perhaps they knew that a day would arise when their successors would forget their history and go Romeward. Their efforts are saving us from ourselves. While repeal, even with this destructive government, looks unlikely to happen what we do need to beware of is reform. This would be easier to enact, leaving the Throne intact for a Romanist and an established Church for Rome to absorb. Thus, using the very Acts which were passed to maintain a Protestant Throne and Constitution, they would exalt themselves once again.

Any change to the Act of Settlement is to our detriment.


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