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Another law that is being changed is the 1701 Act of Settlement. This Act was made when another succession crisis occured. In 1700 William III sat on the English and Scottish thrones. His wife, Queen Mary II, died in 1694 and they had no issue. The future Queen Anne (1702-1714) had terrible fortune with her pregnancies with many still-births and only one son that lived beyond a few months. Her only surving son, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, died on July 30, 1700 at the age of 11. Although the Anne was only 35 at the time of her son’s death, given her health problems and that in 1700 35 was old for child bearing, the need to find an heir had become a problem.

The top candidate for heir to the throne was her half-brother, Prince James, the Princes of Wales. The main problem with James was that he was a Roman Catholic. The Catholicism of his father, King James II-VII of England and Scotland, was part of the reason for his downfall. England, as a Protestant nation, did not want another Catholic to sit on the throne. Unable to convince Prince James into becoming a Protestant he was passed over for the succession.

Bill of Rights 1689 placed the succession on the Children of William III and Mary II and Princess Anne and her descendants. The Act of of Settlement confirmed the right of succession to any children William III had with a future wife if he ever remarried (which he did not) and the right of Princess Anne and her descendants. After the descendants of Princess Anne the right to succeed was placed in the person of the Elctress Sophia of Hanover, a grand daughter of king James I-VI of England and Scotland, the closest Protestant. The Act by passed any Catholic in line for the throne and also barred any Prince or Princess from marrying a Roman Catholic. To marry a Catholic meant that you would lose your place in succession. The Act assured that there never again would be a Catholic monarch sitting on the throne of Great Britain.

This is the way it has stood ever since. People have recognized the need for change in this Act for years. It took time, but gradually the prejudices against Catholicism has lifted. But from what I have read concerning the changes that will be made in this area I wonder if it doesn’t go far enough and in the end…has anything really changed?

From what I understand, the first 6-8 people in line for the throne will not be able to either marry a Catholic or convert to Catholicism and maintain their place in succession. This still assures that the monarch will stay in communion with the Church of England. People further down the line will be able to marry a Catholic and not loose their place in succession. I am not sure if they can convert and stay in line for the throne though. All this does is it throws a bone to those not close in line to the throne.

At the heart of the problem is that the monarch is also the head of the Church of England. There has been talk of disestablishing the monarch as head of the Church of England and I think this would give a true change and allow the possibility that the monarch could be Catholic if he or she so chooses. This would also require a change to the Constitution Oath the monarch takes which promises to uphold the Protestant Faith. Faith is personal and I think the monarch should be allowed to maintain their privacy in this manner. One of the ironic things about being in Communion with the Church of England is that it sets up the possibility of deception. A monarch, who may be an atheist at heart, would be more acceptible than a devout Catholic as long as that monarch lies that he is an Anglican. I have a hard time believing that all who have sat upon the throne since 1701 have truly been seriously religious.

I do find it rather sad that still 311 years later there still is opposition and prejudices toward Catholics and that the Protestant vs Catholic debate is still alive.