Saturday, April 27, 2013

The fifty

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.

The succession

This week, in fact on ANZAC Day, the Queen gave her assent to the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, which will come into effect once it has been formally agreed to by all of Her Majesty’s other fifteen Commonwealth realms. This is an important milestone in British history, because it overturns several of the most important provisions of the Act of Settlement 1701, and indeed negates its primary purpose. That extraordinarily durable piece of legislation was prompted by the crisis arising from the melancholy inability of successive protestant Stuart sovereigns, all grandchildren of King Charles I (viz. Queen Mary II and King William III, first cousins who reigned jointly as husband and wife, and Mary’s younger sister Queen Anne) to produce any children who survived childhood, and a determination permanently to exclude Roman Catholics from the line of succession. In 1701 a daunting array of cheerfully fertile and rapidly multiplying catholic descendants of Charles I and Henrietta Maria stood between the ailing and lately childless Queen Anne and the nearest generally acceptable Protestant candidate. This impressive person, Sophia, Electress of Hanover, was a granddaughter of King James I, and the youngest survivor of the many children of King James’s daughter Princess Elizabeth, sometime Queen of Bohemia (also known as “the Winter Queen”). People with vivid memories of the English Civil War would have been very much aware that one of Sophia’s much older brothers, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, had been one of King Charles’s most trusted generals on the losing side. Fifty years later, it was estimated that approximately 50 princes would have had a stronger claim to the thrones of England and Scotland than Sophia had they not been catholic, or in some other fundamental sense politically undesirable. The Act of Settlement 1701 nevertheless provided that the throne would pass to Sophia and her descendants, but only if they were not catholic and/or not married to one. The Act made a number of further constitutional provisions which were to come into effect after Queen Anne’s death, but the most important consequence addressed by the British Parliament this week was actually unintended. It would not, I think, have occurred to anyone in 1701 that Protestant princes would not automatically supersede older Protestant princess-siblings in the line of succession, but until this week that is exactly what has happened. The current Princess Royal is older than the Duke of York and the Earl of Wessex, but she and her children nevertheless follow them (and theirs) in the present line of succession. Since 1701 only two princesses have ascended the throne, and that is because they lacked any male siblings: first Queen Victoria in 1837, and the present sovereign in 1952. However, in future the eldest child of the present Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will accede regardless of his or her gender, and/or that of any of his or her younger siblings. He or she may now also be catholic and/or married to one. Had the issue of gender been a primary consideration in 1701, or even only a secondary one, the Act of Settlement would have seemed far more desperate than it actually was, in other words going so far as to alight upon the youngest of the five daughters of the only sister of King Charles I. In the end, Sophia died in Germany a matter of three weeks before Anne, so the throne duly went to her eldest son, who reigned rather grumpily as King George I. It is also worth pointing out that notwithstanding its grim sectarian rationale, the Act of Settlement 1701 actually served Britain remarkably well. Except for purely domestic arrangements, the Hanoverian century and a half was remarkably stable compared with the constitutional crisis and successive after-shocks of the preceding Stuart century. What is most unclear in the present legislation is how at length it will affect issues of governance in the Anglican Communion, for it now seems theoretically possible for a catholic sovereign some day to find him or herself in the distinctly strange position of being both “Defender of the Faith” (which faith?) and ipso facto supreme governor of the Church of England. No doubt the British knack for constitutional reform will enable Parliament to settle upon a viable solution to this problem well ahead of time, but I suppose there are no absolute guarantees of that.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


This day is a special one for Australia and New Zealand. April 25—ANZAC Day—broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served.” More particularly this is the anniversary of the amphibious landing at Gallipoli in the Dardanelles on 25 April, 1915, of the combined Australia and New Zealand Army Corps under the command of General William Birdwood. The ANZAC contingent formed part of a combined British Imperial and French Mediterranean Expeditionary Force” consisting of approximately 78,000 men. The assault was fiercely and, as it turned out, successfully resisted by Ottoman forces so that allied troops were evacuated to Egypt at the end of 1915. Even if one had no relations who fought and died there (as we do), the Gallipoli campaign has assumed a powerful symbolism for both Commonwealth countries, even though far more British troops were killed there. When I was small, the focus of commemoration in Melbourne was somewhat divided between ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day, which still marks the signing of the armistice in Marshal Foch’s railway carriage at Compiègne at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, which brought the Great War to an end. The symbolism of poppies and of Flanders’ Fields was still powerful. However, over recent decades I have sensed that ANZAC Day has gradually assumed greater and broader significance south of the equator. In the United States even Remembrance Day passes each year without too much fuss—it is known here as “Veterans’ Day.” It is a very different story in Britain. Each November millions of red poppies slip into buttonholes ahead of the solemn observances at the Cenotaph in Whitehall and elsewhere. Obviously, however, stateside ANZAC Day is completely invisible. I find this slightly melancholy. In two years’ time we shall observe the centenary of ANZAC, and this span of years strikes me as remarkable, for I will then be fifty-one. Three of my grandfather Borthwick’s own brothers fought at Gallipoli. One was killed; another grievously wounded (he lost an arm), however a third survived relatively intact. My grandfather volunteered but could not serve because he had “a dicky ticker”—which is how people then referred to a heart condition, in his case a pretty serious one. He died in middle age as a direct consequence of it, so, alas, I never knew him.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Heirloom Modern

Late last summer, Hollister Hovey and her sister Porter—friends of a friend—came to photograph my house and interview me for one of the chapters of a book they were doing entitled Heirloom Modern, which has now been sumptuously published by the House of Rizzoli. It is, as the cover copy states, about “homes filled with objects bought, bequeathed, beloved, and worth handing down.” It was a lot of fun watching them work—while, of course, being sure to let them get on with the job unmolested by proprietorial interference or heavy-handed art direction manqué. But it is an especially intriguing and distinctly odd experience to reabsorb my house as it now appears in the pages of their beautiful book. On the whole, I would say that it does a splendid job of representing these rooms as I have configured and arranged and decorated them since I bought the place a few years ago, and therefore, I suppose, of displaying me too. I did not do this unaided. George Knight designed my library; Leland Torrence managed the building of it, and Jared Nixon was my painter—and a truly brilliant one. Since the Hoveys were here I have rationalized the books, so that Australiana and Asiatica (on the east wall, naturally) face off Britain (west) while dictionaries, encyclopedias and other works of reference fit snugly in between (south), while three times great-grandmother Jane Pearson presides over the fireplace (north), but the effect is not radically different. The other amusing aspect of participating in an exercise of this kind is the surprisingly puffy air of satisfaction I have derived from comparing my house with other people’s, and it is comical to reflect upon the fact that they are probably experiencing exactly the same thing.