Thursday, May 14, 2020

another useless historical project

The news has not been encouraging. At least my county's health officer is holding the line on shutdowns, which means that when I do have to go out, I'm less likely to encounter people in general or ones with the virus in particular. We're not adopting the goofy rules of other counties, such as semi-opening restaurants. If customers must wear masks when they're not eating, then it's not safe for them to take them off to eat. So I wouldn't go. But that's no help to me if I run into other people who did go. So we're still holing up.

In the meantime, I was browsing through a book on British constitutional history - yes, I know, light reading - and came across the Act of Settlement of 1701. I'd known about this decree on the succession of the throne, still mostly intact today, but this account brought it to renewed attention. William and Mary not having had any children, and the children of their heir, the future Queen Anne, having all died young (too common a thing back then), it was clear that any more successors were going to have to come from further off on the family tree. But where?

Experience with Mary and Anne's father, King James VII & II,* had taught Parliament not to have any more Catholic monarchs. (Actually, what it should have taught them was not to have any more monarchs like King James - or his father, King Charles I of having-his-head-cut-off fame.) And most of the other living members of the family, who were all descended from daughters who'd been married off to continental princes, were Catholics, many of them (like King James) personal converts. The one Protestant line was the family of Sophia, dowager duchess of Hanover, who was King James's first cousin. So the Act of Settlement settled the succession on her. In the end, Sophia predeceased Anne, so it was her son, Mary and Anne's second cousin, who succeeded as George I, the first Hanoverian king.

But it seemed to me that the book I was reading was vague or misleading on its description of the family tree, so I decided to figure it out: how many people with a better claim genealogically got passed over to settle the crown on Sophia? I couldn't produce an exact number, because of the shifting cast of babies being born and, often, dying; lack of date information on a few people; and I had to decide whether to exclude children of morganatic marriages (I did, since those were passed over anyway, Catholic or not). The number I came up with was forty. That's a lot of relatives to exclude. If you were to jump that far down the current line of succession, you'd find yourself with the grandchildren of the Queen's cousin, the Duke of Kent.

Mary and Anne, and William (who besides being Mary's husband was also her first cousin), had had another aunt with children, Henrietta, Duchess of Orleans. She was dead, but one of her daughters, the Queen of Sardinia, was alive and had four juvenile children. That's five. The rest were all descended from James's late aunt, Elizabeth, sometime Queen of Bohemia. Only two of the youngest of her children were still living in 1701, but two of the elder children had left seven and twenty-seven (!) children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren(!) respectively, and they were all Catholics. The living child of the elder of these, by the way, was the second wife of the same Duke of Orleans whose first wife had been Aunt Henrietta, and her son, thus also on the list, became the Duke of Orleans who was the subject of the best biography by W.H. Lewis (C.S. Lewis's brother), The Scandalous Regent. (He became regent for his first cousin twice removed on his father's side, the young Louis XV.)

Of the two surviving children of Elizabeth, one was a Cistercian abbess, so she was out. She was also a painter, and here's a portrait she painted of her younger sister Sophia in pseudo-Native-American getup, at the age of 13 or so, Sophia being the one on whose family the succession to the British crown fell.

*That's the kind of cognomen you get when you're simultaneously king of Scotland and England, separately.

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