Ben Chu: The Act of Settlement served its purpose

Comment

Share
Related Topics

To grasp why Parliament passed a law in 1701 forbidding a Catholic from acceding to the throne, you need to understand a little of the era's power politics. The Stuart dynasty had long flirted with Catholicism. But James II, who became King in 1685, was prepared to go the whole way. He had to go, and in 1688, James was deposed by an alliance of powerful aristocrats.

The 1701 Act of Settlement was intended to prevent him, or his Catholic heirs, ever coming back. It entrenched Britain, which would go on over the next two centuries to become the most powerful and influential nation in the world, as a Protestant power.

So how might things have been different had James II not been deposed and the Act of Settlement never passed? The "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, in which James II was deposed, cemented the authority of Parliament and put permanent curbs on royal power. Many regard it as the seed from which liberty and democracy grew, not just in Britain but around the world. Without it, Europe might have been weighed down by sclerotic Catholic tyranny.

Then there is economic development. The German sociologist Max Weber identified a "Protestant work ethic", in which capitalism sprang from this particular religious philosophy. Perhaps if Britain had been ruled by a Catholic dynasty there would have been no Industrial Revolution.

All that is an interesting thought experiment. But it cannot be taken too seriously. Resistance to royal tyranny was growing across Europe anyway (and exploded spectacularly in the 1789 French Revolution). And Weber's theory of capitalism has holes. It fails to account for the extraordinary business acumen of Europe's Jews. History would certainly have been different if Catholics had not been excluded from sitting on the British throne for these past 300 years, but perhaps not as different as we might imagine.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Nick’s accident has been an education for my lexicon

Rebecca Armstrong
 

How did swearing ever get so frowned upon?

Stefano Hatfield
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links