Gordon Brown is apparently considering repealing the 1701 Act of Settlement. Removing a grossly anti-Catholic piece of legislation does appeal to this Romish-person-turned-agnostic (I’m just can’t be bothered making the effort required to become an atheist!) in that it pretty ugly stuff in this day and age.
However, repealing teh Act may have the consequence of making a 74-year-old German aristocrat the new King of England and Scotland. Without it, Franz Herzog von Bayern, the current Duke of Bavaria, would be the rightful heir to the British Crown under the Stuart line. The bachelor, who lives alone in the vast Nymphenberg Palace in Munich, is the blood descendant of the 17th-century King Charles I.
The Act was introduced as part of the power struggle between Parliament, the Christian churches and the monarchy, then dominated by the House of Stuart. It prohibits any Roman Catholic from having access to the throne, even through marriage. Once a person marries a "Papist" they shall be "for ever incapable to inherit, possess or enjoy the Crown", it asserts. The legislation severed the Stuart line of succession, a family who favoured Catholicism, and switched it to their distant relatives the Hanoverians, from which our current Queen descends. James II, the son of King Charles, fled into exile.
The direct Stuart line died out in 1807 with the passing of the “Young Pretender’s” brother Henry Benedict Stuart (known to the Jacobites as Henry IX and known in the Vatican as Cardinal Duke of York). The Act 's reach continues today. Prince Michael of Kent renounced his claim to the throne when he married Marie-Christine von Reibnitz, a Catholic divorcee, in 1978. Peter Phillips, who is 11th in line to the throne, will be denied a very, very remote possibility of being king when he marries Canadian Catholic Autumn Kelly.
Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, whose brief includes constitutional affairs, said the Government was ready to consider repealing the Act, although he added that it was an extremely complicated issue. Dr Eveline Cruikshanks, the author of The Glorious Revolution and a former president of the Royal Stuart Society, said: "They ought to repeal the Act. The language is particularly offensive to Catholics and should go."
Patrick Cracroft-Brennan, the editor of Cracroft's Peerage, said that while theoretically the Duke's claim was good, it could never be actioned because Parliament now effectively chose the monarch. "It is a very interesting hypothesis and theoretically he is the head of the House of Stuart," he said. "But the Government effectively chooses the monarch now and it is highly unlikely to remove the Windsors from the throne."
As for the Duke of Bavaria himself, he has always laughed off pretensions to the British crown and prefers to concentrate on his modern art collection. Baron Marcus Bechtolsheim, the president of the administration of the Duke of Bavaria, said: "The Duke generally does not comment on this issue because he sees it as an entirely British question which does not concern him. And he regards it as a purely hypothetical issue. Even if this change in Britain happens, it won't change his attitude. All this interest in his opinion makes him smile because, really, he is very happy and satisfied with being the Duke of Bavaria."Ah it's good to see he is happy with his humble status as a duke!