The flurry of exhibitions and television programmes prompted by the anniversary of the accession of George I in 1714 has looked ahead from his enthronement to the age of the Hanoverians. The succession crisis of that year, which forms the climax of James Anderson Winn’s enthralling book, would merit tercentenary coverage on its own. On the death of Queen Anne, the last of the Stuarts, the future seemed as uncertain and threatening as on the demise of Elizabeth I in 1603, which had brought the Stuarts to the throne.
Anne’s admirers liked to compare her to Elizabeth. She herself borrowed Elizabeth’s royal motto semper eadem, (‘always the same’). There was indeed a resemblance of patriotic achievement between the two reigns – Elizabeth’s bringing the defeat of the Armada, Anne’s the great victories won by Marlborough – though the foreign policies of both regimes were more contentious and were beset by more disappointments than national memory has chosen to recall. But it is from the childlessness of the two women that the closest parallel arises, the Virgin Queen never having married and none of the innumerable children conceived by Anne surviving into adulthood. The successions of James I and George I had to overcome conspiracy in high places in favour of a Catholic successor. It took the suppression of the Jacobite rising of 1715 to thwart George’s rival claimant, the Old Pretender, son of Anne’s father James II, who had been deposed at the Revolution of 1688.
The Hanoverian succession, admittedly, had behind it the authority of parliamentary statute in the form of the Act of Settlement of 1701, the year before Anne assumed the throne. After the Revolution of 1688 – that starting-point of parliamentary government – no monarch could have forbidden parliament to discuss the