Friday, 19 November 2010

The Last Commoner

Anne Hyde, Duchess of York

The Last 'Commoner' to marry an heir presumptive or heir apparent to the British throne was this woman, Anne Hyde in 1660. Anne Hyde and James, Duke of York married in secret while the British family was in exile during the English Civil War. After the English restoration of the monarchy, the family returned to London and an official ceremony was held on September 3rd. The Duchess was the daughter of Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon and Frances Aylesbury. Anne was not known as a beauty, in fact she was down right plain. She was clever though and had courage.

Anne the 'commoner' went on to give James, Duke of York (the future James II of England) 5 children, two of them Queens, Mary II and Anne. As successful as the two queens were they were unable to secure the line of the Stuarts and thus paved the way for the House of Hanover and George I (see below).

Anne, later in life converted to Catholicism which caused quite a scandal. In her conversion her husband decided to join her. This conversion impacted the country as James eventually took the throne as James II. As the country had gone through religious persecution and constant change through out the years of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I (the Catholic who tried to revert the country back to Catholicism) and Elizabeth I (who brought the country back to Protestant rule), they were not looking to change and cause another war over religion. They wanted to stay Protestant as did James' predecessor, his brother King Charles, who lectured James about it and insisted that his children be raised in the Protestant doctrine. When James assumed the throne as James II a civil war eventually broke out over religion of the nation. In this chaos James was overthrown leading to Anne and James' daughter Mary assuming the thrown as Queen Mary II. Mary, a Protestant, came to the thrones following the Glorious Revolution, which resulted in the deposition of her Roman Catholic father, James II/VII. Mary reigned jointly with her husband and first cousin, William III (William was Prince of Orange, his mother being Princess Mary, daughter of King Charles I and Henrietta of France), who became the sole ruler of both countries upon her death in 1694. Popular histories usually refer to the joint reigns as those of "William and Mary".

After James, no British king or queen has affirmed belief in the Catholic faith. In fact to do so forfeits one's line in the succession to the throne.

The House of Hanover - George I of Great Britain?

How did the Hanoverian throne take over Great Britain? One could argue this, but in 1701 an Act of Parliament called the Act of Settlement was passed which barred any chance of a Catholic king or queen taking the throne of Great Britain -- in actuality there were fifty close blood ties to Queen Anne that could have taken over after her death, but that Act of Settlement excluded them due to their religious preference. This of course led to the uprising of the Jacobites who tried to overthrow George I, but by right he took his place as King. Some may ask, "How did a German become King? I thought this was Great Britain." Unless you are up to date on your royal genealogy -- it is indeed a confusing question..

George I of Great Britain was indeed a Hanoverian, hence the House of Hanover, but his lineage took him back to the first Protestant Stuart on the throne, the successor of Elizabeth I, James I of England, son of Mary, Queen of Scots. James was also known as James VI of Scotland as he became King of Scotland on 24 July 1567 before he became King of England on 24 March 1603. It was Elizabeth I who wished that James, her cousin (he was a great-grandson of Princess Mary Tudor by both parents; Princess Mary was sister to Elizabeth's father, King Henry VIII), should inherit the throne of England thus uniting the two countries. Through James I's daughter by Anne of Denmark descended George.

Princess Elizabeth of England and Scotland (19 August 1596 – 13 February 1662) married Frederick V, Elector of Palatine and King of Bohemia (26 August 1596 – 29 November 1632). Frederick was King of Bohemia for a very short period (about a year!) thus making Elizabeth also known as Elizabeth of Bohemia. Their daughter, Sophia of Palatine (also known as Sophia of Hanover; 14 October 1630 – 8 June 1714) became heiress to the crowns of England and Ireland, later Great Britain. By the Act of Settlement in 1701, she was declared the rightful heir presumptive. Before she could become queen though, Sophia died. In thus she passed her claim to the thrones to her eldest son, who at that time was known as His Most Serene Highness George Louis, Archbannerbearer of the Holy Roman Empire and Prince-Elector, Duke of Brunswick-L√ľneburg. On the death of Queen Anne on 1 August 1714, George became George I of Great Britain making way for the Royal House of Hanover.

So in a way -- Anne Hyde had a huge impact on the monarchy even though she was considered a 'commoner'. The conversion to Catholicism must have impacted her husband James as he chose to convert as well causing the nation to outbreak in Civil War resulting in his overthrow and the end of the Catholic rule in England, Ireland, and Scotland.

Although back in those days marriage was usually solely to produce an heir for the continuation of the monarchy; Anne Hyde in a sense did her 'duty' and delivered two monarchs, even though they were both women and they in turn did not produce male heirs.

This failure to produce male heirs and the outlaw of Catholic monarchs meant that eventually the line died out and the Act of Settlement made way for a new royal house and that house had nothing to do with Anne Hyde and her descendants. So in a sense the commonality of the marriage of Anne and James was of no significance as fate turned to another ruler; one of Hanover. This royal house of Hanover continued right up until the death of one of the most powerful women rulers, 2nd to Elizabeth I, the granddaughter of King George III, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom on 22 January 1901.

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