Electress Sophia of Hanover

The Act of Settlement

As I write, this site contains data going back to the start of the nineteenth century but our aim is to get back another hundred years – to 1701 when the Act of Settlement was passed.

Why choose that year? Well, it’s the last time in British history that there was a major change in the way the line of succession worked. In this article I’ll explain what happened (and why). But before we need to set the scene by going back in time another 170 years to 1534 when Henry VIII broke from the Roman Catholic Church and created the Church of England.

Protestants vs Catholics

Everyone, surely, knows the story of how the Pope refused to give Henry VIII a divorce (strictly speaking, an annulment) from Catherine of Aragon, so he split from Rome, divorced Catherine and married Anne Boleyn. This didn’t really work out all that well for Henry but it was worse for the country. Over the following 150 years we pretty much alternated between Protestant and Catholic monarchs and when one faith controlled the throne it usually went pretty badly for followers of the other faith.

This all came to a head in 1688 when parliament decided that they really weren’t happy with the current king – James II (James VII in Scotland) who was a Catholic. James was removed from power and ran away to the continent. He was replaced on the throne by his daughter, Mary, and her husband (who was also her cousin) William of Orange.

The Bill of Rights

In 1689, parliament passed the Bill of Rights. The main reason for the bill was to establish parliament’s right to determine who was Britain’s monarch, but it also contained a few bits of housekeeping about how the line of succession would work in the future. For our story, the most important provisions of the bill were:

  • Catholics were barred from the throne.
  • The line of succession was limited to a) descendants of William and Mary, b) descendants of William and any future wife, c) Mary’s sister Anne and d) Anne’s descendants.

And, yes, that sister is the Queen Anne who current Oscar favourite, The Favourite, is about.

A Lack of Heirs

Only a few years later, it became apparent that the line of succession didn’t have enough heirs. Mary had died, childless, in 1694 and William had shown no interest in marrying again. Anne had given birth to many children, but none of them had lived past childhood. In July 1700 her son, Prince William, died just after his eleventh birthday. Anne was now 35 and seemed unlikely to have more children.

It was clear that something needed to be done. Parliament set out to find more heirs. They started by looking at other descendants of James II/VII. He had plenty of descendants, but the problem was that most of them were Catholic. Eventually, they had to go back three more generations and look for descendants of James I/VI. Again, a lot of the options were Catholic and it’s estimated that over fifty Catholics were skipped over before they found a Protestant heir in Sophia of Hanover.

Sophia was the twelfth child of Elizabeth Stuart, the oldest daughter of James I/VI. But she was his senior surviving Protestant heir (her mother had died in 1662). She had been born in The Hague in 1630 and in 1658 she married Ernest Augustus of Brunswick-Lüneburg and in 1692 he had become Elector of Hanover. Her first son, George, was born in 1660.

The Act of Settlement

Having found their heir, parliament passed the Act of Settlement which “settled” the crown on Sophia and her descendants. At the time the Act was passed, William III was still on the throne and the line of succession looked like this:

  • Princess Anne
  • Electress Sophia
    • Prince George
    • Prince Maximilian
    • Princess Sophia
      • Prince Frederick
    • Prince Christian
    • Prince Ernest

The Act also reiterated the removal of all Catholics from the line of succession. Over 200 years later, this is still the most important law controlling the British line of succession.

The House of Hanover

It took a few years for the Act of Succession to have any real effect. William died in 1702 and was succeeded by Anne (as he would have been under the Bill of Rights). In 1707, the Acts of Union were passed making England and Scotland a single country called Great Britain, so Queen Anne was the last monarch of England and the first monarch of Great Britain.

Anne died in August 1714. Sophia had died seven weeks earlier, so it was her son, George, who became the first monarch of the House of Hanover, as George I. In 1727, he died and was succeeded by his eldest son as George II. And over the following three hundred years the British crown has passed peacefully from parent to child (or, occasionally, parent to grandchild or sibling to sibling).

In 1701, the line of succession contained ten names. It’s estimated that currently there are around 7,000 names on the list.

Line of Descendants

Line of Descendants

The birth of the new Prince of Cambridge today means that the first eighteen slots in the Line of Succession are now taken up by descendants of the Queen. That number will increase to nineteen when Zara Tindall’s baby is born later this year and I expect that either Prince Harry and Meghan Markle or Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank will round that out to twenty before too long. That’s an increase from just two (Prince Charles and Princess Anne) when the Queen first came to the throne.

Eighteen descendants seem like quite a dynasty, but here at Succession Towers, we started to wonder what was the highest number of descendants in the line of succession at any time was, so we fired up the supercomputer and did a few calculations. We haven’t checked every possible answer, but we’re confident that we have a strong contender for the record.

When Queen Victoria took the throne in 1837, she had no descendants in the line of succession (that shouldn’t be a surprise – she was, after all, only just eighteen and still unmarried). But by the time she died in 1901, she had an astonishing seventy-four descendants in the line of succession. Of course, family life was rather different back then. Victoria had nine children (compared to the current Queen’s four) and most of them had a large number of offspring.

Here’s the list. Notice that three of Victoria’s children (Princess Alice, Prince Alfred, and Prince Leopold) died before her. They are marked with an X in the following list. You’ll also find a few interesting people in the list, including the next four British kings.

  1. Prince Albert, The Prince of Wales (King Edward VII)
    Age 59 (born 9 November 1841),
    Son

    1. Prince George, The Duke of York (King George V)
      Age 35 (born 3 June 1865),
      Grandson

      1. Prince Edward of York (King Edward VIII)
        Age 6 (born 23 June 1894),
        Great grandson
      2. Prince Albert of York (King George VI)
        Age 5 (born 14 December 1895),
        Great grandson
      3. Prince Henry of York (The Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester)
        Age 0 (born 31 March 1900),
        Great grandson
      4. Princess Mary of York (The Princess Mary, Princess Royal)
        Age 3
        Great granddaughter
    2. Princess Louise, Duchess of Fife (Louise, Princess Royal)
      Age 33 (born 20 February 1867),
      Granddaughter

      1. Lady Alexandra Duff (Princess Arthur of Connaught, Duchess of Fife)
        Age 9 (born 17 May 1891),
        Great granddaughter
      2. Lady Maud Duff (Princess Maud, Countess of Southesk)
        Age 7 (born 3 April 1893),
        Great granddaughter
    3. Princess Victoria
      Age 32 (born 6 July 1868),
      Granddaughter
    4. Princess Charles of Denmark (Maud, Queen of Norway)
      Age 31 (born 26 November 1869),
      Granddaughter
  2. Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
    (born 6 August 1844, died 30 July 1900),
    Son

    1. Marie of Romania
      Age 25 (born 29 October 1875),
      Granddaughter

      1. Carol II of Romania
        Age 7 (born 15 October 1893),
        Great grandson
      2. Elisabeth of Romania
        Age 6 (born 12 October 1894),
        Great granddaughter
      3. Maria of Yugoslavia
        Age 1 (born 6 January 1900),
        Great granddaughter
    2. Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
      Age 24 (born 25 November 1876),
      Granddaughter
    3. Princess Alexandra of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
      Age 22 (born 1 September 1878),
      Granddaughter

      1. Prince Gottfried, 8th Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg
        Age 3 (born 24 May 1897),
        Great grandson
      2. Princess Marie Melita of Hohenlohe-Langenburg
        Age 2 (born 18 January 1899),
        Great granddaughter
    4. Princess Beatrice of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
      Age 16 (born 20 April 1884),
      Granddaughter
  3. Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn
    Age 50 (born 1 May 1850),
    Son

    1. Prince Arthur of Connaught
      Age 18 (born 13 January 1883),
      Grandson
    2. Princess Margaret of Connaught
      Age 19 (born 15 January 1882),
      Granddaughter
    3. Princess Patricia of Connaught
      Age 14 (born 17 March 1886),
      Granddaughter
  4. Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany
    Age 24 (born 7 April 1853, died 28 March 1884),
    Son

    1. Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
      Age 16 (born 19 July 1884),
      Grandson
    2. Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone
      Age 17 (born 25 February 1883),
      Granddaughter
  5. Victoria, Princess Royal
    Age 60 (born 21 November 1840),
    Daughter

    1. Kaiser Wilhelm II
      Age 41 (born 27 January 1859),
      Grandson

      1. Crown Prince Wilhelm
        Age 18 (born 6 May 1882),
        Great grandson
      2. Prince Eitel Friedrich of Prussia
        Age 17 (born 7 July 1883),
        Great grandson
      3. Prince Adalbert of Prussia
        Age 16 (born 14 July 1884),
        Great grandson
      4. Prince August Wilhelm of Prussia
        Age 13 (born 29 January 1887),
        Great grandson
      5. Prince Oskar of Prussia
        Age 12 (born 27 July 1888),
        Great grandson
      6. Prince Joachim of Prussia
        Age 10 (born 17 December 1890),
        Great grandson
      7. Princess Victoria Louise of Prussia
        Age 8 (born 13 September 1892),
        Great granddaughter
    2. Prince Henry of Prussia
      Age 38 (born 14 August 1862),
      Grandson

      1. Prince Waldemar of Prussia
        Age 11 (born 20 March 1889),
        Great grandson
      2. Prince Sigismund of Prussia
        Age 4 (born 27 November 1896),
        Great grandson
      3. Prince Henry of Prussia
        Age 1 (born 9 January 1900),
        Great grandson
    3. Princess Charlotte of Prussia
      Age 40 (born 24 July 1860),
      Granddaughter

      1. Princess Feodora of Saxe-Meiningen
        Age 21 (born 12 May 1879),
        Great granddaughter
    4. Princess Viktoria of Prussia
      Age 34 (born 12 April 1866),
      Granddaughter
    5. Sophia of Prussia
      Age 30 (born 14 June 1870),
      Granddaughter

      1. George II of Greece
        Age 10 (born 19 July 1890),
        Great grandson
      2. Alexander of Greece
        Age 7 (born 1 August 1893),
        Great grandson
      3. Helen of Greece and Denmark
        Age 4 (born 2 May 1896),
        Great granddaughter
    6. Princess Margaret of Prussia
      Age 28 (born 22 April 1872),
      Granddaughter

      1. Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Hesse-Kassel
        Age 7 (born 24 November 1893),
        Great grandson
      2. Prince Maximilian of Hesse-Kassel
        Age 6 (born 20 October 1894),
        Great grandson
      3. Prince Philipp of Hesse-Kassel
        Age 4 (born 6 November 1896),
        Great grandson
      4. Prince Wolfgang of Hesse-Kassel
        Age 4 (born 6 November 1896),
        Great grandson
  6. Princess Alice of the United Kingdom
    (born 25 April 1843, died 14 December 1878),
    Daughter

    1. Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse
      Age 32 (born 25 November 1868),
      Grandson

      1. Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine
        Age 5 (born 11 March 1895),
        Great granddaughter
    2. Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine
      Age 37 (born 5 April 1863),
      Granddaughter

      1. George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven
        Age 8 (born 6 December 1892),
        Great grandson
      2. Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma
        Age 0 (born 25 June 1900),
        Great grandson
      3. Princess Alice of Battenberg
        Age 15 (born 25 February 1885),
        Great granddaughter
      4. Louise Mountbatten
        Age 11 (born 13 July 1889),
        Great granddaughter
    3. Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine
      Age 36 (born 1 November 1864),
      Granddaughter
    4. Princess Irene of Hesse and by Rhine
      Age 34 (born 11 July 1866),
      Granddaughter
    5. Alexandra Feodorovna
      Age 28 (born 6 June 1872),
      Granddaughter

      1. Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna of Russia
        Age 5 (born 15 November 1895),
        Great granddaughter
      2. Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna of Russia
        Age 3 (born 10 June 1897),
        Great granddaughter
      3. Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna of Russia
        Age 1 (born 26 June 1899),
        Great granddaughter
  7. Princess Helena of the United Kingdom
    Age 54 (born 25 May 1846),
    Daughter

    1. Albert, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein
      Age 31 (born 26 February 1869),
      Grandson
    2. Princess Helena Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein
      Age 30 (born 3 May 1870),
      Granddaughter
    3. Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein
      Age 28 (born 12 August 1872),
      Granddaughter
  8. Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll
    Age 52 (born 18 March 1848),
    Daughter
  9. Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom
    Age 43 (born 14 April 1857),
    Daughter

    1. Alexander Mountbatten, 1st Marquess of Carisbrooke
      Age 14 (born 23 November 1886),
      Grandson
    2. Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg
      Age 13 (born 24 October 1887),
      Granddaughter
    3. Lord Leopold Mountbatten
      Age 11 (born 21 May 1889),
      Grandson
    4. Prince Maurice of Battenberg
      Age 9 (born 3 October 1891),
      Grandson
Prince Philip and Prince Edward

The Next Duke of Edinburgh

At some point in the next ten years, we will have a new Duke of Edinburgh. But who will it be? People seem to be confused on the matter. Let’s try to clear it up.

The confusion seems to stem from an announcement made by Buckingham Palace on the morning of Prince Edward’s wedding to Sophie Rhys-Jones on 19 June 1999. Unlike his brothers, Edward was not given a royal Dukedom on his wedding day, but it was announced that the Queen intended for him to be made the Duke of Edinburgh “in due course”. It’s that “in due course” that confuses people. What does it mean?

Some people think that Edward will be made Duke of Edinburgh immediately after his father dies. But that’s very unlikely to happen as it goes against everything we know about how titles are inherited. The Duke of Edinburgh is a perfectly normal peerage. It will follow the normal rules of inheritance. That is to say, when the current Duke dies, his title will be inherited by his eldest son – who is, of course, Prince Charles.

Of course, Charles already has plenty of titles. He’s the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cornwall, the Duke of Rothesay and a few more besides. If he inherits his father’s dukedom, that title will just be added to the pile and you’ll never hear it spoken of as many of his other titles are more important.

Sometime later, the Queen will die and Charles will become King. At that point, all of his titles merge with the crown and, effectively, cease to exist (the Dukedoms of Cornwall and Rothesay are special – they are automatically held by the eldest son of the monarch, so they will immediately be passed to Prince William). When that happens, the Dukedom of Edinburgh will be available to be created again (for the fourth time) and bestowed on Prince Edward. This is presumably what the Queen was hinting at in her announcement on Edward’s wedding day.

So if Prince Philip dies before the Queen, the next Duke of Edinburgh will be Prince Charles and only after the Queen has also died can he bestow it on his youngest brother. Of course, it might not happen like that. It’s possible that the Queen could die before Prince Philip. In that case, Prince Charles becomes King and Philip retains his dukedom. Then when Philip eventually dies, Charles inherits the title, but as he’s King the title merges with the crown and is available to be created again. It doesn’t matter in what order it happens, but both the Queen and Prince Philip need to die before Prince Edward can become the Duke of Edinburgh.

It might be instructive to quickly run through all the Royal Dukedoms to see what might happen to them over the next few years.

Duke of Cornwall / Duke of Rothsay

As stated above, these are dukedoms with special rules. They are both automatically held by the eldest son of the monarch. When Prince Charles becomes King, they will be passed on to Prince William.

Duke of Edinburgh

As explained above, this will be inherited by Prince Charles and will merge with the crown when he becomes King. At the point, the current Queen has indicated that she would like a new creation of this dukedom to be bestowed on Prince Edward.

Duke of Cambridge

The future of this dukedom depends on the order in which people die. When Prince Charles is King, Prince William will hold on to his dukedom as well as becoming Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay and, presumably, Prince of Wales. As the Cambridge title is less important than any of those, you won’t see it being used. If, as you’d expect in the normal course, Prince Charles dies before Prince William, William will become King and the dukedom will merge with the crown and cease to exist. If, however, Prince William dies without becoming King, the dukedom will be inherited by Prince George.

Duke of York

As dukedoms are only ever inherited by sons, and Prince Andrew only has daughters, it looks like this dukedom will cease to exist on Prince Andrew’s death.

Duke of Gloucester

This far down the line of succession, we are unlikely to be troubled by complication caused by titleholders becoming monarchs. Therefore, we can be certain that Prince Richard will be followed as Duke of Gloucester by his eldest son, Alexander Windsor, Earl of Ulster.

Duke of Kent

Prince Edward (a different one) will be succeeded as Duke of Kent by his son, George Windsor, Earl of St Andrews.

It’s worth noting that, as the great-grandsons of King George V, neither Alexander Windsor nor his second cousin George Windsor is a prince. That is a honour that stops at the grandsons of a monarch.