The Third Succession Act (Henry VIII, 1543)

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May 15, 2011
I'm aware that before the Act of Settlement, succession to the throne of England was quite a malleable material, and that there were several usurpations, successions by force, and examples of arbitrary changes to legislation to suit either the monarchs or their enemies.

Usually, though, there has been some kind of legal wallpapering, whereby the irregularity has been made acceptable retroactively through new legislation.

As has been noted by others, the succession of James I (or any heir of Margaret Tudor) to the throne following the death of Elizabeth I was explicitly against the Third Succession Act. To my knowledge, this act was not modified or appealed before Elizabeth's death, and if the act had been adhered to, a descendant of Mary Tudor would have succeeded. Some wags suggest that there has been no piece of English or British legislation legitimately passed since 1603...

As I say, this kind of jiggery pokery is common enough in the history of the monarchs of England but what strikes me is that there was no attempt to patch this up with legislation. The succession of James I was popular enough but clearly his backers, and the literate public at large, must have realised it was illegal. Was it widely commented on at the time? Was there any significant support for alternatives?
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I think the main reason no one really bothered to pass any sort of Act legitimising James VI's accession to the Throne (which was indeed, strictly speaking, against the law), was simply because no one challanged James. There were no other eligible, popular or significant people who could oppose the new King or start rebellions against him.

Basically, the Third Succession Act established the following succession:
Edward, Prince of Wales (Edward VI) and his issue -> The Lady Mary (Mary I) and her issue -> The Lady Elizabeth (Elizabeth I) and her issue -> Frances Grey, Marchioness of Dorset (the elder daughter of Mary Tudor) -> Lady Jane Grey (Frances' elder daughter) -> Lady Catherine Grey (Frances' younger daughter) -> Lady Mary Grey (Frances' youngest daughter) -> Eleanor Clifford, Countess of Cumberland (the younger daughter of Mary Tudor) -> Margaret Stanley, Countess of Derby (Eleanor's only surviving child) and her descendants.

If the Third Succession Act had been adhered to, Elizabeth I would have been succeeded by Lady Anne Stanley, Countess of Castlehaven - a granddaughter of Margaret Stanley, Countess of Derby (herself a granddaughter of Mary Tudor). *

As it were, for many years, it was expected Elizabeth would name her own successor. If she had named Lady Anne, England would have probably acquired a Queen Anne a century earlier. On the other hand, it is highly unlikely Britain would ever come into existence, the British Empire would probably never be, and the world as we know it would simply not exist.

* Lady Catherine and Lady Mary Grey were disqualified for marrying without the Queen's consent.
Ironically, the present Queen is a direct descendant of Catherine Grey through her mother, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.
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I believe Queen Elizabeth was quite happy not to be remembered of the Succession Acts of her father. The only advantage for her was that, as she had no legitimate heirs of her own body, she had a certain freedom to choose as she was in charge of new legislation.

OTOH she did nothing to change the Third Act IMHO, as she profited in her reign from the existance of the Third Act in its opposition to the traditional line of succession. As long as she did not touch the Third Act, she could check on the situation of her English Heir Presumptive, as this heir lived in her realm as well as keep Mary Queen of Scots at bay. If she had changed the Third Act back to the traditional line in her lifetime, she would have invited the Scots surrounding first Mary and then James (and at times both) to interfere with England or to use this fact of a future inheritance in diplomatic exchanges with foreign countries while she was still alive.

OTOH I doubt she considered young Lady Anne Stanley up to the task of ruling England successfully. The girl was only 23 when Elizabeth died and, as her second marriage showed, was probably not the heiress Elizabeth would have wished for. James I. obviously agreed because he as new king legitimized the sons of Lady Catherine Grey on declaring her marriage valid, thusly putting these young men between Lady Ann and the throne according to the Third Act on succession by Henry VIII.

So for me it makes sense that Elizabeth did nothing about her own Act of Succession but saw to it that in the end, after her death, it would come to a smooth transition of power to James VI., king of Scots. He after all had shown Elizabeth that he was a capable king, he was happily married to a Royal princess of Denmark, had in 1603 three surviving children including two sons - what else could the dying queen wish for? And he was her legitimate heir according to the old traditions of kingship, as his ancestor Margaret had been the elder sister of Henry VIII when both his sisters had married kings and left their homeland.
Cheers to you both. It's all very interesting.
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