Legitimism in England

by Melville Henry Massue, Marquis de Ruvigny et Raineval, and Cranstoun Metcalfe

This article appeared in the September 1897 issue of The Nineteenth Century Review.

We venture to put forward here a brief account of Legitimism in England and of the views and objects of those who profess this political faith.

In France and in Spain the Legitimist is at any rate taken seriously. In England, according to the man in the street, and according to others in other places, the Legitimist is simply an idiot who is not worth further consideration. Yet among English Legitimists are many men of whose sanity there can be no question, whose integrity is beyond dispute, and whose loyalty to Queen Victoria is unimpeachable. What they are doing in this gallery it is the object of this short article to show.

In the first place, perhaps, it may be suggested that the use of the word "Jacobite" in connection with Legitimism in this country is not very happy. It is employed because of the historical associations which appeal so strongly to the English as a nation. But it does not necessarily imply, as is too commonly supposed, that the Legitimists of this country aim solely at the restoration of the House of Stuart. But for the peculiarly local associations of the term "Jacobite" the Legitimist in England might with more propriety style himself a Carlist, and thereby identify himself more closely with his brother in France or Spain. The point (which in fairness ought not to be lost sight of) is that the Jacobite is simply an Englishman who professes the faith of Legitimism - a member (it might otherwise be expressed) of the English branch of a catholic or universal party.

The Legitimist in England is an upholder of the monarchical principal because he believes it to be one divinely appointed for certain social conditions, and also because in the particular social conditions which this country has evolved it has been found to work satisfactorily. He also (and for similar reasons) believes in the principle of primogeniture; and, linking the two together (as any man of ordinary intelligence would link them) he believes that their combination has the best possible results, while their severance the one from the other - as they are now severed in England - is an illogical state of affairs which must ultimately end in confusion.

From the Legitimist's point of view, either principle may be accepted by itself and independently of the other. Social systems may, and do, exist where the principle of primogeniture is accepted, but where the monarchical principle is rejected altogether. But a social system where the monarchical principle and the principle of primogeniture are both accepted, but where the sovereign is yet not the one entitled by the laws of primogeniture to occupy the throne, is an anomaly the justification of which must be sought outside logical reason. From this aspect the Legitimist in England appears more sane than those who call him mad.

The law of gavelkind and the law "regulating" the succession to the throne are the only two exceptions to the rule by which the eldest son succeeds his father, and, failing issue, the succession is vested in the elder female line. Questions of fact only are involved, and fortunately these are plain enough. By the law of primogeniture the sovereign of these realms should be Mary the Fourth and Third, nee Mary Theresa Henrietta Dorothea, Archduchess of Austria-Este-Modena, and wife of H.R.H. Prince Louis of Bavaria. Of her genealogical right to the throne as representative of the senior female line of the Royal House of Stuart (the male line having become extinct on the death of the Cardinal King Henry the Ninth) there is no dispute. The facts are stated every year in Whitaker's Almanack for all who run to read. The Hanoverian dynasty, being derived from a daughter of James the First, has no right to the throne until the whole issue of Charles the First is exhausted (which is not yet the case).

The title, therefore, of the present dynasty is a parliamentary title only; and making for the moment the very large assumption that in the conduct of human affairs expediency is a doctrine to be preached to the vulgar, we will merely direct attention tot he proceedings in the Convention Parliament of 1688, which made this title worth as much as it is.

The Prince of Orange having assumed the Government (December 26th, 1688) summoned a Convention Parliament to meet at Westminster on January 22nd following. When it assembled it was found that about two-thirds of the lower House were Whigs, and after a long debate the Commons resolved (January 28th): "That King James II, having endeavoured to subvert the constitution of this kingdom, by breaking the original compact between the King and the people, and by the advice of Jesuits and other wicked persons having violated the fundamental laws, and having withdrawn himself out of the kingdom, has abdicated the government; and that the throne is thereby vacant." This was carried with only three negatives, the Royalists offering very little opposition, being naturally discouraged by the flight of the King, and probably considerably overawed by the Dutch Guards stationed in and around Westminster; and the Lords' concurrence was desired. The next day (29th) the Whigs had a further triumph in the Commons when it was resolved unanimously, "That it hath been found by experience inconsistent with the safety and welfare of this Protestant Kingdom to be governed by a Popish Prince."

In the Upper House there was much less unanimity, the Tories there being much more numerous in proportion than in the Commons. They agreed to accept the second resolution of the Lower House, but this, as it was pointed out, was only an "abstract proposition"; and then, before debating the first resolution, they decided to discuss whether, if the throne were vacant, "a regency, with the administration of Royal power under the style of King James II, during the life of the said King James, be the best and safest way to preserve the Protestant religion and the laws and liberties of this Kingdom." This was supported by Archbishop Sancroft, by Lords Nottingham, Clarendon, etc., and by all those who really wished for James' return, as well as by those who, while wishing to exclude him from the government, did not consider that Parliament had power to depose him; and was opposed by Halifax and Danby, and was only lost by a majority of two - 51 to 49.

The question of a regency having been settled, the Lords returned to the original resolution of the Commons and resolved by a majority of seven - 53 to 46 - that there was an original compact between the King and the people. They concurred without much debate on the rest of the Commons' vote, until they came to the clause that King James had "abdicated" the government, for which they substituted "deserted". They next omitted by a majority of fourteen - 55 to 41 - the final and most important clause in the Commons' resolution: namely, that "the throne was thereby vacant."

The Tories in the Lower House now recovered their courage on perceiving that the action of the Lords was favourably received in the country, and also by observing that the King's party out of doors had become much stronger that it had hitherto appeared; and they mustered 151 against 282 in favour of agreeing with the Lords in omitting the clause about the vacancy of the throne.

Such was the position of affairs when William, seeing that the Crown was about to slip from his grasp, sent for Halifax, Danby, and the other political chiefs, and explained to them that he would not consent to be regent, neither would he agree to share the government with his wife for her lifetime; and he requested them to come to some decision at once. This explicit declaration immediately brought about a change. Some professed fear of a civil war; others that William would seize the crown if it were not granted to him. Accordingly, at the conference which followed between the two Houses, the Lords gave way to force of circumstances and agreed not to insist on their original vote. By a majority of fifteen - 62 to 47 - they now decided that the throne was vacant, and followed this up with a resolution that the Prince and Princess of Orange should be declared King and Queen of England and all the dominions thereunto belonging. Forty peers, including twelve Bishops out of seventeen present, formally protested. On February 13th the Commons, having made William accept a Bill of Rights, agreed to this, and William and Mary were proclaimed King and Queen.

"And yet," says Hallam in his Constitutional History, "only eighty years before, nay, much less, the nation had declared by its representatives the incompetency of a full Parliament, with a King at its head, to alter the lineal course of succession. No Whig even had then dared to assert the doctrine that not only a King, but an entire Royal Family, might be set aside for public convenience." How much less then had an illegal convention, assembled at the bidding of a foreign invader, a right to dispose of the Crown?

The Act of Settlement of 1701, entitled "An Act for the further limitation of the Crown, and better securing the rights and liberties of the subjects" was passed in consequence of the death of the young Duke of Gloucester, the only child of the Princess Anne, and settled the succession of the Crown on the Electress Sophia of Hanover (the daughter of Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, and grad-daughter of James I and VI) and her heirs, tot he exclusion of all the descendants of Charles I. It was by no means popular, and was only passed in the Commons by a majority of one, a fact that is generally ignored in the history books. The figures were: for the Bill, 118; against, 117.

The Abjuration Act of 1701, which required all persons who held any office, civil, military or spiritual, to solemnly on their "conscience" abjure the "pretended Prince of Wales" and to swear allegiance to William as "rightful and lawful" King, and by a further clause of which the oath of allegiance might be tendered by any Justice of the Peace to any subject of his Majesty's; and if it was refused the recusant might be sent to prison to lie there as long as he continued obstinate, was violently opposed in both Houses of Parliament, and the clause making the oath compulsory was only carried in the Commons, like the Act of Settlement, by a majority on one, viz: for the Bill, 193; against, 192.

Nothing else can equal the fact, commonly overlooked, that the parliamentary vote, by which alone the title of the Hanoverian dynasty was obtained, was in no sense a vote representative of the will of the people. It was a time of unrest, confusion, and distrust. King James was gone, and William was present with Dutch Guards at Westminster to overawe, and with power to imperil the fortunes and lives of those who stood in the way of his advancement. Each man doubted his neighbour, and William, employed actual intimidation. He had nothing to lose, and everything to gain. And the intimidation resulted in a majority of one in two of the most important divisions in the history of Parliament. On all hands it is admitted that the Hanoverian dynasty has no claims on the ground of heredity. It proudly rests its claim upon the parliamentary vote, saying that the voice of the people is the voice of God. The Legitimist's contention is that that particular parliamentary majority, even had it been more substantial, would not have represented popular sentiment, which was still strongly Tory; that a plebiscite would have recalled James from his flight, and reinstated the Stuarts in their proper place; and that the majority of one by which the Act of Settlement was passed is sufficient justification for all and any Jacobite risings. The Hanoverian dynasty has no divine right. Its parliamentary right is what we have shown above. In our time governments have resigned when their majority over a censuring opposition has not been so small. Yet a majority of one is held to be adequate justification for a revolution involving the fundamental principle of primogeniture upon which our social fabric is based.

But it is argued that even if the Legitimist's views are sound theoretically, and even if his handling of abstract propositions proves him to be a man of intelligence, he nevertheless is an altogether impossible person who will not recognise facts which are. Granted that the Act of Settlement was only carried by a majority of one; granted that even that majority did not represent the will of the people of the time; the fact remains that it was carried and has been law for 196 years. "Divine right has been discarded, not because it has been disproved, but because it is out of date." What has the Legitimist to do in England today, seeing that the House of Stuart has gone for ever, and that the House of Hanover has come to stay?

For the moment we will waive the abstract proposition that wrong can be made right by lapse of time, and merely consider the statement that the House of Hanover has come to stay.

The tendency of the age is towards democracy, and the tendency of democracy is towards harm. The Legitimist is, above all things, a king's man, and in his eyes democracy is an accursed condition, to be prevented at all costs. He views with apprehension the gradual transference of power from the ruler to the ruled, the steady curtailment of the royal prerogative, and the arrogation by the people to themselves of functions which they are not fitted to perform. And in this connection it is interesting to observe that the most recent defence of royal prerogative came from the most unlikely quarter. When, a few years ago, there was a question of ceding Heligoland to the German Emperor, the Commons presumed to discuss the matter. The only man in the House who had the courage to point out that any such discussion was altogether extra vires was Mr. Gladstone, the same upholder of royal prerogative who persuaded Her Majesty to abolish purchase of commissions in the army.

The Legitimist in England today recognises more fully than anyone else the duty he owes to the throne, and he is prepared to discharge it, although he knows that there is one who has a better claim to occupy it than she who has occupied it so gloriously and so long. Loyalty is not with him an unmeaning shibboleth. It is the compass by which he guides his course. He believes that, were the monarchy to be overturned, red ruin would ensue, and he is not inconsistent with his principles if he accords loyal and unfailing support to Queen Victoria - so long, at any rate, as Queen Mary puts forward no claim to the English crown. He does not make the mistake, too commonly made, of confusing causes with individuals; and therefore it is to the Legitimists in England that one should look for the purest and most disinterested loyalty.

What, then, is his policy under modern conditions? First and foremost, the maintenance of the monarchical principle, with stern and unflinching opposition to any infringement of the royal prerogative, and war to the death against the democratic spirit, the growth of which he observes with apprehension. Labels and catch-phrases are not free from objections, and therefore we deprecate the labelling of the Legitimist as a High Tory. Moreover, the whirligig of time brings such rapid changes that the Tory of one age is the Whig on the next, and the paradox is true that the Radical of the moment is really the High Tory. What he wishes to destroy root and branch is the republican spirit which he conceives to be fatal to the good administration of his country's affairs. He is an aristocrat who denies that in practical politics Jack is as good as his master, who denies that France under a republic is as glorious or as prosperous as France under the monarchy, and who believes that Mr. Labouchere or John Burns would be a sorry substitute as president for Victoria as queen in a country which has had such a splendid evolution under a monarchy for more than a thousand years.

And this once more emphasises his contention that he is single-minded in his support of the principles in which he has been trained. He believes that the tendency of the age is towards revolution - bloodless perhaps, but none the less tremendous. The people are not trained to distinguish causes from individuals, and in the popular mind the monarchical principle in this country is identified with Queen Victoria. She has reigned wisely and well and gloriously for sixty years. Almighty God be praised for it! And in her own person she represents the Throne, the abstract cause for which the Legitimists have before now laid down their lives. But when her splendid personality is removed, as before long it must inevitably be, the democratic tendency will receive an extraordinary impetus. They are not few who are of opinion that the death of the present sovereign possibly, and of the next sovereign probably, will be the signal for a popular movement culminating in the abolition of monarchy in England, and with the extinction of the Hanoverian dynasty. Legitimists share in this opinion, but none the less they believe that although a democratic form of government might persist for a time, it will eventually be swept away again by the good common-sense of the nation, even as the Protectorate was swept away in 1660; and one justification for their retention of the style of Jacobites is their belief that when the monarchy is for the second time restored, it will be restored in the person of the then representative of the elder Stuart line. If their predictions come true, there will be a strong national feeling in favour of the national principle of primogeniture being recognised in the succession to the throne, and the parliamentary title of the House of Hanover, having been taken away as it was given, its sole claim to occupy the throne will have ceased to exist. This is the Legitimist's view, and it is an effective answer to the taunt of disloyalty flung at him; for were he aught but single-minded in his support for the abstract cause he would connive at the disingenuous policy which might considerably advance the interests of her whom he believes to be its proper representative.

Meanwhile, other work lies nearer to his hand. Yet a third occasion when Mr. Gladstone took definitive action in a direction favourable to the cause of Legitimism in England was in 1891, when he brought in a bill to remove the religious disabilities, with the exception of those attaching to the royal family. At the time it was generally supposed that he took this step with the specific object of enabling Lord (then Sir Charles) Russell to be advanced to the office of Lord Chancellor. It is but right, however, to assume that Mr. Gladstone would not have brought in the bill at all unless he were persuaded that the Act as it now stands imposed an injustice not warranted now even by the doctrine of expediency. On a second reading his bill was rejected by a majority of thirty-three; but in an age of religious toleration it is anomalous that the sovereign, the Lord chancellor, and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland should be the only three people in these realms who have no freedom of religion if they are to retain their places. the significance of Mr. Gladstone's action lies in the fact that from removing the religious disability from the Lord Chancellor it is but one step to removing it from the sovereign, and so controverting the abstract proposition of the Commons "that it hath been found by experience inconsistent with the safety and welfare of this Protestant kingdom to be governed by a Popish prince." The removal of the religious disabilities is a long stride towards repealing the Act of Settlement, which it is equally within the power of Parliament to do.

Although not apparently germane to the maintenance of the monarchical principle, another question of practical politics appeals strongly to the Legitimist, in Imperial Federation. We say "apparently not germane" because actually it is of real importance that the growth of the republican form of government should be retarded, as would happen if Imperial Federation were accomplished. It is inconceivable that our great colonies should ever develop into monarchies or into aught but independent republics; and by linking the colonies to the Mother Country, the Legitimist thinks rightly that he is linking them to the monarchical idea.

Of practical difficulties in the way of earnest Legitimists in this country there are many. First and foremost is the crass stupidity of the man in the street. He dubs every Legitimist a lunatic, and would consign him to an asylum for the insane even without the preliminary formality of a commissio de lunatico inquirendo. If the man in the street could be trained to distinguish between principles and persons, all that is most practical in Legitimism would have less difficulty in gaining ground; but the assumption that Jacobitism only means the restoration of the House of Stuart is a deeply rooted conviction which no amount of talking is likely to remove just yet. "Jacobus means James, and James is more dead than Queen Anne" is really the sort of argument that is not infrequently heard.

Another obstacle is the inference which even intelligent people draw from the proposal to remove the remaining religious disabilities - namely, that the first step is thereby being taken to undo the work of the Reformers, and to restore the supremacy of the Vatican in temporal affairs in England. A religious census of English Legitimists would more probably than not show a majority of Protestants over Roman Catholics; but, be this is it may, a "No Popery" cry would have as powerful an effect upon the populace now as at any previous time in English history, and because Legitimists must desire the removal of the religious disabilities if they are ever to hope for the repeal of the Act of Settlement, they will have to contend with all the influence of the "No Popery" party.

What they claim, and what this article attempts to show they are entitled to claim, is that they are men who, starting with a belief in two clearly defined principles, merely wish to see their belief logically and intelligently carried out in practice. The principles are not new, but except in so far as they apply to the throne have been for centuries, and are still, carried out logically and intelligently in every other rank of our social system. They have stood the test of time, and Legitimists only ask that the one anomaly in the system should be removed. They further claim that because they do not confound abstract causes with concrete human beings they should not be accused of disloyalty; that their loyalty is absolutely sincere, and the more valuable because it is loyalty to an enduring principle and not to a mortal being; and that if to profess this faith is to earn them the title of doctrinaires, then doctrinaires they may be.

This page is maintained by Noel S. McFerran (noel.mcferran@rogers.com) and was last updated October 30, 2003.
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