Royal Declaration

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The Bill of Rights (1689), which prohibited the succession to the English throne of any Catholic or person married to a Catholic, required every monarch at his coronation or at the opening of his first Parliament, whichever occurred first, to "make subscribe and audibly repeate" the following declaration: "I do solemnly and sincerely in the presence of God profess testify and declare that I do believe that in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper there is not any transubstantiation of the elements of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever; and that the invocation or adoration of the Virgin Mary or any other saint, and the sacrifice of the mass as they are now used in the Church of Rome are superstitious and idolatrous, and I do solemnly in the presence of God profess testify and declare that I do make this declaration and every part thereof in the plain and ordinary sense of the words read unto me as they are commonly understood by English protestants without any evasion, equivocation or mental reservation whatsoever and without any dispensation already granted me for this purpose by the Pope or any other authority or person whatsoever, or without any hope of any such dispensation from any person or authority whatsoever or without thinking that I am or can be acquitted before God or man or absolved of this declaration or any part thereof although the Pope as any other person or persons or power whatsoever should dispense with or annul the same, or declare that it was null and void from the beginning."

This wording (used also to exclude Catholic peers from the House of Lords under the 1678 Test Act) is attributable to the circumstances under which it was originally drafted, viz, the "Popish Plot" frenzy of 1678; while its retention in 1689 accorded with the violent anti-Catholic feeling generated by the revolution of 1688. More than a century later this declaration proved a barrier to Catholic Emancipation, for George III, although not personally ill-disposed toward Catholics, insisted that assent to Emancipation would violate both his coronation oath and the Bill of Rights in which the declaration was "expressly enacted and established 'to stand and remain and be the law of the land for ever."' No change of wording followed the granting of Emancipation in 1829. By the end of the century pressure was mounting for the abolition of utterances objectionable to Catholics both in Britain and in the colonies, and in 1897 Lord Herries raised the matter, unsuccessfully, in the House of Lords. Four years later Edward VII, opening his first Parliament, showed his dislike of the offensive words by uttering them almost inaudibly, by insisting that his successors should not "have to make such a declaration in such crude language," and by demanding a formula acceptable to Catholics, on whose behalf Cardinal Vaughan had protested. The government, however, so mishandled the business that it failed to pass the House of Lords. Lord Grey and the Duke of Norfolk were no more successful in 1903 and 1904 respectively. To these and other attempts in both Houses of Parliament were added representations from Canada and Australia and from Catholics in the colonies.

It was not until 1910, when George V refused otherwise to open Parliament, that a new declaration was devised, passing both Houses and receiving royal assent August 3 (1 Geo. V., c. 29). This accession declaration is as follows: "I , do solemnly and sincerely, in the presence of God, profess, testify and declare that I am a faithful Protestant, and that I will, according to the true intent of the enactments which secure the Protestant succession to the throne of my Realm, uphold and maintain the said enactments to the best of my powers according to law."

Bibliography: c. g. robertson, ed., Select Statutes, Cases and Documents to Illustrate English Constitutional History, 16601832 (London 1935). s. lee, King Edward VII (New York 192527) v.2. h. nicolson, King George the Fifth (London 1952).

[j. a. williams]

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Royal Declaration

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