Compare and contrast the condition of Germany, France and England at the end of the seventeenth century.

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a very broad question, so I will break it into three categories: political, social, and cultural. 

Politically, it is difficult to compare Germany to France and England, because Germany was not a united kingdom or nation-state. Rather, it was a collection of separate principalities, duchies, and other small territories. Some were independent, others were at least nominally under the control of the Austrian Habsburgs, Prussian Hohenzollerns, and other dynasties. France, on the other hand, was firmly in the grasp of Louis XIV at the turn of the century. Louis had emerged from more than a century of civil discord to establish a powerful state that was the model for would-be absolutists throughout the continent. England, too, had suffered repeated domestic strife during the seventeenth century, which saw the execution of Charles I, a bloody civil war, the rule of Oliver Cromwell, the return of the Stuart dynasty to the throne in the person of Charles II, and the overthrow of James II. By the end of the century, William III had taken control of what would become a limited constitutional monarchy.

Socially, French society was organized into what was known as the "three estates," the clergy, nobility, and commoners. One's social position determined the taxes one paid, the privileges one was entitled to, and other important aspects of life. Both German and English society were highly stratified as well, with large landowners controlling virtually all of the countryside, but in many of the German principalities, especially those that were majority Protestant or dominated by cities, social divisions were less pronounced. Indeed, in all of the countries in the question, a rising middle class, sometimes called the bourgeoisie, was beginning to rise in wealth and prominence. This class was more politically powerful in England, where it was coming to dominate the House of Commons, than in France and the German states.

French culture was characterized first and foremost by the Catholic Church, which served as a bulwark for royal absolutism. This was not the case in England, where the Church of England held sway, and in Germany, as mentioned above, many states were dominated by Protestants, including Calvinists. All of these countries, especially Great Britain, experienced an expansion in literacy, and all three witnessed the expansion of an increasingly uniform vernacular language.