Compare and contrast the developments in 17th-century England with those in 17th-century France. Explain the reasons for English stability and the structural problems of French absolutism.

Expert Answers
thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

English and French cultures were sufficiently similar, due to the Norman Conquest of 1066, that they shared in common many elements of language, artistic and cultural traditions, and even bloodlines, meaning that whenever they were not at war, they traded extensively with each other and were popular tourist destinations for each others citizens, with the English Grand Tour beginning in France, both due to tradition and the proximity of Diver to Calais. Despite this, several factors caused the political and religious environments of the two nations to diverge by the seventeenth century.

The signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 reduced the power of the kings with respect to the nobles and enshrined the private property rights of all classes in England. The acts of Praemunire, Provisions, and Provisors restricted the powers of the Church and especially of the Pope in England. Finally, while the alliance of throne and altar, with the Pope and supporting Christian monarchs and Christian monarchs making Roman Catholicism a state religion, was active in France, Henry VIII's embrace of Protestantism, although creating a state church, nonetheless created a more malleable religious environment.

These two tendencies, restricting the power of the King and creating limited possibilities for religious freedom, happened only in England. While France entered the seventeenth century as a medieval-style absolutist monarchy, England had a greater tradition of civil liberties and a (limited) amount of distributed power, in which Parliament limited the power of the king. This meant that when Charles I attempted to impose personal rule in the style of the French kings, the English revolted, leading to the English Civil War of 1642 to 1651. From roughly 1649 to 1660, England was ruled either as a Commonwealth or by Cromwell directly as Lord Protector. When the monarchy was restored, the power of Parliament, especially of Commons was greater and that of the monarch less than before. Next, the Glorious Revolution of 1688, established a Bill of Rights limiting the monarch's power and also increased the power of Parliament. The reaction against James' Catholicism indirectly led to increasing tolerance for dissent. 

The political and religious freedoms that the English gained and the rise of the commons encouraged the growth of the middle classes. Rather than the hereditary prerogatives of the nobility being enforced, wealthy merchants and gentry tended to intermarry, defusing class tensions.

In France, on the other hand, the war against the Huguenots of Cardinal Richelieu and Louis XIII solidified the need for a strong monarch in alliance with the Roman Catholic Church to create political stability. Both Louis XIII and XIV used military success and personal power to reduce the powers of the Courts and Parlement de Paris.

 

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question