In what way were the British and French governments of the late 1600s different?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Late 17th-century France was an absolute monarchy. The king, Louis XIV, was the all-powerful ruler without any meaningful constraints on his God-given authority. Regional administrative courts, or parlements —not to be confused with legislative bodies—could delay, but not prevent, the implementation of royal policies. But as this power was largely...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Late 17th-century France was an absolute monarchy. The king, Louis XIV, was the all-powerful ruler without any meaningful constraints on his God-given authority. Regional administrative courts, or parlements—not to be confused with legislative bodies—could delay, but not prevent, the implementation of royal policies. But as this power was largely concerned with the form of legislation rather than its substance, the king's will remained paramount. The French were taught to believe that Louis was the divinely-appointed monarch, and that it was therefore outright blasphemy to oppose him.

By contrast, the English king, Charles II, though still the dominant political figure in the land, could only rule through Parliament. Charles envied his first cousin Louis for the absolute power he exercised and very much wished to emulate him. Louis gave Charles substantial sums of money—secretly, of course—so that he could rule without relying on Parliament to grant him the financial resources he needed.

On the whole, Englishmen tended to equate absolute monarchy with Roman Catholicism. Though not a Catholic himself—at least not until he lay dying, when he was received into the Catholic Church—Charles was married to a Catholic, and the next in line to the throne, his brother, James, Duke of York, was a devout Catholic convert. This caused widespread consternation among the English population at large, who were genuinely worried that James, upon ascending the throne, would turn the country into an absolute monarchy on the lines of France. As well as its potentially disastrous implications for the Protestant religion, Englishmen believed that such a system of government was alien to their long-standing tradition of liberty.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Britain, having gone through civil war in the early part of the 1600s, had reestablished governance under the Rule of Law, from which no one, even the monarch, was exempt. Parliament, as the sole legislative authority, made the law; members of Parliament were elected officials.   Britain had constructed a government based on the division of powers among the legislative, executive, and judicial.  The Glorious Revolution was glorious because the succession of the king was made by the Rule of Law, and not by Divine Right or skill at arms, as it had been earlier.  In contrast, France's government had retained Divine Right and all governance was done through the monarchy; having prolonged the medaeval form of government, its "civil war" came in the form of the French Revolution a century later, when the country attempted to do away with the Divine Right and institute democratic reforms.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The British and French governments at the end of the 1600s were very different.

In France, Louis XIQ reigned from from 1643-1715.  He was a great believer in the absolute power of the monarchy because he believed in the divine right of kings.

In contrast, Britain's monarchy at the end of the 1600s was much weaker than that of France.  The Glorious Revolution of 1688 had taken a great deal of power away from the monarchy and given it to the Parliament.

So, France was an autocratic monarchy while Britain did have a monarchy but a much weaker one that shared power with Parliament.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team