Compare French and English 17th century political development. Which was most influential and why?

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English and French political developments in the seventeenth century are a study in contrasts. Through a civil war and a later, non-violent deposition of a monarch, the English moved decisively towards a parliamentary monarchy. The French, in contrast, moved decisively towards absolutist monarchy in the same time period.

In the early years of the century, both countries were headed toward absolutist governments based on the concept of Divine Rights of Kings. James I and his son Charles I took a much more aggressive stance towards asserting the powers of the monarch than had Elizabeth I. In England, however, this blew up into a Civil War, in part because of the existence of a robust Protestant religious resistance to what was seen as James' and Charles' closet papacy. The Royalists lost the war, and Oliver Cromwell took power, ending the monarchy in England for a time. After the Restoration, fears of papacy and Spanish influence again led to an uprising, this one nonviolent as the British Parliament replaced James II with the Dutch Protestant King William and his wife Mary. (Mary was the daughter of James II and William the grandson of Charles I.) In order to gain the throne, the couple had to agree to the 1689 Declaration of Rights, which limited monarchial power.

In France, Louis XIII, with Cardinal Richelieu, defeated an uprising of nobles, consolidating monarchial power, a contrast to what occurred in England. When Louis XIV became a child king under a regency that included his mother, she paved the way for him to increase royal power. This he did during a very long reign, building the palace of Versailles and concentrating power in that single location, with all patronage flowing from him.

By the beginning of the eighteenth century, Britain was well en route to a constitutional monarchy which would spread power and wealth (to some extent), helping the economic health of the country. By this time, however, France was firmly in the grip of a highly centralized monarchial government in which money funneled to the top without any say by most of the population. An out-of-touch ruling class bled the country dry, inciting an extremely violent revolution some decades later in 1789.

The British turn to constitutional monarchy in the seventeenth century helped Britain become a world power and has had a greater influence on political history than absolutist monarchy established in seventeenth century France.

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Actually, at a time when the rulers of France were becoming more and more absolutist, England was moving away from absolutism.

The seventeenth century was the time of Louis XIV, who presumably once stated "l'etat c'est moi." He was known as the Sun King, and declared himself nec pluribus impar (without equal.) He is generally considered to be the most powerful monarch to ever rule in Western Europe. Louis ruled with an iron fist, and never became dependent on a single advisor. He often spied on ministers, even opening their mail. In one instance, Louis visited a minister whom he planned to remove, and was served on gold plates with gold flatware, and even saw large salt water pools filled with fish. Louis ostensibly took offense at this ostentatious display, ordered the minister arrested, and confiscated the minister's mansion for himself. In religious matters, Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes primarily to prevent religious differences from erupting into a civil conflict.

In England, the English people had been proud of their "rights as Englishmen" which dated to the Magna Carta of 1215. They were never ruled by an absolute monarch and had no intention of submitting. When Charles I attempted to dissolve Parliament and ultimately declared war on it, he was executed for treason, the first monarch to be executed by his own people. After a brief experiment with the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, Charles II returned to England as monarch. He was succeeded by James II who also alienated the English people and was forced to flee. At the invitation of Parliament William of Orange (in the Netherlands) and James' daughter Mary were invited to assume the English throne; (this was the "Glorious Revolution of 1688) but were required as a condition of accepting the Throne to sign the Engish Bill of Rights, which stated the monarch could not suspend laws passed by Parliament,

judges would hold office "during good behavior, and

the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defense suitable to their conditions and as allowed by Law.

In other words, only Protestants were allowed to keep and bear arms; Catholics could not. This was because the Protestant majority in Parliament feared there might be a rebellion led by Catholics.

The Glorious Revolution forever ended the idea of divine right or absolute monarchy in England. It was to support the Glorious Revolution that John Locke wrote his Two Treatises on Civil Government, the second of which was relied upon by Thomas Jefferson in writing the American Declaration of Independence.

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There were several differences between France and England during this period. Perhaps the greatest was religious, with England having a national protestant church and France being Roman Catholic. England, in the wake of Cromwell and the ensuing religious conflicts, developed a policy of religious toleration. Although in the Edict of Nantes, France attempted something of the same, the Edict was repealed and France lost many important Huguenot members of the bourgeois class to Holland and Britain as a result of that repeal. While France was centralizing power in the monarchy, England moving increasingly in direction of representative government and constitutional monarchy, leading to a gradual diminution in the power of the monarch rather than a violent overthrow, as was to happen in France.

The British model seems to have predominated in modern European states.

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