European History Pt. 12 — British!

Last time we looked at the Dutch position in the world after Westphalia. Now we’ll look at the British.

England largely escaped the wars of religion, as its civil war during the 1640s was relatively mild. However, its religious conflicts with Ireland were of course, just as bloody as anything on the continent.

A History of the Modern World also reminds us that England was not present at the Congress of Westphalia. The only nation west of Poland not represented. Wow!

Around this time, England was prosperous but not nearly to the extent of the Dutch. However, the difference that would ultimately make a difference is that England had much more land and so more commercial options than the Dutch. Indeed, in the 1600s, England’s seafaring was not completely developed and so most of its wealth was tied up in land.

Politically, the book points out that England was quasi unique. Whereas on the continent, the reduction of kingly power came along with anarchy and disorganization, the subjection of kingly power to parliament resulted in a strong government. For this reason, England was poised to play a role in spreading democracy across the world.

It was James I (successor to Elizabeth, a Stuart) who rocked the boat. He wanted more money while at the same time proclaiming the divine right of kings. He wanted to rule without parliament.

The demographics and organization of parliament was also unique. Unlike elsewhere, England only had one gathered deliberative body. There were no city or local parliaments. Just big “P” parliament. Furthermore, parliament had become largely secular and inhabited by property owners, both small and great.

James passed on, but his son Charles I continued aggravating parliament by trying to raise money for a navy in 1629 in what became the ship-money dispute. The dispute nicely crystallizes the issue of the time. Usually, coastal towns payed for a navy because they most needed a navy to be safe, but Charles wanted everyone to pay a share of raising a navy. In the past, the inland areas thought that it was no big deal  if coastal towns were sacked or captured, but Charles wanted to unify England so that every Englishman would be considered under threat if the coasts were occupied. When Charles dissolved the parliament when they refused to help him raise money to defeat the rebellion, the same representatives were returned and they sat from 1640-1660 and was known as the long parliament.

Next time is Cromwell.


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