Absolute Monarchs: England
Between the years 1500 and 1650, most of the major European powers were led by absolute monarchs who claimed a divine right to rule.
So these monarchs were rulers who believed that God had chosen them to rule, and the people who they were ruling believed this as well, or they would protest that person ruling. Throughout Europe, they were a series of monarchs that ruled in each of the dominant countries during that time. So for many years, England was ruled by the Tudor family. Henry VIII was the founder of the Anglican church, or the Church of England, and he had been a Tudor. His daughter Elizabeth continued his policies.
King Henry VIII being the founder of the Anglican Church meant he was breaking himself away from the Roman Catholic Church, so Anglicanism was going to be one group of Protestantism because all the Protestants were all the groups that had broken away from the Roman Catholic Church. So the Anglican Church was just a denomination of Protestantism, because it was just another group that had broken away from the Catholic Church, but they recognized England, that is what they associated their group with was the Church of England. So it was the Anglican Church within England that was a Protestant group because it was broken apart from the Roman Catholic Church. So he ruled for a while, and then his daughter Elizabeth came into power. There were a few other rulers in between, but they didn’t last very long. Elizabeth reigned for 44 years, and this period became known as the Elizabethan age.
This gave England some stability because they had so many different rulers between Henry VIII and Elizabeth, but then they got the Elizabethan age, and during this period trading and exploration increased. So, where they hadn’t been doing as much, Elizabeth promoted trading, promoted exploration, would have been promoting colonization so they could have more goods coming in that they could export and trade and make more money off of, so this was a promising time for England.
In addition, the Spanish Armada, which was their very impressive fleet of ships, sent to overthrow Elizabeth as a Protestant heretic was defeated. So this is why it was important to understand what the Anglican Church was, that it was a Protestant group because it had broken away from the Roman Catholic Church. Well, Spain had not. Spain was primarily still Roman Catholic. So they were saying that Elizabeth was a Protestant heretic, which entitled them to go and execute her, if they were able to do so. So they went in their ships which was their most formidable way of attacking, but their armada was defeated. And this was a big defeat for England, this was a big victory for them. So they were very excited about this, and Elizabeth got a lot of recognition for this.
However, after Elizabeth died in 1603, things changed a little bit. So after her 44 years of ruling, the Stewart family ascended to the throne. And the Stewart Period would be marked by conflict. There weren’t any rulers that ruled as long as Elizabeth, so there wasn’t as much stability. Both James I and Charles I that were rulers from the Stewart family butted heads with Parliament over the issue of taxation. So this was a big issue with both of them, they fought with Parliament, and that made things more difficult, that spurred more conflict.
There were also continued conflicts between the Puritans, who were followers of John Calvin, the Puritans being another Protestant group that had broken away from the Roman Catholic Church. So there were conflicts between the Puritans and the Anglicans, who were followers of the Church of England, or the Anglican Church, which is what King Henry VIII started whenever he broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. So, in the midst of all this conflict, the Puritans said “Okay, we will join with Parliament in opposition or against the monarchy because the monarchy was ruled by members of the Anglican Church.” The Stewart family was still members of the Church of England, they were Anglicans.
So the Puritans joined with Parliament in opposition to the monarchy because the Puritans were also against the Anglicans. Parliament had been fighting with the Anglicans over taxation, so they joined together, and they opposed the monarchy. And the alliance of Parliament and the Puritans was led by Oliver Cromwell. So when the Puritans and Parliament joined together, they had to pick a leader of their newly formed group, and they chose Oliver Cromwell. His army was successful in deposing and executing King Charles I. And so since that was who was ruling at the time, they defeated the Anglican Ruler, the current ruler of the monarchy, and Cromwell was then installed as Protector of England. So he wasn’t made king like the other monarchs had been, he was named Protector of England, but he was basically ruling England with the help of Parliament. So Cromwell’s rule was undermined by Anglican nobles and clergy. Remember the Anglican King Charles I had been executed in order to put Puritans and Parliament in power.
So people who were on the Anglican side were unhappy about this, so the Anglican nobles and clergy disliked Cromwell’s Puritanism, and they kind of joined together to undermine Cromwell’s rule. And eventually when Cromwell died, England was ruled by the two sons of Charles I. So this is who they killed to gain the throne, after Cromwell died, that kind of broke apart, and the two sons of King Charles I, Charles II and James II, went to lead the country. They became the new monarchs. The latter of which was forced to abdicate, or give up, the throne by Parliament. So there was a lot of conflict during this time. There was not any sense of stability like England had seen during the Elizabethan age, so things weren’t going as well for England. But then, after this period of relative chaos, William and Mary of the Netherlands, were asked to rule England in a limited monarchy. So William and Mary were doing a pretty good job ruling the Netherlands, so they said, ok why don’t y’all take over ruling England for a while in a limited monarchy.
So they didn’t give them as much power as they would have given an absolute monarch, but they gave them some power, they said help us, everything’s been very chaotic, we need some stability, so they asked William and Mary from the Netherlands to come in and help and rule for a while. And this shift in power was known as the Glorious Revolution because this gave them back some stability, it stopped all of the conflict, or at least greatly reduced it, that had been going on for a while. And the Declaration of Rights was written and the Declaration of Rights limited the power of the monarchy, and it gave Parliament more power.
So instead of the monarchy having as much power as they had before, the king having as much power, the Parliament was going to be given more power. And that made Parliament feel happy. They weren’t going to be fighting as much with the rulers because they had more power, so they didn’t need the ruler’s permission for every little thing. They had more power than before. They still had to work with the ruler, at this time William and Mary, and then as it got turned over to different rulers, Parliament still had to work with them, but the Declaration of Rights gave Parliament more power and limited some of the power of the monarchy.
And this also made possible a long period of tranquility. So during the period of absolute monarchs, England started out pretty good, they started out strong with Henry VIII and Elizabeth during the rule of the Tudor family, and Elizabeth gave them a stable period of 44 years where things went pretty smoothly. But after she died, there was a lot of chaos until finally William and Mary were asked to step in and help rule the country for a while, and this gave England another period of relative tranquility.