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Political Changes of 17th Century England and France - Trends

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The political changes of 17th century England and France from 1789-1815 can be compared in the way that both had a monarchy overturned, restored, and then overturned again. However, they differed in that England's Parliament existed the entire time in some way, while in France, power was exchanged from king, to constitutional monarchy, to a dictator. England's system eventually led to constitutionalism, while France would continue to struggle with an indefinite political structure.

To better understand the similarities, one must first remember that before these changes occurred, there had already been a great build-up of resentment for the ruling powers in both England and France. In England, the king juggled unsuccessfully with pleasing his subjects religion-wise, and created much animosity between the people and the king. An example is how James I offended his Catholic subjects by banning Jesuits and seminary priests. Charles I, his successor, worsened the rift by making an extremely insensitive move against his Protestant subjects by marrying a Catholic woman, and then allowing the queen and her entourage to practice Catholic rituals in the courts itself. In response to horrified Protestants, Charles merely persecuted Puritans, under the belief that they were disloyal. In France, the Bourgeoisie encountered frustrating barriers to the offices and prestige the nobles had, and resented the fact that the monarchy never really enacted reforms that would benefit them directly. An increasingly active working class and a peasantry starved and desperate from famine and economic depression added to the growing resentment.

The move that precipitated the French Revolution was when Louis XVI summoned the Estates General, a representative body of the three estates of France, to meet to debate whether or not the nobility and clergy should be taxed to help lessen France's large debt. The third estate, burdened by the debt the most, was in favor of the tax. Louis had even granted them double the size of representation in the Estates General. However, when he decided to count votes by body, the third estate knew that they would lose anyway. Outraged, they withdrew and declared themselves the National Assembly. However, despite the defiance, Louis refused all of the decrees proposed by the National Assembly and instead assembled forces around Versailles and Paris. In response to this threat, Parisian women rallied and surrounded the palace, forcing the royal family into "imprisonment." The National Assembly then established a constitutional monarchy. In 1791, the National Assembly gave way to Legislative Assembly. A written constitution had been established. However, as many people demanded more radical reforms, the Legislative Assembly called for a more radical National Convention. However, the Convention was then dominated by the radical political group, the Mountain, who soon suspended the constitution and formed a twelve-member Committee of Public Safety, led largely by Robespierre. The Committee issued a Reign of Terror, which caused the execution of anyone suspected of being counterrevolutionary. After Robespierre was overthrown and executed, a five-member Directory was formed in 1795. However, the Directory could not restore tranquility. Finally, Napoleon Bonaparte ended the power struggles by overturning the government in a coup d'etat. Napoleon ruled as a dictator for sixteen years until countries allied against his aggression entered



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