England serves as one example of resistance to absolutism and the development of a political system alternative to absolutism. In England, resistance to an absolutist monarch culminated in the English Civil War.
The English Civil War was a conflict between the English monarchy, Parliament, and the English elite. The War completely made the competition that was happening among the monarchs and the other powers seen on the whole World stage.
The war was in part an outgrowth of ongoing religious and social divisions from the Reformation. The reign of King James I, who was also known as King James VI of Scotland, meant that Anglican England, Catholic Ireland, and Calvinist Scotland were united under a single ruler. Although the monarchy officially supported the Anglican Church, which King Henry VIII had placed under control of the English Monarch with the Act of Supremacy in 1534, King James tended to act in favor of Catholicism. This angered many elites and members of the upper classes who tended to be Calvinists. King James I (VI of Scotland) also believed in the Divine Right of Kings.
James was succeeded by his son Charles I, who married the daughter of Catholic King Henry IV of France, further alienating Calvinists. Some believed that Charles was hatching a sinister plot to restore Catholicism in England, especially when he tried to force Scotland to accept a new prayer book in 1637. Parliament passed the Petition of Right, which stated that the king:
Could not impose taxes without Parliamentary approval;
Could not imprison a free man without a trial;
Could not subject free men to special courts;
Could not force free men to lodge troops in their homes.
Charles, however, attempted to raise money to support European wars, mainly against Spain, with ship money: essentially a tax that used to be only collected in times of war and only in coastal towns. Charles, however, insisted he could collect the tax in times of peace and throughout the whole country. When a Puritan movement arose, asking for religious and social reforms, Charles dissolved Parliament.
Thus, from the period of 1629-1640, Charles I ruled without any form of Parliament interaction. But in 1640, Charles attempted to impose religious changes in Scotland caused the Scots to rise up in rebellion. In need of money, Charles had to reconvene Parliament. But when they refused to support his policies, he dissolved what became known as the Short Parliament.
Needing money to fight the Scots, Charles was forced to call Parliament back into session, especially after some nobles and gentry aligned with the Scots. This brought on the period of Long Parliament, during which Parliament called for reforms. Parliament was divided: puritans wanted religious and government reforms, while nobles wanted to support the king in order to retain their own power.
A failed coup against Charles I caused Charles to flee to London. His supporters also left Parliament. This coup attempt led to the outbreak of civil war between the Cavaliers (supporters of the king) and the Roundheads (those against the king, mostly puritans and middle-class Presbyterians). The Roundheads (nicknamed for their haircuts) wanted a limited parliamentary monarchy and religious reforms.
The leader of the Roundhead Parliamentarians, Oliver Cromwell, drove the monarchists out of parliament. Charles I was sentenced to death, and the English or Commonwealth republic was proclaimed. Cromwell assumed leadership of the Commonwealth as Lord Protector of the Kingdom. Charles was tried, found guilty of treason, and beheaded in 1649. Cromwell’s Commonwealth imposed a strict moral code and crushed the Irish uprising, causing intense famine that was worsened by a plague. Cromwell’s Commonwealth republic essentially functioned as a military dictatorship.
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After Cromwell died in 1658, the Commonwealth fell apart. Charles II, the son of Charles I, was invited to resume the throne in 1660, known as the Restoration. But Charles was an ineffective and unpopular leader. When he died, his Catholic brother James II assumed the throne, renewing fears of a plot to restore Catholicism to England.
A group of English Protestants turned to William of Orange, the Dutch Stadtholder, asking him to assume the throne. William was married to James II’s daughter, Mary, and was also Protestant. Thus, in 1688, William and Mary were crowned in the Glorious Revolution. James fled to France, gathered a French army, and attempted to retake the throne, but he was defeated by William in 1690. William and Mary agreed to sign the English Bill of Rights, which outlined specific constitutional and civil rights and ultimately gave Parliament power over the monarchy, creating a constitutional monarchy. Under the Act of Settlement in 1701, the throne would return to the Protestant descendants of James I.
The whole culminating outcome of the English Civil War and of the Glorious Revolution was that the aristocracy and gentry had their rights protected from Absolutism. The Parliament’s rights were also asserted in the Petition of Right.