Britain and Europe in the Seventeenth Century

Britain
and Europe in the Seventeenth Century

J.R. Jones, a Professor of English History
in the School of English Studies at the University of East Anglia, England,
in Britain and Europe in the Seventeenth Century, has written a very informative
and interesting book.

Britain and Europe in the Seventeenth Century
is a relatively short book that deals with the impact that Britain had
on European affairs at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

The thesis is basically summed up in the title of the book. To expand
on the thesis, Dr. Jones emphasizes the close interdependence of Britain
and Europe in the seventeenth century, and shows that events at home cannot
be fully understood unless they are related to developments and forces
abroad. In cultural and intellectual, as well as political and economic
matters, the effect on Britain of foreign influences is for most of this
period greater than that of Britain on Europe; one of the main questions
that Dr. Jones considered when writing this book was why this relation
was later reversed.

In looking at this period as a whole there
is a clear contrast between Britainís isolation and unimportance in European
affairs at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and Britainís full
involvement as a major influence after 1688. This involves intellectual
and political matters. European intellectual developments during
the first part of the century did not significantly affect the main part
of English life, and English influences on Europe were negligible.

The only groups interested in developments in Europe were minorities who
were dissatisfied with the established order in Britain. For most
of these "Puritans" the Calvinist churches of Europe provided the
model which they hoped to establish in England. During James Iís
reign they were inspired by Dutch divines and encouraged in their opposition
to royal policies. In economic and intellectual matters Scotland
was basically a colony of Holland. But the partly formed Calvinist
international, to which English Puritans and Scottish Presbyterians belonged,
together with German, Czech, Swiss, Magyar, French, and Dutch churches,
did not survive the 1620ís. It was shattered in the early disastrous
phases of the Thirty Years War, and by the submission of the Huguenots
when Louis XIII insisted on the elimination of foreign pastors, so that
by the time English Puritanism temporarily triumphed during the English

Revolution it held few European connections of any importance, and was
dependent of its own intellectual resources.

The connections which bound Catholicism
with Europe were more durable. Isolated and often under pressure
at home, English Catholics regarded themselves as part of the community
of Christendom and as following the tradition of the past, from which their
fellow-countrymen had been severed by the decisions of Henry VIII and Elizabeth.

Before 1640 it was the religious doctrines, rituals and claims to universality
of Catholicism that attracted converts, but after 1660 it was the political
rather than the religious aspects of Catholicism which attracted those
court circles which wanted to imitate the France of Louis XIV. The
defeat of Catholicism is the main theme of English History in the late
seventeenth century, while the events of 1686-90 strengthened the links
between Catholicism and the Irish national spirit.

The end of isolation was a very gradual
process. The most important factor before 1688 was the diversification
and expansion of overseas trade in exports and imports. New trade
routes and patterns were developed, which were of great economic importance.

Economic ties produced political connections years before Britain became
fully involved in the European diplomatic system. Britain had to
become a Mediterranean power and began to intervene in Portuguese politics
during Charles IIís reign. Apart from this economic impact, England
made little impression on Europe before 1688. There was almost universal
ignorance of the English language, and English literature was hardly known
to exist. The political instability and continual violence of British
affairs horrified all Europeans except the Dutch. Only the Dutch
had any realization of potential English power. It was only after

1688 that Britain became fully involved in European affairs. The

Revolution entirely transformed Britainís relationship with Europe.

The two wars that followed the Revolution
affected the lives of every inhabitant of the British Isles. They
involved major changes to individuals and economic interests. All
parts of the population and every part of the administration came under
intense and prolonged strain. Foreign trade and shipping suffered
severely. But while individuals went under, the nation not only survived
but became stronger Ė administratively, politically, and economically as
well as militarily. Parliamentary government proved itself, and a
mood of national confidence developed out of the ordeals of Williamís war
and Marlboroughís victories.

The strains involved by the wars on Britain
and France were comparable, for if