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 Britains isolation and unimportance in European affairs at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and Britains 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 Is 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 1620s.
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 IIs 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 Britains 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 administratively, politically, and economically as well as militarily.
Parliamentary government proved itself, and a mood of national confidence developed out of the ordeals of Williams war and Marlboroughs victories. The strains involved by the wars on Britain and France were comparable, for if Louis had to fight against most of Europe his country was already organized for war, whereas Britain was not. The fact that the French economy was relatively undeveloped offset the advantages of a much larger population, an absolutist political system and a central geographical position, but it also meant that France could not be brought to the point of collapse as Britain and the United Provinces could. After 1678 the French peasantry were too suppressed to try to renew on a large scale the bloody but unsuccessful risings which Richelieus wars had provoked. The sufferings of the people, and the lack of compensatory victories and territorial advances after 1688, discredited the French in an indirect way.
Louiss reign ended in political and intellectual as well as financial bankruptcy. After 1688 England could at last feel relatively secure and English opinion was generally satisfied with the political and social order. It was this sense of security, of confidence, and their accompaniments of military power and upper-class and bourgeois affluence which impressed contemporary Europe. Also, due largely to Huguenot exiles who acted as translators of English science, theology and philosophy, Europeans were also made to realize that England possessed an autonomous culture. Opinion As a college student, I found this book to be very informative and useful. The seventeenth century has probably received more attention than any other period in British history, and Jones definitely does justice to this great period in history.
Throughout the readings of this book I found that Dr. Jones has very strong views on this time period, as he goes so far to say that “a great many historians who have studied the period and written about it have shown a marked insularity in their approach to its developments and problems.” I feel that Dr. Jones laid out a good foundation in the beginning of the book, and this foundation was built upon throughout the book in a very sturdy manner. I really enjoyed, agreed with, and accepted Dr. Jones views in explaining the ways in which, in the first half of the seventeenth century, British attitudes and domestic and foreign affairs were deeply affected by European influences political, economic, and above all religious and how, as the century progressed, this position was later reversed.
Both Whig and Marxist historians have tended to regard the “conservative” revolution of 1688 as an appendage to the revolution of the middle years of the century. Dr. Jones, along with myself, strongly disagrees with this interpretation. I truly have found a respect for the author because his views and opinion on the subject are strong enough to go against strong Whig and Marxist historians views. Dr.
Jones takes the side that in relation to Britains final emergence as a great power and her impact on European and world affairs, the revolution of 1688 must be regarded as the decisive turning point in British seventeenth-century development. The author shows that this process was a gradual one, and I totally agree with him. For example, the author reveals not only the importance of British commercial interests in the Mediterranean even in the early years of Anglo-Dutch rivalry, but also the crucial significance of the period 1667-89 in the determination of Britains role in Continental affairs. I found it evident that the authors account of the Anglo-Dutch and Anglo-French wars in the context of the Counter-Reformation provides a very detailed and diversified treatment, and I feel that it is a very valuable aspect of his work of reinterpretation of the period. Along the lines of reinterpretation, it is my opinion that Dr. Jones did an excellent job of reinterpreting several key points that I picked up on while reading this book: the view of James Is pro-spanish policy, the reassessment of Cromwells achievements in foreign and colonial policy, the relative insignificance at this period of colonial conflicts between Britain and her Continental rivals, until at least the time of Colbert, and the reality of the threats to British commerce represented by the French guerres de course under Louis XIV.
Also, the deep repercussions on English public opinion of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the profound effects of the Nine Years War upon the British administrative and financial system are reinterpreted points which to me stuck out. Finally, Britain and Europe in the Seventeenth Century is an important addition to the views and studies done on this period. Jones did an excellent job in pointing out and backing his view that the Revolution of 1688 was the decisive turning point that entirely transformed Britains relationship with Europe. The thesis is very convincing, and it is evident that the author is very aware of this. All of the evidence Jones presents supports his thesis.
Overall, I found this book to be informative and the authors view was very a pleasant addition to other views on the same subject.