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Tag Archives: England

Kings Compete for Power with Nobles and the Church


Henry Tudor was a patient young man, who waited and watched while civil war raged in England and quarreling lords fought to see who would be king. He waited safely in France, biding his time until his spies told him the hour had come to strike. Then from northern France he crossed the English Channel with 2000 soldiers. Ahead of Henry and his soldiers had gone his agents, who sought to weaken the position of England’s King, Richard III. Henry’s agents had plotted secretly with some of Richard’s supporters, lords who led small armies of their own. That was why when the battle was fought at Bosworth Field, England, in 1485, first one group and then another broke from King Richard’s ranks and joined Henry Tudor’s forces. Screaming “Treason, treason!” King Richard III hurled himself into the thick of the fray. He wanted to kill young Henry Tudor, but King Richard himself was struck down. As the King’s armour clad body crashed heavily to the ground, the light golden crown that fitted over his helmet rolled under a nearby hawthorn bush. When the battle was over, a soldier picked up the crown and placed it on Henry Tudor’s helmet. For over a hundred years, Henry Tudor (who became King Henry VII) and his descendants ruled England. There had been kings in England for centuries, but powerful feudal nobles had often refused to accept their authority. Moreover, for 30 years before Henry Tudor’s victory at Bosworth, England had been engaged in a disastrous war between two branches of the royal family. But though Henry Tudor and his descendants met with op position, they steadily increased their powers. As a result, England became a unified and prosperous country. We learn how strong monarchies, or kingdoms, developed in Europe during the later Middle …

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Democracy Spreads 1867-1905

DEMOCRACY IN the Scandinavian countries, Belgium, Holland and Switzerland followed the pattern of the three large democracies. Everywhere during this period there was a trend toward constitutional government, elected law-making bodies, cabinet ministers with responsibility to the people, liberty, personal rights and voting rights for all men in the lower classes. In Canada, the most difficult problem was nationalism. At the time of the Civil War in the United States, Canada consisted of a number of British provinces, most of which were independent of each other. The oldest of these was the province of Quebec in the Saint Lawrence valley. As it was originally a French colony‚ its people still spoke French, obeyed laws similar to those of France and worshipped in the Catholic Church. Although they had lived under the British flag for many years, they were afraid that the great flood of immigrants from England would destroy their way of life and felt that as Frenchmen they should form a nation of their own. At the same time, British subjects in other parts of Canada felt that all the provinces should join together in one large nation. The problem was finally solved by uniting all the provinces in one nation, but allowing each province to retain control of local affairs. The Canadians wrote a constitution for the new nation, which was approved by the British Parliament in 1867 when it passed the British North America Act. The constitution provided that the Dominion of Canada should have a parliament with a cabinet responsible to the political party in power. At that time, the Dominion consisted of four provinces — Quebec‚ Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Manitoba became a province in 1870 and British Columbia in 1871. The Canadian Pacific Railroad was built to connect these western provinces with …

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The Revolution of 1848; 1830-1848


LOUIS PHILIPPE always spoke of himself humbly as the “citizen king.” Although he was dignified, friendly and tried to do things that would make him popular, his government could not satisfy the needs of the people. The reason was that only one out of every thirty Frenchmen had the right to vote. The Chamber of Deputies represented only the nobles and the rich upper crust of the middle class and often it did not even debate questions that were of importance to the great majority of the people. Many Frenchmen did not like the new king. The republicans were opposed to having any king at all. The “liberals” — people of the middle class who favoured a constitutional monarchy thought his government was too conservative and did not allow enough freedom. As the years passed, more and more Frenchmen, including the workers in the cities, turned against him because he refused to support their demand for the right to vote. The liberals were forbidden to hold meetings at which they could present their demands. To get around this, they decided to follow the British system of holding political banquets. At the first of these, held in Paris in the summer of 1847, they demanded that the election laws be changed to include most of the middle classes. They also wanted freedom of trade and of the press. The banquet was so successful that similar gatherings were held in almost every town in the nation. Then the liberals announced that a great banquet, with a parade and demonstrations in the streets, would be held in Paris on the night of February 22, 1848. When the government refused to allow it, the angry people of Paris gathered in the streets. They milled about, not knowing what to do, for no plans had …

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Democracy in Great Britain 1789-1884


BY 1789, the first year of the French Revolution, England had traveled further along the road that would one day lead to democracy than had any other country in Europe. She had a law-making body called the Parliament which was more powerful than the king. She had a two-party system which gave the voters a choice of ideas as well as a choice of candidates. Members of the conservative party, who were called Tories, were chiefly nobles, wealthy landowners and people who strongly supported the Church of England. The Whigs, as members of the liberal party were called, consisted mainly of middle-class business and professional men and the Dissenters, religious groups which had sharp differences with the Church of England. The king’s cabinet of ministers were chosen from the party with the most votes in Parliament. The cabinet was responsible to the people’s elected representatives in Parliament and therefore indirectly responsible to the voters themselves. The chief member of the cabinet was called the prime minister; he and other members of the cabinet actually took care of most government business in the name of the ruling king or queen. The English monarch had become a ruler with very limited powers. In addition, the people of England were protected by a Bill of Rights. The king could not change or suspend laws passed by Parliament. Elections were to be held frequently and the king was not to interfere with these elections in any way. Any person charged with a crime had a right to a speedy trial before a fair-minded jury. Cruel and unusual punishments were forbidden, as were extremely high Fines. Yet, England still did not have true democracy, for the right to vote was granted only to those who owned a large amount of land. Since most of the …

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Democracy and Nationalism 1815-1848


WHILE THE Industrial Revolution was transforming England and creating a new kind of society, the continent of Europe seemed to be going backward instead of forward. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, the monarchs and aristocrats brought back the principle of “legitimacy.” Legitimacy meant that only kings, aristocrats and the established church had the right to rule and that the people must obey them without question. The American and French revolutions had been fought to overthrow the principle of legitimacy. The idea behind these revolutions was that governments were created by the people. As the Declaration of Independence put it, all men were born equal and had the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”– and governments were set up to help them secure these rights. Legitimacy and the ideas of the revolutions were completely opposed to each other. At first it looked as though legitimacy would win out, at least in Europe. In 1814, the four nations that had defeated Napoleon — Austria, Russia, Prussia and Britain — met in a peace conference called the Congress of Vienna. They gave the throne of France to Louis XVIII. They changed the map of Europe to produce a balance of power that is, groupings of states that were roughly equal to each other in strength. They saw to it that Germany and Italy were divided and did not become great and united nations. To carry out their agreements and keep down revolution, Austria, Russia, Prussia and Britain formed what was known as the Quadruple Alliance. Later, in 1818, they became allied with France and formed the Quintuple Alliance. The British, however, did not support all the policies of the alliance; they believed that every country had the right to change its form of government. The result was that Austria, Russia …

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Men against Machines 1733 – 1812


FEAR HUNG over the Yorkshire countryside in northern England. It was the spring of 1812, a spring the people would long remember. Hardly a night passed without some frightened countryman hearing the tramp of marching feet or the sound of gunfire. Sometimes shouts rang out and flames lit up the sky as some building was mysteriously set on fire. The most frightening sound of all was a gentle tapping on a cottage door in the dead of night. The man who heard it knew what it meant — a visit from members of a secret society of mill workers. Why had they come? Possibly to demand his firearms, or to threaten him with a lashing or even death unless he kept certain information to himself . If he himself happened to be a member of the society, he could expect his visitors to insist that he join them in raiding a nearby cotton or woolen mill. Such mills, or cloth factories, dotted the Yorkshire countryside and were the main targets of the secret society. Most of the mill owners had been warned. The society had sent them unsigned letters, threatening to raid their mills unless they stopped using labour-saving machinery such as weaving frames. The owners of small mills usually became so terrified they stopped using the machines. Those who continued to use them ran the risk of having their mills destroyed by fire. Usually the raiders simply broke in to smash the weaving frames and other machinery that did the work of men. William Cartwright, the owner of one of the largest textile mills in the area, was not easily frightened. He believed in progress and to him progress meant using machines, for they could do the work faster and cheaper than men. Whenever he installed new machinery in …

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Emperor of the French 1804 -1815


On December 2, 1804, in a ceremony of great pomp and splendour at the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Napoleon I, Emperor of the French. Pope Pius VII was there. He had come from Rome to offer his blessing and to place the crown on the head of the new emperor but Napoleon did not do what was expected of him. Instead of kneeling, he took the crown from the Pope’s hands and put it on himself. He also placed a crown on the head of his wife, Josephine. Only twelve years had passed since the French had risen in revolt against their king. Now, by popular vote, they had placed Napoleon on the throne and approved a new constitution giving him almost unlimited power. People in other lands wondered if the French were turning their back on the revolution, but the French did not think so. They looked upon Napoleon as the man who had made laws and treaties to protect most of the benefits which they had won during the revolution. Yet the French had changed. They no longer spoke of liberty. They were willing to give up some of their freedom in order to enjoy other things that now seemed just as important and men who had once been great champions of liberty could do little about it. Among them was Lafayette, who had returned to France after several years in Austrian prisons. Not wishing to support a government under which freedom did not exist, he refused to accept any public office and lived the life of a gentleman farmer. Most Frenchmen simply felt that a practical form of government was more important than liberty. They had discovered some frightening things about liberty during the Revolution — too much of it could …

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Good King George and the Dragon 1775

King George

Samuel Adams was an unhappy man. He moved among the other delegates to Congress like a lonely, silent shadow, keeping his thoughts to himself. He dared not open his mouth for fear of saying too much. Months had passed since the Battle of Bunker Hill. Colonial troops had made an unsuccessful attempt to drive the British from Canada. Congress had organized the Committee of Secret Correspondence to find out what help to expect from European countries in their war with England. In December of 1775, Congress had ordered the building of an American navy. Yet, in spite of all these warlike activities, Samuel Adams and other radicals did not dare speak openly about independence. It was not fear of England that kept them silent. They were already marked men and knew they would all probably hang if they fell into British hands. They were afraid the cause of freedom might be harmed if they spoke out too soon. They knew that most Americans were not yet ready to break away from the British Empire. One of the most serious obstacles to independence was the people’s feeling about King George. The colonists not only remained loyal to him, but believed him to be innocent of any wrongdoing. The radicals themselves were largely to blame. They had always been careful not to say anything critical about the king. They had believed that they could more effectively stir up public opinion against Parliament if they also proved their loyalty by praising King George at the same time. Now they did not dare to speak out against the king for fear of offending the people. The false picture of a saintly king had to be destroyed before the people would be willing to fight for independence, but Samuel Adams and other radical leaders did …

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The Continental Congress 1774


When Samuel Adams, his cousin John Adams and the rest of the delegates from Massachusetts arrived in Philadelphia, they found themselves very unpopular. Cousin John complained that he was avoided as if he had some sort of contagious disease. The delegates from other colonies looked upon the men from Massachusetts as radicals and did not like their wild ideas about protecting American rights with force, if necessary. Patrick Henry of Virginia made a speech pointing out that it was no longer possible for any of the colonies to stand alone. They had to unite, to work together with other colonies for the good of all. “I am not a Virginian,” he cried, “but an American!” Most of the delegates to the Congress were still loyal to the king, but, like Patrick Henry, they had begun to think of themselves as Americans rather than Englishmen. More and more, they were speaking of justice, freedom, liberty and of the natural rights of man. One of the first things they did was to write a Declaration of Rights, describing exactly what rights they claimed for themselves. The colonists‚ declared the Congress, were “entitled to life, liberty and property,” and had never given any “foreign power” authority to change, or to take away, any of those rights without consent. The Congress also stated that it was the right of Englishmen and of all free people to govern themselves. Since the colonists were not represented in the British Parliament, they were entitled to have their own law-making bodies. The colonial legislatures were the only lawmaking bodies that had authority to tax and to make laws for the various colonies. At the same time, the Congress recognized the right of the king to veto laws passed by the legislatures. The Congress also passed a plan known …

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The Stamp Act, 1765 – 1772

stamp act

Another unpopular step England took after the war was to reorganize her defense system in the colonies. The French and Indian War had proved to the British that the colonies could not be depended upon to defend themselves. Some new system had to be worked out in North America, to defend not only the colonies, but also Canada, Florida and the wilderness east of the Mississippi. England decided to leave this task to a standing army of ten thousand British redcoats. Such an army would cost a great deal of money. Taxpayers in England were already paying very high taxes and could not be asked to pay more. Their taxes supported the powerful British navy, which protected the colonies as well as the mother country. It seemed no more than fair that the colonies should pay at least part of the expenses of the standing army in North America. The soldiers were there, after all, for their own protection. Accordingly, the colonies were given a year to raise the money themselves. They were warned that England would have to tax them if they failed to do so. For a year the colonists did nothing. They saw no need of supporting an army they had not asked for and did not want. Since the French forces had been driven from American soil, a large standing army seemed unnecessary. The colonists suspected that the real purpose of the army was to strengthen British control over all the colonial governments. England’s law-making body in London, the British Parliament, finally passed the Stamp Act in 1765. It required the colonists to buy stamps from British tax collectors. These stamps were to be placed on all newspapers, playing cards, dice and almanacs sold in the colonies and also on certain papers having to do with …

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