Revolution in England and North America (1509-1791)

Updated: Oct 23, 2019

Parliament gained more power

The parliament was divided into 2 major parts. The house of lords, were nobles served for life and The house of commons, were specific members were elected, like wealthy landowners called gentry. The gentry truly profited the society, by for example raising sheep for wool, which helped the textile industry.

The english Parliament in Britain gained more control and power throughout the society. Reaching the 1500’s, they gained the major rights and approved :

  • Taxes

  • New laws decided by the monarchs as well as advised monarchs

But monarchs still had more power than the parliament. The monarchs could summon and dismiss the parliament by demand. The monarchs also ruled over the catholic church by 1534, because of Henry VIII broke with the church.

However, Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I aimed to have good relations with the Parliament, thus Henry winning the approval of establishing the church of England and Elizabeth living carefully so that she would not have to ask for money too often. Elizabeth did not fear to say against the Parliament when they stepped in something that was not their business, but she also knew how to not offend the parliament, thus keeping the country united as stable while she was the queen.

1603, When Elizabeth died, she left no heir, thus the Scottish James VI getting the crown, renamed James I of england. Although he became the king of England, he knew very little about England and its policy.

James I the divine right of kings

James made his own translation of the Bible called “King James Version” as well as wrote his own book “The true law of free monarchies”. In his book he explained his idea of how a monarchy should be and how a king should have no strings, which brought up conflicts between him and the Parliament. They both spoke about the issues in the country and the biggest one was the demands of the Puritans. The puritans wanted Catholic rituals and ceremonies to be expelled from the Anglican Church. Many Puritans were wealthy merchants, who were elected to the Parliament, thus the house of commons agreeing with them. In contrast to Elizabeth, who was tolerant to the Puritans, James refused to do as they said, thus leading to more conflicts. Another contrast would be how James spent a lot of money in gifts to his friends and his court in comparison to Elizabeth who, was careful with her money. James was always in debt for all the catholic wars against Spain.

When James asked for higher taxes from the Parliament refused, unless James would agree on the religious terms, thus James looking for other ways to get money like bringing back the feudal fines and increased custom duties. The Parliament also disliked James's foreign policy and peace with Spain when he tried to Marry his son Charles to one of the princesses of Spain, thus the people coming to an understanding that James I did not really care about the protestants in Europe during the religious wars.

Charles I and Parliament

When James died 1625, Charles inherited the throne and as his father, continued with his father's believes about the divine king. Charles like his father wanted money for the Parliament, but the Parliament refused as they did with James. Charles rebelled and decided to get the money through individual loans, as well as getting his soldiers from any house he wanted without anyones consent.

1628, Charles could not continue without the Parliament, thus summoning them and signing the “Petition of rights”, which meant that Charles was no longer allowed to collect loans without the Parliament's consent or collect soldiers without the households consent. The moment Charles got his money, he refused to follow what he signed up for and continued to rule the country for the next 11 years without the Parliament.

Charles was not so liked either, because of his bad leadership during the 1630’s. He appointed unpopular officials like William Laud to become the archbishop of Canterbury. William was very violent to Puritans and those who would not follow the Anglican practises (Dissenters). Charles also appointed the “High Commission” and the “Court Of Star Chamber”, who did not have to follow any rules or follow any juries.

1638, Scotland had enough and revolted when Charles tried to replace the Scottish religion Presbyterian with the Anglican church, this Scotland revolting and Charles needed a lot of money to prepare an army, thus calling the Parliament 1640.

The long Parliament

The Parliament that was summoned, also known as the “Long parliament” worked hard on decreasing the power of the king in 1640 as well as removing unpopular officials, like William Laud. Before giving the king money the Parliament made drastic changes by :

  • Throwing a trail for Archbishop Laud and Earl of Stanford, who had used the power in vein.

  • The king would have to meet the Parliament each 3 years.

  • The court of High Commission and The Court Of Star Chamber were abolished.

The long Parliament gre more supporters than the king, which led to the king throwing an unsuccessful attempt of seizing 5 members of the Parliament. Parliament struck back in 1642, causing Civil war.

The English Civil War from 1642 to 1649

The country became divided, with people from generals, nobles etc. choosing sides and fought against each other.

People on the king’s side were mostly those from North Western England :

  • The people on the king’s side were called “Cavaliers” , because the aristocratic leaders were mounted horsemen or cavalry. The group was composed of aristocratic leaders.

  • Nobles and people in the rural areas were mostly on the king’s side.

People on the Parliament’s side :

  • Were called “Roundheads” because they cut their hair very short to reject the aristocratic long hair. The group was composed of middle class people, specially from Southern England.

In 1645, A man called Oliver Cromwell (Puritan Officer), who was on the Parliament’s side. He created the “New Model Army”, which defeated many wars against the king and by 1646 captured Charles. The Parliament decided to put Charles on a trial and in January 1649, Charles got executed.

Result :

The House Of Commoners rejected the English monarchy and the House Of Lords proclaimed England a Republic, thus the war turning into a revolution.

The English Republic known as The Commonwealth

It was decided that Oliver Cromwell should rule the new English Republic and it began with Oliver wanting to work together with the Parliament to control and maintain the peace in the country, but the Parliament was too divided and so Oliver ended the Parliament by 1654. England turned from a Republic to a dictatorship, Oliver Cromwell name himself “Lord Protector” and ruled the country as a dictator until his death in 1658. England was not easy to control and maintain because :

  • How the country was divided into many pieces composed of Presbyterians, Anglicans and Puritans.

  • Extreme reformers, wanting to push the revolution further

  • Levellers, a group led by John Lilburne wanted to remove the title “Nobility”.

  • People sparked an idea, wanting the english men to get the right to vote instead of only wealthy property owners.

Oliver became very disliked by the people because of his bad leadership. He spread violence through his army that followed Puritan laws. Oliver removed all the fun the people could have like theaters, newspapers, dancing and made swearing, dueling and other violent activities legal. He also violently tried to bring Ireland and Scotland under tighter control. Ireland was a catholic country and so Oliver sent Protestants to replace the Catholic landlords. If Scotland resisted anything, it was crushed.

People missed monarchy, this when Oliver died, the Parliament came back again in 1660’s, Charles I son in France was asked to take the throne as Charles II and the Parliament got more power, so that no other ruler would ever play around with power ever again. For 4 days, a great fire burned houses as well as 87 churches with Black death, which killed 68000 people.

However, the disaster didn't stop Charles restoring the country, brought back the theater and the other fun activities. Charles also created a court, which drove on pleasure and not so much on moral standards.

The restoration under Charles II

Even though Charles II admired the power in which Louis XIV held, he decided to accept the limitation of his powers by signing “ The Magna Carta” as well as “The Petition Rights” and even though the Parliament was mostly on his side, the Parliament focused mostly on their own interest like feudal duels as well as landowners loan to the king, which was replaced with taxes to the king by the Parliament.

Charles II also preferred the Catholic church over the Anglican church, but the country did not want to change its religious beliefs, thus Charles II declaring toleration for all the religions, which on its own brought conflicts. In 1673, the Parliament created “The Test Act”, which meant that if anyone held the public office would belong to the Anglican church as well as Catholic and Anglican dissenters getting excluded from the army, navy and universities.

Charles II grew a strong bond with France and made deals with Louis XVI who needed money, in return for financial support. They fought a war together against France, with the Dutch colony of Netherlands getting seized in North America.

Emergence of political parties

Two political parties appeared while Charles II was king.

Whigs : Supported and aimed to strengthen the Parliament. They tolerated Protestants, but envied Catholics. Because Charles had no heir, if he would die his brother James would take the throne, who was a Catholic believer. So, the whigs tried to pass “The Exclusion Act”, which would ban James from being a king.

Tories : Supported the king and the Anglican Church. 1679, the Tories defeated “The Exclusion Act”, in exchange for accepting a piece of legislation called “Habeas Corpus”. The “Habeas Corpus” protects a person from arbitrary arrest, where a judge would issue a “Writ”. A “Writ” meant that a judge would set a person in front and state the charges against that person and the judge would then decided whether or not the person should be taken into trial. The “Habeas Corpus” also claimed it being illegal to imprison someone without trial or imprison twice for the same crime. The constitution of the United States would later include the same rights.

James II and the Glorious Revolution

James II inherit the throne in 1685 and he ignored the Test Act by putting Catholics in high government and military positions. People thought that one of his protestant daughters would change his mind, but so was not the case because in 1688 his wife gave birth to a son who were supposed to inherit the throne. The Parliament did invite Mary (who was James oldest daughter) and her husband, Prince William of Orange (ruler of the Dutch Netherlands) to take the english throne, resulting in James fleeing the country. This revolution was bloodless.

Mary and William sign a Bill of Rights, which protected the English liberties and made the Parliament stronger than the monarchy. It ensured individual rights and made the monarch in need of the approval from the parliament in matters like raise of taxes.

After all, England was not democratic. There were no religious tolerance, Catholics did not have the same rights as protestants even considered the Act of Toleration in 1689, nor only a few had the right to vote.

In Scotland, Catholics could not inherit property or buy land from protestants and thiswas decided by the English Parliament to prevent further rebellion.

Ireland and Scotland

As a rebellion leader, James II worried the Parliament in England. He was defeated at the Battle of Boyne and as the Parliament decided that only an Anglican could inherit the English throne, James could finally give up. But the Parliament was still afraid of him reclaiming the Scottish throne and therefore Scotland and England was united into the United Kingdom of Great Britain by the Act of Union, 1707.

Government in Britain

One evidence that the Glorious revolution had created stability in the British Government was the peaceful transition between the Stuart and the Hanover dynasty. Britain was a limited constitutional after the English Civil war and the Glorious revolution. Later on the Whigs and Tories emerged, which was political parties who turned more distinct in the late 1600s. The Whigs supported the limited royal power during the Glorious revolution in contrast to the Tories who defended royal power against challenges by Parliament. Both political parties were chosen to sit in the new established Cabinet by king William during the late 1600s. Later, in the early 1700s the cabinet gained much more power under the rule of George I.

Sir Robert Walpole is considered to be the first prime minister of the Great Britain. The king, George , did only speak german and used his prime minister to translate and explain the english politics for him. Walpole influenced the laws in the path that he wanted them, especially between 1721-1742. He new how to handle the economics so he did not put money in costly war and he encouraged trade and industry. His motto was “Let sleeping dogs lie.”, which really describes how he was. He let the colonies in North America to develop on their own and he avoided to consider controversial issues in the extent he could.

American revolution


Britain tried to tax their colonies resulting in them opposing. Enlighten ideas as well as events in England like the Glorious Revolution, made the people in the colonies to want the same rights as the people in England had. England did not agree on the colonist ideas and that is the reason for colonial leaders including Patrick Henry to protest violently.

Britain had let the colonies to grow on their own because of Sir Robert Walpole's influences and due to fact that England was in war. This led to that the colonies grew very much between 1700-1763. Male landowners had the right to vote in the colonies in similarity to the other nations in europe. However more male landowners voted in the colonies due to them being bigger in amount as in contrast to how land was divided between men in europe. Britain had the power over colonial trade, not letting the colonies profiting from their own goods.

Many acts were passed in the British Parliament including the Navigation Act who telled about mercantilism and who profited both the colonies and England, in contrast to other acts which mostly profited England. Other acts said for example that the colonists could only could import goods through the Great Britain where they had to pay custom duties for them. But not all colonist liked the Navigation Act and ignored i by smuggling goods into the colonies.

The Seven Years war (ended 1763) had left England in debts, as well as the troops defending the colonies against France in America contributed to the debts grew even further. When the Stamp Act was passed, the anger raised in the colonies due to them not been used to pay such taxes for newspapers etc. in contrast to what nations in Europe had done. The colonist opposed the act all until the British Parliament gave in.

The relation between the colonies and the British Parliament worsen and when the colonists dumped a shipment of tea in the harbour of Boston in 1773, “the Boston Tea Party”, the Parliament closed the harbour and passed several acts limiting the colonies. The colonies responded by meeting in a Continental Congress, 1774, where they for example voted to boycott the British goods. In April 1775 the first shots of the American revolution was shot.


The Declaration of Independence

The 4th of July, 1776, the delegates finally in the colonies agreed on a Declaration of Independence, mostly written by Thomas Jefferson, which explained why the colonists wanted to break free from Britain. This Declaration was influenced by Newton's, Locke’s and the French philosophers ideas. It claimed that the colonist had the right to rebel due to the suppress from Britain.

An American Victory

In 1783 the colonist won, the American Revolution had then been going from 1775. Because of Britain's well trained military they was in advantage in the beginning of the war, yet the colonists won. The colonists was then Americans.

The Americans had a hard time cooperation because the separate colonies sometimes fought as individuals and even some individuals did not support the revolution. After all, they enjoyed success when they fought for their families, homes and most importantly, for their independence. The Americans were patriots. One more advantage for them was that they were fighting on their own familiar land, in contrast to the British that were thousands of miles from home (it took long time for supplies to arrive).

The man uniting the colonies was George Washington. He learned quickly from his mistakes in the beginning of the war and reorganized the colonist so they finally could win. The British was defeated at Saratoga in October 1777 when the colonist had been supported with weapons from France. With a further support from France, they colonies alliance with them in February 1778. Then France declared war with Britain and send both money and troops to the colonists.

In 1781 at Yorktown in Virginia, a British army was captured by the colonists in the lead of Washington and the British Parliament forced the king of Britain, George III, to make the United States independent.


New Constitution

The government of the United states had to unite the 13 colonies into one. The rights won had to be guaranteed preserving the liberties. The first constitution was called the Articles of Confederation which had a limited power and could not collect taxes. Later, when the colonist realised that they had to cooperate even more and be careful the threatening Britain, a new constitution was established called “the Constitution of the United States” in 1788. The government was divided up into the Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate, and this should prevent tyranny according to the ideas of Locke and Montesquieu. In similarity to the United States today, this system made sure that not only one part of the power could decide. This is thanks to Montesquieu's idea of “Checks and Balances”, saying that, for example, the Senate had to approve the suggestions from the President for them to be approved and that a bill from the president had to go through both the Senate and the House of Representatives to become a law.

The Bill of Rights was added in 1791 protecting fundamental rights including freedom of speech, press and religion, very similar to the Bill of Rights in England.


The United States was founded and the revolutionary era in America was over. The people that earlier had been colonist under the rule of Britain was now ruled by themselves in a democratic republic. The colonist had transformed Enlighten ideas into reality, which many nations looked in amazement at. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were displayed as models for the next generation.

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