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Britain in the XVII century

Britain in the XVII century


  1. The new role in European culture
  2. The main political events
  3. Religion and education
  4. Hobbes and Lock
  5. Bacon and the Royal society
  6. Newton’s bijgraphy

II) 1) The new role in European culture

In the XVII century the role of Britain changes in Europe. Up to the XVII England mostly perceived the achievements from the continent (from France and Italy), it was influenced. Since the XVII century Britain has begun to influence Europe and the world. It had taken before the XVII, it began to give.

The major results of Britain since that time have been achieved in science and social ideas

- It is very difficult to measure and compare achievements of different countries in science. Sometimes the quantity of Noble prize winners is used to compare. Of all European countries Britain gave the biggest number – 102 (comparing with 77 of Germany[1]). In the world only the USA overtake Britain with 276 Noble prize winners

- The other field of British achievements was a sphere of social ideas. The major principles of the western social and political model were formulated in England

Britain was the motherland of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment is the trend of social thought. The philosophers of this trend considered that life may be improved. And they tried to invent the ways of its improving.


Before XVII British culture was mainly influenced, since it has begun to influence. The major results have been achieved in science and social research. England has more than 100 Noble Prize Winners – the biggest number in Europe.



  1. The main political events

Now let's consider the main events of the XVII century

After Elizabeth's death her nephew Jacob I of Scotland ascended the English throne. It meant that two countries united (1707) and got the common name of Great Britain. Jacob was convinced of the royal divine right. It means: a king is put by the god, and shouldn’t submit anybody, including the parliament. It led to the conflict with the parlament. Besides he quarreled both with Catholics and Protestants. Jacob made Catholics visit protestant church. They were disagree and organized a plot. It got the name of Guy Fox’s plot. The conspirators tried to blow up parliament at the day of its opening, when the king was going to visit it. But one of the conspirators, Guy Fox, was caught in an underground and the explosion was prevented. Guy Fox was executed. Since then this day has been known as a national holiday in England. Guy Fox’s scarecrow is burnt every year. Some modern historians consider that there was not any plot, it was a provocation made by the government in order to begin persecution of Catholics.

Jacob I was the head of the protestant church in the country. In spite of it he also quarreled with a part of Protestants. Some of them considered, that the church ruled by the king wasn’t purred enough of Catholic traditions. It needed be purred additionally. The supporters of such ideas were named “puritans”. They believed that it was necessary to have a simple life-style, do business properly and not to waste time for entertainment. King used to pursue the puritans. Many of them went to America, which wasn’t a state then, but the land to settle. They wished to build a new world, based on their religious principles. And the hoped that it would be possible without the king. Sometimes it is told that the USA is the result of the king Jacob’s policy.


In 1707 Jacob I of Scotland ascended the English throne. The common name of Great Britain appeared. Jacob idea of divine right led to conflicts with parliament and possible Guy Fox’s plot. Puritans thought the church should be purred better of Catholic traditions. Some of them went to America to build a new world, based on simplicity and indulgence.

The next king was Charles I, Jacob’s son. He also was sure of his «divine right». But the parliament was not. The puritan party in it wished to limit the power of the king. The parliament organized its own army. In 1642 The Civil war began. It led to Revolution. It was the 2-nd in the Europe, the first one was the Dutch. Charles I was beheaded. The republic was established. For 20 years its head was Oliver Cromwell, whose title was lord-protector.

At first people supported puritans and Cromwell. But step by step Cromwell turned to the dictator. The parliament established so called «blue laws». They were called so because they proclaimed a very boring way of life, blue is a synonym of something boring in English. Theatre, games, festivals and walks on Sundays were forbidden. Visiting of church became obligatory. Even eating of too much Christmas pudding was a kind of crime, if it had been denounced to authorities. Puritans lost their popularity. After Cromwell's death the parliament asked Charles II, the son of executed Charles I, to return on a throne. The period of Restoration started. The English were tired from the Civil war and the boring life and greeted their new king.

But the Revolution gave the idea that the king’s power should be limited. And when Charles’ successor James II again tried to argue with parliament, they called the Dutch king William of Orange (it was a symbolic colour of the Dutch kings). He was wiser and did not argue with parliament. Since that time the power of king in England was not only limited. But step by step it became decorative. The appeal of William of Orange got the name of "the glorious revolution». It means, without any violence.


At Charles I the parliament organized its own army and in 1642 The Civil war began, the king was executed. The republic was established for 20 years with Oliver Cromwell as lord-protector. «The blue laws” forbade entertainment. It was flowered by the Restoration with "the glorious revolution» of William of Orange.


3) Religion and education

The atmosphere of the English life in the XVII century was much more religious than even in the Middle Ages. The English culture was strongly influenced by the translation of the Bible into English. This text became a source of ideas, images, expressions which were used all the XVII century. The most famous works of the English literature of the period were “The Paradise lost” by Milton and “The Pilgrim’s progress” by Bunyan

The Protestantism demanded reading the Bible independently. Each person had to find his own way to god. The number of literate people grew. Reading became popular. The special chair for reading appeared. A person had to sit back to front, holding the book on a plate attached to a back of the chair.

The education was highly appreciated by the Puritans. The history of the USA is usually begun with the voyage of "May flower». In 1620 this ship left England for America. There were Puritan families aboard. They were sailing to unknown continent which to build the new world without a king. After a long voyage the colonists stepped on the coast of America. They did not have anything - neither houses, nor fields. They had to survive. While they were waiting for the first crop, they starved. During the winter they were rescued by the Indians, who brought the game. But in some years after the arrival to America, having no cities, only villages, the settlers founded the university. Now it is known as Harvard, the oldest university of the USA and the first in a rating of high the world universities.


The religious ideas were in the center of public discussions. “The Paradise lost” by Milton and “The Pilgrim’s progress” by Bunyan were the best known books of the period.


4) Hobbes and Lock

As we have told, Britain was the motherland of Enlightenment. And the works of two philosophers had an outstanding importance for the development of European thought. They were Hobbes and Lock.

Hobbes lived 91 year. For the XVII century it was unusually long life. For some reason the English geniuses of XVII century lived very long lives. Among them were Wren and Newton whom we are going to speak about.

Hobbes was the first who tried to explain an origin of the state by the natural reasons. His book was called “Leviathan”. According to Bible Leviathan was an awful monster with with a spinning tail. It was a state, which Hobbes compared with Leviathan. State is like monster – it punishes people, make them fulfill their duties, take their money as taxes. The question is:

  • Why does this monster exist?
  • Why did it appear?

Before Hobbes it was considered, that the state power, the power of a king, had been created by the god. Hobbes denied it. He told that they were people who did it. He put forward the idea of "the public contract". According to Hobbes there was time when people lived separately. There was no society. There was «war of all against all». People were tired of it and decided to agree. They gave a part of their rights to the state. Since that the role of the state was to provide peace among people. It doesn’t mean that the modern scholars absolutely agree with Hobbes. But for 2 centuries after him the idea of public contract dominated in minds. Hobbes was the first who tried to explain an origin of the state by the natural reasons. There was a practical sequence of the idea. If people created the state themselves they could improve it. The question was – how. In modern history a lot of conceptions of improving state were the result of the idea of the Public contract given by Hobbes


Hobbes was the first to explain an origin of the state by the natural reasons. He put forward the idea of "the public contract". It led to idea: if people had created the state themselves they could improve it.


This question was answered by the other well-known English philosopher - John Lock. He put forward the next idea. People should control the state. Or the majority should control the minority. If the state does not do its work, doesn’t worry about the majority, people have the right to revolt (the right for revolution). They should renew the public contract, make another one, with the other state.

Lock named the instruments of the public control. They were the parliament and a free press. His writings had not only theoretical, but also a practical result. The state of the USA was born 100 years after the Lock had died. But the people who founded the American states in XVIII century believed that the good state is defined by the good public contract, the good law. The American constitution is called the «Independence declaration». It is the oldest of all the constitutions, existing in the modern world. Certainly some changes have been put in for the latest 200 years. But the main principles remained. It means that the American constitution was written well. It was written by Thomas Jefferson. Later he became the third president of the USA. But when he was writing “The independence declaration” he was 33 and before writing he had read Lock very attentively. The portraits of three people hang in his home. They were his idols. These were the portraits of Newton, Lock and Bacon.


John Lock. He put forward the next idea. People should control the state. Or the majority should control the minority. If the state does not do its work, doesn’t worry about the majority, people have the right to revolt (the right for revolution). They should renew the public contract, make another one, with the other state. The American constitution is based on Lock’s ideas.


5) Bacon and the Royal society

Now we are going to speak about the latest. He was one of the key figures which had created the European science. It was a unique example that the representative of humanitarian knowledge, the philosopher had influenced the development of science, of physics and mathematics in such a rate.

The technics and medicine we use today are the result of an experimental science. And the father of an experimental science was Bacon.

He lived in the end of 16 and the beginning of 17 century. Bacon began his career as the lawyer, then has entered the parliament and finally he became the chancellor of king Jacob. But his splendid career was interrupted. He was accused of bribery and exciled. He got a plenty of free time thinking and writing. In 1620 he published his main work called «The New organon». This greek word means «the tool”. By his book Bacon offered the new tool to people. What for?

For the domination of the man over the world. He considered a science to be the tool, the way to rule the world. It was quite opposite the ideas accepted at that period. A science was a way to know a divine plan, but not a way to change a real life.

The main ideas by Bacon were

1 - The Knowledge of the nature laws allows people to rule the world and to improve human life

This idea was expressed in Bacon's well-known aphorism « Knowledge is power itself”. Today it seems obvious, but it wasn’t obvious to Bacon’s contemporaries at all

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