The dynastic union of Jagiello, grand prince of Lithuania, with the Polish queen Jadwiga resulted in a large Lithuanian-Polish state (officially) in 1569 when a formal merger occurred between the two crowns. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the union of Poland and Lithuania had created the largest kingdom in Christendom. Poland-Lithuania played a major role in eastern Europe in the fifteenth century.
The Jagiello dynasty came to an end in 1572 and a new practice arose of choosing outsiders as kings, with the idea that they would bring in new alliances. When the throne was awarded to the Swede Sigismund III, the new king dreamed of creating a vast Polish empire that would include Russia and possibly Finland and Sweden. Poland failed to achieve this goal, and, by the end of the seventeenth century, had become a weak, decentralised state.
The acceptance of the liberum veto in 1652, in which the meetings of the Sejm could be stopped by a single dissenting member, reduced government to virtual chaos. The Sejm was a two-chamber assembly in which landowners completely dominated the few townspeople and lawyers who were also members. Prospective monarchs had to agree to share power with the Sejm to be elected to the kingship. The power of the Sejm had disastrous results for central monarchical authority, because the real aim of most of its members was to ensure that central authority would not affect their local interests.
As a result of the sixteenth-century revolt of the Netherlands, the seven northern provinces, which began to call themselves the United Provinces of the Netherlands in 1581, became the core of the modern Dutch state. The new state was officially recognised by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.
Beginning with William of Orange and his heirs, the house of Orange occupied the stadholderate in most of the seven provinces and favoured the development of a centralised government with themselves as hereditary monarchs. The States General opposed Orangist ambitions and advocated a republican form of government. With the war against both France and England in 1672, the United Provinces turned to William III to establish a monarchical regime. His death in 1702 without a direct heir enabled the republican forces to gain control once more.
After the death of Queen Elizabeth, the Tudor dynasty became extinct and the Stuart line of rulers was inaugurated with the accession to the throne of Elizabeth's cousin, King James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England. James espoused the divine right of kings, which alienated Parliament. Parliament expressed its displeasure with James's claims by refusing to meet his requests for additional monies needed by the king to meet the increased cost of government. The Puritans wanted James to eliminate the episcopal system of church organisation used in the Church of England, but he refused because he realised that the Anglican Church was a major support of monarchical authority.
The conflict that had begun during the reign of James came to a head during the reign of his son, Charles I. He decided that he could not work with parliament and would not summon it to meet. His marriage to Henrietta Marie, the Catholic sister of King Louis XIII of France, aroused suspicions about his own religious inclinations. The efforts of Charles and William Laud, the arbishop of Canterbury, to introduce more ritual into Anglican Church struck the Puritans as a return to Catholic popery. When the king and Archbishop Laud attempted to impose the Anglican Book of Common Prayer on the Scottish Presbyterian Church, the Scots rose up in rebellion against the king. The king was forced to call Parliament into session due to his inability to raise troops to defend against the Scots and financial problems.
The petition passed in 1628 by Parliament, which the king was supposed to accept before being granted any tax revenues. This petition prohibited taxation without Parliament's consent, arbitrary imprisonment, the quartering of soldiers in private houses, and the declaration of martial law in peacetime.
Parliament placed severe limitations on royal authority and passed the revolutionary Triennial Act, which specified that Parliament must meet at least once every three years, with or without the king's consent. One group was prepared to go no further by the end of 1641, but a group of more radical parliamentarians pushed for more change. When the king tried to take advantage of the split by arresting some members of the more radical faction in Parliament, a large group in Parliament led by John Pym decided the king had gone too far. Parliament proved victorious in the first phase of the English Civil War. The creation of the New Model Army was most important to Parliament's success, composed primarily of extreme Puritans who believed they were doing battle for the Lord.
A split occurred in the parliamentary forces: a Presbyterian majority wanted to disband the army and restore Charles I with a Presbyterian state church. The army, composed mostly of the more radical Independents, who opposed an established Presbyterian church, marched on London in 1647 and began negotiations with the king. Charles took advantage of this division to flee and seek help from the Scots. Cromwell and the army were enraged by the king's treachery and engaged in a second civil war that ended with Cromwell's victory and the capture of the king.
After the death of the king, the Rump Parliament abolished the monarchy and the House of Lords proclaimed England a republic or commonwealth.
After the second civil war in England, Cromwell captured Charles I. Cromwell was determined to achieve a victory for the army's point of view and purged the Parliament of the Presbyterian members, leaving a Rump Parliament of fifty-three members of the House of Commons who then tried and condemned the king on a charge of treason. On January 30, 1649, Charles was beheaded.
After floundering for eighteen months, the military establishment decided that arbitrary rule by the army was no longer feasible and reestablished the monarchy in the person of Charles II, the eldest son of Charles I. The restoration of the Stuart monarchy ended England's time of troubles.
After the restoration of the monarchy, a new Parliament (the Cavalier Parliament) met in 1661 and restored the Anglican Church as the official church of England. In addition, laws were passed to force everyone to conform to the Anglican Church.
Charles issued the Declaration of Indulgence, which suspended the laws that Parliament had passed against Catholics and Puritans. Parliament would have none of it and induced the king to suspend the declaration.
Parliament passed the Test Act of 1673 which specified that only Anglicans could hold military and civil offices, propelled by a strong anti-Catholic sentiment.
The accession of James II virtually guaranteed a new constitutional crisis for England. An open and devout Catholic, his attempt to further Catholic interests made religion once more a primary cause of conflict between king and Parliament. Contrary to the Test Act, James named Catholics to high positions in the government, army, navy, and universities.
James II issued a new Declaration of Indulgence, which suspended all laws barring Catholics and Dissenters from office. Parliamentary outcries against James's policies stopped short of rebellion because members knew that he was an old man and that his successors were his Protestant daughters Mary and Anne, born to his first wife. But in 1688, a son was born to James II's second wife, also a Catholic. Suddenly, the specter of a Catholic hereditary monarchy loomed large.
A group of seven prominent English noblemen invited William of Orange, husband of James's daughter Mary, to invade England. William welcomed this opportunity to fight France with England's resources as a foe of Louis XIV. William and Mary raised an army and invaded while James, his wife, and their infant son fled to France. With almost no bloodshed, England had embarked on a "Glorious Revolution," not over the issue of whether there would be a monarchy but rather over who would be monarch.
The Convention Parliament offered the throne to William and Mary, who accepted it along with the provisions of a declaration of rights, later enacted into law as the Bill of Rights in 1689. The Bill of Rights affirmed Parliament's right to make laws and levy taxes and made it impossible for kings to oppose or do without Parliament by stipulating that standing armies could be raised only with the consent of Parliament. Both elections and debates of Parliament had to be free, meaning that the king could not interfere. The rights of citizens to petition the sovereign, keep arms, have a jury trial, and not be subject to excessive bail were also confirmed. The Bill of Rights helped fashion a system of government based on the rule of law and a freely elected Parliament, laying the foundation for a constitutional monarchy.