15

Were any of the various republican ideas or factions in the time of the English Civil War/Commonwealth of England given any support by people elsewhere in Europe?

I know the rest of Europe was busy with its own wars at the time, so intervention from abroad was basically out of the question. When foreigners did take an interest in Britain's internal war, every example I have heard is condemnation for rebelling against their king.

However, there were a lot of republics in Europe at the time, notably the Dutch republic and the city-republics of Italy. Did any politicians in Britain look to them for an example, and did any of them see something of themselves in any of the varying forms of government tried from 1642 to 1660?

  • 2
    The city states of Italy were all under Spanish thumb by then (with one important exception - Venice) so not much to look for there. – Felix Goldberg Nov 16 '14 at 18:17
  • 2
    The idea of Dutch sympathy is interesting though. The two countries had ongoing rivalry, but similar political and commercial ideology. I wonder what the evidence says. – Mike Supports Monica Nov 16 '14 at 21:41
  • 2
    The first Anglo-Dutch war was started by Cromwell. They had two more after the restoration. Not likely much love lost there. – Oldcat Nov 18 '14 at 19:36
  • Yeah. But did it occur to anyone to compare the Stadtholder system with Cromwell's? – Ne Mo Nov 20 '14 at 23:55
  • @NeMo: What evidence do you have that the Stadtholder was anything but a monarch except in name? – Pieter Geerkens Sep 27 '15 at 4:55
7

This is a question I've never heard asked about the English Civil War (+1 for thoughtfulness and creativity!), but perhaps for the reason that it's not relevant to the conflict. The overwhelming present-day historical consensus holds that the tensions and causes of eventual warfare between Charles I, Parliament, and the realms over which they ruled were homegrown. In short, they had as much to do with Charles' personality and horrible crisis management abilities as the political and religious ideals of Parliament and the Roundheads. The form of "Republicanism" that emerged under Cromwell--and the constitutional monarchy formed after the Glorious Revolution--were sui generis to 17th century Britain, as were the Protestant faith traditions that underpinned them...

No political incenctives for intervention

As the OP and commenters have pointed out, the military conflicts that were sapping the Continent at the time meant that there was absolutely no incentive for foreign intervention from polities that--in times of peace--would have had an interest in stirring the English pot. (I'm referring to the Dutch, France, Spain, or Sweden.) Consider as well that just because England was a "Republican Commonwealth" under Cromwell does not mean that the Dutch or semi-democratic city-states of Italy considered it worthy of ideological support or even lip-service, in the way that America today might provide to other liberal democracies.

A Protestant Civil War

It's also important to note that from a religious standpoint, this was very much an intra-Protestant conflict. The factions had no sympathetic parallels on the Continent. Charles I subscribed to "High Anglicanism", which may have been Catholicism in form and function, but hardly in affiliation. Hence no Catholic countries would have been religiously motivated to support the Royalists. Conversely, the Presbyterian Scots and Puritan Roundheads adhered to largely grassroots, English sects of Protestantism. Sure, they shared some common doctrines with German/Swedish Lutheranism, the Dutch Anabaptists, or France's embattled Huguenot minority, but not in ways that would underpin meaningful political support or a productive, cross-Channel military alliance.

A word on schools of interpretation

There have been a lot of competing schools of interpretation concerning the English Civil War's ideological motivations over the years. Describing them here is outside the scope of the question, but I mention them since most have at one time or another claimed ideological sympathy with contemporary thinkers on the Continent. A good example is Thomas Hobbes' commentary that the war was a clash between those who ascribed to an emergent scientific worldview and the forces of traditionalist religion (see the "Behemoth" excerpt from Robert Kraynak's History and Modernity in the Thought of Thomas Hobbes). Hobbes openly expressed that his view was shared by other intellectuals both in England and abroad.

However, let's take a step back and observe that the current "overwhelming historical consensus" on the conflict's causes that I allude to in the first paragraph is scarcely 20 years old. Any theories devised earlier have been more or less discarded, whether for imposing values upon the conflict's factions that are anachronistic (in the case of the Whig School), incompatible with 17th century English societal dynamics (see class-based and Marxist interpretations), or too personality-driven (i.e. Hobbes).

Unfortunately for Hobbes, and the Whigs, Marxists, and Revisionists who came after him, most professional historians today hold to an interpretation that puts the Crown's difficult relations with the polities of Scotland, Ireland, and "Parliamentary" England front and center.

  • 1
    Good answer, I'm not disputing that religion was the main factor. You are also correct that Whig and Marxist interpretations of the conflict are pretty rubbish. However, even at its beginning the war was an anti-tax revolt, which was political. It got more political as time went on... hence the Putney debates. A hundred years later Europe would be divided over whether the French revolution was good or bad. It's surprising to me if there was no one on the 'good' side in Europe. – Ne Mo Oct 6 '15 at 15:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.