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The English Revolution

The English Revolution (also called the Engish Civil War) was a period of armed conflict and political turmoil between 1642 and 1660 which pitted supporters of Parliament against the Crown, the trial and execution of Charles I, the replacement of the monarchy with the Commonwealth of England (1649-1653), the rise of Oliver Cromwell to a virtual military dictatorship, and the eventual restoration of the monarchy. The ultimate outcome of the Revolution was the discrediting of the idea of the divine right of kings, the belief that parliament was supreme in political matters, and that the English monarch had to rule in a manner which was limited by a constitutional agreement (i.e. the idea of a constitutional monarchy).

The period of the Revolution was important in the development of ideas about liberty as the temporary collapse of censorship in the early 1640s saw an outpouring of political pamphlets in which groups like the Levellers advocated a theory of liberty based upon indivual rights, especially the right of self-ownership and private property. Parliament was free to debate important matters like the rule of law, strict limits on the power of the king, the liberty of the press, and religious freedom. Although the Revolution produced a military dictator in the form of Cromwell and ultimately led to the restoration of the Stuart monarchy, it did create the foundation for a new kind of monarchy which was quite different from the “absolute” monarchies which dominated the rest of Europe. Particularly after 1688, the monarchy which emerged in Britain was one limited by a constitution. It also created a body of ideas which were to be very influential in the development of Anglo-American political and constitutional thought in the 18th century.

For additional reading see our collection of Key Documents.

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