1. ‘The growth of the nation-state, first in Western Europe and then elsewhere, has long been viewed as the key political development of this era [i.e. the sixteenth century].’ (Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks) Discuss with reference to at least two of the following: England, France, Spain.
This essay examines how the growth of the nation-state was a key political development during this period. It was a hugely important process and a stepping stone towards the systems we have in place today. Although many of the aspects of state-building which will be addressed in this essay were already taking place before the sixteenth century, it is during this era that they truly develop and nation-states become extremely important in the political world of the time. One of the reasons that the nation-state experiences growth during this era is because of the military revolution also taking place at the time. The way wars took place changed, there was more emphasis on hand-held weapons than nobles or cavalrymen and there was a need for larger permanent armies. As a result, states needed more money and larger bureaucracies to fund these exploits. This essentially kicked off the growth of the nation-state. States began to exercise a lot more power, issuing more laws and generally claiming more powers. The power of the clergy and nobility was also challenged. Some may argue that the ‘nation’ wasn’t as important at that time; however, if this was the case the people wouldn’t have allowed this state-building to happen without causing huge problems. They appeared to be happy to be brought into a ‘nation’ and this is why the growth of the nation-state can clearly be seen as a key political development at this time. It would eventually spread across Europe but during this period it was visible in England, France and Spain in particular, with the dynasties in those countries developing the growth of a state. This essay will discuss this development in some of these nations during the sixteenth century.
In England, the power of the monarch had already been limited by the Magna Carta in 1215, “Demands for taxes to fight the Crusades and war with France led the highest level nobility to force the king to agree to a settlement limiting his power”. This gave the nobility some say in tax rates and lead to the creation of Parliament which began to exert some control over the approval of taxes also. Following the end of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), there was a civil war in England between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians. This eventually led to Henry Tudor coming to power as Henry VII (ruled 1485-1509) and beginning the Tudor dynasty in England. He turned out to be quite a god king, “Thoughtful, calculating and cautious, Henry piloted the kingdom through a period of reconstruction and reconciliation with surprising assurance”. Henry managed to do this through effective state-building measures. There is growing financial security during his reign as he manages to avoid wars, obtain land from dead nobles and he was also very miserly. There was also increasing bureaucratisation during his reign, as he set up more state offices such as the Court of Star Chamber. Lastly, another of Henry VII’s state-building tactics was to create good marriage alliances. During his reign, he arranged the marriages of his daughter and the king of Scotland, and his son and heir Arthur’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. However, Arthur died unexpectedly and rather than lose the marriage alliance, Henry arranged that she marry his other son, Henry VIII, “Henry wangled a papal dispensation to allow Catherine marry his second son”. When Henry VIII (ruled 1509-47) took over from his father, he was a completely different king. He didn’t follow the same ideas as his father and war and finance were to dominate his reign. However, because of his lifestyle and constant desire for an heir, Henry VIII also contributed to the growth of the nation-state in England. Henry was unable...
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