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On the other hand, while the general character of the economic policies of other European nations remained more or less constant from the beginning of the sixteenth century to the end of the eighteenth, those of England and Britain underwent a gradual evolution corresponding to the evolution of the constitutional government. Henry VIII (1509-1547) was as absolute a monarch in England as any of his contemporary counterparts in other countries. But, while in most continental countries royal absolutism increased during the 16th and 17th centuries, an opposite evolution took place in England, leading to the establishment of a constitutional monarchy under parliamentary control from 1688. Another difference between England and the Continent clarifies the nature and consequences of economic policy. In Spain and France, for example, the fiscal demands of the Crown made it impossible for the government to consistently carry out a rational policy of economic development. In England, the Crown’s fiscal demands led to repeated conflicts with Parliament until Parliament finally triumphed. To differ-
decrease national income. Laws of navigation, the general purpose of which was to reserve a country’s international trade for its own merchant marine, did not exist solely in England, or, within England, in the seventeenth century. Almost all countries had them; the first of these laws was passed in England in 1381, and was repeated frequently thereafter. In general, however, such laws were ineffective for two reasons: they lacked an adequate enforcement mechanism and, most fundamentally, the merchant seafarers they were intended to benefit lacked competitive capacity. In 1651, however, the Long Parliament of the Commonwealth government passed a law that was intended not only to protect the English merchant marine, but also to deprive the Dutch of their quasi-monopoly on navigation and fishing in English waters. The Dutch were disturbed enough to declare war the following year. Although the Navigation Act was not the only reason for the declaration, its repeal was one of the goals, ultimately unsuccessful, that the Dutch pursued in the negotiations that ended the stalled war. In 1660, after the restoration of Charles II, Parliament renewed and strengthened the law. Subsequently amended from time to time, the Navigation Act not only attempted to protect the English merchant marine and fishing fleet, but became the cornerstone of the English colonial system. Under the law, all products imported into Great Britain had to be transported by British ships or by ships from the country where the goods came from. (British ships were defined as those whose owners, captain and three-quarters of the crew were British subjects.