Archive for August, 2008

Christianity and the Origins of Democracy – the Sixteenth Century: Part 4

August 13, 2008

View of John Knox that Princes and the People themselves have a Right and Duty to Depose an Unjust Monarch Preventing the Establishment of True Religion

In his view of the relationship between the king and his subjects, Calvin allowed that unjust rulers could be deposed by the inferior magistrates, but stressed the subject’s duty to obey established authority, even when it was corrupt. John Knox, however, believed that the aristocracy and the estates also had their authority granted by God, and so had the right and duty to defend the innocent, punish criminals and establish proper religion. If the monarch refused to allow religion to be reformed, and the true faith to be established, then it was the duty of the aristocracy and the estates to depose them. If the aristocracy and estates refused to do this, then it was the duty of the people themselves to reform the church, a view he addressed directly to the people themselves in his Letter to the Commonalty. This view, that the people themselves had the right and duty to rebel against their social superiors when they were unjust and prevented the proper establishment of true religion, was immensely radical in an age when government and politics was viewed as the exclusive activity of princes and aristocrats, to whom the masses of ordinary people should be loyal and obey, but who were otherwise excluded from government and their political participation was viewed with suspicion and distrust.

View of Goodman that Kings Owed their Power to the People, and so can Depose Unjust Monarchs

Knox was not alone in his views, however. The English Calvinist, Christopher Goodman, stated in his book, How Superior Powers ought to be obeyed of their subjects; wherein they may lawfully by God’s word be disobeyed and resisted, published in Geneva in 1558 that kings owed their power and their authority to their acceptance as kings by their people, and that ordinarily they should be respected. Like Knox, he also believed that the aristocracy was ordained by God to defend their nation’s true religion, laws and prosperity and to act to limit and restrain the king’s power. Kings were also God’s subjects, and like everyone else they were obliged to work to the best of their ability in their vocation. If they abused their position, they could be deposed and punished. This was not just the duty of the aristocracy, but also of ordinary people, who are required to reform the church if the king and aristocracy refuse to do so.

View of Ponet that God Established Government for Human Welfare, but Form of the Government Left to Humanity to Decide

Another Protestant exile from the reign of Mary Tudor in England, John Ponet, also believed in and expounded the right of the subjects themselves to overthrow an oppressive monarch. Ponet had been bishop of Rochester and Winchester during the Reign of Edward VI before he sought refuge in Strasbourg after Mary’s accession, publishing his treatise on government, A Shorte Treatise of Politicke Power in 1556. Unlike Mariana and Buchanan, for example, who believed that government arose out of humanity’s natural inclination for company and co-operation, or the need for protection from aggression when in the primeval phase of human existence, Ponet believed that humanity was too corrupt to govern itself through reason. He attributed the belief that it was possible to the ancient pagans, and considered that history demonstrated that they had been wrong. Ponet believed that human actions should be guided by divine law, which is the law of nature. However, humans did not obey law unless coerced, and so God had created political power for humanity’s benefit, granting humanity the power to legislate for itself and enforce such legislation with appropriate punishment, including execution. God did not, however, specify which form of government humans were to adopt. That was left to humanity itself. God did not grant authority to only one individual, but to the community, as a co-operative association based on the reciprocal need of each individual for every other. It was the community that maintained justice and general welfare.

View that Best Form of Government Mixed Government of Monarchy, Aristocracy and Democracy, and that Power of Monarch Limited by Constitution and God’s Law

Ponet did not believe that any people could sensibly give unlimited power to a prince, and so considered the best form of government to be a mixed constitution where sovereignty was shared between the prince and a parliamentary assembly. England, France and Germany were all ruled by this form of government. Even those monarchs who ruled without a parliamentary assembly were subject to constitutional limits to their authority. They were bound by God’s law, and so could only legislate on relatively unimportant matters. Furthermore, Ponet urged that people should not automatically accept legislation that was merely human in origin. Laws must be considered and obeyed on their own merits, and not because of the authority of the people who had passed them. While people owed kings their love and loyalty, their first loyalty was to God, then their country and only afterwards to the monarch. He regarded princes as merely members of the commonwealth, which could exist without them. He stated that princes were liable unjustly to seize their subject’s property as their own, alter the coinage and raise taxes, political conduct that Ponet declared to be mere brigandage. They did not hold of themselves their kingdom, but simply had it in stewardship. Under the law of nature, people had the right to depose and execute oppressive rulers and tyrants, and so the community had the ability to withdraw the authority it had granted to the prince. While this should be done by the community as a whole, private assassination was justified in some circumstances.

Demands for Religious Toleration for Roman Catholics and Protestants by Edwin Sandys in England

Apart from the ability of the subject or citizen to take part in the process of making political decision, one of the great pillars of modern democracy is freedom of conscience. While both Roman Catholics and Protestants in the Sixteenth century generally wished to suppress each others’ religions through force, there was also a profound desire amongst many Christians for unity and toleration in Christendom. Edwin Sandys, a son of the Archbishop of York and pupil of Richard Hooker, in his A Relation of the State of Religion, criticised the intolerance of both Roman Catholics and Protestants. Both Roman Catholics and Protestants were Christians, and shared the same fundamental beliefs and doctrines that were the essence of Christianity. The doctrinal points that divided them could never be decided for certain. Thus, he felt, that Roman Catholics and Protestants should respect each other, and that the unity of Christendom could be restored through the establishment of a European church based on the Christian doctrines held by both Roman Catholic and Protestant. This was to be done either by a general council, which would impose its authority on the Pope and other participants in the controversy, or by the princes, though he did not feel that they could be trusted to put this into action. In order to put an end to religious disunity and conflict, Sandys wished to prohibit the claims to superiority by the various sects and faiths in Christendom. Instead of persecuting the various Christian sects, governments should instead force them to respect each other. He did not, however, believe that anti-Christian opinions should be tolerated, and so did not advocate modern concepts of secular democracy.

Demands for Toleration of Roman Catholics and Protestants in France by Politiques

The Politiques in France had expressed similar views rather earlier. They were mostly Roman Catholics, but also some Protestants, who regarded with horror the devastation, caused by the Wars of Religion, and felt that the only way to save France from further carnage and destruction was through negotiation and peace with the Huguenots. A 1574 pamphlet described the suffering inflicted on all classes in France by the War, and called for the Huguenots to join a states-general to bring about peace and save France from further destruction. Other pamphlets noted the moral damage the wars had caused, and the way they had discredited Christianity as a whole. The Huguenot writer La Noue declared that the wars had created a million libertines and Epicureans, while other writers stated that religious persecution had not suppressed heresy, but created only atheists. They argued strongly that the only way for states to survive and prosper was by tolerating two religions, and that the state should be above any specific religion. They also strongly argued that the existence of two religions in a country did not necessarily produce civil conflict or disunity, a point of view shared by Henry of Navarre himself. The Politiques were extremely sceptical about the claims of the Churches to possess the sole religious truth, but believed strongly that Roman Catholics and Protestants shared the same, basic, fundamental points of Christian doctrine. Thus the toleration of both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism did not threaten the Christian nature of civil society, which was based on the fundamental Christian principles held in common by both Roman Catholic and Protestant. In 1590 the pamphlet Le Pacifique attempted to demonstrate the agreement between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism on fundamental doctrinal points in the form of a dialogue between a Roman Catholic and Protestant, who discover that the share the same basic Christian beliefs.

Demands for Religious Toleration by Sebastien Castillion

Similar views on toleration were held and strongly argued by the humanist Sebastien Castellion and Giacomo Contio, or Acontius. In his De Haereticis an sint persequandi of 1542-5, possibly written with a little assistance from Lelio Sozini, who held Unitarian views, and Martin Borrhee, and his Contra libellum Calvini, written in response to Calvin’s participation in the execution of Michael Servetus for heresy in Geneva, De Arte Dubitandi, the Four Dialogues of 1578, and the Conseil a la France desolee of 1562, Castellion argued for religious toleration. In the De Haereticis he attempted to support his arguments by quotations from some of the early Church Fathers and contemporary theologians and religious authorities such as Luther, Erasmus and Calvin himself. He considered that because there were points of doctrine that could not be decided for certain, all that could be required of people is that they attempt to understand the Word of God and follow it according to their conscience. Castellion felt that Christianity consisted in the knowledge that Christ was the Son of God and that his teachings were divine. He did not believe that religion lay in either ceremonies or beliefs that people could not understand, and firmly stated that Scripture did not support the persecution of those of different religious opinions. One defended religion not by killing for it, but by suffering death. He did, however, believe that the government had the right to punish those who denied the resurrection, the immortality of the soul and the authority of the government, though they should not be executed.

Demands for Complete Freedom of Conscience by Acontius

Acontius was a military engineer who had been employed by Pescara in Milan and Queen Elizabeth in England. In his Strategematum Satanae of 1565 he argued that most people formed their beliefs without the guidance of either reason or God, simply accepting tradition or the opinions of the mass of people around them. They are intolerant of others, partly because they cannot bear to accept that their beliefs may be wrong. He argued that religious controversy and wars were Satan’s way of causing trouble and destruction on Earth. He believed that there were a few basic beliefs necessary for salvation, but that most of Christian doctrine was simply speculation without any real value. He argued that only those doctrines that affected human conduct on Earth had any value. Magistrates had no power to punish heresy, not just because they had no power themselves to do so, but also because there was so much difference in opinion between the Churches on what was heretical that they too had little authority to make such decisions. He believed that there should be absolute freedom of religion, and that people came to the truth through doubt and free inquiry and discussion. For Acontius, those who undoubtedly possessed extremely heretical doctrines should be punished merely with excommunication, which should be a source of regret rather than anger and hatred.

Contribution of Christian Humanists to Education and their Stress on Tolerance and Dialogue rather than Conflict

Another fundamental pillar of democracy is the belief in the value of education, and that a just society and good government must be based on informed, educated opinion. In this area too the Christian humanists of the 16th century made a profound contribution. Erasmus believed that humans could be assisted to become good as they possessed free will, though this free will itself had to be aided in its turn by God’s grace. The human will could be directed towards goodness through religious devotion and learning. For Erasmus, if princes were educated according to humanist principles, the result would be a good society where princes ruled justly and, following Christ, established peace instead of war. As a result, he and other humanists, such as John Colet in England, established schools and academies. Their influence on the aristocracy was profound. Although their political ideas of a just society was Utopian, their idea of an educated aristocracy informed by humanist culture nearly became reality, so that after the mid-sixteenth century even minor members of the nobility had libraries showing a wide variety of interests. 26 Moreover, Erasmus and his followers, although entirely orthodox Roman Catholics, stressed the importance of dialogue, toleration and the importance of settling matters peacefully, rather than resorting to force. Their stress on God’s love for humanity, rather than His judgement of their actions, influenced Reginald Pole, Contarini, Castellion and the Socinians, and his advocacy of a tolerant Christianity was immensely popular in Spain, especially amongst the Conversos, whose ancestors had converted to Christianity from Judaism to avoid expulsion and persecution. 27

Conclusion:

Both View that Power of the Monarch Absolute and that Royal Power Limited by the Constitution and Sovereignty of the People existed in Sixteenth Century

Thus, although much of the political theory of the sixteenth century stressed the absolute power of the monarch and the duty of their subjects to obey them, there were also other political views, held and defended by both Roman Catholics and Protestants across Europe, that stressed instead the constitutional limits on monarchical power, the importance and role in government of representative assemblies and right and even duty of subjects to resist and depose unjust rulers. Political theorists, theologians and philosophers in England, Scotland, France, Geneva and Switzerland considered that governments had been established for the benefit of their peoples, not the rulers’, that societies and governments were based on contracts and covenants between their members, rulers and the Almighty, and that monarchs owed their power not to any personal virtue, but because the community delegated it to them. The power of the monarch was limited by the law of God and natural law. Princes and parliaments acted as constitutional checks to monarchs to prevent oppression, and who were also representatives of the community and so had a duty to protect their ancient rights. If kings exceeded the bounds of their authority or failed to establish true religion, they could be overthrown by the aristocracy and other leading governmental officials and institutions, or even by private citizens. These views were based on medieval political theory, contemporary interpretation of Scripture and the necessity amongst Roman Catholics and Protestants wishing to defend their religion and defeat and destroy their opponents of finding theoretical support for their resistance to persecution, oppression or the authorities’ failure to maintain the true faith.

Sixteenth Century also Period of Demonds for Religious Toleration, and Improvements in Education

Alongside these demands for political freedom were criticisms of both Roman Catholics and Protestants for their intolerance, and demands for an end to religious persecution and freedom of conscience amongst a very few individual political theorists. Furthermore, the Christian humanist belief that the human will could be formed and directed towards goodness through education led to the foundation of schools and libraries, and an attitude of tolerance and dialogue rather than violent coercion.

Influence of Demands for Constitutional Limits to Monarchy and Participation in Government of People and Representative Assemblies and Religious Toleration Limited in 16th Century, but had strong Influence in 17th Century England

The impact of these ideas was limited, however. Although princes in Poland, Hungary and elsewhere granted toleration to various Christian denominations and sects, this did not necessarily prevent them from acquiring increasing power over their tenants’ lives and properties, so that during the 16th century serfdom increased. In western Europe, in France, Germany and Spain political power became increasingly centralised in the monarch and representative institutions, such as the estates, declined in importance, eventually to produce the absolutist monarchies of the 18th century. Nevertheless, these doctrines continued to have an effect. The Vindiciae, although largely abandoned by the Huguenots shortly after its publication, influenced contemporary Dutch political ideas and considerably influenced English political theories in the 17th century. 28 Castellion’s demands for religious toleration influenced the radical theologian, Dirck Volckentzoon Coornhert. In turn, he influenced Arminius, who otherwise strongly opposed and argued against his theology. Arminius’ religious views strongly influenced British theology and political theories in the 17th century, during the British Civil War/ War of the Three Kingdoms. In England although it was not noticed at the time, claims such as Thomas Smith’s that it was parliament that really represented every individual in the country pointed towards the Civil War in the next century. 29 Thus, while Europe generally became more authoritarian following the sixteenth century, nevertheless the political theories stressing the constitutional limits on monarchical governments and the role of representative assemblies influenced the Netherlands and Britain, creating the ideas for greater religious and political freedom that were to appear in the 17th century and which found practical expression in the British Civil War/ War of the Three Kingdoms and the development of modern, political theories like John Locke’s.

Notes

  1. Koenigsberger and Mosse, Sixteenth Century, pp. 104-5.
  2. Koenigsberger and Mosse, Sixteenth Century, pp. 105-6.
  3. Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 331.
  4. Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 268.

Christianity and the Origins of Democracy – The Sixteenth Century: Part 3

August 13, 2008

Huguenot View that Power of KIngs Limited and established by God for Benefit of the People; Constitutions established through the Will of the People

Goulart’s Memoires de l’Estat de France sous Charles IX, and the treatises Du Droit des Magistrats, the Dialogue d’Archon et de Politie and the Vindiciae contra Tyrannos, all considered that humanity had an obligation to God to obey properly constituted political authority, and that normally rebellion against authority was a rebellion against God. Nevertheless, kings were bound both by natural law and the law of Scripture. Their authority is limited, and they were established by God for humanity’s benefit. The Vindiciae quotes the medieval maxim, ‘magistrates were created for the people and not the people for magistrates.’ 23 All forms of government, monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, and all princes and magistrates were established by the consent of the people and it is through the will of the people that constitutions continue to exist. ‘Politie’ in the Dialogue even states that hereditary monarchs are to be regarded as elected by the people.

View Memoires that Monarchy was always Checked by a Parliament, and Duties between King and Subject Reciprocal

The Memoires states that there have never been a monarchy that did not also have a representative assembly to check the monarch’s power. As monarchs derived their power from the people, they held it subject to certain conditions and were thus required to fulfil their duties to their subjects, just as their subjects were required to obey and fulfil their duties to them. This view, that secular power was constrained by the ends for which it existed, was related to Gerson and Pierre d’Ailly’s view that the pope’s power was limited by the ends to which the Church existed.

View of Vindiciae that Power of Ruler based on Contracts and Covenants between Himself, God and His People

The Vindiciae furthermore followed Calvinist Covenant theology in expressing the relationship between God, people and the prince as a series of contracts and covenants. The prince in his contract with God bound himself to serve God and to ensure that the people also did so. The people also bound themselves before everything else to worship God properly. The prince and the people were responsible to God for each other. The prince would be held responsible if the people abandoned the worship of God, while the people are also responsible if the prince becomes a traitor. There was also a second contract by which the prince bound himself to rule justly and respect and maintain the rights of each one of his subjects. The people were bound to obey him so long as he did so. The moment he violated the contract, they could disobey and resist him.

View of Vindiciae that Subordinate Authorities in Country – the Inferior Magistrates – have Power delegated to them by the Sovereign People to Check Power of Monarchy

In fact the Vindiciae declared that the true lord of sovereign of a country were the people, and that tyrannous kings were thus traitors and rebels to the sovereign people. Private individuals, ordinary citizens, did not, however, have the right to rebel against an unjust monarch. This could only be done by the permanent political representatives of the people. In the Du Droit and the Vindiciae, these were the feudal aristocracy, who originally had been normal magistrates, the parlements and the estates-generals. As the people’s delegates, they shared sovereignty with the monarch and had a right to depose him. These aristocrats and officials constituted the inferior magistrates Calvin considered safeguarded the people’s rights and the contracts that formed the basis of society.

Huguenot View that Power to Resist Monarch not Matter of Majority Vote, but Magistrates also represented their Particular, Individuals Communities

These treatises did not consider that resistance or rebellion against a monarch could be achieved through a majority vote, which is one of the central tenets of contemporary democracy. Indeed the dialogue states that even if the majority of people support a tyrant, the minority still have a right to rebel. Nevertheless, they did believe that a magistrate appointed or acting for a particular community, such as the local estates-general for a province or a magistrate or group of magistrates for a city, could rightfully raise a rebellion as the proper representative of that province or city.

Huguenots Not Democrats, but Placed Kings Partly at Level of Ordinary People through Sharing Common Obligation to Fulfill Duties of Vocation to the Best of One’s Ability

The Huguenots were not democrats and had no intention of abolishing the traditional social hierarchy, and viewed the aristocracy, not the ordinary people, as the true guardians of the constitution and liberty against the power of the monarchy. Nevertheless, despite the view that kings were, like other forms of government, ordained by God, from whom they received their authority, the view that they had been established and had the powers limited by covenants removed the personal charisma that surrounded the monarchy and gave it part of its immense prestige and authority. Kings had occupied a divinely appointed position above their subjects in the cosmic hierarchy. While they still did so, the most important aspect of monarchy was simply how well they performed their duties as rulers. This was indeed a religious duty, but everyone also had a religious duty to perform their occupation well, regardless of their particular social position. In this way the king was thus placed on the same level as the rest of humanity, as another member of society required to perform the responsibilities of his occupation properly and well, albeit at a particularly exalted level of society. 24

View of French Roman Catholics that Royal Power Limited and that Political Authority held by Estates-General

French Roman Catholics also argued that the power of Crown was limited and that the people had a right, through constitutional institutions, to resist unjust legislation or depose the king as they attempted to defend Roman Catholicism against the spread of Calvinism, and particularly the possibility of the coronation of a Huguenot, such as Henry of Navarre, the future Henry IV, as king. The Catholic League formed in 1576 included members who believed that estates-general had a constitutional role in government and shared sovereignty with the king. The League expressed this view of the political role and authority of the estates in its first declaration of 1575. The assembly of the estates at Blois in the same year also expressed their support for it. Thirteen years later in 1588 it was declared that the king should officially recognise the right of the citizens to resist by force any attempt at taxation that did not have the estates’ authorisation. The Miroir des Francais, published in 1581, stated that the estates had the power to depose the king if he acted unlawfully. A pamphlet published by the League in 1589 similarly declared that the king had to obey the estates just as the pope had to obey a general council. If the king refused to act according to the advice and wishes of the estates, he could be deposed.

View that People Possessed Right to Depose Unjust Kings

Many of the pamphlets written by the League to support their opposition to Henry of Navarre, stated that kings were established by the people for their welfare, and that sovereignty thus resided with them, rather than with the king. Thus, kings who acted unjustly and who threatened to harm the kingdom could be lawfully deposed. Some of the writers considered that the parlements had the power to do this, while others limited to the aristocracy and other government and legal officials. One of the major League writers, Jean Boucher, a doctor of theology at the University of Paris and Prior of the Sorbonne, in his De justa abdicatione Henrici tertii of 1589 argued that the people had the right to depose the king. In a volume of sermons, published in 1594, he stated that sovereignty resided with the people in the states-general. The French people had chosen to establish a monarchy as their particular form of government. Nevertheless, they retained the right to depose the king, and even to abolish the monarchy altogether. These rights were inalienable, and it was the estates-general who expressed the will of the people.

Ability of Community to Establish Form of Government it Wishes, and Limit Authority of Monarch

Similar views were expressed by the author of the book De Just Reipublicae of 1590. This stated that society and government had both arisen to satisfy human needs. The state had developed naturally, and communities had the ability to establish for themselves the form of government they considered most suitable. This ability, and the ability to elect and depose monarchs, was established by the nature of things as created by God and the rational nature of humanity. Kings and other magistrates were established according to human reason to perform certain functions, such as the protection of their subjects’ lives, property and their freedom. Kings did not possess a hereditary right to rule, and the people had the power to establish limits to the authority of the monarch, or even reject monarchy as a form of government. The book did not, however, state that sovereignty lay with the estates or any other institution or group. He did, however, state that once a king was declared to be a tyrant, anyone had the right to assassinate him.

View of Some Jesuits that Secular Authority Independent of Church, Delegated to King by People, who can Depose Heretic Prince

Some Jesuit writers such as Robert Bellarmine and Luis Molina also argued that secular authority was independent in origin from the church, having been established by the community for its benefit in this world. The king thus received his power from the people, and his authority was therefore limited and subject to certain conditions. People normally had an obligation to God to obey the prince, but this obligation did not exist if the king was a heretic. Furthermore, everyone, including the king, is equal in divine law and before the pope. Molina furthermore considered that the people had a right to depose the king as its delegate. This was done not by the pope, but by the state, although the state may be required to do so in accordance to a decision by the pope.

View of Jesuit de Mariana that Government Established by People in Remote Antiquity to Provide Security and Protection

The Spanish Jesuit, Juan de Mariana, who during his career was a lecturer at the universities of Paris and Rome, also believed in the sovereignty of the people and their right to depose tyrants and heretical princes. In his De Rege et Regis institutione, based on his studies of Spain’s history and constitution, he considered that government had similarly arisen in response to humanity’s primeval need for security and protection. Originally, humanity had lived in a state of nature very much like the animals. However, they formed groups and societies in order to protect themselves. In doing so, they recognised certain basic rights, such as the right to property. This, unfortunately, resulted in humanity, which had been relatively free of these evils in the past, becoming increasingly greedy, deceitful and treacherous, and requiring increasing levels of law to restrain and punish them.

View that Princes Granted Power Conditionally by Sovereign People, who Exercised Power through Govermental Assembly

Princes had originally been granted their power by the community. This grant of power was conditional, however, and continued to be made from day to day. He also considered that the community reserved to itself the right to levy taxes and pass legislation, and also possessed the right to establish the particular form of religion and the right of succession of a monarch in the state as fundamental and unalterable institutions. The community was only able to put its ability to pass legislation and raise taxes into action through a representative assembly, such as the estates. Although the estates shared their power with the king, ultimately authority and sovereignty lay with them as they represented the community and its will that first established the monarch.

Ability of Governmntal Assemblies and Private Individuals to Discern and Depose Tyrants

The people had a right to restrain by force, rebel against or even depose and kill a prince who exceeded the limits of his authority. He did not consider that private individuals had the right to do this on their own initiative, but that they should only do so when authorised by the representative assembly. Any king that acted against the decision and advice of the estates, or refused to allow them to meet, was a tyrant. Princes, who were revealed as tyrants either by their own actions or those of the estates, could be deposed and killed by private citizens. People naturally possessed the ability to discern tyrants, just as they naturally possessed the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. Thus, although Mariana was a Jesuit who believed that the Church definitely had a power to direct political decisions, he also viewed the state as a product of the nature of humanity and justified by humanity’s need for it. He thus appears to have developed, with some qualifications, a conception of the secular, national state, based on earthly needs, such as those of peace and security, as a complete entity in its own right, independent of the church.

View of Scots Philosophers that KIngs’ Authority Delegated to them by Sovereign People, Who could Depose Them

The influential Scottish philosophers John Major and George Buchanan also believed that sovereignty lay with the people and that a king who overstepped the limits of his authority could be deposed by the estates. John Major was a historian as well as a philosopher, whose History of Great Britain was one of the great works of sixteenth century British history. His political philosophy was strongly based in medieval scholasticism. He considered that the sovereignty of the people was absolute, and that it was merely delegated to the king. Kings should not be given the power to raise taxes arbitrarily, except in times of special emergency. Those monarchs who ruled unjustly could, if they refused to be corrected, be deposed and executed. He believed that this could only be done by duly constituted authority, and not solely by acts of private violence. The estates, however, possessed at all times the authority to so act against a tyrant. Major stated in his History of Britain that these principles had always been a fundamental part of the Scottish constitution.

View of Buchanan that Primitive Humans formed Societies through Natural Law and Love of Company and Sense of Reciprocal Obligation Implanted by God

While Major’s views were derived from medieval philosophy, Buchanan was a Renaissance humanist. He lectured at Sainte Barbe and Le Moine in Paris and taught Latin at the universities of Bordeaux and Coimbra. His book, De Jure Regni apud Scotos, although published in 1578, appears to have been written much earlier, possibly before 1570, in order to justify the deposition of Mary, Queen of Scots. Like Mariana, Buchanan believed that originally human existence had been extremely primitive without law, with people living either in huts or in caves, wandering about the earth. Humans started to form societies, not because of any feelings that such societies were useful, but because they were guided by natural law and the innate human inclination to form societies. God implanted in everyone a natural love of company and a sense of reciprocal obligation. In that sense, states and communities, for Buchanan, were founded by the Almighty. Of the various communities and associations humans form, he considered states to be the most pleasing to God.

Kings Established by Will of the People, who Impose Conditions on, and Can Depose Him

Kings were established solely for public purposes by the will of the people. The law nature prohibits any one individual from possessing power over another, so the people established kings by delegating their authority to them. Nevertheless, there were limits set to royal authority, Law was made by either a representative assembly or by the people themselves, possibly through a plebiscite, and the king was bound by it. As the king’s power is merely delegated to him by the people, he is responsible to them, and they can remove these powers from him when there is a good reason for doing so. Although monarchies are hereditary, this does not guarantee their power or right to rule, as they were granted this power through legislation passed by the people, which the people can also repeal. Kings were granted their authority through a contract between themselves and their subjects. If they broke this contract by not governing for the benefit of their people, or by claiming greater powers than those originally granted to them, then they were tyrants who could be justly deposed.

View that War against Tyranny the Most Just War, and that Political Decisions May Be Properly Settled through Majority Vote

Indeed, Buchanan regarded war against a tyrant to be the most just of wars, and considered that not only a tyrant’s oppressed subjects, but that every human had the right to kill them. Tyrants were criminals who should be punished like anyone else who broke the law. Unlike other contemporary political theorists, who believed that sovereignty lay with the people, but did not consider that political decisions could be decided simply by the majority, Buchanan did believe that the decision of the majority was sufficient to pass legislation as humans were never unanimous in their views. This view, that the majority can make decisions on behalf of the wider community, was one of the great practical political discoveries of the Middle Ages and has naturally been accepted by politicians. 25

Notes

  1. Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 316.
  2. Koenigsberger and Mosse, Sixteenth Century, p. 279.
  3. Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 341.

Christianity and the Origins of Democracy – The Sixteenth Century: Part 2

August 13, 2008

View of French Political Theorists that French Monarchy Limited by Constitution

Other writers apart from De Seyssel, who supported the institution of a strong, centralised monarchy, based on Roman law, the Corpus Juris, also considered that the power of the crown was limited. Although sovereignty and the power to make laws resided with the prince, this had been delegated to him by the people. Andrea Alciati, in his De Verborum Significationibus of 1529, stated that originally ‘Kings were not established by divine decree but by popular consent’. One of Alciati’s pupils, Francois Connan, stated that if a king violated human and divine law, he should be deposed. Even though these writers were concerned to support the power of the monarchy, nevertheless their theories also provided support for the view that the power of the Crown was limited and kings could be justly deposed. Their arguments supporting this view were adopted and used by opponents of abolute monarchy like Salamonius.

Role of French Parlements – Official Committees of Lawyers – in Checking Royal Power

In fact royal power in France was in practice limited by the parlements and estates-generals – the assemblies of clergy, aristocracy and burgesses to vote on and decide issues of state. The parlements were not representative institutions – they were assemblies of lawyers. They were not elected, and membership tended to become very strongly hereditary. Each French province possessed its own parlement. The parlement of Normandy resided at Rouen, while those of Britanny and Languedoc were situated in Rennes and Toulouse respectively, for example. The monarchy admitted that publication of a royal edict did not automatically make it law. For an edict to be officially passed as legislation it had to be registered by the parlements. As there were separate parlements in each province, so royal edicts had to be registered in each particular province in order to become law there.

It was unclear whether the parlements had the right to refuse legislation proposed by the king. Nevertheless, from 1562 the parlement of Paris claimed the right to refuse to pass royal edicts. The parlements claimed to be the successors of the Champs de Mai, one of two great annual assemblies of the French aristocracy under Charlemagne. Although their right to refuse royal legislation was debatable, nevertheless they acted in practice to limit royal power and preserve the individual rights and historic legal systems of the provinces and France as a whole.

Role of Estates-General – Governmental Assembly Representing the People – in Limiting Power of French Crown

The French estates-general also claimed a right to limit the power of the monarchy. In 1356 the estates-general had declared that the king could not raise taxes, even under extreme national emergencies, without their consent. In fact the constitutional position of the estates-general was weak. The estates-general had met so infrequently that there were no fixed forms of procedure and the relation of the three estates to each other were similarly not fixed, and it was a matter of debate what the consent of the estates-general actually meant. Nevertheless from 1550 onwards the estates-general was increasingly regarded as a formal, ancient part of the French constitution. At the estates-general in Pontoise in 1561 the aristocracy and commoners – the Third Estate – declared that no taxes could be raised or war declared without the agreement of the estates. The estates-general at Blois in 1576 further declared that the king should be bound to act in accordance with an decision made by three estates together, and that any edict that had been issued with the estates-generals’ approval could not be repealed. From 1560 onwards it was frequently stated that sovereignty lay jointly with both the king and parliament, along with the view that sovereignty indeed lay with the estates-generals rather than the monarchy, who should be subordinate to it.

Thus, in France in the 1560s there was very strong opposition to the idea of absolute monarchy in France, based on the view that the monarchy was limited by natural law and the customary laws of France, and by the institutions such as the parlements and estates-generals to advise and possibly refuse royal legislation. Moreover, the increasing claims by the monarchy for greater power led to considerable opposition as it was viewed that the Crown was attempting to destroy the ancient constitution of France.

Religious Toleration Advocated by Supporters of Absolute Monarchy such as L’Hopital

Regardless of the question of limits on the power of the French king, there were French political theorists in the 1560s who believed firmly in an absolute monarchy, in which the king was appointed by God, who also argued for religious toleration. L’Hopital, a lawyer, Humanist scholar and Chancellor of France during the reign of Catherine de Medici, attempted to defend her policy of securing peace by tolerating Protestantism in certain areas. L’Hopital considered that the king owed his authority to God, not to the people. He was the only source of law, and his subjects had an absolute duty to obey him. The parlements could advise the king and delay legislation, but they had no right to refuse it. The estates-general similarly could only present petitions to the king, not refuse royal legislation or enact legislation of their own. Nevertheless, the estates-general should be held frequently, as the king should be in close touch with his people. He considered that people had absolutely no right to rebel against their king, and tyrannicide was a crime absolutely prohibited to Christians.

Absolute Monarchy and Religious Toleration Viewed as only Method of Securing Peace and National Welfare in France

Central to his view that the best form of government was an absolute monarchy was his concern to avoid civil war, which he regarded as the worst of all evils. Princes existed to guide and promote their people’s welfare. Nations require peace, order and unity, and this could only be achieved through an absolute monarchy. He therefore attacked factions and seditions as the source of disorder and a potential source of civil war. It was in order to avoid such conflict that he defended the Queen’s grant of toleration to French Protestants. He was not alone. The Roman Catholic bishop of Valence, Jean de Montluc, stated that heresy had become universal throughout Christendom, and that persecution had only exacerbated the situation. The Archbishop of Vienne, Charles de Marillac, had made the same comment, and concluded that the only way to bring heretics back to the Roman Catholic church was through reform of the Church, rather than persecution.

View of L’Hopital that to Preserve Peace, King Must Be above Religious Differences, Roman Catholics and Protestants Should Recognise that They Are both Christians to Avoid War

In his Exhortation aux Princes et Seigneurs du Conseil prive du Roi of 1561, L’Hopital argued that the essential duty of the king was to ensure peace, order and justice. In order to fulfil that duty, the king must be above all parties, sects and factions, in order to resolve disputes and dispense justice impartially. Furthermore, justice did not require the persecution of those who acted according to their own consciences without harming others, and he felt it was impossible to decide whose religious opinions were correct. This did not mean that he felt that religion was unimportant. Indeed, he was firmly in favour of there being only one religion in a nation, as he regarded the existence of two religions in the same country as dangerous and divisive. In his view there was nothing more divisive than religion. He stated that a Frenchman and Englishman who shared the same religion had more in common than two members of the same city of different faiths. Nevertheless, in order to secure peace it was necessary to recognise two religions – Roman Catholicism and Protestantism – in France. Roman Catholics and Protestants should forget their differences and remember that they are Christians in order to avoid civil war.

Persecution Useless in Preventing Spread of Protestantism; Attempts to Suppress Heresy through Force Unjustified as Cause of Bloodshed, Devastation and Denial of Personal Liberty

The spread of heresy could not be prevented by the use of force, and the persecution of Protestantism had been a failure. It was useless to try to suppress great rebellions by force, and even if this could be achieved, it would not be justified by the massive devastation it would cause. Such persecution and bloodshed would only result in further contempt for royal authority, which maintained and supported society as a whole. People should be free to seek God in their own way. If they are prevented from doing so, then liberty has perished. This would occur if Protestantism was destroyed in France through force. Thus L’Hopital was firmly in favour of an absolute monarch, and a single, national religion. Nevertheless, the primary duty of the king was to ensure peace and order, regardless of the particular religion to which his subjects personally adhered. Any attempt to impose religious conformity through force meant that the king had failed in this duty, and had in fact promoted the conflict and civil war that it was his duty to prevent.

View of French Huguenots that French Monarchy Limited by Constitution

The persecution of the Huguenots in the late sixteenth century forced them to examine the nature of royal and political and authority. They defended themselves by arguing against absolute royal authority, and instead argued that the French monarchy was constitutionally limited by the existence of natural law, officers, magistrates, and the feudal aristocracy within the state, as well as institutions such as parlements and estates-generals, which represented the whole French community and which had a duty to guard against the development of tyranny and to overthrow unjust rulers when they appeared and violated the constitution.

Claim by Huguenots that They Were Rebelling to Defend Constitutional Freedom of all French Citizens from Oppression by the Crown, Not Just to Defend Own Religion

When the Huguenots rebelled against an increasingly intolerant Crown, they claimed they did so not for purely religious reasons, but because they were defending the ancient laws and liberty of the people of France. When the Huguenot prince Conde rebelled against the Crown, he claimed that he did so to defend the French people as a whole, regardless of their religion, from tyranny. From 1567 to 1570 the Huguenots argued, in a series of pamphlets, that France had a mixed monarchy, and that there were reciprocal obligations between the monarch and their subjects. Subjects were bound to obey the king, but only if he looked after their interests and welfare. A king who did not honour his obligations to his people was a tyrant who should be overthrown. The authors of the pamphlets considered that the king, Charles IX, was attempting to overthrow the ancient constitution of France and the rights of the people, which, like the authority of the king, were divine in origin. These attempts to justify the Huguenots’ resistance to the Crown as defence of the constitutional rights of the French people were elaborated in works such as the Franco-Gallia of Francois Hotman, the Reveille Matin des Francais, The Memoires de l’Estate de France sous Charles IX of Simon Goulart, Du Droit des Magistrats sur les sujets, probably written by Theodore Beza, the Dialogue d’Archon et de Politie, and the Vincidiae contra Tyrannos of ‘Junius Brutus’.

View of Hotman that True Source of Political Power in France Governmental Assembly, Not Monarchy

Hotman was jurist, who had succeeded the great French lawyer, Cujas, as professor of law at the university of Bourgues in 1567. He was employed by the Bourbons in 1560 and became one of Conde’s legal advisors in the 1567. His great work, Franco-Gallia, was published in exile in Geneva in 1573. In it he argued that France had been governed by a representative council since ancient Gaul. This ancient representative government had been abolished by the Romans, but had returned with the invasion of the Franks. This representative council had been the major governmental institution in France until the 15th century. It had possessed the power to legislate, appoint magistrates, and elect and depose kings and appoint regents. He seems to have identified this governing representative council with the aristocracy, rather than the estates-general, and certainly rejected the claim of the parlements to political sovereignty. Although it Hotman never stated it, his book implied that sovereignty lay with the people rather than the king, and that true legal and political authority lay in representative governmental assemblies.

View of Reveille Matin that God had established Inferior Magistrates to Check Power of the Monarchy and People Could Overthrow the King if he became a Tyrant

The Reveille Matin, published in two parts in 1573 and 1574, declared that no people had or would ever establish a sovereign ruler with absolute authority to do whatever he pleased. God had not conferred sovereignty solely on the king. He had also granted it to subordinate magistrates, officials who had the right and duty to resist tyranny. The rights and duties of monarchs and their people were reciprocal, and subjects were required to obey the king so long as he honoured his duties to them. This had been part of the ancient constitution of France, which the monarchy had recently overthrown. However, the Reveille Matin considered that it was possible for the ancient constitution to be restored, and argued that this should be put into practice. Moreover, when a king became a tyrant and massacres his subjects, as Charles IX had done with the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, he could be justly deposed or assassinated.

Calvin’s View of the Role of Inferior Magistrates in Limiting Power of Monarchy and Duty of Subjects to Obey their Kings

Hotman’s view and that of the Reveille Matin that there were subordinate officials in the kingdom who could justly resist and depose a corrupt and tyrannical king was based on Calvin’s own view of the role of the ‘inferior magistrates’ in his Institutes of the Christian Religion. 18 Although he felt that most princes were unjust and behaved like tyrants, nevertheless he considered that they and other authorities owed their position not to humanity but to God, and that therefore they should not be resisted but obeyed, even when they were tyrants. 19 Calvin did, however, recognise that some states, such as Athens, Rome and Sparta, had officials whose duty was to restrain the actions of the chief magistrate. He suggested that these official possibly had their contemporary equivalents in the assemblies of three estates in modern European nations. In theory, these magistrates may also have the power, and thus the duty, to resist tyrants. If they refused to do this when the situation demanded, they thus betrayed their people’s liberty. 20 Thus both Hotman in his Franco-Gallia and Beza in his Du Droit du Magistrat considered that the king shared power with the estates-general, and that, for Beza, the estates-general had the right to depose corrupt and unjust kings. 21

Huguenot Views on Constitutional Limits of Monarchy Based on Medieval View of Contract between Monarch and People and Calvinist Covenant Theology

The Huguenot political theories of the constitutional limits on the monarchy and the right of the people to overthrow tyrants were based were based on the medieval theories that political authority was the result of contracts. One of these was the contract between people through which they established political authority at the foundation of the state. Another was the covenant God had made with humanity through the events of the Bible and Christ’s ministry. Calvin considered that God had fulfilled His part of the covenant with humanity through the redeeming work of Christ. Humanity in its turn now had to keep its part of the covenant through obedience.

In the 1580s theologians, particularly those of Heidelberg, had extended this conception of the Covenant to create a doctrine of the ‘Covenant of works’ that covered all aspects of human life and applied to everyone, not just to the elect of Calvinist theology. God had made this covenant with Adam, who represented the whole of humanity, who were thus required to fulfil their religious and secular duties. Instead of producing fatalism and a resignation to the preordained order and events, Covenant theology and the Calvinist doctrine of predestination instead produced an active willingness to participate in them. Within Covenant theology was the expectation that people eagerly consented to the Covenant with the Lord, and wished to take every opportunity that God presented them to fulfil their part of it. While this originally may have meant the people were expected to obey princes through an active effort of will, it also encouraged the attitude that humans had a right and duty to fulfil their duties to the Lord by actively resisting a tyrant. Historians such as Michael Walzer, in his 1965 book, The Revolution of the Saints, considered that the Covenant was a way of activating humans without stipulating the Lord’s actions. 22

Notes

  1. Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 55.
  2. Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 58.
  3. Koenigsberger and Mosse, Sixteenth Century, p. 278.
  4. Michael Walzer, The Revolution of the Saints, 1965, p. 167, cited in Koenigsbergers and Mosse, Sixteenth Century, p. 278.

Christianity and the Origins of Democracy – The Sixteenth Century: Part 1

August 13, 2008

In the last blog posts on the contribution to the rise of democracy by Christianity and the Bible, I’ve discussed the origins of the democratic values of equality and the denunciation of tyrants in ancient Israel, Judaism and Christianity, and their development in the early Church along with constitutional theories of the origin of government and authority in society. These constitutional theories were further developed by medieval theologians, philosophers and canon lawyers to create political theories and governmental institutions in which the power of the king was checked by governmental assemblies, which in theory represented the wider state or community, and justified the deposition of monarchs for injustice and tyranny. In this article I will discuss the Christianity’s contribution to the development of democracy in the 16th century.

The first part of this essay will examine the views in England, of theologians and political philosophers such as Richard Hooker, and Claude De Seyssel in France that there were constitutional limits to the power of the monarch, and that power was shared or limited by institutions such as representative assemblies and the parlements of lawyers in France, which examined royal legislation. Part two will discuss the view of other French political theorists that royal power was limited by the constitution, as well as the view of supporters of absolute monarchy that both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism should be tolerated, and the king should be above individual religious faiths. It will also discuss the development of Huguenot theories on the constitutional limits to royal power and the rights of subjects to resist unjust rulers. Part three will continue the discussion of Huguenot political theories as well as the views of French Roman Catholics, the Spanish Jesuits Molina and Mariana, and the Scots political theorists and historians John Major and George Buchanan that royal power was limited, and kings should govern in accordance with the will of the people through their representative institutions. Part 4 will discuss the views of Calvin, Knox and other Protestants that subjects have the right to resist and overthrow tyrants, and the arguments and demands for religious toleration and freedom of conscience by the Politiques in France, and Castellion and Acontius in Geneva, and consider the effect of these doctrines in Europe and their influence in the 17th century.

Development of Constitutional Limits to Powers of the Monarchy and Political Theories Amongst Roman Catholics and Protestants in the 16th Century

By the 16th century most European states possessed political institutions that limited the power of the Crown. Parliamentary assemblies formed part of the governmental systems in Castile, Aragon and Valencia in Spain, France, including the powerful and independent Duchy of Burgundy, Germany, England, Scotland, and Bohemia, Hungary, Transylvania, Lithuania and Poland in eastern Europe. The contests between princes and their frequently rebellious subjects, and the intense theological and political conflicts produced by the Reformation, further stimulated the development of theories of government and practical attempts at governmental reform. The rise and growth of Protestantism and the attempts by the authorities at various times and places to support or counter it led philosophers and theologians to examine the nature of political sovereignty, whether, and how far, subjects had a right to resist unjust or heretical monarchs, the role of parliaments in guiding and checking royal power, and indeed the very relationship between Church and State. Faced with the turmoil and bloodshed of civil war, both Roman Catholics and Protestants argued for toleration and freedom of conscience, with some arguing for a complete separation of the two. The hierarchical structure of society was attacked and criticised, as peasants and theologians demanded the abolition of serfdom, and urged the creation of a truly just society without oppression and exploitation. In the cultural sphere, Christian Humanists such as Erasmus stressed the importance of education and learning, leading princes and municipal authorities to found libraries, schools and universities across Europe. Thus the sixteenth saw the development of many of the characteristic institutions and cultural features of modern democratic states, as political theorists, theologians and the members of popular movements attempted to create a just, educated and tolerant society, whose rulers governed with parliamentary assemblies and were guided by Christian morals and principles.

View of Bishop Hooker in England that Political Authority Established by Primeval Human Community for their Protection

The political philosophers and theologians of the sixteenth century continued and developed the medieval view that political authority derived from human society. It had first been established when people began to live in communities and instituted rulers in order to protect themselves and their property from conflict. Before they established these early forms of government, people realised that they had a right to defend themselves against attack or injury, no-one had a right to pursue their own interests to the extent that they harmed someone else, that they had a right to join together to protect themselves against attack or injury, and that justice prohibited people from acting as judges when their own interests were involved. Thus, for Hooker, ‘to take away all such material grievances, injuries and wrongs, there was no way but only by growing upon composition and agreement amongst themselves, by ordaining some kind of government politic and by yielding themselves subject thereto.’ 1 The founders of this early political community realised that ‘strifes and troubles would be endless, except they gave their common consent all to be ordered by some whom they could agree upon; without which consent there were no reason that one man should take upon him to be lord or judge over another.’2 Thus princes and judges owed their power to the community that had first established them to protect them and their interests. Government by a single person, however, frequently led to tyranny, as rulers abused their power to benefit themselves solely, without taking account of the requirements of their subjects, and indeed often acting against them. Thus these early states established laws independent of the monarch, which were binding on both them and their subjects, in order to safeguard them from such arbitrary government. ‘They saw that to live by one man’s will became the cause of all men’s misery. This constrained them to come unto laws, wherein all men might see their duties beforehand and know the penalties of transgressing them.’ 3

Hooker’s View that Form of Government Established by the Whole Community According to own Desires

While Hooker was a monarchist, he nevertheless recognised that it was not the only possible or just form of government, as ‘the inconveniences of one kind have caused sundry others to be devised.’ 4 Indeed, God had granted human societies the right to establish whatever form of government they considered just. ‘Unto me it seemeth almost out of doubt and controversy, that every independent multitude, before any certain form of regiment established, hath, under God’s supreme authority, full dominion over itself … God, creating mankind, did endue it naturally with full power to guide itself in what kind of societies soever it should choose to live.’ 5 Sovereignty and the power to make laws belonged to the whole community, which conferred this power on a particular person or assembly. For these rulers to govern justly, they had to recognise that their authority was derived either from God or from the community. When governments and rulers, which failed to do this, and ruled solely in their own interest, were tyrannies. ‘By the natural law … the lawful power of making laws to command whole politic societies of men, belongeth so properly to the same entire societies, that for any prince or potentate, of what kind soever upon earth, to exercise the same ofhimself and not either by express commission immediately and personally received from God or else from authority derived at the first from their consent upon whose persons they impose laws, it is no better than mere tyranny.’ 6

View of Some English Monarchists that Royal Power Limited

Even some monarchist writers, who were concerned to demonstrate that the best form of government was that of a single ruler, considered that the monarch was nevertheless bound by their nation’s laws. Charles Merbury in his 1581 A Brief Discourse of Royall Monarchie as of the best Common Weale stated that the king of England ‘is subject unto laws both civil and common, to customs, privileges, covenants and all kinds of promises, so far forth as they are agreeable unto the law of God.’ 7 While Merbury believed that monarchs were responsible only to God and their own conscience, and that parliaments could only advise the monarch, but not make laws or obstruct or alter the king’s own legislation, nevertheless he seems to have considered that the monarch nevertheless did not have the sole authority to make laws. Similarly Sir John Hayward considered that although the prince possessed absolute power, nevertheless they had established parliaments everywhere, and that in practice legislation was conducted according to the laws and customs of those particular nations. 8 Sir Thomas Craig held similar views, considering that it was only with parliament or the great court of the kingdom that the king of England possessed sovereign power. He stated that ‘the monarchy is tempered with something of aristocracy and democracy’, and that king could only raise taxes through public agreement. 9

View of Thomas Smith that King bound by Parliament, which Represented the Whole Nation from Poorest to Most Powerful

Robert Parsons, under the pseudonym ‘Doleman’, considered that government naturally arose with the establishment of the first communities. As a natural phenomenon, it was established by God. God had not, however, established any particular form of government as the best, and so permitted the various nations to establish whichever form of government suited them. ‘These particular forms of are left unto every nation and country to choose that form of government which they shall like best and think most meet for the natures and conditions of their people.’ 10 Monarchs ruled solely for their subjects’ welfare. As the people have delegated their authority to the king, they also had the right to remove this authority and depose him if he ruled badly and did not respect either the laws of his kingdom or the conditions by which he held his authority. If a prince did not govern religiously, equitably and lawfully, Doleman considered that he should be deposed to rescue the kingdom from his tyranny. 11

The most important supporter of the view that the English governmental system was a mixed monarchy consisting of the king in parliament was Sir Thomas Smith. During his career he was a university professor, teaching natural philosophy, Greek and civil law; a dean, Provost of Eton under Protector Somerset. He entered the clergy in 1546, but seems to have abandoned this as a career after 1559. He was Elizabeth’s ambassador to Paris from 1562 to 1566. He became a member of the Privy Council in 1571 and was appointed Secretary of State in 1572. He died five years later in 1577. Smith considered that there were three types of government – monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. In practice, however, he considered that all governments were mixtures of these forms of government. Smith considered the state to be ‘a society or common doing of a multitude of free men collected together and united by common accord and covenants among themselves, for the conservation of themselves as well in peace as in war’. 12 Legislation was passed by both the king and parliament, which represented everyone in the nation. Smith stated that Parliament ‘abrogateth old laws, maketh new, giveth orders for things past and for things hereafter to be followed … All that ever the people of Rome might do … the same may be done by the parliament of England, which representeth and hath the power of the whole realm both the head and the body. For every Englishman is entended to be there present … from the Prince to the lowest person. And the consent of the Parliament is taken to be every man’s consent.’ 13 Smith probably considered that sovereignty resided with the king, rather than parliament. He did not discuss whether the king had the right to raise taxes and pass laws without the consent of parliament, and certainly stated that the king alone handled foreign relations and made official appointments. Nevertheless, he felt that absolute monarchy was both dangerous to the monarch and their subjects. Indeed, most absolute monarchies were simply tyrannies. When the nation was governed by a tyrant, Smith considered that in certain circumstances rebellion was justified.

Smith’s views were unusual in that he did not argue that authority was conferred by God, and did not support them through Scripture or arguments on natural law. Nevertheless, his view that the power to make laws resided in parliament, and that the monarch was bound by law was very similar to Richard Hooker’s later views in defence of the Anglican Church.

View of Wentworth that Parliament, like King, established by God; Function of Parliament to Redress Grievances in Country

The MP Peter Wentworth also considered that parliament possessed the power to pass laws. Both parliament and the king received their authority from God. Parliament’s power, for Wentworth, ‘is appointed by God, as the power next to Himself to reform and redress wrongs and outrages which cannot be holpen by other means and by good and wholesome laws to procure the peace and wealth of the Republic.’ 14 Although kings also received their power from God rather than from humans, they were bound by the laws of the nation over which they governed. Princes had been established by God ‘for the maintenance of His truth and to minister justice according to the good and wholesome laws of that land of which He doth place him.’ 15 Wentworth’s view that parliament was there to redress wrongs and grievances led him to believe strongly in free speech. He considered that parliament should have the freedom to discuss and offer advice to the king on all subjects, and held that the king had no right to limit or prohibit free debate as this was directly opposed to parliament’s position as the only the source of legislation. 16

View of De Seyssel in France that French Monarchy Limited

These ideas were not confined to England. French political theorists also held similar ideas, despite the increasing developments towards absolutism there during the sixteenth century. Claude De Seyssel, who in his long career had been a bishop, a minister under Louis XII, and the Chancellor of France, as well as ambassador to England, similarly considered that the power of the French crown was limited in his Le Grant Monarchie de France of 1518, apparently written in response to a request for advice from the new king after Louis XII’s death. Seyssel considered that monarchy was the best form of government, as it was the most effective and least vulnerable to degeneration. Nevertheless, he was realistic about the personal capacities and virtues of princes. He recognised the possibility of an incompetent monarch, and considered that there was a greater probability of the king being incompetent than an efficient ruler, as good princes were rare. Despite these problems, Seyssel viewed monarchy as the best form of government, and the French monarchy in particular as the best government in the world. This was because the power of the crown was checked and limited by a system of customary rights and privileges held by different groups, classes, cities and provinces, that the king was bound to respect.

These constitutional limits to the king’s power did not necessarily include parliaments or the estates-general. He did not consider them part of the French constitution, though he did consider that the king should hold councils to decide issues, and that when it was expedient he should summon people from the cities and chief towns as well as his other ministers. He also considered that there were no legal limits to the power of the Crown. Nevertheless, despite the theoretical unlimited power of the monarchy, the king’s authority was limited in practices in three ways. Firstly, France was a religious, Christian country. If the king acted without regards to Christian, religious morality, he would be hated. The king was thus required to adhere to Christian morality and rule justly and not be a tyrant. If he ruled unjustly, and oppressed his people, then any ordinary parish priest had the right to rebuke him personally. Secondly, the parlements, the assemblies of lawyers who inspected legislation to see if it was constitutional, also limited the power of the Crown, though Seyssel did not state that they had the power to reject royal legislation. Lastly, the king was required to observe and maintain the ancient customs and laws of the kingdom, and only legislate to reform abuses. Thus, while in the theory the king possessed absolute power, in practice it was constrained by traditional French customary law, and the rights and privileges of provinces, cities and institutions. The importance of such customs in limiting the practical power of the monarchy was considerable. Even after theories of the constitution that restricted the power of the crown had been rejected in the 17th century, the practical power of the monarchy was still limited by the traditional laws and rights governing France, laws and rights that preserved the freedom of French citizens despite the theoretically unlimited power of the king.

Notes

  1. Richard Hooker, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, cited in J.W. Allen, A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century (London, Methuen 1957), p. 190.
  2. Hooker, Ecclesiastical Polity, in Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 190.
  3. Hooker, Ecclesiastical Polity, in Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 191.
  4. Hooker, Ecclesiastical Polity, in Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 191.
  5. Hooker, Ecclesiastical Polity, in Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 192.
  6. Hooker, Ecclesiastical Polity, in Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 192.
  7. Charles Merbury, A Brief Discourse of Royall Monarchie as of the best Common Weale, cited in Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 251.
  8. Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 259.
  9. Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 259.
  10. Richard Parsons/ Doleman, A Conference about the next Succession to the Crowne of England, 1594, cited in Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 261.
  11. Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 261.
  12. Sir Thomas Smith, De Republica Anglorum, cited in Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 264.
  13. Smith, De Republica Anglorum, cited in Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 264.
  14. Peter Wentworth, A Discourse Containing the Author’s Opinion of the True and Lawful Successor to Her Majestie, 1594, cited in Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 267.
  15. Wentworth, A Discourse, cited in Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 267.
  16. Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 267.
  17. Andrea Alciati, De Verborum Significationibus, 1529, cited in Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 281.
  18. H.G. Koenigsberger and George L. Mosse, Europe in the Sixteenth Century (Harlow, Longman 1971), p. 277.