Front Page Titles (by Subject) I.: Date and Authorship. - The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates
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I.: Date and Authorship. - John Milton, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates 
The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, edited with Introduction and Notes by William Talbot Allison (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1911).
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Date and Authorship.
To George Thomason, bookseller of the Rose and Crown in St. Paul’s Church Yard, friend of Rushworth, Calamy, and Milton, and keen observer of religious and political affairs, we owe the British Museum collection of tracts which bears his name. From 1640 to 1661 Thomason collected each day’s output of tracts, broadsides, newspapers, books, even fly-leaves of doggerel verse, and stored them away for the edification of future ages. Few of the publications relating to the Civil War, the Commonwealth, and the Restoration eluded his vigilance. As the flood of this voluminous period bore in upon him, he carefully noted the exact date of each publication in his catalogue, and often wrote out the full name of the author where the treatise or book gave only the initials. On this account, Thomason is the sole authority for the dates of first and second editions of many books now regarded as classics of English literature.
Among eight publications which came into Thomason’s hands from the presses of London on Feb. 13, 1649, one small quarto, the work of a friend, must have been noted by him with special pleasure. The entry was as follows;—‘The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates: proving that it is Lawfull for any who have the Power to call to account a Tyrant or wicked King and after due conviction to depose, and put him to death. The Author, J. M. [i. e. John Milton.] Printed by Matthew Simmons (13 Feb).’ A year later, on Feb. 15, 1650, he notes the arrival at the Rose and Crown of a copy of the second edition:—‘The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, proving that it is Lawfull to call to account a Tyrant, or wicked King, and put him to death. Published now the second time with some additions. The author J. M. [i. e. John Milton] pp. 60. Printed by Matthew Simmons (15 Feb.).’
We are thus certain of the exact date of publication of this treatise, the first apology for the Commonwealth. Thanks to another contemporary witness, we have most interesting information as to the place of composition, the author’s motive, his political sympathies, and the effect of the publication on his own personal fortunes. Our authority is Milton’s nephew, Edward Philips, who gives a more extended reference to this pamphlet than might have been expected in the brief compass of his charming sketch of the life of the poet. ‘It was not long after the march of Fairfax and Cromwell through the city of London with the whole army, to quell the insurrections, Brown and Massey, now malecontents also, were endeavoring to raise in the city against the armies proceedings, ere he left his great house in Barbican, and betook himself to a smaller in High Holbourn, among those that open backward into Lincolns-Inn Fields. Here he liv’d a private and quiet life, still prosecuting his studies and curious search into knowledge, the grand affair perpetually of his life; till such time as, the war being now at an end, with compleat victory to the Parliament’s side, as the Parliament then stood purg’d of all its dissenting members, and the king after some treaties with the army re infecta, brought to his tryal; the form of government being now chang’d into a free state, he was hereupon oblig’d to write a treatise, call’d The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates.’
‘After which his thoughts were bent upon retiring again to his own private studies, and falling upon such subjects as his proper genius prompted him to write of, among which was the history of our own nation from the beginning till the Norman Conquest, wherein he had made some progress. When (for this his last treatise, reviving the fame of some other things he had formerly published) being more and more taken notice of for the excellency of his stile, and depth of judgement, he was courted into the service of this new Commonwealth, and at last prevail’d with (for he never hunted after preferment, nor affected the tintimar and hurry of publick business) to take upon him the office of Latin secretary to the Counsel of State.’1
According to this statement, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates was written subsequent to the execution of Charles I and the proclamation of the Republic. The book was published, it is true, exactly a fortnight after the king’s death, and a week after the official setting-up of the republican form of government, but Philips is in error as to the date of composition. Milton himself, in an autobiographical passage in the Second Defence, distinctly states that he wrote this pamphlet when the House of Commons was arranging for the trial of the king: ‘On the last species of civil liberty, I said nothing, because I saw that sufficient attention was paid to it by the magistrates; nor did I write anything on the prerogative of the crown, till the king, voted an enemy by the parliament, and vanquished in the field, was summoned before the tribunal which condemned him to lose his head. But when at length, some Presbyterian ministers, who had formerly been the most bitter enemies to Charles, became jealous of the growth of the Independents, and of their ascendancy in the parliament, most tumultuously clamoured against the sentence, and did all in their power to prevent the execution, though they were not angry so much on account of the act itself, as because it was not the act of their party; and when they dared to affirm, that the doctrine of the Protestants, and of all the reformed churches was abhorrent to such an atrocious proceeding against kings, I thought that it became me to oppose such a glaring falsehood; and accordingly, without any immediate or personal application to Charles, I shewed, in an abstract consideration of the question, what might lawfully be done against tyrants: and in support of what I advanced, produced the opinions of the most celebrated divines; while I vehemently inveighed against the egregious ignorance or effrontery of men, who professed better things, and from whom better things might have been expected. That book did not make its appearance till after the death of Charles; and was written rather to reconcile the minds of the people to the event, than to discuss the legitimacy of that particular sentence which concerned the magistrates, and which was already executed’ (Bohn 1. 259). Aside from this direct evidence, a careful reading of the treatise itself might have convinced Philips of his mistake. Milton refers to the trial of the king (5. 12 ff.) as a matter still under discussion: ‘They plead for him, pity him, extoll him, protest against those that talke of bringing him to the tryall of Justice, etc.’ He alludes to those Independents who hesitate to take such a course, who ‘begin to swerve, and almost shiver at the Majesty and grandeur of som noble deed’ (6. 10). The king is spoken of as one still alive (8. 20), ‘the Sword of Justice is above him’ (8. 34), a prisoner, he should not ‘think to scape unquestionable’ (21. 21). He also speaks of ‘the proceedings now in Parlament against the King’ (27. 31). In 38. 16 ff. the Presbyterians are denounced, ‘who now, to the stirring up of new discord, acquitt him: . . . absolve him, unconfound him, though unconverted, unrepentant,’ etc. He speaks of the king’s trial as a future event (40. 16), and of the likelihood of his punishment by the Parliament and Military Council ‘if it appeare thir duty’ (40. 22), while in 42. 8 he refers to ‘what remaines to doe,’ and warns the Presbyterian divines to ‘beware an old and perfet enemy,’ if they put him in his place of old-time power (42. 2 ff.).
Internal evidence, therefore, especially the mention of ‘the proceedings now in Parlament against the King,’ and the reference to those who shivered at the prospect of becoming judges at the trial, make it certain that Milton wrote these pages during the month of January, 1649. On Jan. 1 the Commons appointed commissioners and judges to try the king. The proceedings against him were debated until the passing of the Resolution and Ordinance of Jan. 6. It was also during this momentous week that various members of the House swerved and shivered. Bulstrode Whitelocke, the great lawyer, found it convenient to retire into the country; the clerk of the House, Mr. Elysyng, discovered that his health had suddenly failed him; nearly half of the commissioners failed to attend any of the meetings of the trial court. Lord General Fairfax himself, an arch-leader of the Independents, was at the first meeting on Jan. 8, but never attended a second session. As Milton’s allusion (6. 7 ff.) points to these faint-hearts, the treatise must have been written after Jan. 8. The reference to Prynne’s pamphlet, A Briefe Memento to the PresentUnparliamentary Junto (6. 30), which was published on Jan. 19, would make the date of composition later still, unless the sneer at Prynne was inserted when Milton was revising the first sheets of his manuscript. The pamphlet then must have been written between Jan. 8 and Jan. 27, the date on which sentence was pronounced against the king. If it was written before the trial of Charles, the period of composition would be narrowed to an interval of twelve days, between Jan. 8 and Jan. 20. The former time-limit seems to be the more probable, but even nineteen days was a wonderfully short space of time for the production of such a piece of work.
[1 ]Godwin, Lives of Edw. and John Philips, app. p. 371.