Front Page Titles (by Subject) IX.: Sources. - The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates
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IX.: Sources. - 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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Turning now to the special sources of The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, we find that Milton’s chief debt is to George Buchanan, author of the celebrated revolutionary treatise, De Jure Regni apud Scotos, which was published in Edinburgh in 1579. Buchanan and Knox were students at St. Andrews, and imbibed their passion for popular rights and hatred of tyranny from their teacher, John Muir, who held that kings derived their power from the people, could be controlled by them, and, if tyrannical, might be deposed. Knox expressed these views in his argument against Lethington, to which Milton refers (28. 21); in his famous interview with Mary, Queen of Scots; and in the treatise which gave such offence to Queen Elizabeth, The Monstrous Regiment of Women. Milton was familiar with the opinions of Knox. but he found them systematized in the dialogue of Buchanan. We have indicated in the notes the parallels between Milton’s treatise and that of his Scottish mentor, and the reader will observe what a large number of passages have been paraphrased. Leading ideas, and, indeed, many facts, quotations, and illustrations, were appropriated by the English apologist for the Commonwealth. Buchanan clearly owes more inspiration to the ancient republicans than to the Bible, but he draws his arguments from both sources, and in this respect was followed by Milton. In his dialogue he gives the origin of the name tyrant,1 summarizes various definitions of tyranny,2 refers to the fears which beset tyrants,3 and to their punishment, and praises the tyrannicides of antiquity.4 He bases his argument for the sovereignty of the people on the social contract.5 Buchanan also lays great stress upon the appeal to reason, as does Milton. this treatise on the rights of the crown, dedicated, perhaps ironically, to the young James IV of Scotland, Buchanan’s royal pupil, was destined to have a profound influence on English politics. The hatred which it inspired in royalists, and the popular conception of its close connection with The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, were amply expressed in 1683, when both works were publicly burned by the ever loyal prelates of the University of Oxford.
The second source of Milton’s first work in political theory is to be found in his own youthful compilation of quotations, his Commonplace Book.1 When he came to write his protest against Charles and other tyrants, he turned to this storehouse for illustrations and authorities. This book is, in fact, not only a guide to his early reading, but shows the political theory which he had already formulated. Gooch remarks that Milton’s earliest political views were merely those of a liberal constitutionalism,2 and that the Commonplace Book reveals his conception of the state as an organism, his comprehensive view of rational well-being, his aristocratical tendencies, his reverence for the thinkers of antiquity, and, in short, the whole spirit of his political thinking. There are in this remarkable book the names of upwards of eighty authors read by the young scholar—English, French, Italian, Latin, and Greek. Along with the instances and conclusions drawn from the original authors, we have a few original observations on political theory. He wrote the facts and quotations in English, French, Italian, or Latin, as the humor seized him. In those earlier years he read the following authors, whose names he mentions, and whose thought he was afterwards to incorporate in his first apology for the Commonwealth: ancient writers—Aristotle, Tertullian, Basil, Chrysostom; French—De Thou, Bodin, Girard, Gilles, Seysell; English—Holinshed, Camden, Gildas, Stow, Speed, Fynes Morison, Raleigh, Sir Thomas Smith, Selden; Scotch—Buchanan; German—Sleidan; theologians—Luther, Calvin, Peter Martyr, proceedings of the Council of Trent; jurists—the Justinian and Byzantine codes. This long array of authors proves that the Commonplace Book lay at Milton’s elbow when he wrote The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates. This treatise is more heavily indebted to that learned scrap-book than any other prose work of Milton, the History of England, however, being a close second. In our notes the reader will observe how many seed-thoughts, quotations, and illustrations were transferred from one book to the other by our provident writer, and what embellishment they received in the process. A comparison of the Commonplace Book with The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates is a most interesting study in literary evolution. Milton’s prose masterpiece, The First Defence, shows the completion of the process. If the Commonplace Book is the blade, The Tenure is the ear, and the First Defence is the full corn in the ear.1
In discussing the subject of tyrannicide, we have already indicated some of Milton’s indebtedness to ancient authorities. It was in reality owing to the influence of the Renascence that he was enabled to bring into this work citations from Aristotle and Euripides, from Cicero and Livy, from Seneca and Dio, from Trajan and Theodosius; the new learning also made it possible for him to support his argument with quotations from the Justinian and Byzantine codes of law.
It is to the French historians of the sixteenth century, however, that we trace perhaps the most novel feature of Milton’s contribution to the cause of civil liberty. Francis Hotman has the distinction of being the first modern historian to search the annals of his own land in an endeavor to discover in the practices of earlier generations proofs that the people had set up and deposed kings at pleasure, and had instituted parliament to be a bridle to monarchs. On this account, his Franco-Gallia was an epoch-making book. Milton’s debt to Hotman is seen in his statements regarding the coronation and election of early French, German, Scottish and Arragonian kings,1 the origin and meaning of parliaments, which were intended to be bridles to the kings,2 instances of the deposition of Frankish kings,3 his assertion that the people is the original of power,4 and that the titles of dukes, peers, and great officers of the crown were at first not hereditary, but purely complimentary.5 Milton also drew considerable material for this treatise from the French historians, Claude de Seysell, Bernard Girard, sometimes called Seigneur du Haillan, and J. A. de Thou (Thuanus). Girard’s Histoire des Rois de France is often quoted in the Commonplace Book. The great Latin tomes of Thuanus also afforded Milton a comprehensive knowledge of the histories of Denmark, Scotland, Belgium, France, and Germany during the sixteenth century. It was these tremendous folios, the Historia sui Temporis, that Dr. Johnson regretted he had never translated, and that Froude, Milton’s modern disciple in thorough-going hatred of clericalism, read with unflagging interest. The Latin folio of Sleidan’s History of the Reformation was a source, not only for Milton’s knowledge of German history, but also for his citations from the writings of Luther, and his references to the connection of the reformer with the Peasants’ Revolt. Pastor Peter Gilles’ simple, yet touching recital, of the sufferings of the Piedmontese Protestants was also read by Milton in those industrious youthful days, and lies behind the great sonnet and the references in this tract to the persecutions and struggles of the Waldenses.
Another work of the sixteenth century, whole pages of which are transcribed in the Commonplace Book, and to which we have already referred in our sketch of the literature on tyrannicide, was Jean Bodin’s De Republica. This treatise on government became a classic almost as soon as it was published, and its author was mentioned as one of a triumvirate, the other members of which were Aristotle and Macchiavelli. We cannot be certain that Milton borrowed any specific statements for this treatise from Bodin, but we know that he had read his pages devoutly, and it cannot be doubted that the De Republica helped to form the mental background of the Miltonic argument for constitutional monarchy.
Somewhere about three years after the appearance of Bodin’s book, there came forth from a secret press a work over the significant pseudonym of Junius Brutus, the real authorship of which is still in doubt,1 a book which was to be the authority of all radicals and tyrant-haters for centuries. Six editions of the Vindiciæ contra Tyrannos appeared between 1579 and 1599, and six between 1600 and 1648; in the latter year it was translated into English, and in this form was read by Milton, for he refers to it as The Defence against Tyranny,1 and says it is commonly ascribed to Beza. At the Oxford inquisition party in 1683, this notable work was burned with the political works of Buchanan and Milton. As we have already mentioned the place of this book in the history of tyrannicide, and have made many references in the notes to Milton’s use of it for a source of political theory, we shall add nothing here except to point out that he follows it particularly in his method of appeal to sacred history against tyranny.
For the facts of English history, Milton turned to early authorities, whom he had already been consulting for his proposed History of England. He applies to the history of bis own land the method of Hotman, examines coronation oaths and ceremonies, cases of deposition of kings, and of punishment meted out to tyrants, and tries to deduce therefrom that the sovereign power is in the people. The weakness in Milton’s argument respecting the deposition of Richard II, for example, lay in the fact that it was in the nature of a palace-revolution rather than a concerted movement on the part of the people. Among English historians cited by Milton in this treatise are Gildas, Matthew Paris, Sir Thomas Smith, Camden, Holinshed, Stow, Speed, and Rushworth. His debt to them is indicated in the notes. For the history of Scotland he consulted Buchanan, Knox, and de Thou.2
Like all Puritan scholars, Milton was well versed in the church fathers and councils, in the commentaries and treatises of the Protestant reformers, and in those of subsequent expositors and pamphleteers. Owing to his disparagement of the patristic writers,1 he refers only to Tertullian, Chrysostom, and Basil in this treatise, but his list of Protestant authors is lengthy, including Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Bucer, Martyr, Paræus, Cochlæus, Cartwright, Fenner, Gilby, Goodman, Knox, and Whittingham. His use of the names of Luther and Calvin in support of his argument in favor of deposing tyrants is scarcely honest. His misuse of Luther’s words out of their connection is particularly open to criticism.2 He also wrests Calvin to his purpose, for that stern theologian was far from being an upholder of popular government.3 On the contrary, he advocated submission to the worst tyrant. ‘Let no man here deceive himself,’ says he, ‘since he cannot resist the magistrate without resisting God. We must be subject not only to good princes, by whatever means they have so become, although there is nothing they less perform than the duty of princes.’4 Milton must have read these words, yet he was unscrupulous enough to try to induce his readers to believe that Calvin was on his side of the controversy. In quoting other Protestant writers, Milton often suppresses a word or phrase, as will be seen by comparing the text with that given in the notes. In general, it may be said that while the early Protestant theologians uttered brave words in condemnation of wicked princes, their counsel was passive obedience; at a later period they stipulated that, if the people were to take action against the powers, they should act through the inferior magistrates, and avoid individual or disorderly uprisings.
[1 ]De Jure Regni, pp. 140-142.
[2 ]Ibid., pp. 143, 146.
[3 ]Ibid., p. 148.
[4 ]Ibid., pp. 161 ff., 198, 199.
[5 ]Ibid., pp. 91, 95 ff., 103 ff.
[1 ]Ed. by Horwood, and published for the Camden Society, 1876.
[2 ]Domocratic Ideas in the Seventeenth Century, p. 178.
[1 ]For the amplification of ideas in the First Defence, see notes on 10. 14, 11. 9, 12. 22, 13. 11, 14. 7, 17. 15, 18. 28, 20. 19, 24. 2. That kings are accountable to none but God is refuted in a few lines in the Tenure, but the argument covers thirty pages in the First Defence (see note on 13. 11). Milton’s treatment of tyrannicide may be traced through the three stages of development—in the Commonplace Book, in the Tenure, and in the First Defence.
[1 ]Franco-Gallia, trans. Molesworth, pp. 38 ff., 71.
[2 ]Ibid., p. 70.
[3 ]Ibid., pp. 44 ff.
[4 ]Ibid., p. 64.
[5 ]Ibid., pp. 97 ff. It is interesting to remember that Hotman read Buchanan’s revolutionary dialogue with delight, and paid a tribute to his judgment. See Irving, Life of Buchanan, p. 253, and note.
[1 ]Either Hubert Languet or Du Plessis-Mornay was the real author.
[1 ]Second Defence (Bohn 1. 280).
[2 ]For a contemporary estimate of the value of de Thou’s history, see Whitelocke, Memorials, preface to first edition, 1681, p. 11. For a recent appreciation, see Tilley, The Literature of the French Renaissance 2. 221 ff.
[1 ]See 9. 19, and note.
[2 ]See note on 45. 12.
[3 ]See note on 47. 28. See also Janet, Hist. de la Philosophie Morale et Politique 2. 40; 2. 67.
[4 ]Institutes 4. 20.