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Source: Allison's introduction to Milton's The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, edited
with Introduction and Notes by William Talbot Allison (New York: Henry Holt
and Co., 1911).
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.’
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.
The historical situation, which forms the background to this hurriedly written book, and with which it deals in the boldest manner, was intensely dramatic. From the serene pages of Philips, with his talk of the prospect of Lincolns-Inn Fields from the High Holborn retreat, and his references to the private life of Milton while he was ‘prosecuting his curious search into knowledge,’ we gain only a partial view of the great writer’s interests. It is true that he still kept up his studies, and this is one of the strange and wellnigh unaccountable things about so many of the scholars, statesmen, and soldiers of that age of commotion and upheavel, that they could turn so easily from the turmoil of events to ‘the still air and quiet of delightful studies,’ and prosecute all kinds of laborious, and what seem to us trivial researches. Considerable material in this pamphlet reveals the ‘private’ scholar, the curious student of ancient laws and historical precedents. We must also remember that in these days of revolution Milton did considerable work towards a history of England. But if there was the studious side to his life, bearing witness to a strength of mind that would not be upset by the storms in the real England at his door, he was also a child of his time, an intensely interested observer of every move in politics and religious controversy. He sat there in his study at High Holborn, but he looked not towards Lincolns-Inn Fields, but towards Westminster, where the House of Commons was hastening to the condemnation of Charles Stuart.
The historical situation at the beginning of the year 1649 can best be depicted by explaining the attitude of various parties in England and Scotland towards King Charles. He was at this time a prisoner in the hands of the English army, whose leaders were Fairfax, Ireton, and Cromwell. As far back as March or April, 1648, the army officers had decided in their famous prayer-meeting at Windsor Castle that the only way in which to promote liberty and to secure peace for England was ‘to call Charles Stuart, that man of blood, to an account for that blood he had shed and mischief he had done to his utmost against the Lord’s Cause and People in these poor Nations.’ Fairfax weakened at the last, as we have seen, but Cromwell, Ireton, and the bulk of the officers and men never receded from their stern prayer-meeting resolve. While other parties treated with the king, they issued manifesto after manifesto, the burden of each and all being a demand for justice on the king. In November the democratic ideals of the regiments found expression in the Grand Army Remonstrance, in which all attempts to treat with the King were denounced, and he himself was declared to be guilty of the highest treason, incapable of penitence or common honesty. On Dec. 1 the army seized Charles as their own prisoner; and on the following day Fairfax led his troops into London, where they closed in upon Parliament, to overawe it into submission with their wishes. Pride’s Purge took place on Dec. 6, by which all opposers of the army, some 143 members of the Commons, were excluded from their places, leaving 78 members to carry out the orders of their masters. Of this number, some 28 withdrew from the house of their own accord, leaving what Prynne called the ‘unparliamentary Junto’ to bring the king to the scaffold.
The second political group, closely allied with the army, was composed of Independents—Puritans who had gradually come to believe in the separation of church and state, and were now willing to grant toleration to all religious freethinkers, except prelatists, papists, and atheists. At the close of the year 1648 this party in parliament and in the nation was divided into two classes—first, the ultra-radicals, who were determined to compass the king’s death, and set up a republic; and, secondly, the great majority, who were willing to visit the king with deposition, but who shrank from the army’s proposed cure for the ills of the nation. Of the large number of Independent divines, only two, so far as is known, expressed approbation of the trial of the king.
A third party, strongest in London, Lancashire, and Scotland, was made up of Presbyterians who were doing their utmost to save the royal prisoner from the army and the Independents. In the earlier years of the great rebellion the Presbyterians had been supreme; they had ruled with a high hand, had established their form of church government in England on the ruins of the prelacy, had passed severe laws against other sectaries, and had prosecuted the war against the king with energy. In spite of their jealous, persecuting zeal, the Independents rapidly increased in numbers and in power. Owing to Cromwell’s tolerance, the army became a hotbed of radicalism in politics and theology, and was regarded as the greatest foe of the Presbyterians. Actuated no doubt by genuine fear of the regimental preachers, and alarmed at the rapid growth of the Independent faction in the House of Commons, and feeling that their one chance to force England to remain Presbyterian lay in the rehabilitation of the king, the followers of the kirk both in Scotland and in England labored from the days of the first imprisonment at Newcastle in Aug., 1646, to the close of Nov., 1648, to negotiate a treaty with Charles which would be satisfactory, at least to themselves. The curious spectacle was now presented of former enemies converted into warm advocates of the king. A party among the Presbyterians of Scotland, headed by the Scottish Commissioners to England and the Hamiltonians, had even entered into a secret engagement with the king, in Jan. 1648, to invade England with a Scotch army, for the purpose of restoring him to his full royalty, on the understanding that he would guarantee the Presbyterian form of church government in England for three years, and suppress the Independents and all other sects and heresies. Although the Hamiltonian party did succeed in leading an army into England in the Second Civil War, it must be remembered that Argyle and other Scotch nobles, the Presbyterian ministers of Scotland, and the vast majority of their congregations, were entirely out of sympathy both with the treaty and the invasion. Yet in spite of the fact that there were two classes among the Presbyterians of the realm, just as there were divisions among the Independents, all the Presbyterians of Scotland and England were averse to the army’s proposal to bring the king to trial. One and all they pitied the fallen monarch, and would have been glad to restore him to his crown and royal dignity at no slight compromise of liberties hardly won in the bloody struggles of the Civil War. Wherefore not a Presbyterian layman sat on the court of trial, not a Presbyterian minister in London approved the course of the army chiefs. Hugh Peters, Cromwell’s chaplain, was sent to discuss the subject amicably with the Westminster Assembly of Divines, but they declared unanimously for the king’s release. Peters was then authorized by the army leaders to invite to a friendly conference several London divines who all along had preached in favor of armed rebellion—Marshall, Calamy, Whitaker, Sedgewick, Ashe, and others prominent in Presbyterian circles. They refused point blank, and, instead of peaceful talk of compromise, assembled in Sion College, and drew up a fiery criticism of Cromwell and his supporters in Parliament, their Serious and Faithfull Representation. The change of policy among the Presbyterians is clearly seen by comparing even the texts of their earlier and later sermons, and perhaps best of all in the change of front shown in the writings of the most voluminous of Presbyterian pamphleteers, William Prynne. It was these inconsistent sermons, protestations, and tracts which excited the contempt of Milton, and partly inspired his treatise.
The last group, numerous but at this time unimportant, was composed of the Royalists or Cavaliers—courtiers, clergymen of the old church deprived of their livings, country squires, nobles and soldiers in exile, a great mass of country people who had to a large extent remained untouched by sectarianism or by the struggle for constitutional rights; all these, deprived of power, looked on helplessly at the ‘royal martyr’ moving to his doom.
Few men in England, and none in Scotland, expected or desired that the leaders of army and parliament would bring the king to the block. Until the last moment thousands refused to believe that Charles would really die upon the scaffold; there was to be the pageantry of an execution, but nothing more. ‘Only some fifty or sixty governing Englishmen, with Oliver Cromwell in the midst of them, were prepared for every reponsibility, and stood inexorably to their task.’ Milton was at one with Cromwell and the other forward spirits in this business. From his careful study of events he had come to the conclusion that Charles was a faithless tyrant, responsible for whole massacres committed on his faithful subjects, guilty of a deluge of innocent blood (9. 3ff.), a malefactor deserving of punishment as a common pest and destroyer of mankind (20.3). Neither Milton nor Cromwell had any superstitious reverence for the divinity that was supposed to hedge a king. ‘What hath a native king to plead,’ he cries, ‘bound by so many covenants, benefits and honours to the welfare of his people, why he through the contempt of all Laws and Parlaments, the onely tie of our obedience to him, for his owne wills sake, and a boasted praerogative unaccountable, after sev’n years warring and destroying of his best subjects, overcom, and yeilded prisoner, should think to scape unquestionable, as a thing divine, in respect of whom so many thousand Christians destroy’d, should lye unaccounted for, polluting with their slaughterd carcasses all the land over, and crying for vengeance against the living that should have righted them’ (21. 14ff.). Entertaining such views of his king, to whom loyalty and obedience would now mean only a base compliance, Milton was very strongly of opinion that the sword of justice above the king ought to do its work. Convinced in his own mind of the king’s guilt and well merited punishment, he ranged himself in the most uncompromising allegiance on the side of Cromwell, Ireton, and Bradshaw, who had long since resolved upon the tyrant’s death.
The main purpose of The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates is therefore very plain. It is a justification of the thoughts and intents of all those in England who hated tyranny, and who held it to be simple justice that a perfidious monarch should, after fair trial, receive due punishment for high crimes and misdemeanors. The long title of this treatise lays down Milton’s thesis ‘that it is lawfull to call to account a Tyrant or wicked King and after due conviction to depose, and put him to death.’ It was not the intention of Milton to disparage monarchy, however, although he combats the theory of divine right, and maintains that the original of power is in the people. He puts the case of the people against a wicked king, with special reference to Charles I, and gives illustrations from past ages of the overthrow and deposition of tyrants. But his purpose was not to glorify the republican form of government, nor to derogate from the fair fame of good kings. In his reference, in the Second Defence, to his motives in writing this treatise, he says, ‘Without any immediate or special application to Charles, I shewed in an abstract consideration of the question, what might lawfully be done against tyrants’ (Bohn I. 260). While this statement must be discounted, for Milton did make immediate and special application to Charles, as we have already pointed out, still it remains true that he had no quarrel with the monarchic principle itself. In later years he was delighted because Queen Christina of Sweden praised his reply to Salmasius. In his panegyric of the Queen of Sheba of the North, he says: ‘When the critical exigencies of my country demanded that I should undertake the arduous and invidious task of impugning the rights of kings, how happy am I that I should meet with so illustrious, so truly a royal evidence to my integrity, and to this truth, that I had not written a word against kings, but only against tyrants, the spots and pests of royalty’ (Bohn 1. 249). Whatever Milton’s honest purpose may have been, his contention that ‘all men naturally are born free,’ his theory of the contractual origin of society and government, his enunciation of the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people, of the derivative character of all kingly rule, of the equality of all persons before the law, and his declaration of the right of ‘any who have the power’ to depose or put to death a wicked king, give the general reader the impression that he was a republican of the most thorough-going kind. Aubrey, one of his earliest biographers, so understood him: ‘Whatever he wrote against monarchie was out of no animositie to the king’s person, or out of any faction or interest, but out of a pure zeale to the Liberty of Mankind, which he thought would be greater under a free state than under a monarchiall government. His being so conversant in Livy and the Roman authors, and the greatnes he saw donne by the Roman commonwealth, and the vertue of their great commanders [captaines] induc’t him to it.’ When he wrote this treatise Milton seems to have been indifferent to the form of government, so long as liberty was insured to the subject. If he welcomed the republic, he did so because it meant to him the dawn of a new day of political and individual freedom in England. In his former writings he had not used a single expression against royalty; on the contrary, he had defended the rights of the crown against the pretensions of the Anglican prelates. In proposing a plan for the reform of the church, his model had been monarchical government. The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates was written, therefore, not as a protest against the institution of royalty, but as a protest against a wicked king and as a defence of resolute upholders of human liberty, not because they were democrats and republicans, but because they were earnest and vigorous in the putting down of tyranny, and in the setting up of a righteous rule in England.
When we attempt to analyze the ideas set forth in this treatise, and now for the first time applied with astonishing vigor and frankness to a great political crisis in English history, we find that Milton is developing his philosophy of freedom. In his previous writings, all of them timely performances, he had contended for religious and domestic freedom, for a free interpretation of the Bible, for free education, for liberty of investigation, of speech, of the press; in The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates he was to re-emphasize most of these ideas, and to make his first plea for civil liberty, to anticipate modern thought in the statement and defence of great and generous principles. In the compact and weighty pages of this pamphlet, he presents the following leading ideas, which were to command such attention from the whole of Europe in their elaborated form, in the Latin periods of the replies to Salmasius and Morus:—(1) All men naturally were born free (9. 24); (2) as a result of a voluntary compact, kings and magistrates were appointed by the people as deputies and commissioners, repositories of communicated and entrusted power (9. 31 ff.); (3) laws were invented by the people as checks to confine and limit the authority of magistrates (10. 21 ff.); (4) bonds or covenants were also imposed upon rulers to compel them to observe the laws which the people had made (11. 9 ff.); (5) the power of kings and magistrates remains fundamentally in the people as their natural birthright (11. 7 ff.); (6) the king or magistrate may be chosen or rejected, retained or deposed by the people (15. 11 ff.); (7) men should be governed by the authority of reason (1. 1, et passim). Commenting on these political maxims for a new society, Geffroy says: ‘Milton was not a practical statesman, and his plans for a future social fabric were too often pure Utopias, but he loved liberty passionately, he consecrated to her defence his entire life, with an elevation of spirit, a generosity of soul, which distinguished him from all his compatriots and all his contemporaries. He is worthy of being numbered with the precursors of our eighteenth century, and his writings offer to the historian and the philosopher the curious and sublime spectacle of a new society commencing to be born.’
But if Milton’s main purpose in writing this attack on tyranny was to lay down the program of constitutional liberty, his secondary aim was to chastise his former friends the Presbyterians, and to pour out the bitterest vials of his wrath upon their inconsistent divines. The controversial character of his treatise is indeed very marked. Stern calls the acrimonious attack on the Presbyterians the shell of the pamphlet, of which the abstract argument on the origin of government, and the right to depose and punish a tyrant, is the kernel. According to the Second Defence (Bohn 1. 260), it was the inconsistent conduct of the ministers which impelled Milton to write this exposure of their inconstancy and effrontery. Not only as the greatest opponents of his goddess, Liberty, but as his own personal foes, did Milton eagerly embrace the opportunity to reveal their various shortcomings of thought and life. In a sermon preached before the Houses of Parliament in 1644 by the Rev. Herbert Palmer, Milton’s tractate on divorce had been openly called ‘a wicked booke which deserves to be burnt.’ The Westminster Assembly, displeased from the same cause, had the ‘libertine’ summoned before the House of Lords. It was not the nature of the poet to accept these strictures in a spirit of Christian forgiveness; from the date of the publication of his Colasterion, references to the Presbyterians in Milton’s prose and verse are bitter in tone. ‘From that time,’ says Orme, ‘he never failed to abuse the Presbyterians and the Assembly. It is painful to detract from the fair fame of Milton, but even he is not entitled to vilify the character of a large and respectable body of men, to avenge his private quarrel.’ Whether he was actuated by personal reasons or not, whether he loved himself rather than truth, in thus turning upon his former party, as Doctor Johnson avers, it was not necessary for the author of The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates to invent charges against the Presbyterian preachers and writers. No party ever laid itself more helplessly open to attack. And no controversialist ever fell more mercilessly upon a vulnerable enemy than Milton upon the men who were preaching and writing in a vain effort to save ‘the Lord’s anointed.’
In addition to their sermons in the pulpits of London, the Presbyterian divines expressed their new-found loyalty to the king by sending out two tracts from Sion College. The first, which we have already mentioned, was signed by 47 ministers, including Case, Gataker, Gower, Rowborough, and Wallis of the Westminster Assembly, and was addressed to Lord Fairfax and the Council of War, Jan. 18, 1649. A few days later, another pamphlet was issued as a defence against charges of inconsistency. It was entitled, A Vindication of the London Ministers from the unjust Aspersions upon their former Actings for the Parliament, and was signed by 57 ministers. Still a third deliverance came from the Presbyterian ministers of Lancashire, entitled, The Paper called the Agreement of the People taken into Consideration. William Prynne and Clement Walker, for the laymen, issued a Declaration and Protestation, and the former made a very long speech in Parliament on Dec. 4, 1648, and now returned to the subject in his Briefe Memento. In all these writings, the Presbyterians used the most forceful language in denouncing the course of the Army and Independents as utterly opposed to the Solemn League and Covenant, that to depose or to put to death the king would be contrary to all legal precedent, to Scripture, and to the Oaths of Supremacy and Allegiance. It was easy for Milton to throw himself upon this literature, and to compare the sentiments of the present with those of the past, to show that these very men, in sermon and in pamphlet, had formerly cursed the king as a tyrant, as one worse than Nero (5. 25; 8. 7; 38. 10 ff.); that they had commended the war against the king (7. 27 ff.); that they themselves had broken the Oaths of Supremacy and Allegiance (32. 26 ff.), and by making war on the king and denying his authority had absolutely deposed him (32. 34 ff.); and that they had broken the Covenant (34. 30 ff.), and had really taken the life of the king by robbing him of his office and dignity (36. 25 ff.).
It was useless, he held, for the Presbyterians to defend their former actions by appealing to a certain clause in the Covenant. But to understand Milton’s contemptuous reference to the ‘fine clause’ of the ‘riddling Covenant,’ it is necessary to pause for a moment to consider this bone of contention among all parties in the last year of Charles’ reign. The Solemn League and Covenant of August, 1643, was based upon the Scottish National Covenant of 1638, which in its turn had been imported from France. A religious pact between England and Scotland, it was not only a league between two kingdoms to defend their civil liberties, but paved the way for uniformity in church matters, for the abolition of episcopacy, and the establishment of Presbyterianism in England. On its acceptance by the English parliament, copies of the document were signed at Westminster, and in nearly all the parishes of England and Scotland. The text of the Covenant was easy to understand, but it contained one clause which was afterwards to be interpreted according as a man turned to the support of king or parliament. This offending clause read as follows:—‘We shall with the same sincerity, reality and constancy, in our several vocations, endeavour with our estates and lives mutually to preserve the rights and privileges of the Parliaments, and the liberties of the Kingdoms, and to preserve and defend the King’s Majesty’s person and authority, in the preservation and defence of the true Religion and Liberties of the Kingdoms; that the world may bear witness with our consciences of our loyalty, and that we have no thoughts or intentions to diminish his Majesty’s just power and greatness.’ In the first Sion House tract the Presbyterian ministers accused Cromwell’s party of esteeming the Covenant (referring of course to the above clause) no more than ‘an almanack out of date.’ In their second protestation they held that ‘the taking away the life of the King, in the present way of Trial is, not only not agreeable to any word of God, the principles of the Protestant Religion (never yet stained with the least drop of bloud of a King) or the fundamental constitution and government of this Kingdom, but, contrary to them, as also to the Oath of Allegiance, the Protestation of May 5, 1641, and the Solemn League and Covenant: from all, or any of which Engagements, we know not any power on earth, able to absolve us or others.’ The ambiguous clause of the Covenant follows, and the citizens are exhorted to hold to it rather than to commit the sin of perjury, and so draw upon themselves and the kingdom the blood of their sovereign. Prynne also quotes the ‘fine clause’ and thus continues: ‘This Covenant you have all taken yourselves (some of you often) and imposed it on all three Kingdomes: And will it not stare in your faces your consciences, and engage God himselfe, and all three Kingdomes, as one man against you, if you should proceed to depose the King, destroy his person or disinherit his posterity? yea, bring certaine ruine upon you and yours as the greatest Covenant breakers, and most perjured Creatures under Heaven.’ Again he says: ‘Consider that Scotland and Ireland are joynt tenants, at least wise tenants in Common with us in the King, as their lawfull Soveraigne and King, as well as ours: and that the Scots delivered and left his person to our Commissioners at Newcastle, upon this expresse condition: That no violence should be offered to his Person, etc., according to the Covenant.’ The Presbyterians supported their constant quotation of this clause by trying to prove from Scripture that oaths, trusts, and covenants were broken only by sinful men. Yet, however dogmatic the divines and Prynne were on this question, others construed the loyal clause in quite a different sense. John Price reflects this difference of opinion. ‘The Presbyterian,’ he observes, ‘pleads Covenant-engaging conformity (as they urge) with the Church of Scotland: The Parliamenteer pleads Covenant, engaging to preserve the rights and priviledges of Parliament: The Royalist pleads Covenant, engaging to preserve and defend the Kings Majesties Person and Authority: The Armists plead Covenant, engaging to preserve the liberties of the Kingdome, etc. So that you have made the Covenant a meere contradictious thing, like unto one of the Diabolicall Oracles of the Heathens, speaking nothing certaine but ambiguities.’ Another critic, this time a textual expert, complains that the Presbyterians make ‘a stop at Authority,’ ‘And thus our English sentences are read with Scotch comma’s and periods, and the Covenant made to speak what it never meant, and Covenanters to undertake absolutely what they promise but conditionally, by the Scotch Artificers, who make it a nose of wax.’ That Milton was fully justified in heaping contempt upon the Presbyterians for using Scotch commas and periods in their cavilous reading of the ‘unnecessariest clause’ (6. 1; 33. 1; 33. 27; 35. 19; 36. 9; 36. 16), we have it on the evidence of Whitelocke that the Scotch themselves had changed their minds as to its meaning. In Dec., 1645, the Parliament of Scotland voted ‘that the clause in the covenant, for the defence of the king’s person, is to be understood in defence and safety of the kingdom.’ Yet in the very next month they made a declaration to the English Parliament that the king was to remain prisoner with ‘safety to his person.’ On July 27, 1647, the Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland ordered a public fast, for the danger to religion and reformation by sectaries in England, ‘and that the Covenant may be kept.’ In August, 1647, when Fairfax moved on London, and the Independents gained the upper hand in parliament, Whitelocke mentions the increased emphasis with which the pulpits in Scotland urged ‘the necessity of that kingdom to maintain the ends of the covenant against all violation.’ After this brief review of the controversy, the plain reader will agree that Milton’s many criticisms of the riddling Covenant were well founded.
The Presbyterian Divines.
When we turn to his attack on the Presbyterian party, we are also constrained to admit that Queen Truth was on his side. Alluding to their sins in general, he accuses them of intolerance to other sects (41. 19), of rendering assistance to the Royalists whom they themselves had called reprobates and enemies to God and his church (41. 25), and of opposing the Independents, who are, he declares, their best friends and associates (41. 32).
In his criticism of the life and conduct of the Presbyterian divines, however, we realize that Milton is prejudiced and unfair. His severest accusation is that these men, who formerly denounced the prelatists for being pluralists, are guilty of the same offence. He charges that ‘pluralities greas’d them thick and deep’ (7. 26); it would be good if they ‘hated pluralities and all kind of Simony’ (43. 28); they have gorged themselves ‘like Harpy’s on those simonious places and preferments of their outed predecessors, . . . not to pluralitie onely but to multiplicitie’ (51. 18 ff.); they have followed ‘the hot sent of double livings and Pluralities,’ etc. (56. 31 ff.). In his History of England, a work begun at this time, Milton roundly declared that the Presbyterian ministers did not scruple ‘to seize into their hands, or not unwillingly to accept (besides one, sometimes two or more, of the best livings), collegiate masterships in the universities, rich lectures in the city, setting sail to all winds that might blow gain into their covetous bosoms.’ Neal, in his History of the Puritans, is silent on this question, nor does Shaw in the latest and most complete work on the history of the English church during this period mention any instances of Presbyterian pluralism. Marsden resents these charges with asperity. They are, he says, simply the result of Milton’s harsh and vindictive mood, his attempt to avenge himself upon the Westminster Assembly. Masson, while he criticizes Milton for his ‘somewhat ungenerous summary (43. 26 ff.) of the history of the Westminster Assembly,’ adduces several instances where leading Presbyterian divines accepted lectureships at the universities or in the city, but makes no mention of ordinary cases, where two or more benefices were held by Presbyterian ministers. Owing to his prejudices, Milton may have unduly magnified a few cases of this kind, yet, in spite of exaggeration, there was some ground for his repeated accusations. Attached to a proclamation of Sir Thomas Fairfax in 1647, there is a statement that according to ‘the petition of many thousands of the poore sequestered clergie of England and Wales,’ ‘those who are put into our places [Presbyterian divines] labour by all means to stir up the people, and to involve this kingdom in a new war, and are generally men ignorant and unable to instruct the people, and many of them are scandalous in their practices, if impartially examined; and divers of them hold three or four of the best benefices, whilst divers other churches are void and without any constant preachers.’ In a tract published in 1646, Thomas Tookey, M. A., charges Mr. John Yaxley with exacting ‘the worldly sweet of two distinct congregations.’ Yaxley, he says, ‘had peeped into much logic, so that, tho once he could not,’ now ‘he can account both nonresidency and sacred thievery dearly lawful, gainful, hopeful, and needful.’ In another pamphlet, specific instances are not given, but the general charge is boldly made. ‘I could instance in many places,’ says this anonymous foe of the Presbyterian clergy, ‘where superstitious and blind buzzards were put out of their livings, and some of the orthodox men [Presbyterians] put in their roomes, and when they had got good livings were they, or are they contented? Some hold livings in the country, and some in London, hardly ever coming to the flock but to take the fleece. Some hold two or three livings apiece: some leave one and run to another when they can find a greater, nay, they will fight for a better living rather than lose it.’ In view of this contemporary evidence, however prejudiced some of it may be, we must agree that it bears out Milton’s general assertion that the Presbyterian ministers were not altogether free from the pleasant vice of pluralism.
When Milton calls these clergymen ‘mutinous ministers’ (56. 28), ‘dancing divines’ (7. 15), ‘doubling divines’ (9. 17), ‘prevaricating divines’ (35. 27), ‘a covetous and ambitious generation’ (51. 9), ‘disturbers of the civil affairs’ (43. 9), he may also be well within the truth, but when he denounces them as being ‘clov’n tongues of falshood and dissention’ (38. 15), ‘ministers of sedition’ (38. 28) ‘firebrands’ (39. 2), it must be said that he is descending to coarse abuse. In the most scandalous passage of this treatise (43. 8 ff.) he accuses them of meddlesomeness, of neglecting their studies, of laziness, of being tyrants over other men’s consciences, of covetousness, of simony, of pride, of gluttony, of hypocrisy, of being pulpit firebrands. Not content with saying all these things, he returns to the charge in the second edition of his book, repeats his accusation of pluralism (51. 18 ff.) and formulates a new indictment in the amusing passage (55. 7 ff.) in which the ministers are called ‘nimble motionists,’ time-servers, careless of all considerations except their own material advantage. In the year which elapsed between the publication of the first and the second edition, he also happened upon a Presbyterian pamphlet written as far back as 1643, which he used as a postscript text for further abuse of his clerical foes. The title of this tract, Scripture and Reason, is a fitting introduction to our next topic, Milton’s Use of Scripture.
Use of Scripture.
In the seventeenth century, Scripture and reason were the touchstones for Puritan arguments on nearly every subject. It was the common custom to prove anything from the Bible, sometimes with the consent of reason, sometimes in defiance of common sense. The poet Waller, for instance, made a speech in the House of Commons in objection to the bill to enforce the burial of the dead in woollen shrouds, and thought he had proved his case when he cited the evangelist who has recorded that Christ was buried in linen. And if the Bible was used with advantage as an authority on general subjects, it was believed by Milton, and all Puritans, that no one could impose, believe, or obey aught in religion, but from the word of God only. Inasmuch as the subject’s relation to his prince involved questions of conduct, the Bible was regarded as an authority on such themes as the divine right of kings and the legitimacy of armed resistance to tyrants. The translation of the Old Testament by Luther supplied his followers, and the Calvinists also, with an arsenal of arguments on political questions. The stormy history of the Jews afforded precedents to the upholders of divine right, of passive resistance, and of tyrannicide. Needless to say, the teachings of the law and the prophets were regarded as of equal authority with the precepts of Jesus and the apostles. ‘Calvin had set forth in his lectures,’ says Weill, ‘that it would be chimerical to wish to transform all the laws of Moses into laws for modern society. Yet in spite of his objection, the political government of the Hebrews seemed to the religionists of the reformed party a model to copy in all its details; and the example of the monarchy of Israel, so often denounced by the prophets and overthrown by insurrectionists inspired by God himself, fortified their hatred of despotism, and their confidence in ultimate success.’ The Protestants, however, were in two camps, as far as political theory was concerned. Although Luther and Calvin were somewhat ambiguous, the former was more a defender of the theory of the divine right of kings than of civil liberty; the latter advised passive resistance, but by his utterances against tyranny encouraged such disciples as Knox and Goodman in more revolutionary principles. The Lutheran defenders of despotism naturally attached more weight to the teachings of the New Testament, especially the Pauline and Petrine dicta on unreserved submission to magistrates. The Protestant defenders of civil liberty, Knox, Buchanan, and Milton, for example, emphasized the rebellions and cases of tyrannicide in the history of Israel, and did their best to explain away the awkward passages in the New Testament.
Certain texts and instances in both the old and the new Scriptures became loci classici for controversialists. The friends of monarchy advanced the following leading arguments from the Bible:—(1) When David had Saul at his mercy, he refused to kill the Lord’s anointed; (2) God punished Israel because of her revolt against Nebuchadnezzar, her lawful sovereign; (3) when David, in Psalm 51, confessed the murder of Uriah, he did not admit that he had sinned against his subject, but only against God; (4) according to 1 Sam. 8. 11-18, God conferred certain rights upon kings; (5) in the New Testament they relied mainly upon three texts—Rom. 13. 1; 1 Pet. 2. 13, 14; Tit. 3. 1; (6) Luke 20. 25, and the fact that Jesus submitted to Pilate, were also often cited. On the other hand, the opponents of the theory of divine right justified rebellion to tyrannical princes on these Biblical grounds:—(1) Ehud, Jael, Jehu, and Judith killed tyrants, being sent by the Lord as liberators; (2) David did not kill Saul, for their quarrel was a matter of private enmity; but at any rate the Lord approved his armed resistance to the forces of the king; (3) the priestly town of Libnah revolted against Jehoram (Weill says that Libnah was a sort of La Rochelle to the Protestant writers); (4) the tribes of Israel fell away from Rehoboam; (5) the Maccabees repelled the Syrian tyrant.
This searching of the Scriptures for arguments to support political theories had been in full swing for over a century when Milton undertook to review the well-worn citations in this treatise. He dwells upon the rebellion of Jeroboam against Rehoboam (16. 6), the deposition of Samuel (16. 12), and the three cases of tyrannicide—by Ehud (20. 29), by Samuel (22. 33), and by Jehu (23. 6). In all these citations he uses Scripture fairly, but in other places, where the plain sense of the text or incident is against him, he does not hesitate to wrest the Scripture to his purpose as unscrupulously as any of his opponents. When he quotes Deut. 17. 14, ‘I will have a king set over me,’ he interprets these words as referring solely to the people’s right of choice, thus deliberately ignoring the words in the next verse, ‘Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose’ (15. 20). The Royalist argument from Psalm 51, though it seems absurd to the modern mind, was hard to meet with a direct answer, so Milton brushes it aside with the remark that, after all, these are only ‘the patheticall words of a Psalme’ (14. 18). The New Testament texts are also treated with a high degree of ingenuity. He cannot get round the simple words of 1 Pet. 2. 13, 16, where Christians are enjoined to obey superior powers, so he adds the phrase ‘as free men,’ a refinement used by Christopher Goodman in 1558. Paul’s dictum in Rom. 13. 1, ‘For there is no power but of God,’ is explained as referring not to tyrannical, but to just power only. This gloss upon the text had also been used by Goodman. The use which Milton makes of Rev. 13. 2 is an excellent example of how eagerly he strained after any text which might seem to uphold his argument (17. 26). Other New Testament texts quoted by him are also arbitrary, and seem ineffective to present-day readers, but were no doubt regarded as forceful citations by Milton’s contemporaries. The pamphlets of such writers as Prynne, Walker, and Filmer, and indeed all the Stuart controversialists, abound in what seems to us a tiresome and even ludicrous use of Scripture. Compared with these and other pamphleteers, Milton is very sane in his exegesis, and moderate in his citation of texts. A grotesque use of Scripture in this pamphlet should also be mentioned, namely, the allusion to Adonibezek’s sufferings (55. 21), and the story of the priests of Bel (56. 35). These illustrations are characteristic of Milton’s prose.
Background of Political Thought.
Before discussing the special sources of Milton’s political doctrines, it will be necessary to pass in review several of the main ideas which he inherited from the theorists of the sixteenth century, and which had their roots in the writings of the Middle Ages. The contractual origin of society and government, the sovereignty of the people, the authority of reason, the divine right of kings—all these topics had engaged the argumentative powers of sixteenth century pamphleteers. Certain great movements of thought had contributed to the furtherance of civil and religious liberty in that age—(1) the struggle between the papacy and the rising power of kings, (2) the Protestant Reformation, with its appeal to the Bible and reason as the sole authorities of life and conduct, (3) the influence of the Renascence in resurrecting the classics of Greece and Rome, with their republicanism, their passion for liberty, and their approval of tyrannicide, (4) the increased study of Roman law, and (5) the rise of the historical spirit, and of the modern historical method. All these currents of thought converge in The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates.
It is one of the remarkable facts of history that the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people came from the bosom of the Roman Catholic Church, the archfoe of modernism, and the determined obstructer of civil and religious liberty. Upholders of this church, however, both in the Middle Ages and in the sixteenth century, emphasized the power of the people, in order to check the growing independence of the king. They were not actuated by any desire to promote democracy, but simply and solely to belittle the dangerous rivals of the pope. ‘Civil power,’ so wrote Pope Gregory VII to Bishop Hermann of Metz, ‘was the invention of worldly men, ignorant of God and prompted by the devil; it needed not only the assistance, but the authorization, of the church.’ In conformity with this teaching, Marsiglius of Padua declared that the king might be restrained or deposed if he overpassed his prescribed bounds. In order to exalt the church, this pioneer of political theory recognized the people as the origin of all power in the state. From the time of Augustine, the origin of civil government had been ascribed to Adam’s fall, and Cain and Nimrod were asserted to be its first founders. ‘The church was therefore ready to admit any form of civil government that would listen to her claims. Theoretically she had no preference for monarchical institutions; rather, it should seem, she was inclined to promote a democratic sentiment.’ This principle, then, that the people is supreme, so wellknown in the Middle Ages, was eagerly seized upon by the opponents of the Reformation, which was itself furthered and protected by the princes of Germany and the kings of England and Sweden. A school of Jesuit writers arose to battle for the theory that mankind is naturally at liberty to choose its form of government. Towards the close of the sixteenth century, they had even become defenders of tyrannicide, and argued that it was not a sin to depose or put to death a heretical monarch—for the church held that it was a fundamental law of all countries that a sovereign must be a Roman Catholic. Mariana, the Spanish Jesuit, openly approved the assassination of Protestant rulers. In his able exposition of the political teachings of the Jesuits, Figgis sums up this doctrine as follows:—‘Power is in the people, for nature made all men free and equal, and there is no reason why one should have one jurisdiction rather than another. The whole community, then, is the immediate depositary of political power. But it cannot exercise it directly. It must delegate its power to a king or ruling body, under such conditions as shall please it.’
In opposition to this purely utilitarian and secular theory of the state advanced by the defenders of the papacy, the early Protestant reformers set up the theory of the divine right of kings. This also is one of the anomalies of history, that those great religious leaders, who put in motion all the forces of modern liberty, should have been at the outset the upholders of despotism. It was owing to the force of circumstances, however, that Luther, Calvin, Bucer, and others became supporters of the regal power. Kings were their sole protectors against the persecuting rage of the papacy, and it was but natural and reasonable that they should magnify kingly authority, in order to combat the claims of the church to absolute sovereignty. Luther, therefore, and his successors searched the Scriptures for divine sanction to the rule and right of kings. As we have seen, they found many texts to support their views; hence the dogma, which was destined to become such a weapon of tyranny in the hands of the Stuarts, that the king is appointed directly by God, that he is solutus legibus, that he is responsible to God alone, and that the perpetual duty of the subject is obedience. But Luther’s followers, such men as Knox, Gilby, and Poynet, learned that divine right was a doctrine that could mean hindrance and oppression, instead of progress and liberty, and that the Bible also authorized resistance to idolaters and tyrants. In the seventeenth century, Protestant teachers agreed with the Jesuits in asserting the sovereignty of the people. We should remember, however, that when Milton says the power of kings is derivative and transferred (12. 8); when the author of the Case of the Army Truly Stated (Oct. 15, 1647) says, ‘All power is originally and essentially in the whole body of the people of this nation’; or when, in January, 1649, the committee of the House of Commons, ultra-Protestant and Rome-hating as it was, voted ‘that the people, under God, are the original of all just power; that the Commons of England have the supreme authority of this nation,’ they were each and all indebted to Hildebrand, and an army of Romanist writers, for such a theory of civil liberty. We can understand, therefore, that there was a substratum of truth in the declarations of the Royalists that the revolutionary opinions of Cromwell’s soldiers were the result of the propaganda of Jesuit priests, who entered the ranks of the army on purpose to sow their anti-monarchical opinions. The Jesuits were not there in the flesh, but the writings of Molina, Mariana, and Bellarmine had come to full flower in The Grand Army Remonstrance, in the fierce democracy of the Levelers, and in The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates.
The chief buttress of the theory of popular sovereignty is the idea of the social contract, the contention that the origin of kingship is to be traced to the remote occasion when the multitude, of their own accord, transferred to one of their own number the rights and powers of the magistrate. In this treatise, Milton states this opinion, not as a theory, but as a commonly accepted fact (9.31). Although this notion of the contractual origin of society and government was an inheritance from Epicurus, Polybius, and others, it was adopted by the mediæval upholders of the papacy as a valuable argument for their purposes. Manegold, a priest of Lutterbach in Alsatia, who wrote in defence of Hildebrand, clearly states the famous theory: ‘Since no one can create himself emperor or king, the people elevates a certain one person over itself to this end that he govern and rule it according to the principle of righteous government; but if in any wise he transgresses the contract by virtue of which he is chosen, he absolves the people from the obligation of submission, because he has first broken faith with it.’ This plain statement was accepted by almost all the political theorists of the sixteenth century, but the defenders of monarchy argued that by this agreement the people surrendered their power to the ruler and his heirs. Towards the close of the century, after the question had become very thoroughly discussed, we find the contractual idea imbedded in the maxims of the Three Estates in 1584: ‘La royauté est un office, non un héritage.—C’est le peuple souverain qui dans l’origine créa les rois.—L’État est la chose du peuple; la souveraineté n’appartient pas aux princes, qui n’existent que par le peuple.—Un fait ne prend force de loi que par la sanction des États, rien n’est saint ni solide sans leur aveu.’ Milton is therefore following closely in the footsteps of a long line of thinkers in founding royalty on a primitive contract, the conditions of which were dictated by the people. And, like others who had gone before him, he finds a sanction for such a league in the covenants of the chosen people, and, in later history, in coronation oaths and pledges. On this theory he bases his arguments (1) that titles of ‘Sovran Lord, natural Lord, and the like, are either arrogancies or flatteries’ (12. 17), (2) that the king has not a hereditary right to his crown and dignity (12. 27), (3) that kings are accountable, not only to God, but to the people (13. 11), (4) that the people may choose or reject, retain or depose the king, as they see fit (15. 11).
Out of these doctrines proceeds his outspoken declaration that the people may take up arms against a tyrant, ‘as against a common pest, and destroyer of mankind, that it is lawful and has been so through all ages, for any who have the power to convict, depose, and put him to death.’ Because this is his thesis, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates occupies a unique place in English literature, for it contains the first attempt in our language to trace even partially the history of tyrannicide, and it might also be added that until the present no later writer in English has supplemented the material gathered in this treatise and in the First Defence of the English People. Although Milton was indebted to Buchanan’s dialogue, De Jure Regni apud Scotos (1579), for some references on this topic, and possibly to Bodin’s De Republica (1576), he did research-work on his own account, and has cited here, and elsewhere in his writings, principally in his First Defence, many quotations from the ancients on the subject of tyranny.
In this pamphlet, Milton pays most attention to instances of tyrannicide from Jewish history, but he draws one important quotation from Seneca (22. 17) and makes a general statement concerning the practice among the Greeks and Romans (20. 10). His definition of a tyrant shows his knowledge of Aristotle’s opinions on the subject (12. 13). He also cites Euripides (14. 22), Dio Cassius (14. 29), Livy (16. 20), and St. Basil (19. 27). In the second edition he added a formidable array of quotations from the Protestant theologians.
This pamphlet, however, was written hurriedly, and he did not have time to make an exhaustive study of the subject. In the days when he toiled over the pages of the First Defence he was able to go into the question more deeply, and perhaps nothing in Milton’s prose reveals the vast extent of his reading more than his citations on this theme. He quotes Aristotle (Bohn 1. 37, 38, 46), Sallust (ib. 1. 38, 39), Cicero (ib. 1. 39), M. Aurelius (ib. 1. 49); he refers to Tiberius as ‘a very great tyrant’ (ib. 1. 49); the senate and people of Rome would have been justified in proceeding against Domitian ‘according to the custom of their ancestors,’ and in giving judgment of death against him, as they did once against Nero’ (ib. 1. 81); he calls attention to Cicero’s praise of Brutus as a saviour and preserver of the Commonwealth (ib. 1. 90). ‘All men’ he says, ‘blame Domitian, who put to death Epaphroditus, because he had helped Nero to kill himself’ (ib. 1. 93). He points out that Valentinian was slain by Maximus (ib. 1. 105), Avitus was deposed by the Roman senate (ib.), Gratian was killed by the soldiers (ib.). Diodorus and Herodotus are quoted as authorities for the stories of the deposition of Egyptian tyrants, and the former also yields examples from Persian and Ethiopian history (ib. 1. 121 ff.). Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon, Cicero, and Polybius are all cited in rapid succession (ib. 1. 125). Of the poets, he quotes Æschylus (ib. 1, 126), Euripides, and Sophocles (ib. 1. 127). In a review of the Roman historians, he cites Sallust (ib.), Cicero, Livy, Tacitus, Dio Cassius (ib. 1. 128), Pliny (ib. 1. 131), and Capitolinus (ib. 1. 133). After quoting Seneca, he continues: ‘By what has been said it is evident, that the best of the Romans did not only kill tyrants as oft as they could, and howsoever they could; but that they thought it a commendable and a praiseworthy action so to do, as the Grecians had done before them’ (ib. 1. 132). In the Second Defence he declares that the Greeks and Romans ‘are the objects of our admiration because of their resistance to tyrants and their treatment of tyrannicides, whose brows they bound with wreaths of laurel and consigned their memories to immortal fame’ (ib. 1. 217). The poets are also eulogized; for ‘I know that the most of them, from the earliest times to those of Buchanan, have been the strenuous enemies of despotism’ (ib. 1. 241).
Although he uses Protestant opinions, he was obliged to pass by the sixteenth century Roman Catholic writers on this subject, for citations from their pages would have been offensive to his readers. Indeed, he takes care to abuse the Jesuit doctrine in favor of tyrannicide, in these words: ‘And let him ask the Jesuits about him [Ormond], whether it be not their known doctrine and also practice, not by fair and due process of justice to punish kings and magistrates, which we disavow not, but to murder them in the basest and most assassinous manner, if their church interest so require.’ But this criticism of the Jesuits comes with bad grace from the eulogist of Harmodius, Brutus, and the other glorified assassins of Greece and Rome.
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, summarizes various definitions of tyranny, refers to the fears which beset tyrants, and to their punishment, and praises the tyrannicides of antiquity. He bases his argument for the sovereignty of the people on the social contract. 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. 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, 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.
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, the origin and meaning of parliaments, which were intended to be bridles to the kings, instances of the deposition of Frankish kings, his assertion that the people is the original of power, and that the titles of dukes, peers, and great officers of the crown were at first not hereditary, but purely complimentary. 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, 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, 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.
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, 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. He also wrests Calvin to his purpose, for that stern theologian was far from being an upholder of popular government. 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.’ 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.
Although Milton once confessed that he wrote prose with his left hand, he did not entertain too poor an opinion of his power in that respect. He prided himself upon ‘this just and honest manner of speaking.’ He tells us that he loves ‘the sober, plain, and unaffected style of the Scripture,’ and compares it with the ‘crabbed and abstruse writing, knotty Africanisms, the pampered metaphors, the intricate and involved sentences of the fathers, besides the fantastic and declamatory flashes, the cross-jingling periods, which cannot but distrub, and come athwart a settled devotion, worse than the din of bells and rattles.’ He disliked a ‘coy, flirting style,’ and would not be ‘girded with frumps and curtal gibes, by one who makes sentences by the statute, as if all above three inches long were confiscate.’ He did not, however, approve a style utterly devoid of humor. He would mix, here and there, ‘such a grim laughter, as may appear at the same time in an austere visage,’ but which would avoid levity or insolence, ‘for even this vein of laughing hath ofttimes a strong and sinewy force in teaching and confuting.’ Regarding the use of quotations and authorities, he criticizes an opponent for ‘cutting out large docks and creeks into his text to unlade the foolish frigate of his unreasonable authorities.’ To sum up, Milton holds that a good prose style should be sober, plain, and unaffected, free from foreign idioms, overdrawn metaphors, flashy rhetoric; the periods should be well-sized, but not intricate or involved; humor, an element of force, should be used, so long as it does not shade over into levity; ‘paroxysms of citations’ should be avoided.
Measuring the style of The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates by his own standard, we are of opinion that he fails to uphold it in only two respects: his sentences are frequently intricate and involved, and he uses occasional Latinisms. The modern reader may be inclined to believe that Milton has transgressed the bounds set up for himself in the matter of citations of Scripture, of sentences from the pamphlet Scripture and Reason, and quotations from the Protestant theologians and from the ancients. But one has only to read the First Defence to see how moderate he has been in comparison with himself, and such a work as Dr. Ferne’s Conscience Satisfied, or any of Prynne’s volumes, to receive the impression that Milton has been very sparing in his use of citations in this treatise. It was the fashion of every writer of the seventeenth century to support his claim to learning by much quoting, by long parentheses, and by lugging in ‘scholastical trash,’ as Milton once called it in a moment of loathing of syllogisms. If he seems to indulge somewhat in these sins in this treatise, let us be thankful that, on the whole, even in conducting an argument on a theme which is by nature heavy and abstruse, he contrives to be so easy to understand, and so forceful. For in spite of numerous assertions to the contrary, we agree with Professor Trent that Milton is a writer of lucid prose. The first part of this treatise, where he takes up ‘the original of kings,’ is highly praised by Tulloch as being ‘one of the most clear and consistent arguments in Milton’s controversial writings.’ To clearness Milton has added force in the style of this treatise. Except in his failure to explain in whom the power of the people was legitimately vested, whether in the majority of the members of the House of Commons, or in what Prynne called an ‘unparliamentary junto,’ he has shaped a powerful, even an overwhelming argument against tyrannical rulers, Presbyterian divines, and all opponents of the Independent party. Masson speaks of the ‘hammer-like force’ of this piece of writing, and it is easy to gather that a great deal of this vigor is due to Milton’s power as a maker of striking phrases, such as ‘apostate scar crowes,’ ‘dancing divines,’ ‘barking monitories,’ ‘the spleene of a frustrated faction,’ ‘greas’d them thick and deepe,’ ‘presumptuous Sion,’ and scores of others of equal merit. The freshness of his metaphors appeals to us on nearly every page, and his style is loaded with color in all passages of personal description, and in those which deal with the events of history. There are no purple patches in this treatise, no ‘fits of eloquence,’ but plenty of pen-portraits, often thumb-nail sketches, (‘apostate scar crowes,’ for example), of his enemies, and numerous fits of indignation. Milton’s satire, although sharp enough, is less objectionable in this pamphlet than in the majority of his prose pieces. What more delightful specimen of his mordant humor, the grim humor in an austere visage, as he would himself describe it, can be found than his description of the postures and motions of the Presbyterian drill-company of divines? If we find in his prose ‘the real Milton,’ as Seeley declares —his fire, his sympathy with heroism, his ardor of spirit, his enthusiasm for liberty, and his uncompromising courage—these personal qualities are all fused in the forceful style of this pamphlet. But we find no tenderness in the midst of his strictures, and of his revilings of tyrants on the throne and in the pulpit, no sensible appreciation of the fact that there was some merit in the arguments of his adversaries, and some goodness in their hearts. For this reason, his style in this prose work lacks grace, the tolerant grace of Comus, of L’Allegro, and Il Penseroso; and surely the real Milton was also sending forth his soul in those lovely poems. Iron vigor he shows in abundance in this first apology for the Commonwealth, a noble passion for freedom, a splendid courage, and vast learning, but, alas, a spirit of cruel disdain for fellow-Christians and fellow-countrymen, who also had souls, and who also loved England.
Francis Peck was the first critic to remark the singularity of Milton’s spelling. He notes that he used bee, hee, shee, mee, wee, livlyhood, then for than, ther for there, thir for their, vertue for virtue, yeild for yield, ancient for antient. Milton lived in what is called the early modern period of English literature, when the language was being reorganized. In spelling, as in sentence-building and paragraphing, each writer was a law unto himself. But just as Milton had decided ideas as to the proper length of sentences, so he tried to spell by rule in a day when there was no rule. In the system which he devised, and to which he was generally faithful, the main purpose seems to have been simplicity. There is an approach to the modern practice of phonetic spelling in dropping the weak final e, as hear for heare, soon for soone, son for sonne. He often omits a mute e, as cov’nant, spok’n, ev’n, alleg’d, certainly for certainely, or a useless consonantal termination, as general for generall, equal for equall, gospel for gospell, stil for still, especial for especiall. The suffix ate he shortens to at, as subordinat, privat, prelat. The spelling of preterites and past participles is unsettled in Milton’s writings, as is that of words ending in y and ie. He often changed the final d into t after the dropping of e in verbs ending in a surd consonant, as stopt, profest, banisht, punisht.
In this treatise we find that the spelling of the personal pronouns varies. There is such individual orthography as vertue for virtue, thir for their, meer for meere, onely for only, then for than, goverment for government, ly for lie, furder for further, and sent for scent. The present text of The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates possesses special interest for the student of Milton’s system of orthography. It is a copy of the actual spelling of the first edition, collated with the second edition, and including the numerous additions made in the new issue of the pamphlet in 1650. By comparing the text of the first with that of the second edition, we find many alterations in the spelling. Nearly all these changes tend toward simplicity, and are in accord with the principles explained above, and with the spelling in his earlier divorce pamphlet, Colasterion, published in 1645. We are of opinion, therefore, that Milton was too much occupied with personal affairs, or with current events, to correct the proof-sheets of the first edition. The first copy may have been the work of an amanuensis, or the compositor may have set at naught this finical advocate of spelling reform; at any rate, the first edition was not satisfactory to the author. In his careful revision of the spelling for the later issue, we discover Milton’s carefulness in the details of the writer’s art, and his devotion to his own way of doing things. The following table shows some of the more important changes made in the spelling of the second edition:
A Contemporary Criticism.
So far as is known, there is only one contemporary criticism of The Tenure of Kings Magistrates. It is from the pen of a Presbyterian parliamentarian and pamphleteer, Clement Walker, a literary partner of William Prynne; and therefore one who resented Milton’s gibes at apostate scarecrows and inconsistent divines. As Walker’s book is not accessible to the general reader, we reproduce his diatribe. It reads as follows: ‘There is lately come forth a book of John Meltons (a Libertine, that thinketh his Wife a Manacle, and his very Garters to be Shackles and Fetters to him: one that (after the Independent fashion) will be tied to no obligation to God or man) wherein he undertaketh to prove, That it is lawful for any that have power to call to account, Depose, and put to Death wicked Kings and Tyrants (after due conviction) if the ordinary Magistrate neglect it. I hope then it is lawful to put to death wicked Cromwels, Councels of State, corrupt Factions in Parliament: for I know no prerogative that usurpation can bestow upon them. He likewise asserteth, That those, who of late so much blame Deposing, are the men that did it themselves, (meaning the Presbyterians). I shall invite some man of more leisure and abilities than myself, to Answer these two Paradoxes: But shall first give him these cautions:
1. That for the Polemick part he turn all his Arguments into Syllogismes, and then he will find them to be all Fallacies, the froth of wit and fancy, not the Dictates of true and solid Reason.
2. That for the Historical or narrative part, he would thoroughly examine them, and he will find few of them consonant to the plumbline of truth.
3. That he would consider that from the beginning of this Parliament there were three Parties or Factions in it:
- 1. The Royalists.
- 2. The Presbyterians.
- 3. The Independents.’
Without further reference to Milton. Walker proceeds to declare that the Independents have been the inconsistent troublers of Israel, and that the Presbyterians have been laboring to deliver them from their errors.