Historical Introduction

by Harold J. Laski

  • Segment I
  • Segment II
  • Segment III
  • Segment IV
  • Segment V


All political systems are the natural reflection of their historic environment, and there has been no influential political work that is not, in essence, the autobiography of its time. That does not mean the absence from it of a flavor of universality. Ideas beget a progeny which soon outstrip the narrow concepts of their creator. It means only that the attempt to penetrate the nature of political phenomena has always been colored by the special experience of the writer. Rousseau is what he is because Geneva retained to the end his ultimate spiritual allegiance, and the federalism of Proudhon bears the marks of one to whom the village of his birth is passionately dear. It is in the competition of the market place that systems receive that correction of the event which gives them their applicability.

This is, in a special degree, true of the Reformation. It was the real starting point of democratic ideas; but, therein, it builded better, or, at least, differently than it knew. In the name of a theory of religious truth, existing ecclesiastical institutions were overthrown, and in the attempt at their reconstruction men were driven to enquire into the nature of obedience. The scale of things underwent a decisive change. European Christianity had previously encountered the notion of reform; it had hardly until the advent of Luther, been compelled to confront the portent of a revolution. The significance of Luther lies in the fact that, all unconsciously, he made the Reformation one of the great turning points in the history of political ideas. From the fall of the Roman empire until his emergence, political thought was always dominated by the notion of a single Christian Commonwealth. Its ultimate sovereignty was the possession of God. Its direction belonged to pope and Emperor as his vice-regents; and the degree of power allotted to each varied with the affiliations of the given writer. The notion of a Europe divided into self-sufficient and independent states was not completely absent; but the universality characteristic of the Church, and the closeness of its connection with political life, prevented that notion from attaining its natural results. The prospect, however, of any genuine imperial suzerainty perished with the failure of Lewis of Bavaria; and when the defeat of the Council of Basle made it clear that any genuine internal purification of Rome was impossible, the way, as Cardinal Cesarini then pointed out, lay open for new political dogmas.

If Luther was not the real author of those dogmas, he was, in a real sense, their efficient cause. Aiming as he did at the reform of the papacy, conceding, at the outset, the divine character of the Church, it was to a power not less divine in substance that he was compelled to make his appeal. He therefore reasserted the divine character of princely rule, and he deduced therefrom the right of the ruler to control the religion of his subjects. Put summarily, the result of his effort was simply to endow, within the limits of his territory, the Elector of Saxony with papal attributes, and had Lutheranism succeeded without opposition, the result might well have been the extinction of political liberty in Europe. For the 16th century is, in any case, a centralizing time, and the theory of divine right in princely rule added to despotic notions a religious penumbra at once previously absent from, and curiously alien to, the temper of the religion itself. To Luther, no doubt, the dogma was no more than a weapon forged in the smithy of his special needs; and it had the two obvious merits of attacking the Roman power on the one hand, and beatifying social order upon the other. Nor was it intended to be a radical dogma save against Rome, for Luther, religious doctrine apart, has a place among the great conservatives of history. Yet it was in the discussion of its true meaning that there were evolved the main principles of modern political freedom.

For Luther’s protest against the degradation of Rome had synchronized with two other great movements which lent him the aid of their influence. The growth of nationalism in the 15th and 16thcenturies had prepared the ground for the decentralization of religious power; and the new intellectual atmosphere fostered by the Renaissance made possible the search for, and acceptance of, new religious foundations. But religion was then, and, indeed, until the 19th century, too deeply imbedded in the structure of the state for the discussion of religious dogma to be possible without, at the same time, involving enquiry into the validity of political systems. The new religions sought a place within a state that had been previously part of a unified system; and they were prepared to hew their way to acceptance. Once, therefore, research into their rights had been undertaken, the unity of the middle ages was immediately obsolete. Every center of discontent became also a center of novelty. The Christian Commonwealth which had been one and indivisible was dissolved into a variety of separate and sovereign states. Men ceased to think in European terms. The interest of Europe as a whole, which had, however vaguely, been preserved above the conflict of nations, was lost before the separate ends of states which viewed their individual well-being as itself the highest objective. The loss by the papacy of any accepted claim to moral leadership was, of course, the main institutional source of change. The idea of the state as the end to be preserved found its justification in part from the renewed contact with Greek political philosophy and in part from the new and pungent sense of immediate fact which is the contribution of the Renaissance to the atmosphere of political discussion. The realism of Aristotle and the pragmatic analysis of Machiavelli combined to defeat the incoherent cosmopolitanism of medieval Christianity. The effort was sharpened by religious warfare, and the new states demanded a new political philosophy for their explanation and safeguard. If they were to be sovereign, they must know the meaning of their sovereignty. Their independence of Rome, on the one hand, and the presence within themselves of dissent, upon the other, made the problem of their internal relationships the main theme of political enquiry.

The 16th century is, therefore, nothing so much as one long research into the terms of political obedience. Luther might seek to protect the prince against the anarchy, at least in theory, implicit in the structure of Protestantism by insisting on the duty of submission to rulers whose power was of God. But that did not bind those to whom his creed was anathema, and, where it brought peace, it was the peace of men who accepted despotism as a relief from war. Yet even then it did not bind those who, coming to full political maturity after the Peace of Augsburg, found themselves outside the narrow boundaries therein laid down for toleration. Had that peace contained some effective measure of protection for the adherents of Calvin, the history of European democracy might have been very different. Dogmas apart, however, temperamental differences between the leaders of Reform made impossible the establishment of a united Protestant front against Rome. The new creed was driven to repeat the belligerent experience of its predecessor.

The result was to throw all political systems once more into the melting pot. Every minority, whether in England or upon the Continent, which struggled against odds for survival, was compelled, by the logic of its situation, to enunciate a theory of the state. It sought to explain its will to live in terms of political right. It challenged the nature of such authority as denied to it a place within the categories of citizenship. Religions which began by protesting that they were entirely innocuous to the existing civil order, continued by insisting that it was the duty of the state to suit its character to the new spiritual dispensation, and they ended by denying the legitimacy of any government which did not admit the merit of toleration. The transformation is well seen in English Protestantism in the movement from Tyndale’s Obedience of a Christian Man, with its vigorous defense of passive obedience, to Ponet’s insistence, a generation later, upon the right to overthrow a régime which refuses accommodation. The Scottish Reformation was not less prolific of novelty, and it is possible that Buchanan’s famous Dialogue was the most influential political essay of the century. So soon, also, as Holland raised the standard of revolt, its thinkers stated a theory of politics in which not merely did the right to religious freedom become a natural part of the philosophy of the state, but the denial of it became the definition of tyranny. Even the magistral effort of Althusius is, at bottom, simply an attempt to generalize from a special situation.

Detail excepted, the method is a similar one throughout Europe. The attempt is always, on the one hand, to limit the power of government, and, on the other, to destroy the papal right of interference by showing the sovereign and therefore independent character of the state. This destruction of papal power was not, after 1570, the work of religious reformers alone. There came a time when the civil wars produced by religious dissension had wrought a havoc so extensive that even moderate Catholics were willing to deny that the state must perish for conscience sake. Men were then led to see that state and church can be regarded as species of a larger genus, and that neither is dependent upon the other. That vision, indeed, was partial, and had it not lain at the root of Calvinism in its Scottish form, it is possible that the conversion of Henry IV would have prevented it from bearing its natural fruit. For whether men insist on the definitely separate spheres of church and state, as did Melville and the Presbyterians, or admit that toleration, though a pis aller, is at a certain point inevitable, as did the Politiques, the way lay open for the emergence of a definitely secular state. But that day still lay in a remote future.

The independent character of the state was reached, immediately, in a somewhat different way. It was accomplished by making the use of power a trust, and giving to the people as a corporate whole the right to judge the character of its exercise. The result, inevitably though not deliberately, is a philosophy of the state that has in it the seeds of democratic institutions. For once it is clear that the prince holds his power upon conditions, it becomes necessary to discover the means through which those conditions may be enforced. The merit of popular sovereignty at once becomes apparent; and to an age still permeated by feudal notions, princely power becomes, at least in part, the result of, and dependent upon, a contract with the people. The purpose is not a democratic one; it is the enforcement of some special desire that the contract has always in view. Nor is any loophole left through which the democracy may catch the vision of its power. For, until the reckless days of the League, and then with some vagueness, the corporate people does not mean the mass of individual citizens. It is taken to mean the representative men of the nation, nobles, magistrates, officials, just as, three centuries later, a French Minister could identify the state with the Chamber of Deputies. The notion of equality had not moved from the religious to the political sphere.

This is, of course, unduly to simplify a complex situation, and it omits the influence of such special views as those of Bodin and his school. Above all, it does not sufficiently emphasize what becomes apparent only from the mass of detail, namely, that the favor accorded to popular sovereignty has always a specifically religious penumbra. All successful political generalizations have been intended to serve a particular end; they give to the “stereotype” of the age a satisfying mythology. So soon as the theory of popular sovereignty had secured for the minority a toleration which, however grudging, was still toleration, the main root of contemporary political disturbance was removed. The partial toleration so won did not, of course, imply that men had learned to accept the secular nature of the state; it implied only, as the Thirty Years’ War was, in its origins, to demonstrate, that the cost of religious warfare necessitated a breathing-space in which they learned the political value of indifference. Nor, in general, did they seek to probe further into the meaning of popular sovereignty. It was not until the French Revolution that Europe as a whole grasped the fact that the theory, with all its possibilities, applied not less to political than to religious needs.

In England, indeed, the transition to the secular state had, at least in part, been made much earlier. The Rebellion and the Revolution transferred the results of the discussion upon the place of religion in the state to the political field a century before Rousseau so depicted them that no man might mistake their meaning. But, even in England, until the emergence of Burke and Bentham, it is the consistently religious background of political speculation that is most striking. Locke could not write a treatise on civil government until, in the Letter on Toleration, he had vindicated the self-sufficiency of the state, and its consequent freedom from religious trammels. The implication of the Bangorian controversy was simply, at bottom, that the predominant section of Convocation thought it the duty of the state to persecute in the name of religious truth. Men like Price and Priestley seek so to define the state that they may demonstrate the right of Nonconformists, despite religious difference, to a full citizenship. They and their opponents alike represent the last vestiges of a struggle which goes back to the refusal of Puritan England to accept the system of “Thorough” thrust on it by Laud. But that refusal was not made in the name of toleration, and, in its turn, it takes its form from the long effort to define the nature of a Reformation settlement which refashioned the relationship between state and church. The thought of Tyndale and Ponet, the effort of those, Anglican and Catholic alike, who attempted, under Elizabeth and James I, to discover the nature of political allegiance, these are present, at least by implication, not less in the speeches of Eliot and Pym than in the writings of Hobbes and Filmer. The Reformation, in brief, set the perspective of modern political traditions. It was the chief business of later ages, certainly until the Industrial Revolution, to find institutions best fitted to embody its discoveries.


The religious wars of France bring out with especial clarity the real nature of the struggle. Not only did they provoke a crisis in which the very notion of royalty was in danger; they were also a struggle in which political doctrines played a great part in defining and determining the issue. The danger did not come from Calvinism alone. The prospect of a heretic king persuaded the partisans of Rome to the enunciation of dogmas far more extreme than any to which the Huguenots gave adherence. In the shock of conflict, practically every theory of importance in political science until the outbreak of the French Revolution found, in some sort, its expression, with the important and constant exception of egalitarianism. The crisis was, on the whole, unexpected. The firmness of Louis XI, on the one hand, and the easy rule of Louis XII, on the other, seemed to have given the French monarchy a foundation secure beyond all dispute. Yet not only was the succession called into question. The idea of popular election to the throne was mooted. The notion of an inherent, if indirect, right of papal control made itself heard. There were times when the conception of France as a quasi-federation of aristocratic republics did not seem impossible. Once, at least, it seemed within prospect that the estates might seek to transform ancient, if dubious, memories into something akin to the form and substance of an English Parliament.

The confusion, of course, did not spring merely from the existence of a Protestant party. It was due, in part, to the economic and social importance of that party’s members; in France, as elsewhere, the connection between Protestant doctrine and commercial development is immediate and significant. In part, also, it was caused by the fact that the nobles seized the opportunity of conflict to reassert claims which the previous half-century had seemed to extinguish; the age is hardly less a Fronde than a religious struggle. In part, also, the special circumstances of the struggle, the feebleness of the kings themselves, and the labyrinthine dishonesties of Catherine de’ Medici, exasperated men’s feelings, and sharpened especially the ambitions of those who, like the Guises, stood within palpable reach of the throne. The hopes of Spain, and the reawakened and reorganized power of Rome undoubtedly contributed to the fashioning of men’s thoughts. Yet the existence in France of a powerful body of religious dissent, claiming rights, and with the will to attempt their enforcement in the name of justice, undoubtedly gave to the political ideas of the time a breadth and sharpness of definition they did not have, the work of Buchanan apart, elsewhere. Not indeed that either Catholic or Protestant stood for an unchanging body of coherent doctrine. Each party changed its views with a rapidity that was equaled only by the kaleidoscopic swiftness of events. Protestants who had, under Henry III, embraced the theory of popular sovereignty, had no difficulty, under Henry IV, in proving the virtues of royal absolutism. But ideas have a history more enduring than that of their sponsors. Born of some particular occasion, they live on to become the parent of events far different from what the age of their origin could either have foreseen or desired. The Huguenot who probably sighed with satisfaction when it became unnecessary to test the adequacy of Hotman’s history, the Ligueur who, after the Peace of Vervins, looked back upon the feverish democracy of Boucher and Rose as a bad dream, did not realize that they had released forces more powerful by far than the inert quietude they were so thankful to accept.

To Calvin himself only a very limited degree of political novelty can be traced. Rigidly authoritarian in temper, and without an atom of faith in religious tolerance, it was by indirect means only that he opened the way for the developments that ensued. What he preached was obedience to God, and submission, though at one remove, to the magistrate; and his sense of the importance of authority was clearly shown in his repudiation of Knox to Elizabeth. But he did not clearly recommend any solution when the commands of God and the magistrate were in conflict. The duty of prayer and the acceptance of exile were obvious counsels, but they hardly suited the energy of a vigorous age, and they had the capital defect of involving ruin for those who accepted them. In part, of course, they originate in Calvin’s deep, if gloomy, sense of the natural badness of men, and his consequently natural insistence on the virtue of a strong government which should be fortified against the results of their wickedness. Princes, for him, ruled by the will of God, and the right of the people was simply the duty of submission. But there was, alongside the power of the prince, the constituted authority of the magistrates; and Calvin came to see that when tyranny is in question, they have the right to invoke resistance. It is clear from the general tenor of his writings that by tyranny Calvin meant a régime which endangered the existence of the new faith. In that event, resistance was simply obedience to the will of God. He seems to have envisaged a situation in which the general rule is submission, and the call to revolt the result of a confidence on the part of those in authority, without cooperation from the mass, that the safety of religious conviction has reached the extreme point of compromise.

So far, indeed, Calvin might well have claimed that his views were simply traditional to his time. Melancthon had previously emphasized the importance of resisting tyranny; and until the massacre of Saint Bartholomew, not even the growing severity of the Crown tempted any Huguenot theorist to go seriously beyond that point. What Calvin has to say is little different, for example, from Commines’ remark, in the previous age, that God sometimes authorizes a revolt against a tyrant. The general background of Calvin’s politics is, indeed, hardly incompatible with the theory of the state presented in 1519 by so ardent a royalist as Seyssel. But after the death of Louis XII, the despotism depicted by the latter loses its moderation and benevolence, even while the thinkers of the time, and especially the lawyers of the South, continued to insist upon the unlimited nature of royal power. Quod principi placuit legis habet vigorem becomes in fact and theory the motto of the French monarchy; and attractive jeux d’esprit like the Contr’ Un of La Boétie would not, before 1572, have provoked any widespread sympathy. A sense of popular right such as the friend of Montaigne depicts is, indeed, as remote from the spirit of the time as the anarchy of Herbert Spencer in an age committed to government interference. The note of all the literature is the unlimited extent of royal power. “The King,” said the jurist Vincent de la Loupe in 1551, “can make wars, treaties, and peace when they seem good to him. He can impose taxes, make laws, statutes, and ordinances. He can create such magistrates as he pleases. Whatever he says is accepted as law, and as though it were the oracle of a new Apollo.” Nor did the Gallican complexion of French Catholicism do other than emphasize the overwhelming dignity of the king. Du Moulin, for example, did not hesitate, whether as Catholic or Protestant, to admit the royal supremacy over religious matters. When Francis II ascended the French throne, the monarchy seemed securely established in popular acceptance as the pivot of the whole political system. The jurists had given to it the support of legal science. The adherents of either religion had found no discrepancy of importance between dogma and despotism. The change of temper which supervened is as remarkable as it is unexpected.

From the mere existence of religious dissent, conflict would not necessarily have developed. Calvinism simply gave rein to a wider controversy which is traceable to diverse causes. There was the memory of Statutes which could be interpreted, as Coke and Prynne interpreted the feudalism of Magna Charta, to narrow the boundaries of royal power. The ancient weakness of the Crown could be contrasted with its recent strength to awaken memories of a time when some degree of popular consultation was the avenue to law. The nobility saw itself deprived of power with deep discontent. Under Louis XI it had been almost annihilated. Under his successors it became a court rather than a magistracy. The people were discontented as a result of foreign war; to them princely ambition meant only the growth of taxes. Nor did the municipalities see the invasion of their prerogatives without the sense that the monarchy had used them for its own exaltation without payment for their aid. The Huguenots, therefore, merely precipitated a controversy of which the possibilities were already latent. Once a party was prepared to make protest against oppression, it was inevitable that every cause of discontent should proclaim its presence, for it is impossible to set bounds to a revolution. The consequence was that while the Huguenots were striving to prove that the well-being of the state demanded their toleration, and the Catholics to insist that their religion must not he subordinated to purely temporal considerations, each was in fact compelled to envisage the broader political situation in the hypothesis they presented. The massacre of Saint Bartholomew in one generation, and the accession of a Huguenot king in the next, came to give additional point to the dispute. The central dogma involved was not, at first, the sovereignty of the people, but merely the duties of the Crown to its subjects. But once it was discovered that the real problem was not the duties of the Crown, but their enforcement, the theory of popular sovereignty became the real center of doctrinal discussion, so much so, that even an abstract essay like that of Bodin is, above all, an attempt at its refutation. Not, of course, that it was a new doctrine. Gregory VII had already appealed to it against the encroachments of the Ghibellines. Thomas Aquinas and Marsiglio of Padua had both estimated its validity. But in the French wars, it became not merely a dogma, but a dogma supported by battalions; and its analysis was, as a result, something more than academic exercise.

When Francis II ascended the throne, the movement towards popular sovereignty received no direct impetus. Exactly as the early English reformers were almost passionate in their protestations of allegiance, so the Huguenots made a merit of unconditional support to the throne, and they insisted, at a general synod, on the illegitimacy of rebellion. But events were greater than themselves. They had not yet, in any wholesale fashion, been tried by persecution, and their demand for toleration was more the desire to forestall difficulties that were approaching than a protest against the concerted oppression of the government. They were, moreover, gaining ground; Francis Hotman was only the most considerable convert of those won over by the burning of Anne de Bourg. The regency of the Guises united against that disastrous family not merely the nobility, whose pride was affronted by the spectacle of novi homines exercising the sovereignty of the state, but also the Huguenots themselves, who were incensed by the increased persecution for which the Guises made themselves responsible. The result was the conspiracy of Amboise, andthenceforth there was an extending series of outrages until the culmination of all in the massacre of Saint Bartholomew.

But the development of political thought does not take the direct line to its obvious final. None of the earlier rebels admitted that he was attacking the state. He claimed simply to be protecting the king, during his minority, against the advice of evil counsellors. There is, indeed, some evidence that more radical doctrine was slowly gaining ground, but there was no official avowal of a new outlook. Nor did the Catholics think differently. They simply condemned rebellion out of hand. Whether it derived from motives of religion or politics, it was, in their view, always wrong. To this attack the Huguenots replied not, be it noted, by palliating the rebels, but by insisting that the regency of the Guises was unconstitutional. It destroyed, they urged, the foundations of French government. The estates ought to be convoked, and a council provided for the king. They affirmed with emphasis that they were not defending their religion, but simply protecting the Crown. “That only,” says one of their pamphleteers, “that only has armed us—it is false to say that our petition to the King masks a religious purpose.” Francis Hotman’s famous attack on the Cardinal of Lorraine has no other substance than this. Let the people be consulted, as in ancient days, and the throne will be secure against mischance. The sudden death of Francis II followed the official convocation of the estates, but not before Coligny had presented a memorial to the council in which, granted a policy of moderation on the part of the Crown, he offered to pay higher taxes than ever before to prove the measure of Huguenot loyalty to the king.

The reign of Francis II showed no marked change in doctrine, but it demonstrated the existence of two formidable possibilities. It had, in the first place, armed Protestants and Catholics alike. If the motives of rebellion were highly confused, that was less significant than the fact of their presence. It had, in the second place, produced from those whom the Guises had excluded from a share in power, the demand that the Crown be put into Commission during a minority. From that position it would be but a short step to demand some system of perpetual limitation upon monarchical power. The Huguenots, moreover, were building upon the assumption that an unfettered king would necessarily desire toleration. That assumption was bound to prove vain. No king in an era such as this could possibly have remained unfettered, nor was toleration as yet a natural standpoint. What, in brief, had been made clear was that persecution would drive the Huguenots to revolt, and that toleration would involve, at least from those Catholics wedded to the Guises, a grave measure of armed disloyalty. The next years rendered this development inevitable.

For Charles IX was only a child, and the regent was Catharine de’ Medici. She was moved by no purpose save the appetite for power, and she had no policy save that which seemed most likely to maintain her hold upon affairs. For the experiment she embarked upon with Michel de l’Hôpital as chancellor, and toleration as the basis of his government never had any chance of succeeding. Catharine and her minister were swayed by very different motives. She saw in his policy no more than a means of balancing the power of the Guises by the support of the Huguenots, and when the balance broke down, she had no difficulty in moving to a régime of persecution. L’Hôpital, indeed, took broader views. As he himself said, he was shocked that Frenchmen of opposing religious views should have less in common than foreigners of the same religion, and it was to the rebuilding of the national unity of France that he bent his energies. But the ideas of the author of the Discours de la Réformation de la Justice could not have been applied until a generation of civil war convinced men of their substance. Frenchmen of all parties were still convinced that force was a solution of their problems; they had to pay for their ultimate belief in reasonable compromise by years of social misery. What l’Hôpital preached was moderation in terms of royal despotism. With a theory of monarchy hardly different from that of Seyssel, he sought by administrative skill to conciliate alike Huguenots and Catholics. He realized, as Burke realized two centuries later, that the inevitable outcome of repression is revolution. He saw in Spain what the extreme methods of the Counter-Reformation would produce; and he sought to cut the Gordian knot of metaphysical difference by evading it. He saw that the state could not afford civil war, and his policy was therefore based on the theory that no cause alien from the substance of temporal affairs was sufficient to persuade it to indulgence in such an evil. But the theory of royal power for which he stood was too absolute for a nobility which sought a larger share in government, and a third estate which was prepared to defend the retention of urban franchises which acted as a protection for religious freedom.

Nor were the Huguenots, who counted upon the moderation of his temper, at all wise in the use of their opportunity. For Catharine was the base upon which the pillar of l’Hôpital’s conciliation was founded, and the woman who schooled her children in the precepts of Machiavelli was a foundation which needed the most cautious scrutiny. The true Huguenot policy was silence. But some invited the queen-mother to undertake religious reform in time of peace, lest she be driven to attempt it in a time of storm. Others suggested, with more than a hint of threat, that the throne was not hereditary. If these views were exceptional, they were important straws in the wind. Nor was this all. The mass of Huguenots were doubtless loyal to the new régime; but some, like Condé, had a conscience whose workings were intimately affiliated to political ambition, and Catharine had learned from her Italian master the proper method with rivals. L’Hôpital could have succeeded only if the results of his policy were not too obvious in the manifest satisfaction of its beneficiaries. The latter were not so wise, and the more extreme Catholics were naturally quick to point out that their own loyalty was affronted by the toleration of heretics. The Chevalier de Villegagnon, for example, was representative of a fairly general temper among his co-religionists when he insisted, in an appeal to Catharine, that the king had sworn to preserve inviolate his religious inheritance, and that to tolerate heresy was to deny his oath. It was hinted abroad that the tolerance of l’Hôpital prepared the way for the conversion of the king, and the Sorbonne accepted the thesis of a young doctor of theology who maintained the view that the pope could depose a heretic sovereign. Appeal was even made to Philip of Spain to protect the true faith. The temper of all parties was clearly becoming exacerbated. “They begin,” wrote the Venetian ambassador to his government, “by showing contempt for the law. Thence they pass to contempt for the magistrate. They end by proving their contempt for the King himself.”

L’Hôpital did not improve matters by attempting, in the Colloquy of Passy, to bring together the two religious parties. Théodore Beza, indeed, who represented the Huguenots, spoke with an unwonted conservatism, and explained that his religion made the prince the representative of God on earth. But the Cardinal of Lorraine, who spoke for the Catholics, significantly demanded persecution when, with much arrogance, he demanded the defense of the established religion. Nor was it from the Church only that hostility developed. The Parliament of Paris asked why, in the face of law, the heresy of the Huguenots went unpunished, and inquired by what right the king gave them a legal status. The reply made by l’Hôpital that the Parliament should not meddle in affairs beyond its competence only increased the number of his enemies. It was obvious that his ideas of pacification went beyond the convictions of his age, and the growing number of conversions to the reformed faith, a number above all significant in the ranks of the nobility, embittered the Catholics against toleration.

L’Hôpital, indeed, had his defenders; but the voice of fanaticism was too loud to be resisted. The Catholics began to publish attacks, to this point without justification, upon Huguenot loyalty. Calvin was shown to favor usurpation; Beza had defended the Conspiracy of Amboise; Calvinism involved—it was an accusation truer than its proponents could then have understood—a federal system destructive of the French monarchy. When the Duc de Guise was assassinated, though the Huguenots in general sought to clear themselves of complicity, some of their leaders, and, most notably, Théodore Beza, spoke in favor of tyrannicide. Catholic indignation grew apace. Exactly as the Huguenots had protested against the persecution of the Guises, so the Catholics protested against the moderation of Catharine and her advisers. They spoke of changing the dynasty, of giving the nobility a larger place in the national councils, of freeing the towns from l’Hôpital’s encroachments. The clergy used their sermons to a similar end; and it must not be forgotten that the 16th-century sermon fulfilled the functions of the modern press. Once the parties had organized, civil war was certain, and with the coming of war there is rarely strength of character enough in any people to permit the expression of moderate views. The position was, moreover, complicated by the fact that the strength of Huguenot organization, both politically and ecclesiastically, was such as to make them regard the prospects of civil war with some confidence. When Condé took charge of the forces of French Calvinism, he ensured the drift of Catharine towards persecution for two reasons. He was, in the first place, controlled by those who elected him to that office, no happy augury for one who believed in despotism. And Catharine saw in the struggle for religious freedom an avenue through which Condé might seek political power. Her methods, therefore, changed that she might safeguard her position and influence.

The war did not break out without protest, and some voices were even raised to demand toleration. It was pointed out by one pamphleteer that God had, over Europe as a whole, protected as well Protestants as Catholics and had thereby manifested his will that both should survive. Castellion, as always urgent in the defense of freedom, insisted that the constraining of conscience never secures more than an empty victory. The curiosity of the time is the insistence of each party on the wickedness of sedition and its desire that the position of the Crown should be kept sacred and inviolate. In fact, the struggle was, in its beginnings, less a direct conflict of religions than a fight between opposing factions of the aristocracy for the possession of the government. The problem of reform happened to be there, and, as the war endured, it became more and more the predominant issue. But, at the outset, religious difference simply permitted a classification of the contestants; it did not define the objects they had in view.

How true this is becomes clear from Huguenot pamphlets right down to the fatal night of Saint Bartholomew. They are not, they protest, fighting against the king. They merely desire to protect him against the advice of evil counsellors. They wish to protect the ancient laws of France. They are fearful lest liberty be suppressed. They fight, so they affirm, for the corporate people without distinction of religious belief. In the struggle in which they are engaged, says one writer, they are concerned to protect the integrity of the French throne against the usurpations of the papacy. The pope has always been the enemy of the House of Capet, and the counsellors of the king must take thought against the danger he represents. The monarch, it is asserted, is losing the affection of the people, and even if he reigns by divine right, he cannot afford to incur that loss. Another pamphlet draws an analogy between the Huguenots and the famous League of Public Safety. Like the latter, it insists, the Huguenots, as in the great days before the crushing despotism of Louis XI, seek to temper the authority of the Crown by the advice of the nobles, and the corporate will of the provinces and towns. It is, in fact, a species of feudal struggle, and the significance of this enthusiasm for the past is that it emphasizes those categories of power in which the Huguenots were most strong. Of their religious demands they say almost nothing. Sometimes there escapes a phrase about the patience they have displayed. Sometimes a note of reality appears as in an attack on the influence of the Sorbonne in promoting civil disturbance. A cry like that of the citizens of La Rochelle, that a king hostile to God becomes immediately a mere private person, was quite exceptional.

The weakness of this attitude is evident enough. It was the protest of a minority not upon the solid ground of right, but upon the shifty basis of administrative error. It did not frankly avow the substance of its claims, while it sought to conceal the real nature of its efforts in an impossible distinction between the king and his advisers. For, in theory at least, there was little in this statement of the Huguenot position that an antiquarian-minded Catholic might not have been tempted to accept; and, confronted by the facts as so presented, the Catholic party remained faithful to the Crown. That, indeed, is the substance of its position. Since it was likely to possess the ear of royal authority, its writers devoted themselves to the proof that all rebellion was wrong, and that royal power was absolute by definition. Even a heretic king, said one writer, ought to be obeyed, a significant claim that had, when Henry of Navarre became king, so obvious an application that the Guises procured from its author an explicit repudiation of the idea. Resignation, it is urged, is the only attitude to be adopted in the face of grievance. What the king wills is of God, and to resist him is, as Charles IX said in a proclamation, to forget all fear of him to whom the royal power is due. Nor should the nobility forget how directly its power is dependent upon that of the king. Let the nobles ally themselves with the third estate against the monarchy, said one pamphleteer, and no property will be safe. A single noble with a handful of servants cannot fight a mob of hundreds, and the peasants have already begun to attack the estates of the nobility. Let them be once encouraged, as rebellion encourages them, and no one can see the end. Up to the Edict of Longjumeau, the Catholic note is thus moderate, and not unreasonable. If the religious difficulty is largely evaded, that is true also of the Huguenot writers. Astonishment at popular insolence, as with Monluc, insistence that a liberal régime would be disastrous because it would give power to that headless monster, an ochlocracy, are, after all, no more than the staple arguments of conservatism in the face of popular tumult.

But after the Edict of Longjumeau, the atmosphere changes decisively. From the standpoint of Catholic pride, it represented a serious defeat. Catharine saw in it an encroachment by the Huguenots upon her power, and there now developed rapidly that desire to be done with reform which culminated in the plans for the massacre. L’Hôpital, still true to the ideal of moderation, was driven from office. His dismissal, indeed, was marked by the publication of a plea for peace which is not the least noble of his writings. To give way to Condé, he urged, is not to capitulate shamefully to rebellion; it is to act as any prince would act who recognizes that his subjects are free men. If religious toleration is conceded, the cause of war will disappear. And there cannot, in his view, be political freedom without religious toleration. For liberty cannot be enclosed within boundaries so narrow as to exclude therefrom religion and the conscience it controls. “The liberty of serfdom,” he said, “is not liberty at all.” But l’Hôpital was too late; Catherine had already made her decision. An edict of September 1568 announced war in the royal name upon the reformed religion. They seek, said the king, to establish an empire within the empire given to him by God. The pamphleteers took on a new tone. It now became a duty to destroy heresy. The contrast between the conciliatory tone adopted by Beza at Passy, and the fact of rebellion was pointed out. The Huguenots did not change. They still protested their humble obedience to the king. Could religious toleration be accorded to them, they were ready to take an oath of loyalty. But, in reality, their humility was less real than appeared. In worshipping the king, they had not lost sight of the state of which he was the representative. They equated royalty with freedom, and they meant by freedom not merely the assurance of their safety, but also the preservation of ancient franchises into which the experience of the last generation had driven them to pour a new meaning. What they were in reality seeking was the path to a limited monarchy. Already, there were amongst them men who had blessed tyrannicide. Already, they were discussing whether a prince who did not accept the word of God was a prince at all. Nor was the notion of a contract between monarch and people entirely absent.

They had, in fact, evolved the foundations of a system incompatible with the ambitions of the court. There lay ready to the hand of Catharine de’ Medici a party to which royal absolutism was a dogma unqualified by any limitation. That persecution was right, they did not doubt; that it should be undertaken, they were ready to prove from the implications, as they deemed them, of heresy. France, they urged, was a Catholic Kingdom, and the king ruled it as an absolute monarch. To say that he did not control the consciences of his subjects was to destroy the roots of his power. Were he to be moderate, the experience of Germany would show him the results of such weakness. Such a policy was bound to commend itself to Catharine so soon as it was clear that the aims of l’Hôpital were incapable of success. To that end Spain and the papacy were alike endeavoring to persuade her. The Huguenot policy in the Netherlands had failed, and she herself suspected both the ambition of the Bourbons, and the ascendancy established by Coligny over the mind of her son. She made her determination, and there was no difficulty in persuading the weak-willed king to sanction the most extreme plans that Rome could have desired. The die was cast, and on the morrow of Saint Bartholomew, Europe awoke to a new epoch in the history of its political doctrines.


The change wrought by the news of the massacre is evident immediately. The court had made the holocaust; Charles IX himself had gloried in its success. It was no longer possible to make any distinction between the king and his advisers. It was the person and position of the crown that was now in question. If kingship existed for the protection of subjects, what were their rights when the very basis of its meaning was taken away? Saint Bartholomew, as Duplessis-Mornay said, destroyed the mutual faith of prince and subjects, and so uprooted the foundations of the state. It made necessary the abandonment of the fiction that the powers of the king were not a fit subject for discussion. It became essential to survey the rights of citizenship, to discover whether a royal power so obviously capable of abuse, could be permitted to exist without definite and guaranteed limitations. Men did not dream of overthrowing the notion of monarchy; but they had no longer any faith either in the theory of absolutism, on the one hand, or its corollary of passive obedience upon the other. Since Protestantism had been derived from the study of the Old Testament, it became possible to remember the names of Joel and Judith and Jehu. The Catholics might urge that David had refused to be responsible for the death of Saul as the anointed of the Lord, but the Huguenots could retort that at least he had, and with divine sanction, taken up arms against his royal master. The New Testament was ransacked for texts which might seem to justify rebellion, and all evidence in favor of submission was explained away. Nor did these researches cease with the Bible. France could not fail to remember that Poland had an elective monarchy. The recent revolutions of Denmark and Scotland were used to point their obvious moral. Harmodius and Brutus became popular deities in the Huguenot Valhalla. The revolt against the tyranny of Tarquin became a model and an example to a horror-struck generation. The issue, for the Huguenots, had become a simple choice between their religious faith and their political loyalty. It was fortunate for European liberty that they did not hesitate in their decision.

Most of the writings which owe their origin to Saint Bartholomew are, on the Protestant side, of two kinds. Some are simple narratives of the day’s event. The mere horror of what occurred was rightly regarded as likely to carry conviction of its wickedness to all decent-minded men. Others became, as was natural, a definite enquiry into the nature of government, for it had clearly become essential to restate the Huguenot position. The court had presented two incompatible defenses of its action. On the one hand it had depicted the massacre as the untoward result of a factional conflict within the aristocracy; on the other it had justified, and even boasted of its commission as the necessary consequence of rebellion and a sacrifice offered to the Church. Some Huguenots remained faithful enough to earlier dogma to accept the first explanation. They had then to justify the fact of being in arms, and this they did by insisting that while they had no grievance against kingship itself, they could not bow their necks beneath the yoke of intolerable edicts. Such a position was, of course, an impossible one. It accepted absolutism on the one hand, while it sought to justify occasional revolution on the other. It was, in fact, the coronation of contingent anarchy, and it did nothing to meet the profounder circumstances of the new situation. It had no philosophy save what had already been condemned by the massacre, and its justification of rebellion would have had to be made afresh on each occasion, and then not in terms of general right.

One book then existed of which the substance and temper might have satisfied the most extreme of the Huguenots. The Contr’ Un of La Boétie had probably been written twenty-five years before, but the problem it envisaged was exactly the tyranny the Huguenots now confronted. But attractive as was the spirit of La Boétie’s essay, avowed and academic republicanism was meat too strong for the digestion of the time. Not that La Boétie was entirely without influence, but he was used as cautiously as an Anglican bishop might, in the sixties, have announced an interest in Darwinism. The pseudo-classicism of the French Renaissance never went so far as a disbelief in monarchy. Much more typical was the treatise, now known to have been written by Theodore Beza, on the Rights of Magistrates over their Subjects. The theory of Calvinist politics is here set forth with perfect clarity. To God alone, it urges, does absolute power belong. Magistrates, indeed, have wide authority, and they cannot be held to account by the people. Nevertheless, when they command something that is incompatible with true religion, disobedience becomes a duty. And by disobedience, Beza argues, rebellion may, ultimately, be implied. The value of patience and prayer must not be forgotten, but when the tyranny becomes intolerable, just remedies must be used against it. Not, however, by every member of the state. The ordinary citizen is bound, by the conditions of his citizenship, to submit. The officers of the state, whose business it is to maintain the laws, must secure their authority, but they must not depose the prince. There are, however, in each state a body of citizens whose function it is to see that the sovereign does his duty; in France the States-General is a body of such men. They can, if they will, depose the prince. They safeguard the original rights of the people. They may, if they so desire, restore the French monarchy from its present absolutism to a form more consistent with its original and elective foundation. Royalty is, even though divine in nature, essentially dependent upon popular institution. The people has given power to the prince for its own benefit, and, therefore, upon conditions. If the conditions are not fulfilled, it is obvious that the power conferred reverts to the source of its origin. The only thing to be remembered is that the decision of abuse depends upon authorities of a special nature, and cannot be settled by the ordinary citizen.

Though, obviously enough, Beza had French conditions in his mind when he wrote, his book is a purely general treatise. Like most Calvinist pamphlets, it is aristocratic in final texture, and it is wanting in a clear discussion of the exact means whereby the objects Beza had in view could be attained. But it is the first pamphlet published during the civil wars of which the main keynote is the idea of popular sovereignty, and Beza may well claim to be the first in that significant procession of those whom Barclay in the De Regno called Monarchomachs. With the Catholic phase of that school we are not, at the moment, concerned, but of the Protestant branch certain general hypotheses may be laid down. In fighting the absolutism of the Reformation State, they were concerned to secure religious freedom. None of them valued it as an end in itself. None of them would, had the occasion offered, have conceded freedom to an opponent. But alike in Scotland as with Buchanan, and in France as with Beza and his successors, they were concerned to show the impossibility of an absolute state. They sought to secure certain rights against the possibility of princely encroachment. They had, therefore, to argue, first, that princes are not free to settle as they will the religion of the state, and secondly, that the reason of this limitation lies in the general nature of the state itself. The latter is, for them, practically invariably the result of a contract which, however varied in form, always confers certain rights upon the people. Law is, therefore, never the simple command of an Austinian system, as, for example, that of Bodin, but the attempt to fulfill the purpose of the social contract. If it does not fulfill that purpose, it is not law. Laws, therefore, are the reflection of the law of nature which at once brought into being the social contract and is the purpose and end of political authority.

From the Protestant point of view, the results of this theory are perfectly clear. A law which violates the purpose of the social contract is not a law at all, and may therefore be resisted. Edicts of religious persecution are contrary to that purpose, and the Huguenots, when properly warranted by persons of authority, may take up arms against them. The Monarchomachs had an importance which went far beyond the very limited aim their effort had in view. It was in itself valuable in an age of despotic centralization so intense as the 16th century to have an effective protest against unlimited power. In Scotland, France, and Holland, the Reformers represented, broadly speaking, a popular movement to which the Crown was hostile; it consequently became the necessary condition of religious success that the aristocracy of the Crown should be secured or some other form of toleration granted. Even in England it is true to say that the condition upon which Parliament was successful against Charles I was the fact that the Puritans were prepared to give battle against the finality of the Elizabethan settlement. The development is, of course, most clear in Holland, where rebellion is not merely successful, but leads to the formation of a republic of which the prosperity was based on toleration. But the Dutch struggle is only the most striking of several; and the whole Monarchomachic movement points the moral that the political liberty of the 17th and 18th centuries was the outcome of the protest against religious intolerance. Had there not been that protest, the general condition of Europe would have been similar to that of France under Louis XIV—an inert people crushed into uniform subjection by a centralized and unprogressive despotism.

Nor must another aspect of this effort be neglected. The 16th century is preeminently a century of raison d’état. The poison of Machiavelli was in its blood, and, as the reign of Henry VIII makes evident, a cynical utilitarianism is its predominant temper. Expediency is a basis of rights; it can never become an effective basis of right. It is to the credit of the Monarchomachs that they moved the question to higher ground. They were anxious to make it not merely wise, but also legal, to rebel. In order to do so, they were compelled to show, as in the work of Gentillet, the inadequacy of any basis other than ethical for political institutions. And it is permissible to argue that no motive save that of religious conviction would have been strong enough to inspire their effort against the inertia which made men anxious for any peace, whatever its character. They saw clearly that only by meeting the claims of the secular state upon the ground of absolute right could the validity of their plea be accepted. There is no other way in which the rights of associations can be maintained. Once utility is admitted as the sole ground of right, the state can enforce its supremacy as against all other bodies. It is, of course, true that most of the Monarchomachs were aiming at a dominance for their own creed not less complete than that which they denied to the state itself. Undoubtedly the victory of the state was, on the whole, a necessary victory, but its minimisation by religious bodies was the main guarantee against its abuse.

Beza’s book is the beginning of a long tradition which expresses itself in many forms. It was at once applied to purely French conditions in a treatise of 1577. The author of Whether it is Lawful for the People and the Nobility to Take up Arms is unknown, but it is obvious that he had read Beza’s pamphlet to good advantage. Unless, he says, the state of France is remedied, those who love her may well be accused of parricide. They must not confuse the state with the government. The object of the first is the public good; the second may simply seek the welfare of particular persons. With kingship in particular, it is important to distinguish between the permanent dignity of the office, and the fallible character of some given occupant. If the latter be a tyrant, no one can be so mad as to think resistance to him a crime. Rebellion against tyranny, indeed, is a defense of the real interests of monarchy against those who would destroy it. And the institutions of France have been aptly constructed to this end. The parliaments exercise surveillance over the workings of justice. The chamber of accounts preserves the royal demesne against the danger of excessive alienation. The task of the nobility is to prevent the ruin of the state by enforcing upon the monarch the observance of his coronation oath. Clearly, then, the Huguenots have a right to resist, and when God has made sufficient proof of their endurance, he will not fail to bless their aims.

As a serious defense of the Reformer’s position, the pamphlet is at once clear and consistent. Like Beza’s essay, it contains within itself the germs of all that was later to be developed into a full and mature theory of the state. Here is set out the notion of a contract between monarch and people, the sense that interference with monarchical power is an ultimate act, for which, however, provision must be made, the conception that power is a trust. The writer is essentially moderate in his outlook. Moved as he obviously was by the spectacle of the massacre, he yet did not seek to erect the circumstances of a very special act of royal perfidy into a philosophy which viewed it as an ordinary event. Like all the Huguenots, rebellion is for him a detestable thing, and authority is always exalted above the reach of the common people. Other writers, intelligibly enough, were less restrained. Some exhausted themselves in vituperation of the government and sought to show, from the analysis of its members’ lives, their complete unfitness to rule. The author of La France-Turquie, for example, charges the Crown with seeking to establish a crushing despotism, and, in what appears to be the sequel of this pamphlet, he suggests the banishment of Catharine to a convent, the fall of the chancellor, the exile of the king’s counsellors and their replacement by advisers nominated by the provinces, and the dismissal of all foreigners. Until the States-General can be summoned, he urges that the towns and provinces of both religions shall form an armed league against tyranny, and refuse to pay taxes. Other writers were deeply anxious for revenge, and demanded any assistance, from within or from without, that might accomplish this end. The author of the Tocsin, for example, was not satisfied to call on Condé and Navarre for help against the tyrant; he summons Elizabeth, William of Orange, and the Swiss, to help in the work of liberation. The author of the Réveille-Matin des Français went even further, and actually appealed to the Guises, the assassins of Coligny, to expel the House of Valois from the throne, and occupy it themselves.

The Reveille-Matin went too far for the vast majority of Huguenots; to embrace the cause of the Guises was only less evil than to see the continuance of the Valois in power. But it is more than a mere cri de coeur. Its two dialogues seek to show that Calvinists had been in the history of the previous thirty years devoted to the cause of the Crown, that they had no other object than to assure the well-being of the kingdom, and the convocation of the States-General. It speaks with ardent hope of the assassination of the tyrant. It depicts a federal organization of communes which may by rebellion win their freedom. It insists that the estates may limit the power of the prince. It sees in the maintenance of communal immunities the sole effective guarantee against the crushing effects of monarchical despotism. The book is, to some extent, a compilation; its account of Saint Bartholomew is taken from a widely-read narrative of Hotman’s, its theories are often an almost textual reproduction of Beza’s essay, and its eloquent picture of the disastrous results of tyranny is taken, in great part, from La Boétie. The compiler is uncertain, though it is possibly that Nicholas Barnaud, the physician, whose violence even Beza condemned. But it had a wide influence. It was many times reprinted, and it was translated both into Dutch and German. Its appeal to the Guises apart, it differs only in its emphatic tone from the bulk of the writings produced after the massacre by the Huguenots.

They have thus a coherent body of doctrine to enunciate. An insistence upon the validity of tyrannicide, a confidence in the results of a guarantee of local liberties, an appeal to the power of the estates, these are the main part of the common stock of ideas upon which the Protestants drew. With their well-organized municipalities, such as La Rochelle and Montauban, with their closely-knit ecclesiastical structure, with their solid power among the nobility and the rich bourgeoisie, they had every reason to hope that the translation of such ideas into the structure of the French state would be the surest guarantee of their safety. These pamphlets, in fact, were not simply published in the void. They attempted the provision of definite institutional channels for the sources of Protestant strength. What was needed was a convincing proof to their generation that they were seeking, not daring innovation, but genuine reform. If, like Coke and Selden and Prynne in the next century, they could convince their countrymen that the picture they had in their heads was the original institutional pattern of France before the usurpations of Louis XI, they would immensely increase the power of their appeal. For there is in every generation a large body of men whose zeal for reform is largely dependent upon the degree to which it can be referred to antiquity. If, again, like Locke in the revolution of 1688, they could give to the vague mass of social theory a stability and firmness which made it immediately intelligible to the average citizen, they would become that most deadly of all opponents, a rebellion armed not less with a philosophy than with cannon. So far, the winds of doctrine had blown with equal force on either side. In the next years, and until Henry of Navarre became heir to the throne, the Protestants derived a new strength from their formulation of political doctrine with which the Roman Catholic party was unable to compete.

That strength is not derived entirely from their own resources. Michel de l’Hôpital had seen from the first the vast social loss that would be involved in conflict; once it was apparent that civil war was not destined to be a mere interlude, the majority of decent-minded Catholics swung round to the support of his ideas. The Politiques, as they are called, are not purely a Catholic party, for Hotman, in his Brutum Fulmen, adopted ideas essentially theirs, and the complicated intrigues of which De la Noue was the center had as their object the union of Protestants and Catholics on the basis of common effort for a peace of moderation. The importance of the Politiques can hardly be overestimated. It is not merely that their ideas eventually prevailed. Their plea for religious toleration was the root of the settlement worked out in the 17th century. Their theory of the relation between church and state was, practically speaking, that through which the state eventually won its freedom from the trammels of medievalism. Their emphasis upon passive obedience and indefeasible hereditary right links them up with the Anglican party of 17th-century England. Their literary work is of enduring significance, and though some of it is later in date than the actual struggle in France, all of it has in mind the background of that conflict. The outstanding pamphlets are the Apologia Catholica of Du Bellay which defends the hereditary claims of Henry of Navarre against the attempt to pervert the succession in favor of the House of Guise; the Satyre Ménipée, which is not merely a great satire, but a veritable storehouse of political opinions; the De Regno of Barclay, which, while it seeks to overthrow the whole structure of the Monarchomachs, is not the less fatal to the extreme Roman claims; the Quatre Excellent Discours of the Sieur de Fay, the grandson of l’Hôpital, which perhaps best expresses the general feelings of the party; and, above all, the République of Bodin, which, though in form a general analysis of political science, is essentially a defense of the position taken up by the Politiques. The speeches of l’Hôpital are an enduring monument to the temper of the movement, while lesser works like the Discours of La Noue and the Vindiciae of Servins are, in a lower rank, illustrative of the diverse aspects possessed by the party.

Few things are more symptomatic of the changing temper induced by the Reformation than the rise of the Politiques. Here is a party to whom religion, however individually important, is, socially, a secondary consideration. They made it their business to vindicate the supreme character of the civil power against the claims of any competing allegiance whatever. Their effort was to secure the unity of the state, and they insist that before the demands of such unity all other demands must give way. Their outlook was purely utilitarian. They defend indefeasible hereditary right and the duty of passive obedience simply on the ultimate ground that the community cannot afford the loss that is implied in the issue to them of a challenge. They favor toleration, not on the ground of right, but because the cost of suppressing diversity of opinion is too heavy to be endured. What above all impresses them is the paramount evil of anarchy, and they insist on the removal of religion from the sphere of civil policy on the ground that its retention there breeds an expense that will destroy the state. What they saw clearly was the fact that religious diversity had come to stay, and they therefore rejected an ecclesiastical sanction which had ceased to exercise its earlier magic.

They were thus driven back to the ideal of a religiously indifferent state as the sole territory on which men could continue to act in concert for the public good. Many, if not most of them, admitted that their ideal was a pis aller; could persecution have been made to pay, it would have been desirable as a basis for deepening political unity. But once that had been proved impossible, they searched for foundations which should secure order, whatever the cost. This it is which explains their acceptance of divine right, and their passionate defense of the Salic Law. They insist on the necessity of monarchy, and they reject, as with Servins, Hotman and Pithou, the notion that the pope has the right to control princes. What they established was the self-sufficient and autocratic state of the Grand Monarch. If, in a sense, that was the direct high road to 1789, it is probably an adequate reply that the Reformation had so seriously endangered the foundations of order that their object could hardly have been achieved in another way. It is true, of course, that their exaltation of order at the cost of liberty was itself, as with Barclay, a direct attack upon the Monarchomachs. Here, indeed, their relationship to the latter is not unlike that of Burke to Thomas Paine. The attention of the one was concentrated always on the method by which reform was secured; the attention of the other was directed to the substance of the reform achieved. The Monarchomachs saw only the direct evils of the tyranny beneath which they lived; the Politiques emphasized the cost of overthrowing that tyranny. But they were at one with their antagonists in the root of the problem, which was the removal of the cause which led the Huguenots to resistance. Once that had been effected, there was little ground of difference between the protagonists of either party. For the Huguenots did not defend resistance to tyranny, and therefore liberty, as such. What they defended was their right to worship God in their own way. Once that had been granted, then substantive grievance was removed, and the enforcement of their general case was left to other causes.

But that case was more powerful than they themselves were aware, and even when its particular occasion had been removed, the record remained to serve new purposes. Nor is it doubtful that the impression produced by its mere statement was, at the time, overwhelming. The immense effort made to answer the chief Huguenot writers is evidence enough that they wrote for a generation which responded eagerly to their work. The intellectual power engaged upon the Huguenot side was not the least important lever in its hands; and, in the main, it derived that importance from two works. Much, indeed, of the effort of the Politiques is an attempt to answer them, and it is hardly too much to say that toleration came largely because the Huguenot plea for resistance was the only possible alternative. Of the two books, the earlier was the Franco-Gallia of Hotman. It was the first comprehensive attempt to discover the historical nature of the French monarchy, and therefrom to deduce the rightness of the Huguenot plea for a limitation of royal power. The Vindiciae contra Tyrannos, probably by Duplessis-Mornay, though mainly a brilliant summary of ideas already adumbrated by members of his party, surpassed all other essays of the time in the vigor and lucidity with which it restated them.

Neither book has the appearance, or even substance, of a pamphlet with an immediate purpose. That of Hotman, in particular, with its formidable apparatus of texts, its careful survey of juristic opinion, its analysis of the chroniclers, was hardly less a historical work of the first importance, than a livre de circonstance. It seeks to show that within a time but little beyond the memory of living men, the monarchy of France was elective and controlled by the estates. The men who built the ancient monarchy, the Franks, were in nature, as in name, free. They had sustained their independence against the attack of Rome. If they created a monarchy, they made of their kings no more than the guardians of their liberties, and to this end, they made the monarchy elective; that was at once a safeguard of good conduct in the monarch himself, and an assurance that he would educate his sons to be worthy of succeeding him. But he left to them of right nothing save his personal patrimony. The matter of his succession was decided by the people. Hereditary rule had become a custom, but it was directly embodied in no statute, and it derived its value solely from popular acquiescence. In later editions, indeed, Hotman went further and explained how novel was the existing system of absolute monarchy; the title of Majesty, for instance, was accorded to kings only when they presided over the national assembly. In the edition of 1586, Hotman admits that hereditary succession has become an irrevocable method of royal choice, but since Henry of Navarre had become heir to the French throne in the interval between that date and the first edition, it is unnecessary to suspect any profound explanation of the new emphasis.

Kingship for Hotman, then, has its roots in popular right. It is made by the people, it exists for them. Popular right is not less ample in the organization of the kingdom. The best form of government is a mixed constitution. That which enables the nobility to be a balance between the competing forces of king and people best secures a régime of liberty. Already, clearly, we have moved far from the facile echoes of Seyssel’s theories which had, in the half-century before Bartholomew, satisfied Calvinist writers. This idea of a balance is, in Hotman’s view, inherent in the French system through the periodic convocation of the estates. It is to that national assembly that final political control is accorded. It is the guardian of the purpose of the state. Peace and war, the making of laws, nomination to high office, all such matters as these are within its competence. It has regulated the succession. It has prevented the undue alienation of the royal demesne. Without its permission, no king could pardon offenders or dismiss a high functionary from office. It is, indeed, true that within more recent times the age of popular control has passed, and that of government by lawyers has taken its place. Instead of its national assembly, France is cursed with the Parliament of Paris, a body which is no more than a usurping instrument of the royal will, and, above all, an evil which has come to prominence through the usurping power of Rome. But this is an innovation upon constitutional usage. By right, the national assembly is the guardian of historic French liberties. It was, moreover, supported, by the existence of definite and large provincial immunities, the protection of which was the purpose of much fundamental law. So, too, with municipal rights. Wherever, in brief, we find the material of popular sovereignty, we find the basis of the French constitution. Its institutions are the channel through which that theory runs; and, where it is obscured, it is because innovation has thwarted its achievement.

The strength of Hotman’s book lies not only in the real learning it displays, but also in the very great ability with which it conceals the true object of its polemic. In appearance, it seems to maintain no more than that French absolutism was a historic novelty, and that the true constitution was far more democratic in its operation. But in the process of its argument it is able to buttress every dogma of the Huguenot creed by proving its origin in the facts of French history. Bad kings may be deposed; the nobility has a special place in the political structure; women are excluded from a share in government by the Salic law—a palpable hit, not only at Catharine de’ Medici, but also at contingent Spanish ambitions; the king must be carefully distinguished from the state that the interest of the people may not be confounded with his personal well-being; local autonomy is the root of political freedom—especially, as in the instance detailed by Hotman, in Languedoc, where Calvinism was especially strong; such provincial freedoms are safeguarded by fundamental law. The whole apparatus of the edifice represented a formidable weapon in the hands of Hotman’s party. It made their opponents seem the innovators, while they themselves appeared as the defenders of historic constitutionalism.

Nor can the Catholic answers to the book be said to have disturbed its central positions. Papire Masson, the royalist historian, could find no more than invective as a retort to its argument. Matharel, one of the writers whose fortune had been made by abject subservience to Catharine de’ Medici, attempted a refutation point by point; but he lacked the knowledge necessary to his task, and was driven to rely upon abuse of plaintiff’s attorney. Zampini did, indeed, make Hotman’s intransigent position upon the Salic law appear an overemphasis, but he was overwhelmed in the ridicule of Hotman’s reply. The best answer came from a Paris lawyer, Turrellus, but he could do little more than demonstrate that Hotman had, in a variety of places, refined unduly. It is not, on the whole, untrue to say that the Franco-Gallia remained the classic exposition of early French institutions until, in the second quarter of the 19th century, Augustin Thierry began their scientific study. Attacks in which Matharel and others sought to show the evil effects of popular rule were, of course, beside the point, for Hotman had chosen to occupy different ground.

It was to the question of the validity of popular right that the Vindiciae contra Tyrannos was addressed. Immediately, it appears probable that the work of Hotman had more effect; in the long run, the greater interest of Mornay’s pamphlet is as certain as its greater influence. So, similarly, the scholastic involutions of Occam’s Dialogus had interested his generation far more than the direct brevity of the Defensor Pacis. But just as the very width of Marsiglio’s generalizations gave them a more permanent influence than the labyrinthine theses of Occam, so because Mornay summarized the result of the conflict with telling simplicity, it was to his arguments that a later age turned.

The Vindiciae deals directly with the four great questions of the time. Are subjects bound to obey princes if they command that which is contrary to the law of God? Is it lawful to resist a prince who infringes the law of God, and ruins the Church, and, if so, who ought to resist him, by what means, and how far should resistance extend? Is it lawful to resist a prince who ruins the state, and, if so, to whom should the organization of resistance, its means and limits, be confided? Are neighboring princes bound by law to help the subjects of princes who afflict them either for the cause of religion or in the practice of tyranny?

To the first question, the Vindiciae responds in the negative. It is clear from the authority of Scripture and the example of the martyrs that the commands of God merit obedience before any orders from an earthly prince. Nor is this situation altered by the fact that princes claim to rule by divine right. The earth is the possession of the Lord, and kings reign only by his will; one must then obey them only to the degree that they obey the commands of their master. The king is a vassal like any other vassal; he is, therefore, bound by a contract. Should he break its terms,diffidatio ensues, as it would in any other case. The establishment of kingship, in fact, clearly involves a double contract. There is a contract between God, on the one hand, and the king upon the other; there is a contract also between the king and the people. Clearly again, therefore, whatever binds the king binds the people also, and should the king fail in his duty, the people must not forget its obligations. To obey its earthly master in preference to obedience from God is to invoke the punishment of heaven. For when men fail to obey the laws of God, they are expelling him from his kingdom. The king is instituted only to secure the better observance of those laws, and, when he fails, his sin ought not to involve popular acquiescence. That, indeed, is the true rebellion. It is as though men obeyed an officer rather than the express ordinance of the king himself. When subjects refuse to give their conscience into evil keeping, they obey the true source of right. For there are, as Cicero said, degrees of duty, of which the highest belongs to God, and the second only to one’s country; just as in the civil law, treason, though it be a heinous crime, is inferior in wickedness to wrongdoing. Nor do the Apostles write otherwise. It is one thing to refuse obedience to a command which infringes the will of God. Whether one ought to organize resistance to a prince who seeks to infringe it and attack the Church seems, at first sight, a more difficult and complex question.

Yet in appearance only. For the people have, jointly with the prince, made a contract with God. They are like a debtor who has a joint obligation to pay a certain sum; should the other party fail, the entire debt falls upon the remaining signatory. Just as the Jewish people was bound to God, and was warned by the prophets of its duty whenever kings strayed from the divine path, so also is the Christian people bound. The contract has always involved a popular obligation. Too much danger was risked in committing the custody of the Church to a single person. A people affected to true religion will, therefore, feel itself driven both to reprove, and, if need be, to repress a prince who would destroy it, for they will know that in neglecting to perform this duty, they make themselves guilty of the same crime, and will merit, as they will receive, the same punishment.

But to say that a whole people must resist does not mean that so many-headed a monster as the multitude has the duty of revolt. By the people is meant their chosen magistrates who represent, and mirror within themselves, the will of the nation. It is their business to restrain the encroachments of the prince and, in the last instance, to exercise a final control. Every well-ordered kingdom has an authority of this kind, commissioned to speak in its name. It is composed of the natural heads of the state, and, once they decide to act, whatever they will is good, granted only a worthy object as the purpose of their decision. Nor need they hesitate to act, even when, as in the case of the Maccabees, the whole nation is against them. The contract that binds the whole people binds its parts also, just as in Germany each prince and free city is separately bound in fealty to the empire. When a city or a prince refuses obedience in such a case, it absolves itself from membership of what is, in fact, simply an assembly of brigands rather than of Christian men. For where there is no justice, there is no commonwealth, since justice is the virtue which gives to each his own; yet here, by definition, the prince is depriving God of his heritage. So the Sorbonne and the Parliament of Paris sanctioned the decision of Philip the Fair to cease connection with the papacy of Boniface VIII when the latter sought unduly to extend his prerogative; so, also, the Assembly of the French Church refused to obey the schismatic pope, Benedict XIII. It is high treason against the divine authority for men in positions of trust to act otherwise.

But what engages the community as a whole through the persons of its magistrates does not similarly bind the private citizen. Unless he is specifically called by authority to revolt, his allotted task is passive resistance only. For what is required of the whole does not bind each unit of the whole in its private aspect; what, on the contrary, the Scriptures enjoin upon the private citizen is that he shall put his sword into his scabbard. He must do as the faithful did when Jeroboam abolished the service of the true God, and suffer voluntary exile. It is only when the official call comes that he is permitted to resist by force. If each man were to follow his own conscience, there would result not only confusion, but the fatal deception which comes from man’s willingness to mistake his private desire for the will of heaven. When the call does come, the citizen need not fear that the use of arms is unlawful. The number of good princes who have by force of arms defended the service of God against the pagan is infinite. The Apostle himself has told us that the magistrate does not bear the sword in vain; to what better use could he devote it than to the service of the true faith? Even more, it is his duty to take to himself every weapon that may fortify the vine of Christ against the wild boar of the forest that seeks to uproot and devour it. It is his business to be armed for virtue.

The case, therefore, is clear, where the interests of God are directly in question. The magistrates may authorize resistance by force to the prince who seeks injury against the true church. Are the same principles applicable when the interests concerned are of a purely temporal character? Here we meet the central problem of politics—the general nature of the obedience due to princes. The latter are instituted by God. But they owe their power to the people, and they exist only that they may bear upon their shoulders the main burdens of the commonwealth. The choice of a king is a matter everywhere of popular election; and even though hereditary succession has long been the general custom, the ceremony of the coronation, in particular its oath, remains to show that kingship rests upon popular choice. The king, therefore, is the delegate of the people for specific functions. The people is greater than the king, and he can have no power save that which it confers upon him in the purpose of his institution. The consent of the people is like the base of the Rhodian Colossus; when it is withdrawn, the statue crashes into the dust. And, as with the prince, so with the officers of the kingdom. They are the servants, not of the king, but of the people. Their nomination derives from the authority of the state, and they are charged to protect, not the personal interest of the prince, but the public interest of all. Once, indeed, they consulted the whole people; now they are bound only to obey its representatives. It is true that officials have, in recent times, seemed to possess only the shadow of their former power. But the development of princely absolutism is not effective against popular right; time cannot confer a prescription against the people.

Popular sovereignty is therefore the basis of royal power. How far does that power extend? Since an institution is good only to the degree to which it fulfils the purpose of its existence, it is from the scrutiny of the latter that the limits of royal authority may be ascertained. But in so speaking we make absolutism impossible, for it is with limits that we seek the foundations of power. It is with limits because men are by nature apt to the love of liberty, and it is sufficiently obvious that kingship is maintained because, and only because, they believe in the benefit it confers. What they sought in its establishment was safety from external attack, on the one hand, and freedom, on the other, from the internal conflict which results from the institution of property. The business of the king is thus to make war, if need he, and to render justice. He must preside over the courts, and see to it that the law is supreme there. The maintenance of the law is the very soul of his function. But he does not create it; he merely gives it support. Law is the embodiment of reason, and so free from the human passions to which he is subject. To the law, within which, let it be noted, are comprised the liberties of towns and provinces, every king must give obedience. Should he abrogate the law, it can only be on condition that the people, or their natural leaders, are consulted and acquiesce. He cannot punish, save in accordance with law. He cannot otherwise pardon. He can dispose of the private property of his subjects only as the law permits. Nor, similarly, can he alienate the royal demesne; he has its usufruct, but he is not its owner. He has its usufruct to maintain the state of his office, just as he has taxes for war and other public needs. He is, in short, merely the administrator of the royal demesne. He has the same power over it as a bishop over the property of his diocese. He is the trustee of a temporary possession, but a trustee who may always be held accountable for an abuse of trust. Accountability, in fact, is inherent in the nature of his function; for a people which sought safety would not submit itself, in any absolute fashion, to the caprice of a man endowed with the same passions as ordinary humanity. To leave him free to make laws or confiscate private property at will would make his relations to his subjects that of a conqueror to the enemies he has laid low.

Every kingdom, indeed, bears witness to the truth of this conception, for in every kingdom there is some sort of covenant between prince and people. The ancient Kings of Burgundy swore to protect all men in their rights according to law and justice. The ceremony of coronation in Aragon not only implied a higher majesty in the commonwealth than in the crown, but also implied, should the coronation oath be broken, the exemption of the subject from allegiance. But two sorts of tyrants must be distinguished. There is the usurper whose power has no basis in right. He invades the country of his neighbors in the sheer lust for dominion, or he may, by corruption and deceit, worm his way to the throne. Sometimes the usurper has been, like Julius Caesar, a popular general; sometimes it has been a woman who has intruded her presence into a government from which she is excluded by law. Such a tyrant may be killed by the simple citizen without the authority of the magistrate, for in combating one who stands by definition outside all categories of law, it is life and liberty in their elementary terms that he is concerned to defend. The second form of tyrant is the prince who, though reigning by legal title, neglects the contract to which he is bound by the terms of his inception. His proper treatment is a more difficult matter than in the first case. We must make allowances for the fact that, being a man, he is likely to err. We must therefore first seek, by reasonable means, to lead him to the path of right. The wisdom of a senate may well enable a naturally weak prince to govern well. But when, of set purpose, the prince is determined to pervert justice and equity, force must be used against him; and it is the officers and nobles of the kingdom whose business it then is to exact a remedy. That is the reason for their existence, and if they fail, they share in his crimes. In destroying his tyranny, they act on behalf of the state. They protect the humble, who, in this instance, have no function save that of resignation, against the wrongs he would commit. They secure the observance of the contract he has trade with the state. As a general council may be summoned to protect the Church from the consequence of papal crime, so must the officers of the kingdom ever remember that if the king has the first place in the realm, theirs is the second. And they are a second who may become the first, for they are the reserve power of the Commonwealth.

There remains the final question of the prince who sees the citizens of another country oppressed either for religious or political causes. What duty is laid upon him? In matters of religion, there can be no doubt that he is morally bound to intervene. For there is only one true Church, of which Jesus Christ is the head. Should its members be injured, the whole Church participates in the harm and sorrow which result. And since the care of the Church is recommended to the charge of Christian princes in general, they must not merely amplify and extend its boundaries where they can, but also, and in all places, preserve it against attack. So Josias expelled idolatry from the kingdom of Israel, even though he was then in subjection to Assyria; so Constantine executed Licinius for his persecution of the Christians; so Moses bound certain tribes beyond the Jordan to aid the Israelites against their enemies, and pronounced an anathema against them if they should fail. Nor is the case less clear in civil matters. Princes are, after all, men, and the duties of humanity are fit and convenient for them. A private citizen is called upon to help a neighbor who is beset by evil men; how much more, then, is it incumbent upon a prince to act in similar fashion? If he finds a commonwealth groveling upon the floor, let him raise it to its former eminence. It may well be that his private interest persuades him to stand aside; but nothing so much becomes a man, even more a prince, so to dispose his actions that his private interests give place to public need. No prince would hesitate to give assistance to a brother monarch in distress; how much the more readily, then, should he aid a whole people, when the affliction of many is so clearly the cause of a greater pity? Charity challenges him to the relief of the oppressed, as justice requires that a tyrant be compelled to reason.


In the 16th century there are two main forms of political doctrine, of which the République of Bodin and the Vindiciae of Duplessis-Mornay are perhaps the best examples. In the one, the main effort is to find a juristic basis for raison d’état. The root of political wisdom is therefore an unlimited sovereignty which makes a command into law by the mere supremacy of the person from whom it emanates. The true example of law is therefore that positive enactment which is embodied in legislation. The essential thing is that the command shall be supreme, irresponsible, and unhindered by the scrutiny of conditions. It is true that reference is made by Bodin to laws of nature, of God, and of nations by which the ruler is bound; but, as Hobbes was later to point out, since the prince is the only person who can, in this context, enforce obedience to them, the essence of the theory is the unlimited nature of the sovereign power. The real result is to separate ethics from politics, and thus to complete by theoretical means the division which Machiavelli had effected on practical grounds. The state becomes supreme upon its own territory, and the expression of its will is law. And the attempt to introduce moral limitations upon the exercise of that will becomes clearly impossible. All associations become contingent upon its pleasure, and right is to be defined as that which the sovereign permits. Jus est quod jussum est becomes the definition of the state. The characteristic of an organized political community is the existence within it of an authority which is not only habitually obeyed, but is itself beyond the reach of authority. Right becomes, so to speak, pluralized into rights; it is no longer the reflection of a universal good, but a series of privileges to be discovered in the statute-book. The state must be obeyed upon the simple ground that it is a state.

It is easy to understand the attractiveness of this theory to the age which enunciated it. The medieval prince was only a greater noble whose power was limited on every side by the special immunities of church and feudalism. The age of the Renaissance brought changes so swift and catastrophic that men welcomed any authority which guarded, or seemed to guard, the possibility of order against the flood tide of anarchy. Its attractiveness was intensified when, as with Henry VIII, the sovereignty of the state could find its incarnation in a prince whose power was immediate and obvious. Here was something, as Barclay always insisted, which, however evil, when it entails tyranny, is nevertheless superior to the evils which insurrection brings in its train. The theory of Bodin may not have meant the realization of abstract right, any more than the existence of the courts implies the realization of justice; but it implied the existence of certainty. Men had learned from the previous age rather to be content with an imperfect good than to seek the texture of that perfect commonwealth upon the substance of which so few of them were agreed.

The doctrine of the Vindiciae starts from the antithetic standpoint. It is with the establishment of abstract right that it is throughout concerned. By abstract right it means, at bottom, the will of God; and everything is illegitimate which transgresses its substance. Where Bodin, therefore, is concerned with the irresponsibility of supreme power, Duplessis-Mornay is concerned with its limitations. Where Bodin seeks to show that rights are the creatures of the sovereign will, rights, in the other view, are the reflection of right and therein is to be found the only true source of sovereign power. To Bodin, therefore, the thing of main importance is simply whether the enacting authority is, in the given instance, competent to act in the way it has acted with the inference that if the authority is the sovereign, it is competent without further scrutiny. To Duplessis-Mornay, on the other hand, the crucial point is not the willer, but the substance of the thing willed; and if that substance, when it contradicts divine law, is maintained, it must be resisted at all costs. In the strictly political sense, therefore, there is really in the Vindiciae no such thing as sovereignty at all. We are given right and power; and rebellion is interposed to mark the extreme limit of divergence between them. Power does not carry with it any political connotation. It is there because God and the people so will it; but the people which created it is morally obliged to scrutinize its operation, and they must overthrow it in the event of abuse.

The hold of the Vindiciae upon not merely its own, but the later generations which absorbed its substance, was, of course, the fact that it gave an obvious means of resisting what any given group of men might choose to regard as oppression. Revolution was, in that age, the only weapon to oppose to religious intolerance; and to men who were being taught by lawyers and learned men that the fiat of the state was enough, it seemed to place rebellion upon the ground of right. To the Politiques’ cry of convenience it replied with a plea of moral duty; and when that plea was surrounded by a religious atmosphere passionately felt, it was sufficient to convince. Nor must it be forgotten that, in the strict realm of theory, Bodin was the innovator and Duplessis-Mornay the guardian of traditional doctrine. For his views of the ground of obedience sprang full-grown from the noble medieval concept of the world as governed by natural law. What he was doing for his readers was to refer the actions of the state to the test of an eternal reason which sprang from God and was instinct with his will; all other laws than this were therefore secondary because they sprang from fallible men. When Bodin and, later, Hobbes were striving to make of law simply the command of a sovereign power, they were running counter, as their opponents at once recognized, to the whole burden of medieval notions. Duplessis-Mornay was insisting that, important as is civil society—and not a little of his influence comes from his emphasis upon its importance—there are interests higher than those of the state for which no sacrifice is too much. Government, for him, is thus ultimately a theocracy; and it follows that when the human administrator is in conflict with the divine ruler, the citizen can really have no hesitation as to where his obedience must lie.

It is, of course, easy to criticize the structure upon which the Vindiciae depends. It does not explain the origins of the state. Buchanan and Mariana apart, indeed, it is a capital fault in all the Monarchomachs that they assume the existence of the state and then explain its primary assumptions in terms for which they offer no historic warranty. For their dependence upon the theory of a social contract lays them open to all the objections raised since the time of Hume to that disastrous hypothesis. Nor is that all. The whole view of the Vindiciae is built upon the assumption that it is the duty of the magistrate to represent the popular idea of right, but it has nowhere any rigorous examination of the representative principle. The Vindiciae, indeed, makes the people sovereign, but in such a fashion as to make its supremacy meaningless save where it is governed by a tyrant who has usurped his power. It is represented by magistrates; but it is admitted that as a matter of contemporary fact, the magistrate has his commission from the very ruler he is supposed to control. No one, in fact, can read the Vindiciae without being impressed by the meagerness of its concessions to the people. The latter is an originating but not an active agency. Duplessis-Mornay shares to the full the characteristic Huguenot contempt for the people. He is like a whig aristocrat of the 18th century who welcomes popular support but does not concede to it a share in government. He identifies the people with the state, but the only purpose of the people is to serve as an agency of origin which justifies the resistance of the aristocracy to what they consider an abuse of power. He is not, like Althusius, writing an ample theory of the state. Clearly, at the back of his mind there is the single problem of religious oppression. He sees that the principles he lays down apply to civil not less than to ecclesiastical problems, but he is not anxious unduly to enlarge their boundaries. Like all the Huguenots, he uses the Bible as the obvious source of social truths, and it is not without significance that it is the discussion of civil problems that is least grounded in biblical authority. Probably, indeed, the secular aspect of oppression was for him essentially the derivative of the religious; and it then becomes clear why Duplessis-Mornay could, on the cessation of the latter, revert like Hotman to a belief in the divine right of kings.

Yet these limitations and inconsistencies impair neither the impressiveness nor the influence of his book. Eighty years after his death a German publicist could declare that he and Althusius more easily seduced men to bad principles than any other writers. But the more immediate heirs to his theories were not his friends, but his opponents, even if democratic government was in a real sense his residuary legatee. For with the death of the Duke of Anjou in 1584, Henry of Navarre became the heir-apparent to the French throne, and the certainty that a Huguenot king offered a greater opportunity to the reformed religion than explorations into the realm of the abstract, turned its adherents into thorough-going supporters of hereditary right and the Salic Law. The defense of radicalism then passed into the hands of the League and the Jesuits. What the former was striving to prove was the theory that no heretic could ever be lawfully King of France, and it relied for proof upon the doctrines of the Vindiciae. Just as the advocates of papal dominion had always admitted that a papal heretic can always be deposed, so do the advocates of the League urge that a heretical king is by definition a tyrant and therefore by definition unacceptable. The literature in defense of this position is more remarkable for its quantity than its quality. The pamphlets of Louis d’Orléans, indeed, have some merit. The sermons of Boucher explore with some eloquence the half-known hinterland of invective. The Dialogue du Manant et Maheustre shows that behind the unworthy ambitions of the Guises and the preachers there was, struggling for survival, a notion of theocracy that is not devoid of nobility. Perhaps the most characteristic product of the Catholic Monarchomachs is the True Power of a Christian State of Rossaeus. It is usually attributed to that Rose, the fanatic bishop of Senlis, who is so severely handled in the Satyre Ménippée; but, as Labitte has shown, the grounds for any attribution are extremely slender, and it is better, perhaps also kinder, to leave its authorship in the pale realm of anonymity.

How dependent Rossaeus was upon the substance of the Vindiciae is apparent from the merest summary of his teaching. He insists upon the naturalness of civil government, which is inherent in the nature of men. But no special form of government was established; the constitution of each society has always been dependent upon the pleasure of the sovereign people. Where it has established kingship, it has always been upon the contractual basis of retaining ultimate power in its own hands and defining that conceded to the prince by the purpose he is to serve. The people can always modify the government which depends upon its will, and it can even, if it pleases, abolish monarchy altogether. The prince has no rights save those he possesses to fulfill the purpose of his institution, and if he plays the tyrant he must be deposed. Consultation of the people is fundamental, for the people has not parted with its original freedom. What it has established, it builds only for the attainment of good; once the king fails to secure it, his commission is clearly revoked. But good cannot be secured without religion. Rossaeus does not mean by religion any form of protestantism; either form is worse than paganism. Any government, therefore, which fails to establish the Roman Catholic religion is, ipso facto, illegitimate. A heretic king may, therefore, be deposed, either by his own subjects, or by a foreign prince, for he is by definition a tyrant since his heresy is incompatible with the maintenance of virtue.

Nor must the immediate background of Rossaeus be neglected. The Vindiciae had pointed its moral for contemporary events by the implications it contained; Rossaeus has no hesitation in saying openly what is in his mind. Turks and Saracens have more rights than the Huguenots, who are French only in the sense that a dog is called French. Henry IV can never be a Christian king. He is the worst of traitors. As an excommunicate he can take no oath, and the toleration he would establish is the first step on the road that would lead to the recognition of Mohammedanism. He is a heretic, and all history and scripture testify that it is legitimate to take up arms against him. He is a tyrant, and the way to treat him was shown in the noble act of Jacques Clement when he murdered Henry III in defense of the Church against the wicked plots of the Politiques. The duty of all Frenchmen is to obey the call of the League. It is supported by Spain; it has as members the Cardinal of Bourbon, who is the rightful king, and the House of Lorraine. If Henry IV is maintained in power, all property will be unsafe. The nobility will be merged in the populace, and lose all influence and position, for Calvinism is incompatible with kingship and aristocracy. Its secret plan, indeed, is to make the government of France like to that of Switzerland. It is already, in its ecclesiastical organization, an imperium in imperio; should it be tolerated longer, the true France will perish.

Clearly enough, the Catholic and Protestant Monarchomachs approach the same problem from different sides. Each party was hostile to the absolute state in the one case because it presaged, in the other because it denied, religious toleration. Each sought relief from its trammels in considerations of right; and each sought to defend the maintenance of right by means of a social contract derived from the sovereignty of the people. Each was at bottom entirely indifferent to freedom. The Catholics aimed quite definitely at persecution; and the real effort of the Huguenots was, as Rossaeus himself pointed out, a desire to found such a Presbyterian tyranny as Calvin established at Geneva or Knox in Scotland. Both, that is to say, failed to grasp, as the Politiques had definitely grasped, the notion of the state as a self-sufficient society of which the ethical roots were to be discovered within and not without itself. With both, of course, the contingent implications are far wider than the conscious purpose. Each of them was really puzzled by the single problem of allegiance. They sought to deny the duty of obedience when it involved results unfavorable to a given religion. To a philosophic theory of the state neither could make pretense. Their weapons were too entirely at the service of their desires for it to he as yet possible for them to attain that degree of obstruction at which a philosophic view alone becomes possible. Yet each was making generalizations which, in other hands, would move towards that end. The Monarchomachs are summed up in Salamonius and Althusius on the one side, and the Society of Jesus on the other. The Monarchomachs may have failed to realize all the profits of their thought, but at least they provided the materials for the next generation.

The real inheritors of their work are, in fact, the Jesuits and the English thinkers of the 17th century; for the thought of the time is hardly national, but European, and the two streams of doctrine blended into a common tradition. The Jesuits, of course, had a different aim in view. As the chief agents of the Counter-Reformation, and, in particular, the Spanish theory of it, they were no more concerned with the roots of freedom than their predecessors. But they were confronted with a Europe that was religiously heterogeneous; and they used the Presbyterian hint of two societies, religious and secular, with concurrent jurisdictions over the same persons as the clue to their purpose. From this they are able to deduce the view of states as independent, equal, and sovereign which, in the hands of Grotius, made possible the development of international law. The independence, indeed, is never real; there is always, as in the famous book of Bellarmine, the indirect power of the pope outside to destroy its logical result. But they did, the needs of religion apart, emphasize more completely than any other group of thinkers the fact that civil society is a natural product of men’s dispositions, that power is organized to serve its purposes, and that power is, as a consequence, always popular in origin that the purpose of its institution may be preserved. The Jesuits did not get so far as Althusius in their sense of the corporateness of communities, with the personality to which that corporateness gives rise, but they did see that political power is the result of social facts and that it remains the eternal possession of the people. The prince for them is always the mere administrator of those institutions which fulfill the end of civil right, and absolutism is ruled out as à priori impossible. They use the notion of a social contract, but it has not, with them, as it has in the writings of the Monarchomachs, anything like a primary importance. Their governing concept is natural law. Power is always regarded as limited, that eternal reason, which popular sovereignty is held ultimately to embody, may correct the deficiencies of its exercise.

1t is clear that this is in the direct tradition of the Vindiciae. It retains, of course, an ultimate religious perspective, and the state is made as subservient to the ends of the Roman Church by the Jesuits as it was made to minister to Huguenot demands by Beza and his disciples. Its translation into a predominantly secular theory was mainly the result of the 17th-century struggle between king and parliament in England. Of that evolution John Locke supplied a magistral summary, and he did little, the theory of toleration apart, but adapt the teachings of the Vindiciae to an English atmosphere. With him, as with his predecessors, there is the same suppression of the idea of sovereignty, the same confinement of the law-making power within a previously defined area of capacity. Like them, too, Locke thinks of the state as a human, even an artificial contrivance; he cannot believe that man surrendered his rights to it, save in terms of a previously guaranteed return. Power for him is just as much a trust revocable on abuse, as it is with the thinkers of the 16th century. He has the same dread of absolutism, the same refusal to make the final nature of social life depend upon some naturally inherent and coordinating power in the state. The atomism of the Vindiciae is, in fact, as notable in Locke as in the earlier exponents of the contract theory. And not unnaturally, for with him also the main purpose of the polemic is to set bounds to the power of government. The absolutism of the 16th century was attacked because it was found to be incompatible with freedom of religious belief; the prerogative of the 17th found opponents in those who sought a larger degree of national self-determination. But both ages found the defense of their position in the concept of a state built upon the rights separately surrendered by individuals. Those rights were a matter of contractual organization, and for the state to step outside the boundaries they defined was to deny the character of its origin.

Practically, this is to say, the theory of the state upon which the Vindiciae rests determined the character of political speculation from the end of the 16th century until the advent of Rousseau. So long as the aim of political philosophy was to outline the area of an abstract right determined à priori as a field subtracted from the rights of individuals, the Monarchomachic tradition exhausted the requirements of a liberal outlook. Prynne and Rutherford both drew their nourishment from this source, and the ideas of the Levelers rest upon a kindred foundation. Through Locke, it is at the base of the thought of Price and Priestley; through Locke, also, it supplies the perspective of the American Revolution. And Locke himself derived the substance of his ideas from the French thinkers of the Counter-Reformation. He drew upon Grotius and Puffendorf, who are, in turn, dependent upon the Monarchomachic school. The other great formative influence in Locke is Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity; and if its eighth book is an attempt at refutation of the Vindiciae, that is itself sufficient to show that it is an essential source of early English radicalism.

After Rousseau, the situation changes because the foundation of political thought is different. That new theories had been born did not, of course, involve the disappearance of the tradition embodied in the Vindiciae; but it involved its transformation to new purposes. For the Social Contract introduces the notion of an organic state; the rights of the individual are superseded by the theory of corporate personality. That revival of Platonist doctrine was, in the long run, a death blow to the atomism of the earlier school. It made the state not, as with the Vindiciae, the artificial contrivance of men, but a society which supplied human nature with its essential penumbra. If Rousseau lays excessive emphasis upon the degree to which man must be read in a state-context, that was the natural reaction from the individualism of Locke.

Nor was Rousseau the only corrective that outlook was to receive. With Hume and Bentham, theories of abstract right gave place to theories of concrete utility; and the idea of a social contract did not survive the assault they made upon it. The discovery Bentham owed to Holbach that the creative power of the state lies in legislation—a theory built upon the Esprit des Lois—added a substance to the theory of politics which had been previously absent. For legislation meant the possibility of deliberate innovation, and that nation was qualitatively different from the declaration of à priori rightness which lies at the bottom of Monarchomachic doctrine. Utilitarianism, in brief, brought in the time-spirit as the permanent and conscious background of political philosophy; and there is a chasm which cannot be bridged between rights regarded as the product of utility, and rights, as with the Vindiciae, that have their basis in an eternal right which escapes the categories of space and time.

This does not, indeed, mean that the Monarchomachs were mistaken in the perception their work enshrines. At the bottom of their argument is an emphasis which no political philosophy can afford to neglect. In part, it is the realization that every state is built upon the consciences of men. Within each individual mind there are reserves into which no organizing power can hope to penetrate. For the Vindiciae those reserves were, from the nature of its problem, mainly religious in nature, but the concept is a general one, and it applies to the spiritual outlook of every citizen. In part, also, it is the insistence that the state exists to secure for its members some agreed minimum of civilization. Wherein that minimum consists will, of course, depend upon the character of each age. What only is certain is that the deprivation of certain things deemed good, will, at some given time, lead to the onset of resistance. Natural rights and a social contract raise, as historic concepts, far more difficulties than they solve. But it is important to bear in mind that they are, at the same time, the reflection of ideas upon which the successful working of every state depends.

They are the attempt, in fact, of men who feel that they are being deprived of that which gives to social life its meaning, to insist upon the remedy of their grievance. The social contract is an effort to provide such an institutional channel as will secure that the consent of the mass, and not the arbitrary will of a few, is the creative factor in the making of social tradition. Natural rights are the demands for the fulfillment of certain conditions without which an important fragment of the state ceases to feel loyalty to its institutions. However we phrase their substance, an answer to the problems they raise is integral to an adequate political philosophy. Nor may we neglect the important sense in which even the atomism of this outlook has its value. For to whatever degree society may absorb its members, it is, in their experience, ultimately interstitial in character. No theory of the state is satisfactory which does not realize that man is a solitary creature not less than social. The problem of allegiance is, therefore, in any final analyses, an individual problem. The law may resolve, and attach sanctions to its resolution; but the decision that is made takes place, if it is a real decision, separately in the mind of each member of the state. This has, of course, been seen by all men who have, at periods of crisis, been driven to challenge the foundations of a social system. It was true of Luther; it was true of Lamennais, of Dollinger and of Tyrrell. Perhaps, indeed, no better test of institutional adequacy can be found than the degree in which it leaves room for the free play of conscience, for no world is worth preserving which cannot utilize its Athanasius. Some such conclusion as this is, it is clear, implied in the experience of the 16th century. At that time, the conscience involved, the rights demanded, were mainly religious in texture. Yet it is rather the emphasis than the nature of the problem that has shifted. The reconciliation of authority with freedom, the decision as to what things a creative freedom must embody, are not less pressing in the 20th century than they were at the time of the Reformation.


The authorship of the Vindiciae has been for three centuries a matter of learned dispute, and it cannot be said that any certainty has been attained in the matter. Until the publication of Bayle’s article in the Dictionnaire Critique, it was usual to assume that Duplessis-Mornay, the counsellor of Henry IV, was its author, though other attributions, most notably that to Théodore Beza, were not wanting. The latter, indeed, was a very popular theory with English royalist writers of the 17th century, since it afforded additional evidence of the natural and inherent disloyalty of the Presbyterians. Bayle did not, indeed, state definitely that Languet was the author of the Vindiciae, but he constructed an able and impressive case against any other attribution. He pointed out that Agrippa d’Aubigné, a contemporary witness, definitely states that Languet was the author, and that where, in his first edition of 1616, he had been discreet, in the second there is simple affirmation. He quotes also a supposed remark of Goulart, an indefatigable controversialist of the time, to the effect that the work was Languet’s; but this testimony is weakened by the fact that the remark does not come directly from Goulart, but is attributed to him by Tronchin, the author of his funeral sermon. He points out, further, that if Duplessis-Mornay was the author of the book, he wrote at an early age an essay of remarkable ability, the implication being that its composition seems more suited to the maturity of Languet. Bayle certainly destroys any other possibility than the alternative between Languet and his younger friend. He shows clearly that there is no basis whatever for the belief that the Vindiciae was due to Beza, or Hotman, or, as an English tradition suggested, the Jesuit Robert Parsons. This last theory, indeed, can only be based upon the assumption that as Parsons wrote many books anonymously attacking legitimate kingship, the Vindiciae might reasonably he laid also to his charge.

Bayle’s tentative view held the field for nearly two centuries. At the end of that time the theory that Duplessis-Mornay was the real author was urged independently both in France and Germany. It was impossible to deny the positive statement of d’Aubigné. But there was the remark of Grotius, who, as Bayle says, “knew almost all that passed in the republic of letters,” on the other side. And even d’Aubigné’s positive assertion is not beyond doubt, for in the first edition of his work he had ascribed to “a learned gentleman of the Kingdom,” a phrase much more applicable to Duplessis-Mornay, who was a French subject, than to Languet, who was the servant of a foreign sovereign. There are, moreover, two pieces of testimony which go to outweigh any other evidence we have. The Academician Conrart knew an acquaintance of Duplessis-Mornay. The latter, it appears, kept among his books a cabinet in which his own writings were preserved, and the friend had seen the Vindiciae among those writings. This can, at the least, be set against the supposed witness of Goulart; and, as M. Waddington urges, it is difficult to escape the implications of an express statement of Madame Duplessis-Mornay. She wrote her reminiscences, as she tells us, that her son might know what manner of man his father was, and, if her Protestantism is ardent, the value of her evidence is beyond all question. She writes that her husband was the author of an essay on la puissance légitime d’un prince sur son peuple, which is practically the title of the translation of the Vindiciae issued in French in 1581. There is no other work of Duplessis-Mornay’s to which this can refer. There was no special point, at the time when Madame Duplessis-Mornay prepared her reminiscences, in claiming authorship for her husband; rather, in the circumstances of the period, it was an invitation to calumny if she intended her work to be published. If, still more, she wrote only for the eyes of her son, it is even clearer that she had no motive in not telling the truth. Until, then, evidence of equal weight be produced upon the other side, the balance of probability would appear to lean decisively towards the authorship of Duplessis-Mornay.

Nor can there be any doubt of his literary capacity for the work. His theological writing apart, his statesmanlike insight into the problems of his time made him, Sully apart, the most trusted of Henry IV’s advisers. His ability to write under an aspect not his own is shown by his Exhortation à la Paix of 1574, written as an appeal by a moderate Catholic to his co-religionists; and hisRemonstrance aux Estats of 1576, a plea to the Estates of Blois for peace, was published under a similar guise. He may, indeed, almost be called the professional advocate of Henry IV; and if the tone of the Vindiciae is markedly different from his other writings, it may be suggested that, theology apart, it was the only essay addressed to the Huguenots, and the only one in which his effort was rather to encourage his friends than to persuade his opponents. Evidence of style is notoriously deceptive, but the stern eloquence of the Vindiciae seems to fit, not merely his other polemical works, but also the rugged severity of his character. Nor is it worthless to note that, like much else of his work, the Vindiciae displays in quotation a profound acquaintance with Scripture. That is a trait markedly absent from the writings of Languet. The latter’s polished Latinity is very different from the simplicity of the Vindiciae’s diction.

The translation here reprinted was published in London by Robert Baldwin in 1689. It is an anonymous translation, and appears to be an exact reproduction of an earlier one published in the not less significant year of 1648. Its Latin dress apart, indeed, the Vindiciae has a fairly consecutive English history which bears testimony to the favor with which it was received. It was printed entire in 1581 and 1589; in 1588 the fourth question appeared separately as A short Apologie for Christian Soldiers—obviously as a defense of English assistance to the Dutch rebels. A translation appeared in 1622, and a reprint of 1631 appears as Vindiciae Religionis, perhaps as an invitation to English Puritans to throw off the yoke of Stuart despotism. There were further editions in 1648, 1660, and 1689. In a century, that is, the Vindiciae was reprinted, either in whole or in part, no less than eight times; and each year of its appearance has a special import directly related to its text. No translator of any of these editions is known. Yet it is perhaps a service due to a picturesque legend to note that the copy in the British Museum of the edition of 1648 attributes the work to one William Walker of Darnel, near Sheffield, who cut off the head of Charles I. The anonymous commentator was perhaps drawing upon a fervid imagination, but the destruction of the Stuarts was not unconnected with the Vindiciae contra Tyrannos.