Notes on Milton's Developing
Early Conservatism (Support for Monarchy)
- Episcopacy with that Authority which it challenges in England is
not only not agreeable, but tending to the destruction of Monarchy.
- What good upholders of Royalty were the Bishops, when by their
rebellious opposition against King John, Normandy was lost, he himself deposed, and this
Kingdom made over to the Pope? When Bishops shall openly affirm that, No Bishop, no King I
will fetch you the Twin-brother to it out of the Jesuits' Cell, One Pope, and one King
Reason of Church Government
- Prelates, as they are to the subjects a calamity, so are they the
greatest underminers and betrayers of the monarch, to whom they seem to be most favorable.
- Amongst many secondary and accessory causes that support Monarchy,
these are not of least reckoning, though common to other States: the love of the Subjects,
the multitude, and valor of the people, and store of treasure. In all these things hath
the Kingdome been of late sorely weakened, and chiefly by the Prelates. What numbers of
faithful and freeborn Englishmen and good Christians have been constrained to forsake
their dearest home, their friends, and kindred, whom nothing but the wide Ocean, and the
savage deserts of America could hide and shelter from the fury of the Bishops.
- They covet to be expert in Canons and Decretals, which may enable
them to judge and interpose in temporal Causes, however pretended Ecclesiastical. Have not
some of their devoted Scholars begun, I need not say to nibble, but openly to argue
against the Kings Supremacy? A wise and provident King ought to suspect a Hierarchy in his
- This Ecclesiastical Supremacy draws to it the power to
excommunicate Kings, and then follows the worst that can be imagined.
Freedom of Printing and Exchange of Ideas
- Who are the inventors of licensing? The Catholic church.
- What is to be thought of reading? It is a necessary acquisition of
knowledge of good and evil in a fallen world.
- This Order is ineffectual in suppressing "scandalous,
seditious, and libelous books."
- This Order will discourage learning and the pursuit of truth.
- In Athens, only two types of writings were suppressed by the civil
powers: blasphemous/atheistic writings and libelous writings.
- The same holds true for Rome (before its descent into tyranny).
- Even the earliest Christian emperors did not depart from this
relatively tolerant position.
- The Catholic church is the inventor of the licensing of printing:
"their last invention was to ordain that no book, pamphlet, or paper should be
printed . . . unless it were approved and licensed . . . thus ye have the inventors and
the original of book-licensing . . . from the most antichristian council and the most
tyrannous inquisition that ever inquired."
- Moses, Daniel, and Paul were skillful in all the learning of the
Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Greeks, respectively. This can only have been through prodigious
- Julian the Apostate (emperor from 361-363) forbade Christians the
reading of heathen writers. (Seems a weak point, but the contention is that if an apostate
forbids reading classical literature, then it must be good for faithful Christians to
- Dinoysius Alexandrinusa pious and learned early
Christianread heretical books in order to be able to refute the arguments therein.
When challenged by "a certain presbyter," he was in a quandary until he received
a vision: "Read any books whatever come to thy hands, for thou art suficient both to
judge aright and to examine each matter."
- Bad books may serve a "discreet and judicious reader" to
"discover, to confute, to forewarn, and to illustrate."
- Solomon writes that much reading is "a weariness to the
flesh," but it is not therefore unlawful.
- The burning of books at Acts 19:19 was a voluntary actnot
mandated by any magistrate.
- Good and evil are almost inseparable in this worldin this
world, how can one have wisdom to choose good without "the knowledge of evil"?
"Since, therefore, the knowledge and survey of vice is in this world so necessary to
the constituting of human virtue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation of truth,
how can we more safely and with less danger scout into the regions of sin and falsity than
by reading all manner of tractates and hearing all manner of reason? And this is the
benefit which may be had of books promiscuously read."
- Controversial books (of religion) are more a danger to the learned
than to the ignorant: "It will be hard to instance where any ignorant man hath been
ever seduced by papistical book in English, unless it were commended and expounded to him
by some of that clergy."
- Licensing is a vain and impossible attempt, like "the exploit
of a gallant man who thought to pound up the crows by shutting his park gate."
- No well-constituted nation or state ever used "this way of
- Plato, in his Laws, spells out such a system, but for an imaginary
state. Platoin realitywas a transgressor of his own (imagined) laws: a writer
of dialogues and a reader of Aristophanes (whom he supposedly recommended to Dionysius,
the Tyrant of Syracuse [367-356 BC]).
- If printing must be regulated, so must all other trades and arts.
- Who shall decide? Who shall set the absolute standards?
- It is no good "to sequester out of the world into Atlantic
[Francis Bacon] and Utopian [Thomas More] polities," rather, we must "ordain
wisely as in this world of evil, in the midst whereof God hath placed us
- The "great art" of a commonwealth lies in knowing what
to restrain and forbid, and what to leave to private conscience. Punishment and persuasion
must be correctly balanced.
- God gave man reason and freedom to choose. Otherwise, Adam would
have been "a mere artificial Adam." God created passions within us so that we
need to temper them in and through virtue (tempering the passions is virtue). By
removing the causes/objects of sin, we remove the opportunities for the acquisition,
generation, and practice of virtue: "how much we thus expel of sin, so much we expel
- To distrust the honesty and judgment of a "free and knowing
spirit" to the point of not counting him "fit to print his mind without a tutor
and examiner" is a great indignity.
- If no years of experience, learning, and industry can bring a man
"to that state of maturity as not to be still mistrusted and suspected . . . [it is]
a dishonor and derogation to the author, to the book, to the privilege and dignity of
- How can a man teach with authority if all he teaches is under the
authority of a licenser?
- Francis Bacon: "Authorized books are but the language of the
times." Even if a licenser is especially judicious and perceptive, the function of
his office requires that he license nothing "but what is vulgarly received
- This distrust is an "undervaluing and vilifying of the whole
- Description of meeting Galileo: "a prisoner to the
Inquisition for thinking in astronomy otherwise than the Franciscan and Dominican
- The complaints of the learned against the Inquisition are now
being made by the learned against the Parliaments order of licensing.
- The general murmur: if we are so suspicious of men "as to
fear each book . . . before we know what the contents are," then we are facing
"a second tyranny over learning." This will soon show that the current
presbyters (who had only recently been silenced by the then-dominant Anglican hierarchy)
are just the same ("name and thing") as the old bishops. Meet the New Boss. Same
as the Old Boss.
- When the bishops were being fought against, freedom of publishing
was a good thing (according to the presbyters), but now that the bishops have been
defeated, suddenly publishing must be licensed. How convenient.
- England is the new chosen nation of God.
- England is an earthly type of the City of God.
- The English people are potentially a "nation of prophets, of
sages, and of worthies." Only "wise and faithful laborers" are needed to
actualize this potential.
- "Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will
be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in
- Analogy to the building of the temple in Solomons day:
"when every stone is laid artfully together, it cannot be united into a continuity,
it can but be contiguous in this world."
- The strength of the church lies in the unity of diverse (but not
too diverse) elements: "the perfection consists in this, that out of many moderate
varieties and brotherly dissimilitudes that are not vastly disproportional, arises the
goodly and graceful symmetry that commends the whole pile and structure."
- The "time seems come . . . when . . . all the Lords
people, are become prophets."
- The carrying on of these intellectual disputes even during a time
of civil war, when the forces of Charles I threaten, is a sign of faith in the good
government of Parliament. (Thus commences the kiss-Parliaments-ass section.)
- The people became free to write and speak because of the liberty
that the "valorous and happy counsels [of Parliament] have purchased." The
people cannot grow less learned and less inclined to write and speak unless Parliament
revert to tyrannous ways, "as they were from whom ye have freed us.
- Let Truth and Falsehood grapple in the open. Truth will win.
- Doctrine of (limited) tolerance: "if all cannot be of one
mindas who looks they should be?--this doubtless is more wholesome, more prudent,
and more Christian, that many be tolerated rather than all compelled."
- This "many" does not include Catholics (or
non-Christians): I mean not tolerated popery and open superstition, which, as it
extirpates all religions and civil supremacies, so itself should be extirpate . . . but
those neighboring differences, or rather indifferences, are what I speak of, whether in
some point of doctrine or of discipline."
- If the men who appear to be schismatics are indeed wrong, why not
debate them openly? If they are not wrong, and are doing the work of God (the
"Gamaliel" argument), "no less than woe to us while, thinking thus to
defend the Gospel, we are found the persecutors."
- If nothing else will work, "it would be no unequal
distribution . . . to supress the supressors themselves."
- To set right the wrong that has been done is the highest and
wisest thing that Parliament can do.
The Right to Resist Tyranny
The Scriptural Background for the Controversy Over Secular
Romans 13: 1-6--Let every soul be subject
unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained
of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they
that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good
works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good,
and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good.
But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he
is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye
must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this
cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this
1 Peter 2:13-19-- Submit yourselves to every
ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto
governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the
praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to
silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of
maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God.
Honour the king. Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good
and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience
toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.
The following citations are examples of the use of the
Hebrew word elohim (plural for El,
or god) in reference to secular authorities (though Psalm 82 is also most susceptible to a
polytheist or henotheist--one god among many gods--interpretation). Psalm 82 translates elohim
as "gods," while Exodus 21:6 and 22:8 both translate elohim
as "judges." These scriptures were often used to justify a postion that held
that secular authority was divinely ordained, and therefore to be obeyed at all times and
under all circumstances.
Psalm 82--God standeth in the congregation of the
mighty; he judgeth among the gods. How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons
of the wicked? Selah. Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and
needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked. They know not,
neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth
are out of course. I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.
But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes. Arise, O God, judge the
earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.
Exodus 21:6--Then his master shall bring him
unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his
master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him forever.
Exodus 22:8--If the thief be not found, then the
master of the house shall be brought unto the judges, to see whether he have put his hand
unto his neighbour's goods.
Tenure of Kings and Magistrates
- If men within themselves would be governed by reason and not
generally give up their understanding to a double tyranny of custom from without and blind
affections within, they would discern better what it is to favor and uphold the tyrant of
a nation. But being slaves within doors, no wonder that they strive so much to have the
public state conformably governed to the inward vicious rule by which they govern
- None can love freedom heartily but good men; the rest love not
freedom but license, which never hath more scope or more indulgence than under tyrants.
- Neither do bad men hate tyrants, but have been always readiest
with the falsified names of loyalty and obedience to color over their base compliances.
Speaking of the Presbyterians
- Straight these men and sure helpers at need, as if they hated only
the miseries but not the mischiefs, after they have juggled and paltered with the world,
bandied and borne arms against their King, divested him, disannointed him, nay, cursed him
all over in their pulpits and their pamphlets to the engaging of sincere and real men
beyond what is possible or honest to retreat from, not only turn revolters from those
principles which only could at first move them, but lay the stain of disloyalty and worse
on those proceedings which are the necessary consequences of their own former actions.
[They are] not considering the while that he toward whom they boasted their new fidelity,
counted them accessory; and by those statutes and laws which they so impotently brandish
against others, would have doomed to them to a traitor's death for what they have done
- Most men are apt enough to civil wars and commotions as a novelty,
. . . but through sloth or inconstancy and weakness of spirit . . . or through an inbred
falsehood and wickedness, betray, ofttimes to destruction with themselves, men of noblest
temper joined with them for causes whereof they in their rash undertakings were not
- Others, who have been fiercest against their Prince under the
notion of a tyrant, and no mean incendiaries of the war against him, when God out of his
providence and high disposal hath delivered him into the hand of their brethren, on a
sudden and in a new garb of allegiance, which their doings have long since canceled, they
plead for him, pity him, extol him, protest against those that talk of bringing him to the
trial of justice.
- Another sort there is, who . . . begin to swerve and almost shiver
at the majesty and grandeur of some noble deed, as if they were newly entered into a great
sin; disputing precedents, forms, and circumstances, when the commonwealth nigh perishes
for want of deeds in substance, done with just and faithful expedition.
- [These are] apostate scarecrows, who, under show of giving
counsel, send out their barking monitories and mementoes, empty of aught else but the
spleen of a frustrated faction.
- Nor let any man be deluded by either the ignorance or the
notorious hypocrisy and self-repugnance of our dancing divines, who have the conscience
and the boldness to come with scripture in their mouths, glossed and fitted for their
turns with a double contradictory sense, transforming the sacred verity of God to an idol
with two faces, looking at once two several ways; and with the same quotations to charge
others, which in the same case they may serve to justify themselves. For while the hope to
be made classic and provincial lords led them on . . . then to fight against the king's
person, and no less a party of his lords and commons, or to put force upon both houses,
was good, was lawful, was no resisting of superior powers.
- But now that their censorious domineering is not suffered to be
universal, truth and conscience to be freed, tithes and pluralities to be no more . . .
now to exclude and seize upon impeached mmembers, to bring delinquents without exemption
to a fair tribunal by the common national law against murder, is now to be no less than
Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. He who but erewhile in the pulpits was a cursed tyrant, an
enemy to God and saints, laden with all the innocent blood spilt in three kingdoms, and so
to be fought against, is now, though nothing penitent or altered from his first
principles, a lawful magistrate, a sovereign lord, the Lord's annointed, not to be
touched, though by themselves imprisoned.
Who May Be Resisted as a Tyrant
This I dare owne as part of my faith, that if such a one
there be, by whose commission whole massacres have been committed on his faithful
subjects, his provinces offered to pawn or alienation, as the hire of those whom he had
solicited to come in and destroy whole cities and countries; be he king, or tyrant, or
emperor, the sword of justice is above him, in whose hand soever is found sufficient power
to avenge the effusion and so great a deluge of innocent blood. For if all human power to
execute, not accidentally but intendedly, the wrath of God upon evildoers without
exception, be of God, then that power, whether ordinary or, if that fail, extraordinary,
so executing that intent of God, is lawful and not to be resisted.
The Beginnings of Civil Authority
- I shall here set down from first beginning, the original of kings;
how and wherefore exalted into that dignity above their brethren; and from thence shall
prove that, turning to tyranny, they may be as lawfully deposed and punished as they were
at first elected.
- No man who knows aught, can be so stupid to deny that all men
naturally were borne free, being the image and resemblance of God himself, and were, by
privilege above all the creatures, borne to command, and not to obey . . . till from the
root of Adam's transgression falling among themselves to do wrong and violence . . . they
agreed by common league to bind each other from mutual injury, and jointly to defend
themselves against any that gave disturbance or opposition to such agreement. Hence came
cities, towns, and commonwealths.
- This authority and power of self-defense and preservation being
originally and naturally in every one of them, and unitedly in them all, . . . they
communicated and derived either to one whom for the evidence of his wisdom and integrity
they chose above the rest, or to more than one whom they thought of equal deserving. The
first was called a king, the other, magistrates: not to be their lords and masters . . .
but to be their deputies and commissioners.
- These for a while governed well and with much equity decided all
things at their own arbitrement, till the temptation of such a power, left absolute in
their hands, perverted to them at length to injustice and partiality. Then did they . . .
invent laws, either framed or consented to by all, that should confine and limit the
authority of whom they chose to govern them . . . while, as the magistrate was set above
the people, so law was set above the magistrate.
- From that time, the only remedy left them, [was] to put conditions
and take oaths from all kings and magistrates at their first installments to do impartial
justice by law: who, upon those terms and no other, received allegiance from the people,
that is to say, bond or covenant to obey them in execution of those laws which they, the
people, had themselves made or assented to. And this ofttimes with express warning, that
if the king or magistrate proved unfaithful to his trust, the people would be disengaged.
- The power of kings and magistrates is nothing else but what is
only derivative, transferred, and committed to them in trust from the people to the common
good of them all, in whom the power yet remains fundamentally and cannot be taken from
them without a violation of their natural birth right.
- To say, as is usual, the king hath as good right to his crown and
dignity as any man to his inheritance, is to make the subject no better than the king's
slave, chattel, or his possession that may be bought and sold. . . . . But suppose it to
be of right hereditary, what can be more just and legal, if a subject for certain crimes
be to forfeit by law from himself and posterity all his inheritance to the king, then that
a king, for crimes proportional, should forfeit all his title and inheritance to the
Milton's Response To The Divine-Right Theory Account of a
- To say kings are accountable to none but God, is the overturning
of all law and government.
- Some would persuade us that this absurd opinion was king David's,
because in the 51 Psalm he cries out to God, "against thee only have I sinned";
as if David had imagined that to murder Uriah and adulterate his wife had been no sin
against his neighbor.
- Aristotle . . . writes in the fourth of his Politics,
chap.X, that "monarchy unaccountable is the first sword of tyranny, and least of all
to be endured by free-born men."
- How much more rationally spake the heathen king Demophoon, in a
tragedy of Euripides, than these interpreters would put upon king David! "I rule not
my people by tyranny, as if they were barbarians, but am myself liable, if I do unjustly,
to suffer justly."
- Not unlike was the speech of Trajan, the worthy emperor, to one
whom he made general of his praetorian forces: "Take this drawn sword," saith
he, "to use for me if I reign well; if not, to use against me."
- Since the king or magistrate holds his authority of the people,
both originally and naturally for their good in the first place, and not his own, then may
a people, as oft as they shall judge for the best, either choose him or reject him, retain
him or depose him, though no tyrant, merely by the liberty and right of freeborn men to be
governed as seems to them best.
- The right of choosing, yea of changing their own government, is by
the grant of God himself in the people.
- Kingdom and magistracy, whether supreme or subordinate, is without
difference called "a human ordinance."
- St. Paul . . . tells us that such magistrates he means as are not
a terror to the good, but to the evil . . . doubtless those powers that do the contrary
are no powers ordained of God, and by consequence no obligation laid upon us to obey or
not to resist them . . . if the power be not such or the person execute not such power,
neither the one nor the other is of God, but of the devil and by consequence to be
- If the people's act in election be pleaded by a king as the act of
God and the most just title to enthrone him, why may not the people's act of rejection be
as well pleaded by the people as the act of God and the most just reason to depose him?
The Definition of a Tyrant
A tyrant, whether by wrong or by right coming to the crown,
is he who, regarding neither law nor the common good, reigns only for himself and his
What May Be Done to a Tyrant
- The Greeks and Romans . . . held it not only lawful, but a
glorious and heroic deed . . . to kill an infamous tyrant at anytime without trial.
- Among the Jews this custom of tyrant-killing was not unusual.
Does it Matter Whether a Tyrant is Domestic or Imported?
- It imports not whether [a tyrant is] foreign or native. For no
prince so native but professes to hold by law; which when he himself overturns . . . what
differs he from an outlandish king or from an enemy?
- How much right the king of Spain hath to govern us at all, so much
right hath the king of England to govern us tyrannically.
What Does the Gospel Have to Say About Tyranny?
- Our Savior himself, how much he favored tyrants and how much
intended they should be found or honored among Christians, declares his mind not obscurely
. . . charging those that would be his disciples to usurp no such dominion; but that they
who were to be of most authority among them, should esteem themselves ministers and
servants to the public.
- The greatest among you shall be your servant.
- So far ought we to be from thinking that Christ and his gospel
should be made a sanctuary for tyrants from justice, to whom his law before never gave
What About the History of British Monarchs and Tyranny?
- To prove that some of our own monarchs have acknowledged that
their high office exempted them not from punishment, they had the sword of St. Edward
borne before them by an officer . . . that if they erred, the sword had power to restrain
- It is also affirmed from diligent search made in our ancient books
of law that the peers and barons of England had a legal right to judge the king.
- Our ancestors, who were not ignorant with what rights either
nature or ancient constitution had endowed them, when oaths both at coronation and renewed
in parliament would not serve, thought it no way illegal to depose and put to death their
Examples of Justified Warfare against Kings
- In the year 1546, the Duke of Saxony, Landgrave of Hesse, and the
whole protestant league, raised open war against Charles the Fith, their emperor.
- In the year 1559, the Scots protestants claiming promise of their
queen-regent for liberty of conscience, she answering that promises were not to be claimed
of princes beyond what was commondius for them to grant, told her to her face in the
parliament then at Stirling that if it were so, they renounced their obedience; and soon
after betook them to arms.
- When allegiance is renounced, that very hour the king or queen is
in effect deposed.
- In the year 1564, John Knox . . . maintained openly . . . that
subjects might and ought execute God's judgments upon their king.
- Three years after, they met in the field Mary their lawful and
hereditary queen, took her prisoner yielding before fight, kept her in prison, and the
same year deposed her. And four years after that, the Scots, in justification of their
deposing Queen Mary, sent ambassadors to Queen Elizabeth and in a written declaration
alleged that they had used towards her more lenity than she deserved; that their ancestors
had heretofore punished their kings by death or banishment; that the Scots were a free
nation, made king whom they freely chose, and with the same freedom unkinged him if they
The Presbyterians were the ones who deposed Charles I
- The Presbyterians, who now so much condemn deposing, were the men
themselves that deposed the king, and cannot with all their shifting and relapsing washed
off the guiltiness from their own hands. For they themselves by these their late dealings
have made it guiltiness and turned their own warrantable actions into rebellion.
- The Presbyterians . . . Have they not utterly broke the oath of
allegiance, rejecting the king's command and authority sent them from any part of the
kingdom, whether in things lawful or unlawful? Have they not abjured the oath of supremacy
by setting up the parliament without the king, supreme to all their obedience?
- It follows undeniably that the king from that time was by them in
fact absolutely deposed; and they no longer in reality to be thought his subjects,
notwithstanding their fine clause in the covenant to preserve his person, crown, and
- To prove it yet more plainly that they are the men who have
deposed the king, I thus argue. We know that king and subjects are relatives, and
relatives have no longer being than in the relation. The relation between king and subject
can be no other than regal authority and subjection . . . if the subject, who was one
relative, take away the relation, of force he takes away also the other relative. But the
Presbyterians, who were one relative, that is to say, subjects, have for this seven years
taken away the relation, that is to say, the king's authority and their subjection to it.
Therefore the Presbyterians for these seven years have removed and extinguished the other
relative, that is to say, the king, or, to speak more in brief, have deposed him.
- Who knows not that the king is a name of dignity and office, not a
person? Who therefore kills a king, must kill him while he is a king. Then they certainly
who by deposing him have long since taken from him the life of the king, his office and
his dignity, they in the truest sense may be said to have killed the king.
- They . . . were the men who in the truest sense killed the king .
. .by the depressing him, their king, far below the rank of a subject to the condition of
a captive, without intention to restore him . . . unless he granted fully all their
demands, which they knew he never meant.
- If the whole bent of their actions had not been against the king
himself, but only against his evil counselors, as they feigned and published, wherefore
did they not restore him all that while to the true life of the king, his office, crown,
and dignity, when he was in their power and they themselves his nearest counselors?
The Justice of Giving Charles a Trial
- How much more justly then may they fling off tyranny or tyrants,
who being once deposed can be no more than private men, as subject to the reach of justice
and arraignment as any other transgressors?
- How much more mild and humane is it to give them fair and open
trial--to teach lawless kings and all who so much adore them that not mortal man, or his
imperious will, but justice, is the only true sovereign and supreme majesty upon earth?
- No unbridled potentate or tyrant, but to his sorrow, for the
future may presume such high and irresponsible license over mankind, to havoc and turn
upside down whole kingdoms of men, as though they were no more in respect of his perverse
will than a nation of pismires.
Advice to the Presbyterians
- As for the party called Presbyterian . . . I wish them, earnestly
and calmly, not to fall off from their first principles . . . not to compel unforcible
things, in religion especially . . . . Let them not oppose their best friends and
associates, who molest them not at all, infringe not the least of their liberties --
unless they call it their liberty to bind other men's consciences . . . . Let them fear
therefore, if they be wise, rather what they have done already than what remains to do;
and be warned in time they put no confidence in princes whom they have provoked.
- Stories can inform them how Christiern the Second, king of
Denmark, not much above a hundred years past, driven out by his subjects and received
again upon new oaths and conditions, broke through them all to his most bloody revenge;
slaying his chief opposers when he saw his time, both them and their children invited to a
feast for that purpose.
- [This should] admonish them, both English and Scotch, not to let
their own ends and the driving on of a faction betray them blindly into this snare of
those enemies whose revenge looks on them as the men who first begun, fomented, and
carried on beyond the cure of any sound or safe accommodation, all the evil which hath
since unavoidably befallen them and their king.
- If they be the ministers of mammon instead of Christ and
scandalize his church with the filthy love of gain -- aspiring also to sit the closest and
the heaviest of all tyrants upon the conscience -- and fall notoriously into the same sins
whereof so lately and so loud they accused the prelates, as God rooted out those wicked
ones immediately before so will he root out them, their imitators; and, to vindicate his
own glory and religion, will uncover their hypocrisy to the open world.
Defense of the English People
- Salmasius begins by calling the execution of the king a parricide,
an act "committed by a nefarious conspiracy of impious men."
- The crime of the regicides is so great that civilized men recoiled
in shock at the news, their bodies rigid, their hair on end, their voices mute. It was as
if rivers were now flowing backward, statues were breaking out in perspiration, and rain
had turned to blood.
- The English rebels have declared war on humanity. They have not
only violated the thrones of kings but all authority, all magistrates, and all laws. They
have replaced one king with forty tyrants.
- If the English heretics have not only abolished the king, they
have also abolished representation of the bishops, the nobility, and the people,
concentrating all power in forty tyrants (Salmasius is referring, with this term
"tyrants," to the Council of State).
- Even at the time of reformation the English still kept their
bishops. Bishops had prevented the sprouting of "1000 baleful sects and heresies . .
. in England."
- The worst of these "baleful sects" are the Independents
(the Brownists). The Independents are the ones Salmasius blames for the execution of
- Independents are the "dregs of the people."
- "Is it a democracy which consists of the wickedest rabble,
the nobles being excluded?"
- With the victory of the rabble, every king is now in danger:
"Why therefore do kings delay, if they wish to be secure and safe [they must] run
together and . . . assemble in one place, so that their forces and strength being joined,
they may prepare arms for exterminating those pests of kingdoms and states."
- The blood of Charles calls for revenge by all who sit upon
- Salmasius cries for war against the English heretics:
"Persecute this hated root and wicked sect."
Divine Origin of Kingship
- Salmasius defends the divine right of kings: the king of England
"has supreme power over his subjects, which is answerable to no other power except
- If God hears the prayers of the heretics, no king will survive.
- Europe must rise up in defense of the English king, whose destiny
is one with that of all other kings of Europe.
- The Independents had no precedent and no law that could justify
either the trial of the king or his execution.
- The trial and execution of the king were a tyrannical action
"advanced beyond kingly power."
- No provision existed in English law for establishing a court in
order to try a monarch.
- Salmasius concludes, "if the king had seen to it, that any
senator at all from the upper or lower house of that august council had been visited with
such punishment, not rightly and without the order of law, he would not have escaped the
name of tyrant."
- Salmasius traces the long tradition of absolute monarchy in the
ancient world, among the Romans, the Persians, the Greeks, the Assyrians, and the Jews.
- The Israelites, weary of the rule of judges, pleaded with God,
"Appoint over us a king."
- Kingship, though sometimes a failure, was at times a government of
- Solomon was the wisest of all kings and dear to Gods heart,
as was David.
- Clement declared that God creates kings, and said "You will
fear the king, knowing his choice to be of the Lord."
- In the Hebrew nation absolutism in kings was the rule rather than
- God directed the kings decisions.
- God forgave his kings more freely than he forgave other men. After
sending Uriah to his death and committing adultery with the dead mans wife, did not
David say to the Lord, "Against thee only have I sinned"?
- When God gave the Israelites a king, the gift was not a
punishment, but a blessing.
- Some of the greatest rulers were kings in fact if not in name.
- Moses, though called a prophet, was actually an absolute monarch.
- Divine right in a king was an actuality among the Hebrews.
- Kingship should not be condemned by the English as a wicked form
of government, and Charles I should not have been executed.
- When one king overthrows another the people must accept the new
king. In return he grants them the right of life.
- For the right to life the people owe their king obedience.
- Revolution in which one king drives out another are acceptable
because the form of government remains unchanged.
- The overthrow of Charles I is a revolution of a sinister new kind,
because the English have set up a totally new kind of government.
- Kingdoms are sacred, even when one replaces another.
- It is horrible and unthinkable for subjects rise against a king,
imprison him, force him to plead for his life, then sentence him, and punish him.
- This degradation of kingship deserves condemnation by all men:
"This was not the crime of subjects, but of traitors; not of men, but of monsters;
not of criminals of the common brand, but of worse than parricides."
- However unjust they may be, kings are appointed by God.
- Not even the pope can release Christians from obedience to their
Powers of a King
- No group of people may lawfully make war on their king, judge,
accuse and condemn him, or deprive him of his life and/or possessions.
- Kings are above both the law, and the will of their subjects.
- To assert that kings can be judged by their subjects, that a king
can rightfully be made subordinate to a people, is untrue to the teachings of centuries,
both secular and religious.
- Has not the convocation of Parliament always been the kings
prerogative, not Parliaments?
- Could Parliament sit at all except by the kings command?
- The king cannot make laws except by consent of both Houses,
neither can Parliament make a law except with the kings approval.
- Did not the king rule during that time when the Parliament was not
- In the time of reformation the king became the head of the church
and still retains this ecclesiastical supremacy.
- The king is the supreme commander over the armed forces; only he
can raise the standard and call men to arms.
- Only the king can create a peer.
- The highest court in the land is called the Kings Bench, and
the judges of this court sat at the kings pleasure.
- The king is the acknowledged ruler of the church, the army, the
highest court of justice.
Salmasius attacks the notion that the English Revolution was
carried out by "the people"
- It was not the people, however defined, nor the aristocracy, who
sent the king to the block.
- It was not the people who ejected the nobles from Parliament; who
dragged Charles from one prison to another; who set up a tribunal for his condemnation;
not the people who forced him to plead his cause; who turned him over to the executioner.
- Nor was it the people who purged the Lower House of Parliament.
- "The army with their leaders did this."
- Who now rules the people of England with more than kingly power?
- Who levies taxes on them?
- Who disarmed the citizens of London?
- Who bore away and concealed in a tower the chains by which the
streets of the city were defended?
- Who filled the city with armed men?
- Who seized the public treasury?
- All these are acts of the army and its leaders.
- England is now governed, not by its people but by a military
tyranny like that which set up Claudius as emperor in ancient Rome.
- When Rome acted this way, "not only did liberty depart far
into the future, but also [Rome] lost absolutely the right of making a ruler, which from
that time forth began to be with the soldiery."
- Salmasius attributes the abolition of the House of Lords to the
action of the army and its leaders.
- Does Milton still hold that the people have carried through this
revolution and this parricide that has so shocked civilized men of all Europe?
No Divine Right of Kings
- Milton wonders how Salmasius, the greatest of European scholars,
could seriously accept the principle of divine right.
- Salmasius--"Kings are coeval with the suns
- Salmasius also claims that a king is a father to his people.
- Milton rejects both claims. "You are wholly in the dark in
failing to distinguish the rights of a father from those of a king . . . Our fathers begot
us, but our kings did not, and it is we rather who created the king. It is nature which
gave the people fathers, and the people who gave themselves a king; the people therefore
do not exist for the king, but the king for the people."
- Even if the king is considered as a father, the idea of divine
right does not follow. What if the father is a tyrant who murders his own son? The
murderer, by law, is then hanged. Why, then, should not a tyrannous and murderous king by
law have the same penalty?
- Milton mocks Salmasius for his ignorance of English politics and
his ignorance of Charles I and his actions.
- Charles had been an enemy to his own people for a full ten years?
- Other kings have suffered death by violence. But Salmasius
deplores the fact that the English tried Charles I in a court of law, re-quiring him to
plead for his life, bringing him to sentence and then execu-tion.
- Would Salmasius have preferred that the English had
"slaughter[ed] him like a beast without trial in the hour of his capture?"
- Would Charles himself not have preferred a trial?
- Had the English murdered Charles privately, all ages of the future
would have lost the benefit of their example.
- "If the deed was fair and noble, those who performed it
deserve the greater praise in acting for the right alone, unmastered by passion . . .
moving not by blind impulse but on careful deliberation"
- Milton never mentions the names of those patriots like Fairfax and
Algernon Sidney, who withdrew from the High Court of Justice when they saw that Cromwell
had no intention of allowing Charles a trial in which he would have any chance of escaping
- Salmasius--defines a king in terms of divine right, as one
"responsible to none but God, one who may do as he will and is not subject to the
- Milton--"Those among us most favorable towards the king have
ever been guiltless of a belief so base."
- Even Salmasius did not hold this opinion "before he was
bribed" by Charles II.
- Is there any person in the world, except Salmasius himself, who
can really believe in such a principle?
- No precedent for such a statement exists in the best writers of
the Hebrews, the Greeks, or the Romans.
The Difference Between Kings and Tyrants
- The best Hebrew writers strenuously repudiate tyranny.
- Josephus wrote: "Aristocracy is the best form of government .
. . If however you are so bent on having a king, let him rely more on God and on the law
than on his own wisdom, and let him be prevented from aiming at greater power than suits
your best interests."
- Philo Judaeus is even more emphatic: "King and tyrant are
contraries . . . A king not only compels but complies."
- "May kings," exclaims Milton, steal, kill, and commit
adultery with impunity?"
- When a king "is witless, wicked, and passionate," shall
the nobility of the nation be silent?"
- Shall the magistrates and the masses of the people be acquiescent?
- What if a king massacres his people or burns their cities, shall
the people still be acquiescent?
- Christ the healer of souls and Christ the champion of political
freedom are inseparably en-twined.
- Without civic freedom the prophecy spoken to Mary, "He hath
put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree," would be
- Though Christ took the form of a slave, he was a true liberator of
men in a political as well as a psychological sense.
- "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's;
and unto God the things that are God's." Did Christ mean that freedom belonged to
Caesar, or only one denarius? To surrender our freedom to any Caesar "would be an act
of shame most unworthy of man's origin."
- Look into a man's face and see the image of God himself. We are
God's image, God's property, and God's children.
- To surrender ourselves as slaves to Caesar or any other tyrant is
to dishonor our creator.
- God gave the Israelites a king despite his unwillingness and his
anger at them. But Christ went further: "It shall not be so among you," meaning
that the haughtiness of kings cannot be reconciled with humility and reverence for the
face of man.
- Whoever is first among men, Christ taught, must be the servant of
men, not their master: "Amongst Christians, then, there will either be no king at
all, or else one who is the servant of all; for clearly one cannot wish to dominate and
remain a Christian."
- The very nature of kingship is irreconcilable with Christianity.
- Salmasius--kings are appointed by God; they are bound by no laws;
those who kill a king are worse than parricides.
- Milton--"If it was God alone who gave Charles his kingdom, it
was he who took it away and gave it to the nobles and people."
- Salmasius--"Even wicked kings are appointed by God."
- Milton--"in a sense every evil is appointed by God."
However, "Reason, justice, and morality command the punishment of all sinners without
Milton responds to Salamasius attack on the issue of the
peoples role in the English Revolution
- Salmasius--"Did the people do violence to the commoners of
the lower house, putting some to flight?"
- Milton--"I say it was the people; for why should I not say
that the act of the better, the sound part of the Parliament, in which resides the real
power of the people, was the act of the people?"
- Milton later qualifies his insistence that the English revolution
had broad mass support.
- Salmasius--"You must explain what you mean by the word
- Milton--"By people we mean all citizens of every
- Salmasius--attacks the populace as "blind and brutish,
without skill in ruling, and most fickle of men, the emptiest, and unsteadiest, and most
- Milton--"It may be true of the dregs of the populace, but
hardly of the middle class, which produces the greatest number of men of good sense and
knowledge of affairs."
- Milton defines the word people as a qualitative concept: that
minority, neither debased by ignorance and sloth nor ennobled by titles, that has acted in
a timely fashion to free the nation from a tyrannous kingship.
- Milton tacitly grants that the Independents, however righteous and
intrepid, were a small group of the English nation.
- Salmasius--"Not one hundred thousandth part of the people
agreed to this condemnation."
- Milton--"What of the rest, then, who let such a crime take
place against their will? Were they trunks of trees?"
- Milton admits that a "great part of the people" deserted
the Independents in the emergency of pulling down the kingship and setting up a republic.
Milton accepts Salmasius' claim that the revolution was against the will of the majority.
In so doing he clarifies the issues and exalts the choices of Cromwell and the Rump
Parliament, glorifying the patriotism of the middle class Puritans from which they sprang.
In The Face of the Restoration
The Ready and Easy Way
- The ground and basis of every just and free government is a
general council of ablest men, chosen by the people to consult of public affairs from time
to time for the common good.
- I affirm that the grand or general council, being well chosen,
should be perpetual.
- I see not, therefore, how we can be advantaged by successive and
transitory parliaments; but that they are much likelier continually to unsettle rather
than to settle a free government, to breed commotions, changes, novelties, and
uncertainties, to bring neglect upon present affairs and opportunities, while all minds
are suspense with expectation of a new assembly, for a good space, taken up with the new
settling of itself. After which, if they find no great work to do, they will make it by
altering or repealing former acts, or making and multiplying new, till all law be lost in
the multitude of clashing statutes.
- If it be feared that long continuance of power may corrupt
sincerest men, the known expedient is, and by some lately proposed, that annually (or if
the space be longer, so much perhaps the better) the third part of senators may go out
according to the precedence of their election, and the like number be chosen in their
- Safest . . . to me it seems, and of least hazard or interruption
to affairs, that none of the grand council be moved, unless by death or just conviction of
some crime: for what can be expected firm or steadfast from a floating foundation?
- The main reason urged why popular assemblies are to be trusted
rather than a senate of principal men, because great men will be still endeavoring to
enlarge their power, but the common sort will be contented to maintain their own liberty,
is by experience found false, none being more immoderate and ambitious to amplify their
power than such popularities.
- The balance therefore must be exactly so set as to preserve and
keep up due authority on either side, as well in the senate as in the people. And this
annual rotation of a senate to consist of three hundred, as is lately propounded, requires
also another popular assembly upward of a thousand, with an answerable rotation. Which
cannot but be troublesome and chargeable, both in their motion and their session, unwieldy
with their own bulk, unable in so great a number to mature their consultations as they
- The much better way doubtless will be, in this wavering condition
of our affairs, to defer the changing or circumscribing of our senate, more than may be
done with ease, till the commonwealth be thoroughly settled in peace and safety, and they
themselves give us the occasion.
- They who past reason and recovery are devoted to kingship perhaps
will answer that a greater part by far of the nation will have it so: the rest must
therefore yield. I reply that this greatest part have both in reason and the trial of just
battle lost the right of their election what the government shall be.
- More just it is, doubtless, if it come to force, that a less
number compel a greater to retain their liberty, than a greater number, for the pleasure
of their own baseness, compel a less most injuriously to their fellow slaves.
- They who seek nothing but their own just liberty, have always
right to win it and to keep it, whenever they have power, be the voices never so numerous
that oppose it.
- The whole freedom of man consists either in spiritual or civil
- Liberty of conscience, no government more inclinable to favor
only, but to protect, than [is] a free commonwealth.
- I trust I shall have spoken persuasion to abundance of sensible
and ingenuous men . . . to what a precipice of destruction the deluge of this epidemic
madness would hurry us, through the general defection of a misguided and abused multitude.
The Atheist Milton
(Ashgate Press, 2012)
||Basing his contention on
two different lines of argument, Michael Bryson posits that John
Milton–possibly the most famous 'Christian' poet in English literary
history–was, in fact, an atheist.
First, based on his association with Arian ideas (denial of the
doctrine of the Trinity), his argument for the de Deo theory of
creation (which puts him in line with the materialism of Spinoza and
Hobbes), and his Mortalist argument that the human soul dies with
the human body, Bryson argues that Milton was an atheist by the
commonly used definitions of the period. And second, as the poet who
takes a reader from the presence of an imperious, monarchical God in
Paradise Lost, to the internal-almost Gnostic-conception of God in
Paradise Regained, to the absence of any God whatsoever in Samson
Agonistes, Milton moves from a theist (with God) to something much
more recognizable as a modern atheist position (without God) in his
Among the author's goals in The Atheist Milton is to account
for tensions over the idea of God which, in Bryson's view, go all
the way back to Milton's earliest poetry. In this study, he argues
such tensions are central to Milton's poetry–and to any attempt to
understand that poetry on its own terms.
The Tyranny of Heaven
Milton's Rejection of God as King
(U. Delaware Press, 2004)
The Tyranny of Heaven argues for a new way of reading the figure of
Milton's God, contending that Milton rejects kings on earth and in heaven.
Though Milton portrays God as a king in Paradise Lost, he does this
neither to endorse kingship nor to recommend a monarchical model of deity.
Instead, he recommends the Son, who in Paradise Regained rejects
external rule as the model of politics and theology for Milton's "fit
audience though few." The portrait of God in Paradise Lost serves as
a scathing critique of the English people and its slow but steady
backsliding into the political habits of a nation long used to living under
the yoke of kingship, a nation that maintained throughout its brief period
of liberty the image of God as a heavenly king, and finally welcomed with
open arms the return of a human king.
Review of Tyranny of