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Notes on Milton's Developing Political Ideas

Early Conservatism (Support for Monarchy)

Of Reformation

  1. Episcopacy with that Authority which it challenges in England is not only not agreeable, but tending to the destruction of Monarchy.
  2. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 Realm.
  4. 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


  1. Who are the inventors of licensing? The Catholic church.
  2. What is to be thought of reading? It is a necessary acquisition of knowledge of good and evil in a fallen world.
  3. This Order is ineffectual in suppressing "scandalous, seditious, and libelous books."
  4. This Order will discourage learning and the pursuit of truth.

Argument #1

  1. In Athens, only two types of writings were suppressed by the civil powers: blasphemous/atheistic writings and libelous writings.
  2. The same holds true for Rome (before its descent into tyranny).
  3. Even the earliest Christian emperors did not depart from this relatively tolerant position.
  4. 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."

Argument #2

  1. Moses, Daniel, and Paul were skillful in all the learning of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Greeks, respectively. This can only have been through prodigious reading.
  2. 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 read.)
  3. Dinoysius Alexandrinus—a pious and learned early Christian—read 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."
  4. Bad books may serve a "discreet and judicious reader" to "discover, to confute, to forewarn, and to illustrate."
  5. Solomon writes that much reading is "a weariness to the flesh," but it is not therefore unlawful.
  6. The burning of books at Acts 19:19 was a voluntary act—not mandated by any magistrate.
  7. Good and evil are almost inseparable in this world—in 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."
  8. 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."
  9. 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."

Argument #3

  1. No well-constituted nation or state ever used "this way of licensing."
  2. Plato, in his Laws, spells out such a system, but for an imaginary state. Plato—in reality—was 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]).
  3. If printing must be regulated, so must all other trades and arts.
  4. Who shall decide? Who shall set the absolute standards?
  5. 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 unavoidably."
  6. 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.
  7. 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 of virtue."

Argument #4

  1. 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.
  2. 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 learning."
  3. How can a man teach with authority if all he teaches is under the authority of a licenser?
  4. 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 already."
  5. This distrust is an "undervaluing and vilifying of the whole nation."
  6. Description of meeting Galileo: "a prisoner to the Inquisition for thinking in astronomy otherwise than the Franciscan and Dominican licensers thought."
  7. The complaints of the learned against the Inquisition are now being made by the learned against the Parliament’s order of licensing.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.


  1. England is the new chosen nation of God.
  2. England is an earthly type of the City of God.
  3. 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.
  4. "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 the making."
  5. Analogy to the building of the temple in Solomon’s day: "when every stone is laid artfully together, it cannot be united into a continuity, it can but be contiguous in this world."
  6. 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."
  7. The "time seems come . . . when . . . all the Lord’s people, are become prophets."
  8. 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-Parliament’s-ass section.)
  9. 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.’
  10. Let Truth and Falsehood grapple in the open. Truth will win.
  11. Doctrine of (limited) tolerance: "if all cannot be of one mind—as who looks they should be?--this doubtless is more wholesome, more prudent, and more Christian, that many be tolerated rather than all compelled."
  12. 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."
  13. 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."
  14. If nothing else will work, "it would be no unequal distribution . . . to supress the supressors themselves."
  15. 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 Authority

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 very thing.

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


  1. 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 themselves.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

  1. 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 already.
  2. 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 capable.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. [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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 people?

Milton's Response To The Divine-Right Theory Account of a King's Accountability

  1. To say kings are accountable to none but God, is the overturning of all law and government.
  2. 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.
  3. 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."
  4. 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."
  5. 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."
  6. 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.
  7. The right of choosing, yea of changing their own government, is by the grant of God himself in the people.
  8. Kingdom and magistracy, whether supreme or subordinate, is without difference called "a human ordinance."
  9. 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 resisted.
  10. 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 faction.

What May Be Done to a Tyrant

  1. The Greeks and Romans . . . held it not only lawful, but a glorious and heroic deed . . . to kill an infamous tyrant at anytime without trial.
  2. Among the Jews this custom of tyrant-killing was not unusual.

Does it Matter Whether a Tyrant is Domestic or Imported?

  1. 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?
  2. 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?

  1. 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.
  2. The greatest among you shall be your servant.
  3. 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 such protection.

What About the History of British Monarchs and Tyranny?

  1. 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 them.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 tyrannous kings.

Examples of Justified Warfare against Kings

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. When allegiance is renounced, that very hour the king or queen is in effect deposed.
  4. In the year 1564, John Knox . . . maintained openly . . . that subjects might and ought execute God's judgments upon their king.
  5. 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 saw cause.

The Presbyterians were the ones who deposed Charles I

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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 dignity.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. [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.
  4. 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



  1. Salmasius begins by calling the execution of the king a parricide, an act "committed by a nefarious conspiracy of impious men."
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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."
  6. The worst of these "baleful sects" are the Independents (the Brownists). The Independents are the ones Salmasius blames for the execution of Charles I.
  7. Independents are the "dregs of the people."
  8. "Is it a democracy which consists of the wickedest rabble, the nobles being excluded?"
  9. 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."
  10. The blood of Charles calls for revenge by all who sit upon thrones.
  11. Salmasius cries for war against the English heretics: "Persecute this hated root and wicked sect."

Divine Origin of Kingship

  1. 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 divine."
  2. If God hears the prayers of the heretics, no king will survive.
  3. Europe must rise up in defense of the English king, whose destiny is one with that of all other kings of Europe.
  4. The Independents had no precedent and no law that could justify either the trial of the king or his execution.
  5. The trial and execution of the king were a tyrannical action "advanced beyond kingly power."
  6. No provision existed in English law for establishing a court in order to try a monarch.
  7. 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."
  8. Salmasius traces the long tradition of absolute monarchy in the ancient world, among the Romans, the Persians, the Greeks, the Assyrians, and the Jews.
  9. The Israelites, weary of the rule of judges, pleaded with God, "Appoint over us a king."
  10. Kingship, though sometimes a failure, was at times a government of remarkable stability.
  11. Solomon was the wisest of all kings and dear to God’s heart, as was David.
  12. Clement declared that God creates kings, and said "You will fear the king, knowing his choice to be of the Lord."
  13. In the Hebrew nation absolutism in kings was the rule rather than the exception.
  14. God directed the king’s decisions.
  15. God forgave his kings more freely than he forgave other men. After sending Uriah to his death and committing adultery with the dead man’s wife, did not David say to the Lord, "Against thee only have I sinned"?
  16. When God gave the Israelites a king, the gift was not a punishment, but a blessing.
  17. Some of the greatest rulers were kings in fact if not in name.
  18. Moses, though called a prophet, was actually an absolute monarch.
  19. Divine right in a king was an actuality among the Hebrews.
  20. Kingship should not be condemned by the English as a wicked form of government, and Charles I should not have been executed.
  21. When one king overthrows another the people must accept the new king. In return he grants them the right of life.
  22. For the right to life the people owe their king obedience.
  23. Revolution in which one king drives out another are acceptable because the form of government remains unchanged.
  24. 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.
  25. Kingdoms are sacred, even when one replaces another.
  26. 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.
  27. 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."
  28. However unjust they may be, kings are appointed by God.
  29. Not even the pope can release Christians from obedience to their king.

Powers of a King

  1. 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.
  2. Kings are above both the law, and the will of their subjects.
  3. 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.
  4. Has not the convocation of Parliament always been the king’s prerogative, not Parliament’s?
  5. Could Parliament sit at all except by the king’s command?
  6. The king cannot make laws except by consent of both Houses, neither can Parliament make a law except with the king’s approval.
  7. Did not the king rule during that time when the Parliament was not sitting?
  8. In the time of reformation the king became the head of the church and still retains this ecclesiastical supremacy.
  9. The king is the supreme commander over the armed forces; only he can raise the standard and call men to arms.
  10. Only the king can create a peer.
  11. The highest court in the land is called the King’s Bench, and the judges of this court sat at the king’s pleasure.
  12. 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"

  1. It was not the people, however defined, nor the aristocracy, who sent the king to the block.
  2. 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.
  3. Nor was it the people who purged the Lower House of Parliament.
  4. "The army with their leaders did this."
  5. Who now rules the people of England with more than kingly power?
  6. Who levies taxes on them?
  7. Who disarmed the citizens of London?
  8. Who bore away and concealed in a tower the chains by which the streets of the city were defended?
  9. Who filled the city with armed men?
  10. Who seized the public treasury?
  11. All these are acts of the army and its leaders.
  12. England is now governed, not by its people but by a military tyranny like that which set up Claudius as emperor in ancient Rome.
  13. 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."
  14. Salmasius attributes the abolition of the House of Lords to the action of the army and its leaders.
  15. 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

  1. Milton wonders how Salmasius, the greatest of European scholars, could seriously accept the principle of divine right.
  2. Salmasius--"Kings are coeval with the sun’s creation."
  3. Salmasius also claims that a king is a father to his people.
  4. 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."
  5. 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?
  6. Milton mocks Salmasius for his ignorance of English politics and his ignorance of Charles I and his actions.
  7. Charles had been an enemy to his own people for a full ten years?
  8. 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.
  9. Would Salmasius have preferred that the English had "slaughter[ed] him like a beast without trial in the hour of his capture?"
  10. Would Charles himself not have preferred a trial?
  11. Had the English murdered Charles privately, all ages of the future would have lost the benefit of their example.
  12. "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"
  13. 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 death.
  14. 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 laws."
  15. Milton--"Those among us most favorable towards the king have ever been guiltless of a belief so base."
  16. Even Salmasius did not hold this opinion "before he was bribed" by Charles II.
  17. Is there any person in the world, except Salmasius himself, who can really believe in such a principle?
  18. 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

  1. The best Hebrew writers strenuously repudiate tyranny.
  2. 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."
  3. Philo Judaeus is even more emphatic: "King and tyrant are contraries . . . A king not only compels but complies."
  4. "May kings," exclaims Milton, steal, kill, and commit adultery with impunity?"
  5. When a king "is witless, wicked, and passionate," shall the nobility of the nation be silent?"
  6. Shall the magistrates and the masses of the people be acquiescent?
  7. What if a king massacres his people or burns their cities, shall the people still be acquiescent?
  8. Christ the healer of souls and Christ the champion of political freedom are inseparably en-twined.
  9. 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 meaningless chatter.
  10. Though Christ took the form of a slave, he was a true liberator of men in a political as well as a psychological sense.
  11. "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."
  12. 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.
  13. To surrender ourselves as slaves to Caesar or any other tyrant is to dishonor our creator.
  14. 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.
  15. 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."
  16. The very nature of kingship is irreconcilable with Christianity.
  17. Salmasius--kings are appointed by God; they are bound by no laws; those who kill a king are worse than parricides.
  18. 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."
  19. Salmasius--"Even wicked kings are appointed by God."
  20. Milton--"in a sense every evil is appointed by God." However, "Reason, justice, and morality command the punishment of all sinners without distinction."

Milton responds to Salamasius’ attack on the issue of the people’s role in the English Revolution

  1. Salmasius--"Did the people do violence to the commoners of the lower house, putting some to flight?"
  2. 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?"
  3. Milton later qualifies his insistence that the English revolution had broad mass support.
  4. Salmasius--"You must explain what you mean by the word people."
  5. Milton--"By people we mean all citizens of every degree."
  6. Salmasius--attacks the populace as "blind and brutish, without skill in ruling, and most fickle of men, the emptiest, and unsteadiest, and most inconstant."
  7. 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."
  8. 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.
  9. Milton tacitly grants that the Independents, however righteous and intrepid, were a small group of the English nation.
  10. Salmasius--"Not one hundred thousandth part of the people agreed to this condemnation."
  11. Milton--"What of the rest, then, who let such a crime take place against their will? Were they trunks of trees?"
  12. 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

  1. 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.
  2. I affirm that the grand or general council, being well chosen, should be perpetual.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 places.
  5. 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?
  6. 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.
  7. 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 ought.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. The whole freedom of man consists either in spiritual or civil liberty.
  13. Liberty of conscience, no government more inclinable to favor only, but to protect, than [is] a free commonwealth.
  14. 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

Michael Bryson
(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 poetry.

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

Michael Bryson
(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 Heaven