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Protestant resistance theory
In July 1553, Mary Tudor acceded to the throne on the death of her half-brother Edward VI. She soon married the Hapsburg Philip (who became Philip III of Spain) and commenced a policy of re-Catholicizing England and persecuting Protestants.
The majority of Protestants thought their only option was to submit to persecution or to flee abroad. About 800 Protestants escaped to the Continent - the majority to Protestant areas of Germany and Switzerland.
Those who fled to Geneva asked Jean Calvin for advice on whether resistance to persecuting monarchs might be possible, but his guidance was unclear.
The Scottish exile, John Knox had fled the rule of
Mary of Guise (widow of James V and regent of Scotland for their
infant daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots). He was in England under Edward VI, and
under Mary fled to the Continent, eventually settling in Geneva. He wrote a pamphlet entitled
The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of
women (1558) that argued that rule by women was unnatural.
|"To promote a
woman to bear rule, superiority, dominion, or empire above any
realm, nation, or city, is repugnant to nature; contumely to
God, a thing most contrary to his revealed will and approved
ordinance; and finally, it is the subversion of good order, of
all equity and justice."
(Knox, First Blast)
|Knox's views were echoed by the Englishman Christopher Goodman in his pamphlet
Superior Powers Ought To Be Obeyed By Their Subjects (1558),
|The pamphlets of Knox and Goodman were issued in 1558 - the same year that Mary died and Elizabeth I acceded. Hardly surprisingly, these theorists were not flavor of the month with Elizabeth, despite the fact that she was no Catholic and immediately began to establish a Protestant Church of England.||
"Of all others, Knox's name, if it be not Goodman's, is most odious here"
(Comment on Elizabeth's court)
|Another Marian exile was John Ponet. His Short Treatise of
Politic Power allowed that there were circumstances when any
individual could kill a ruler who persecuted the true religion.
|Knox, Goodman and Ponet's works had little influence. (Ponet's tract was re-published in England on the eve of the Civil War.)|
|Protestantism spread early to France, but was immediately attacked by Henri II (1519-1559). At Henri's death he left three sons and a formidable widow, Catherine de Medici.|
|Catherine de Medici wanted to protect the power of the crown from the overweening ambition of France's nobility. These nobles included Huguenot leaders - such as Gaspar de Coligny and Henry de Bourbon (heir to the throne if Catherine's children died without issue). The most important Catholic nobles were members of the Guise family - François, Duke of Guise and his brother, Charles de Guise, Cardinal of Lorraine.|
|The Guises bitterly opposed Catherine's initially tolerant
policies towards Protestants and provoked open warfare. The
Huguenots responded by assassinating Duke François in
February 1563. Catholics later answered on a grand scale with an attempt to assassinate Coligny
which led to the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew's Day (1572).
There were other assassinations: Duke François' son, Henry and Henry's brother, Louis, Cardinal of Guise, were assassinated by King Henry III in 1588, who was himself killed soon after by a Dominican monk, Jacques Clément.
||Martin Luther and Jean Calvin had
made some ambiguous remarks in their works that might be taken
to allow resistance to tyrants under some circumstances.
However, until the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre, Huguenot
theorists were still hopeful of achieving some degree of
toleration, and tended to stress their willingness to abide by
the law. Thereafter a series of Huguenot tracts justified
resistance to heretical or tyrannical rulers.
The most important of these were:
Theodore Beza, De jure magistratuum (1574)
François Hotman, Francogallia (1573)
Phillipe du Plessis-Mornay (sometimes but almost certainly wrongly attributed to Hubert Languet), Vindiciae contra tyrannos (1579)
|François Hotman (1524-90) was a French civil lawyer. He became a Protestant in 1547 and from then onwards lived largely in Switzerland. He argued on historical grounds that France was a constitutional monarchy - tracing its origins to Germanic tribes whose rulers were elected and accountable to the people. Hotman wanted the estates to depose the king and appoint a godly ruler, but unfortunately the majority of the French were still Catholic. Moreover, the historical evidence for Hotman's thesis was unconvincing.|
|Theodore Beza and the Vindiciae argued
that reason showed that by Natural Law kings are accountable to
the people in all states, and that tyrants could always be resisted.
They stressed the right of self-defence. Their works laid more stress on
Natural Law than had the
earlier reformers. Luther, Calvin and Melanchthon had all relied
primarily on the Bible, (although even they had employed scholastic
arguments from Jean Gerson, Jacques Almain and John Major on
|Although the Huguenot resistance theorists
accepted that political power was
ultimately from God, they also argued that God used the people
as intermediary - power was from God through the people. Both Beza and the Vindiciae stressed
that kings were simply established by the people for their good;
Kings were there to protect
property and maintain peace. If
the king undermined the public good, the people could rein him in or
throw him out. The Vindiciae side-stepped the problem that
Protestants were in a distinct minority, by giving
or provinces the right to rebel.
|Both Beza and the Vindiciae tried to tone down the anarchic and populist implications of their views by giving the right of resistance to "inferior magistrates" (i.e. Protestant noblemen and dignitaries). Private citizens could not act unless someone in a position of authority endorsed action. The Vindiciae also allowed intervention by the princes of neighboring states.|
|The death of Henry III (1st August 1589) left the Huguenot Henry of Navarre as heir to the throne, so French Protestants abruptly stopped advocating resistance and began preaching obedience. The Catholic Leaguers became the rebels until Henry IV's conversion to Catholicism (1593), and his later grant of religious toleration to Protestants in the Edict of Nantes (1598), produced an uneasy peace.|
Scottish resistance theory.
|Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87) was the daughter of James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise (sister of François and Charles). She became Queen at the age of one week, when her father died (14 December) soon after being comprehensively defeated by the English at the Battle of Solway Moss.|
|Protestantism was spreading rapidly in Scotland, despite the efforts of Mary of Guise. In 1559, the Scottish Protestants, led by John Knox, openly rebelled. Mary, Queen of Scots found herself the Catholic Queen of a Protestant country.|
|In 1565, Mary married
Henry Darnley (great-grandson of Henry VII). The marriage
strengthened Mary's claim to the throne of England but was a very
unhappy one. She sought consolation in the friendship of David
Rizzio, her Italian secretary. Furiously jealous, Darnley colluded
with some Protestant nobles in arranging Rizzio's murder (March
James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell (1536-78)
Mary found another friend to comfort her - James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell. Bothwell obligingly arranged the murder of Darnley, and Mary protected him from justice. Bothwell abruptly divorced his wife, and he and Mary were married at Holyrood Palace (May 1567).
|Mary's scandalous behavior aroused widespread condemnation - none more vehement than that of George Buchanan.|
|"May we commit
our safety to her? whom never shame restrained from unchastity,
womankind from cruelty, nor religion from impiety? …When rage
for interrupting her pleasure, and outrage of nature
strengthened with ardor of licentious power shall ragingly
triumph upon the goods and blood of pure subjects?"
(George Buchanan, Ane detectioun of the doingis of Marie Quene of Scottis tuiching the murther of hir husband, and hir conspiracie, adulterie, and pretensit mariage with the Erle Bothwell, 1572).
|George Buchanan was educated in Scotland and France, and became one of the foremost classical scholars of his day. He was tutor at various times to James V's illegitimate son, to Michel de Montaigne, to Mary Queen of Scots and to James VI & I.|
|His Protestant beliefs forced him to leave Scotland for a number
of years, but was able permanently to return to Scotland in 1560
after the success of the Covenanters' Rebellion.|
Egged on by Protestant preachers, the Scots rebelled against Mary and defeated her and Bothwell at Carberry Hill (June 1567).
Mary was deposed and imprisoned. Bothwell fled and died insane in a Danish prison cell after eleven years of imprisonment.
|In 1579, George Buchanan published Dialogus de jure regni apud Scotos (A dialogue on the law of the kingdom amongst the Scots) and in 1582 Rerum Scoticarum Historia (History of Scotland).|
|For Buchanan, Scottish History was teeming with occasions when the Scottish people had resisted and deposed their kings, and his Dialogue gave the theoretical grounds to justify such rebellion. It took the form of a discussion between Buchanan and Maitland - a Scottish nobleman opposed to the deposition of Mary.|
|Buchanan insisted that kings were originally created by the
people to protect them. Kings are accountable to the people, and
they become mere tyrants if they infringe the conditions which the people
imposed on them. If
the king breaks the law, he can be punished like any other offender.
Paul (in Romans 13) had only recommended obedience to Christians
because they were not powerful enough to overthrow the tyrannical
|A king who infringed the contract which gave him power lost that power and became a private outlaw whom anyone could attack.|
|Buchanan was unusually radical in arguing that not only the people as a whole or their representatives ("inferior magistrates") but even an individual could attack the king's person. (There was a certain ambiguity in the passage, for this authorization of individuals - "every one of them / singulis etiam" - is given only after the people has already begun to wage a just war against the tyrant).|
|The tone of Buchanan's writings was more secular than that of Knox or the Huguenot resistance theorists, and he laid less stress on the religious grounds for rebellion. This was perhaps because he hoped to convince French Catholic audiences of the legitimacy of Mary's deposition.|
|George Buchanan wrote elegant Latin and his book sold well and was often republished (his History of Scotland - a source of Shakespeare's Macbeth - became the standard book on its subject throughout Europe and was frequently reprinted along with the De jure regni); Buchanan's ideas were particularly influential on the next generation of Scottish Calvinist rebels who took up arms against Charles I.|