Vindicia Contra Tyronas
(A DEFENSE OF LIBERTY AGAINST TYRANTS)


THE THIRD QUESTION (Part 7): Whether it is lawful to resist a ruler who is oppressing or ruining the country, and how far such resistance may be extended; by whom, how, and by what right or law it is permitted.

Whether the king owns all property in the kingdom. (cont'd)

But to come to other examples: it follows not that the church of God must needs be always in that place where the ark of the covenant is; for the Philistines may carry the ark into the temples of their idols. It is no good argument, that because we see the Roman eagles waving in ensigns, and hear their legions named, that therefore presently we conclude that the army of the Roman commonwealth is there present; for there is only and properly the power of the state where they are assembled to maintain the liberty of the country against the ravenous oppression of tyrants, to enfranchise the people from servitude, and to suppress the impudency of insulting flatterers, who abuse the prince's weakness by oppressing his subjects for the advantage of their own fortunes, and contain ambitious minds from enlarging their desires beyond the limits of equity and moderation. Thus much concerning tyrants without title.

But for tyrants by practice, whether they at first gained their authority by the sword, or were legally invested therewith by a general consent, it behoves us to examine this point with much wary circumspection. In the first place we must remember that all princes are born men, and therefore reason and passion are as hardly to be separated in them, as the soul is from the body whilst the man lives. We must not then expect princes absolute in perfection, but rather repute ourselves happy if those who govern us be indifferently good. And therefore, although the prince observe not exact mediocrity in state affairs; if sometimes passion overrule his reason, if some careless omission make him neglect the public utility; or if he do not always carefully execute justice with equality, or repulse not with ready velour an invading enemy; he must not therefore be presently declared a tyrant. And certainly, seeing he rules not as a god over men, nor as men over beasts, but is a man composed of the same matter, and of the same nature with the rest: as we would questionless judge that prince unreasonably insolent, who should insult over and abuse his subjects, as if they were brute beasts; so those people are doubtless as much void of reason, who imagine a prince should be complete in perfection, or expect divine abilities in a nature so frail and subject to imperfections. But if a prince purposely ruin the commonwealth, if he presumptuously pervert and resist legal proceedings or lawful rights, if he make no reckoning of faith, covenants, justice nor piety, if he prosecute his subjects as enemies; briefly, if he express all or the chiefest of those wicked practices we have formerly spoken of; then we may certainly declare him a tyrant, who is as much an enemy both to God and men. We do not therefore speak of a prince less good, but of one absolutely bad; not of one less wise, but of one malicious and treacherous; not of one less able judiciously to discuss legal differences, but of one perversely bent to pervert justice and equity; not of an unwarlike, but of one furiously disposed to ruin the people, and ransack the state.

For the wisdom of a senate, the integrity of a judge, the velour of a captain, may peradventure enable a weak prince to govern well. But a tyrant could be content that all the nobility, the counsellors of state, the commanders for the wars, had but one head that he might take it off at one blow: those being the proper objects of his distrust and fear, and by consequence the principal subjects on whom he desires to execute his malice and cruelty. A foolish prince, although (to speak according to right and equity) he ought to be deposed, yet may he perhaps in some sort be borne withal. But a tyrant the more he is tolerated, the more he becomes intolerable.

Furthermore, as the princes pleasure is not always law, so many times it is not expedient that the people do all that which may lawfully be done; for it may oftentimes chance that the medicine proves more dangerous than the disease. Therefore it becomes wise men to try all ways before they come to blows, to use all other remedies before they suffer the sword to decide the controversy. If then, those who represent the body of the people, foresee any innovation or machination against the state, or that it be already embarked into a course of perdition; their duty is, first to admonish the prince, and not to attend, that the disease by accession of time and accidents becomes unrecoverable. For tyranny may be properly resembled unto a fever hectic, the which at the first is easy to be cured, but with much difficulty to be known; but after it is sufficiently known, it becomes incurable. Therefore small beginnings are to be carefully observed, and by those whom it concerns diligently prevented.

If the prince therefore persist in his violent courses, and contemn frequent admonitions, addressing his designs only to that end, that he may oppress at his pleasure, and effect his own desires without fear or restraint; he then doubtless makes himself liable to that detested crime of tyranny: and whatsoever either the law, or lawful authority permits against a tyrant, may be lawfully practiced against him. Tyranny is not only a will, but the chief, and as it were the complement and abstract of vices. A tyrant subverts the state, pillages the people, lays stratagems to entrap their lives, breaks promise with all, scoffs at the sacred obligations of a solemn oath, and therefore is he so much more vile than the vilest of usual malefactors. By how much offences committed against a generality, are worthy of greater punishment than those which concern only particular and private persons. If thieves and those who commit sacrilege be declared infamous; nay, if they justly suffer corporal punishment by death, can we invent any that may be worthily equivalent for so outrageous a crime?

Furthermore, we have already proved, that all kings receive their royal authority from the people, that the whole people considered in one body is above and greater than the king; and that the king and emperor are only the prime and supreme governors and ministers of the kingdom and empire, but the people the absolute lord and owner thereof. It therefore necessarily follows, that a tyrant is in the same manner guilty of rebellion against the majesty of the people, as the lord of a fee, who feloniously transgresses the conditions of his investitures, and is liable to the same punishment, yea, and certainly deserves much more greater than the equity of those laws inflicts on the delinquents. Therefore as Bartolus says, "He may either be deposed by those who are lords in sovereignty over him, or else justly punished according to the law Julia, which condemns those who offer violence to the public." The body of the people must needs be the sovereign of those who represent it, which in some places are the electors, palatines, peers; in other, the assembly of the general estates. And, if the tyranny have gotten such sure footing, as there is no other means but force to remove him, then it is lawful for them to call the people to arms, to enroll and raise forces, and to employ the utmost of their power, and use against him all advantages and stratagems of war, as against the enemy of the commonwealth, and the disturber of the public peace. Briefly, the same sentence may be justly pronounced against him, as was against Manlius Capitolinus at Rome. "Thou west to me, Manlius, when thou didst tumble down the Gaules that scaled the capital: but since thou art now become an enemy, like one of them, thou shalt be precipitated down from the same place from whence thou formerly tumbled those enemies."

The officers of the kingdom cannot for this be rightly taxed of sedition; for in a sedition there must necessarily concur but two parts, or sides, the which peremptorily contest together, so that it is necessary that the one be in the right, and the other in the wrong. That part undoubtedly has the right on their side, which defends the laws, and strives to advance the public profit of the kingdom. And those, on the contrary, are questionless in the wrong, who break the laws, and protect those who violate justice, and oppress the commonwealth. Those are certainly in the right way, as said Bartolus, "who endeavour to suppress tyrannical government, and those in the wrong, who oppose lawful authority." And that must ever be accounted just, which is intended only for the public benefit, and that unjust, which aims chiefly at private commodity. Therefore Thomas Aquinas says, "That a tyrannical rule, having no proper address for the public welfare, but only to satisfy a private will, with increase of particular profit to the ruler, cannot in any reasonable construction be accounted lawful, and therefore the disturbance of such a government cannot be esteemed seditious, much less traitorous"; for that offence has proper relation only to a lawful prince, who, indeed, is an inanimated or speaking law; therefore, seeing that he who employs the utmost of his means and power to annihilate the laws, and quell their virtue and vigour, can no ways be justly intituled therewith. So neither, likewise, can those who oppose and take arms against him, be branded with so notorious a crime. Also this offence is committed against the commonwealth; but for so much as the commonwealth is there only where the laws are in force, and not where a tyrant devours the state at his own pleasure and liking, he certainly is quit of that crime which ruins the majesty of the public state, and those questionless are worthily protectors and preservers of the commonwealth, who, confident in the lawfulness of their authority, and summoned hereunto by their duty, do courageously resist the unjust proceedings of the tyrant.

And in this their action, we must not esteem them as private men and subjects, but as the representative body of the people, yea, and as the sovereignty itself, which demands of his minister an account of his administration. Neither can we in any good reason account the officers of the kingdom disloyal, who in this manner acquit themselves of their charge. There is ever, and in all places, a mutual and reciprocal obligation between the people and the prince; the one promises to be a good and wise prince, the other to obey faithfully, provided he govern justly. The people therefore are obliged to the prince under condition, the prince to the people simply and purely. Therefore, if the prince fail in his promise, the people are exempt from obedience, the contract is made void, the right of obligation of no force. Then the king if he govern unjustly is perjured, and the people likewise forsworn if they obey not his lawful commands. But that people are truly acquit from all perfidiousness, who publicly renounce the unjust dominion of a tyrant, or he, striving unjustly by strong hand to continue the possession, do constantly endeavour to expulse him by force of arms. It is therefore permitted the officers of a kingdom, either all, or some good number of them, to suppress a tyrant; and it is not only lawful for them to do it, but their duty expressly requires it; and, if they do it not, they can by no excuse colour their baseness. For the electors, palatines, peers, and other officers of state, must not think they were established only to make pompous paradoes and shows, when they are at the coronation of the king, habited in their robes of state, as if there were some masque or interlude to be represented; or as if they were that day to act the parts of Roland, Oliver, or Renaldo, and such other personages on a stage, or to counterfeit and revive the memory of the knights of the round table; and after the dismissing of that day's assembly, to suppose they have sufficiently acquitted themselves of their duty, until a recess of the like solemnity Those solemn rites and ceremonies were not instituted for vain ostentation, nor to pass, as in a dumb show, to please the spectators, nor in children's sports, as it is with Horace, to create a king in jest; but those grandees must know, that as well for office and duty, as for honour, they are called to the performance of those rites, and that in them, the commonwealth is committed and recommended to the king, as to her supreme and principal tutor and protector, and to them as co-adjutors and assistants to him: and therefore, as the tutors or guardians (yea, even those who are appointed by way of honour) are chosen to have care of and observe the actions and importments of him who holds the principal rank in the tutorship, and to look how he carries himself in the administration of the goods of his pupil. So likewise are the former ordained to have an eye to the courses of the king, for, with an equivalent authority, as the others for the pupil, so are they to hinder and prevent the damage and detriment of the people, the king being properly reputed as the prime guardian, and they his co-adjutors.

In like manner, as the faults of the principal tutor who manages the affairs are justly imputed to the coadjoints in the tutorship, if when they ought and might, they did not discover his errors, and cause him to be despoiled, especially failing in the main points of his charge, to wit, in not communicating unto them the affairs of his administration, in dealing unfaithfully in his place, in doing anything to the dishonour or detriment of his pupil, in embezzling of his goods or estate, or if he bean enemy to his pupil: briefly, if either in regard of the worthlessness of his person, or weakness of his judgment, he be unable well to discharge so weighty a charge, so also, are the peers and principal officers of the kingdom accountable for the government thereof, and must both prevent, and if occasion require, suppress the tyranny of the prince, as also supply with their care and diligence, his inability and weakness.

Finally, if a tutor omitting or neglecting to do all that for his pupil, which a discreet father of a family would and might conveniently perform, cannot well be excused, and the better acquitting himself of his charge, has others as concealers and associates, joined with him to oversee his actions; with much more reason may and ought the officers of the crown to restrain the violent irruptions of that prince, who, instead of a father, becomes an enemy to his people; seeing, to speak properly, they are as well accountable for his actions wherein the public has interests, as for their own. Those officers must also remember, that the king holds truly the first place in the administration of the state, but they the second, and so following according to their ranks; not that they should follow his courses, if he transgress the laws of equity and justice; not that if he oppress the commonwealth, they should connive to his wickedness. For the commonwealth was as well committed to their care as to his, so that it is not sufficient for them to discharge their own duty in particular, but it behoves them also to contain the prince within the limits of reason; briefly, they have both jointly and severally promised with solemn oaths, to advance and procure the profit of a commonwealth, although then that he forswore himself; yet may not they imagine that they are quit of their promise, no more than the bishops and patriarchs, if they suffer an heretical pope to ruin the church; yea, they should esteem themselves so much the more obliged to the observing their oath, by how much they find him wilfully disposed to rush on in his perfidious courses. But, if there be collusion betwixt him and them, they are prevaricators; if they dissemble, they may justly be called forsakers and traitors; if they deliver not the commonwealth from tyranny, they may be truly ranked in the number of tyrants; as on the contrary they are protectors, tutors, and in a sort kings, if they keep and maintain the state safe and entire, which is also recommended to their care and custody.

Although these things are sufficiently certain of them selves, yet may they be in some sort confirmed by examples. The kings of Canaan who pressed the people of Israel with a hard, both corporal and spiritual, servitude (prohibiting them all meetings and use of arms) were certainly tyrants by practice, although they had some pretext of title. For Eglon and Jabin had peaceably reigned almost the space of twenty years. God stirred up extraordinarily Ehud, who, by a politic stratagem killed Eglon, and Deborah who overthrew the army of Jabin, and by his service delivered the people from the servitude of tyrants, not that it was unlawful for the ordinary magistrates, the princes of the tribes, and such other officers to have performed it, for Deborah does reprove the sluggish idleness of some, and flatly detests the disloyalty of others, for that they failed to perform their duty herein. But it pleased God, taking commiseration of the distress of his people, in this manner to supply the defects of the ordinary magistrates.

Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, refused to disburden the people of some unnecessary imposts and burdens; and being petitioned by the people in the general assembly of the states, he grew insolent, and relying on the counsel of his minions, arrogantly threatens to lay heavier burdens on them hereafter. No man can doubt, but that according to the tenure of the contract, first passed between the king and the people, the prime and principal officers of the kingdom had authority to repress such insolence. They were only blameable in this, that they did that by faction and division, which should more properly have been done in the general assembly of the states; in like manner, in that they transferred the sceptre from Judah (which was by God only confined to that tribe) into another lineage; and also (as it chances in other affairs) for that they did ill and disorderly manage a just and lawful cause. Profane histories are full of such examples in other kingdoms.

Brutus, general of the soldiers, and Lucretius, governor of the city of Rome, assembled the people against Tarquinius Superbus, and by their authority thrust him from the royal throne: nay, which is more, his goods were confiscated; whereby it appears that if Tarquinius had been apprehended, undoubtedly he should have been according to the public laws, corporally punished. The true causes why Tarquinius was deposed, were because he altered the custom, whereby the king was obliged to advise with the senate on all weighty affairs, that he made war and peace according to his own fancy; that he treated confederacies without demanding counsel and consent from the people or senate; that he violated the laws whereof he was made guardian; briefly that he made no reckoning to observe the contracts agreed between the former kings, and the nobility and people of Rome. For the Roman emperors, I am sure you remember the sentence pronounced by the senate against Nero, wherein he was judged an enemy to the commonwealth, and his body condemned to be ignominiously cast on the dung hill. And that other pronounced against Vitellius, which adjudged him to be shamefully dismembered, and in that miserable estate trailed through the city, and at last put to death. Another against Maximinius, who was despoiled of the empire; and Maximus and Albinus established in his place by the senate. There might also be added many others drawn from unquestionable historians.

The Emperor Trajan held not himself exempt from laws, neither desired he to be spared if he became a tyrant; for in delivering the sword unto the great provost of the empire, he says unto him: "If I command as I should, use this sword for me: but if I do otherways, unsheathe it against me." In like manner the French by the authority of the states, and solicited "hereunto by the officers of the kingdom, deposed Childerick the First, Sigisbert, Theodorick, and Childerick the Third for their tyrannies, and chose others of another family to sit on the royal throne. Yea, they deposed some because of their idleness and want of judgment, who exposed the state in prey to panders, courtesans, flatterers, and such other unworthy mushrooms of the court, who governed all things at their pleasure; taking from such rash phaetons the bridle of government, lest the whole body of the state and people should be consumed through their unadvised folly. Amongst others, Theodoret was degraded because of Ebroinus, Dagobert for Plectude and Thibaud his pander, with some others: the estates esteeming the command of an effeminate prince, as insupportable as that of a woman, and as unwillingly supporting the yoke of tyrannous ministers managing affairs in the name of a loose and unworthy prince, as the burden of a tyrant alone. To be brief, no more suffering themselves to be governed by one possessed by a devil, than they would by the devil himself. It is not very long since the estates compelled Lewis the Eleventh (a prince as subtle and it may be as wilful as any) to receive thirty-six overseers, by whose advice he was bound to govern the affairs of state. The descendants from Charlemaine substituted in the place of the Merovingians for the government of the kingdom, or those of Capet, supplanting the Charlemains by order of the estates, and reigning at this day, have no other nor better right to the crown, than what we have formerly described; and it has ever been according to law permitted the whole body of the people, represented by the council of the kingdom, which are commonly called the assembly of the states, to depose and establish princes, according to the necessities of the commonwealth. According to the same rule we read that Adolph was removed from the Empire of Germany A.D. 1296, because for covetousness without any just occasion, he invaded the kingdom of France, in favour of the English, and Wenceslaus was also deposed in the year of our Lord 1400 Yet were not these princes exceeding bad ones, but of the number of those who are accounted less ill. Isabella, the wife of Edward the Second, King of England, assembled the Parliament against her husband, who was there deposed, both because he tyrannized in general over his subjects; as also for that he cut off the heads of many noble men, without any just or legal proceeding. It is not long since Christian lost the crown of Denmark, Henry that of Sweden, Mary Stuart that of Scotland, for the same or near resembling occasions. And the most worthy histories relate divers alterations and changes which have happened in like manner, in the kingdoms of Polonia, Hungary, Spain, Portugal, Bohemia, and others.

But what shall we say of the pope himself? It is generally held that the cardinals, because they do elect him, or if they fail in their duty, the patriarchs who are next in rank to them, may upon certain occasions maugre the pope, call a council, yea, and in it judge him; as when by some notorious offence he scandalizes the universal church. If he be incorrigible, if reformation be as necessary in the head as the members, if contrary to his oath he refuse to call a general council. And we read for certain, that divers popes have been deposed by general councils. But if they obstinately abuse their authority, there must (saith Baldus) first be used verbal admonitions; secondly, herbal medicaments or remedies; thirdly, stones or compulsion; for where virtue and fair means have not power to persuade, there force and terror must be put in use to compel. Now, if according to the opinions of most of the learned, by decrees of councils, and by custom in like occasions, it plainly appears, that the council may depose the pope, who, notwithstanding, vaunts himself to be the king of kings, and as much in dignity above the emperor, as the sun is above the moon, assuming to himself power to depose kings and emperors when he pleases: who will make any doubt or question, that the general assembly of the estates of any kingdom, who are the representative body thereof, may not only degrade and disthronize a tyrant; but also, even disauthorize and depose a king, whose weakness or folly is hurtful or pernicious to the state.

But let us suppose, that in this our ship of state, the pilot is drunk, the most of his associates are asleep, or after large and unreasonable tippling together, they regard their eminent danger in approaching a rock with idle and negligent jollity; the ship in the mean season instead of following her right course, that might serve for the best advantage of the owners' profit, is ready rather to split herself. What should then a master's mate, or some other under officer do, who is vigilant and careful to perform his duty? Shall it be thought sufficient for him to pinch or punch them who are asleep, without daring in the meantime to put his helping hand to preserve the vessel which runs on a course to destruction, lest he should be thought to intermeddle with that which he has no authority nor warrant to do? What mad discretion, nay, rather notorious impiety were this? Seeing then that tyranny, as Plato says, "is a drunken frenzy or frantic drunkenness," if the prince endeavour to ruin the commonwealth, and the principal officers concur with him in his bad purposes, or at the least are lulled in a dull and drowsy dream of security and the people (being indeed the true and absolute owner and lord of the state) be, through the pernicious negligence and fraudulent connivency of those officers, brought to the very brim of danger and destruction, and that there be, notwithstanding, amongst those unworthy ministers of state, some one who does studiously observe the deceitful and dangerous encroachments of tyranny, and from his soul detests it, what opposition do we suppose best befits such a one to make against it? Shall he consent himself to admonish his associates of their duty, who to their utmost ability endeavour the contrary? Besides, that such an advertisement is commonly accompanied with too much danger, and the condition of the times considered, the very soliciting of reformation will be held as a capital crime: so that in so doing he may be not unfitly resembled to one, who, being in the midst of a desert, environed with thieves, should neglect all means of defence, and after he had cast away his arms, in an eloquent and learned discourse commend justice, and extol the worth and dignity of the laws This would be truly according to the proverb, "To run mad with reason." What then? Shall he be dull and deaf to the groans and cries of the people? Shall he stand still and be silent when he sees the thieves enter? Shall he only hold his hands in his bosom, and with a demure countenance, idly bewail the miserable condition of the times? If the laws worthily condemn a soldier, who, for fear of the enemies, counterfeits sickness, because in so doing he expresses both disloyalty and treachery, what punishment can we invent sufficient for him, who either maliciously or basely betrays those whose protection and defence he has absolutely undertaken and sworn? Nay, rather than let such a one cheerfully call one and command the mariners to the performance of their duty: let him carefully and constantly take order that the commonwealth be not endamaged, and if need so require, even in despite of the king, preserve the kingdom, without which the kingly title were idle and frivolous, and if by no other means it can be affected, let him take the king and bind him hand and foot, that so he may be more conveniently cured of his frenzy and madness.

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