Part 1 of the series
Part 2 of the series
Part 3 of the series
Part 4 of the series
Part 5 of the series
In this series, we are examining the sixteenth-century Huguenot book Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos (A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants), a Christian treatise on the civil magistrate. The treatise is written in the form of answering four questions. In the initial parts, we went through the first two of these questions: whether subjects are obligated to obey rulers who issue commands contrary to the law of God and whether it is lawful to resist rulers who issue such commands. We came to the conclusion that men are not obligated to obey such commands; indeed, it would be sinful to obey them. Further, it is lawful to resist such rulers, even by force of arms if necessary, yet such resistance should come from lesser magistrates rather than from private individuals. We will continue in this series by beginning to answer the third question: whether it is lawful to resist a ruler who oppresses or ruins a country. As before, I will post in full a section of the book, followed by my summary of the section.
Continue to keep in mind that though the civil magistrate is referred to as “king” or “prince,” the principles laid out in Vindiciae are just as applicable to presidents, prime ministers, judges, congressmen, senators, governors, or whatever other form or title the civil magistrate takes.
THE THIRD QUESTION, part 1: 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
For so much as we must here discuss the lawful authority of a lawful ruler, I am confident that this question won’t be in the least acceptable to tyrants and wicked rulers. But it’s no wonder that those who acknowledge no law but their own whims are deaf to the voice of that law which is grounded upon reason. But I am convinced that the good rulers will willingly listen to this discussion, because they know full well that every magistrate, whatever their rank, are but an embodiment of the law. And even though nothing will convince the bad rulers, this doesn’t say anything against the good, since the two are are, in character, diametrically the opposite of each other. Therefore, whatever shall be said against the actions of tyrants by no means detracts anything from good kings; on the contrary, the more tyrants are shown for their true colors, the more glorious does the true worth and dignity of good kings appear, and neither can the vicious imperfections of the one be laid open without adding perfections and respect to the honor of the other.
But as for tyrants, let them say and think what they please; that will be the least of my worries. For it is not to them, but against them that I write. I believe good kings will readily consent to that which is propounded, for they ought to hate tyrants and wicked governors just as much as shepherds hate wolves, physicians hate poisoners, or true prophets hate false doctors; for reason infuses into good kings as much hatred against tyrants, as nature imprints in dogs against wolves, for as the one lives by looting and pillaging, so the other is born or bred to redress and prevent all such outrages. It may be the flatterers of tyrants will read this and turn up their noses at it, but if they were not past all grace, they would rather blush with shame. I very well know that the friends and faithful servants of kings will not only consider and approve this argument, but also, with their best abilities, defend its contents. Accordingly as the reader shall find himself liking or disliking what we say here, let him know that by that he shall plainly discover either the affection or hatred that he bears to tyrants. Let us now enter into the matter.
Kings Are Made by the People
We have shown before that it is God that appoints and chooses kings, and who gives them their kingdoms. Now we say that it is the people who establish kings, puts the sceptre into their hands, and who with their support, approves the election. God would have it done in this manner so that kings should acknowledge that after God, they hold their power and sovereignty from the people. And that this would then encourage them to concentrate and direct all their efforts on the benefit of the people without being puffed with any vain imagination that they were created from material more excellent than other men, for which they were raised so high above others; as if they were to command our flocks of sheep, or herds of cattle. But let them remember and know that they are made no different than anyone else, raised from the earth by the voice and acclamations of the people, raised as it were, on their shoulders to their thrones, that they might afterwards bear on their own shoulders the greatest burdens of the commonwealth. Many ages before that, the people of Israel demanded a king. God gave and appointed the law of royal government contained in Deut. 17: 14-15: “Thou art come unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me like as all the nations that are about me, thou shalt in any wise set him whom the Lord thy God shall choose from amongst thy brethren, etc.” You see here that the election of the king is attributed to God, but he is established by the people. Now when the practice of this law came in use, let us see in what manner they proceeded.
The elders of Israel, who represented the whole body of the people (elders are understood to be the captains, the centurions, commanders over fifties and tens, judges, provosts, but principally the chiefest of tribes) came to meet Samuel in Ramah, and not being willing longer to endure the government of the sons of Samuel, whose ill management had justly drawn on them the people’s dislike, and also persuading themselves that they had found the means to make their wars hereafter with more advantage, they demanded a king of Samuel. Samuel asked counsel of the Lord, who made known that He had chosen Saul for the governor of His people. Then Samuel anointed Saul, and performed all those rights which belong to the election of a king required by the people. Now this might, perhaps, have seemed sufficient, if Samuel had presented to the people the king who was chosen by God, and had admonished them all to become good and obedient subjects. Notwithstanding, to the end that the king might know that he was established by the people, Samuel appointed the elders to meet at Mizpah, where they assembled as if the business of choosing a king had yet to begin, and nothing had already been done, in other words, as if the election of Saul hadn’t happened yet. (1 Sam. 10:17) The lot was cast and fell on the tribe of Benjamin, then on the family of Matri, and lastly on Saul, born of that family, the same man whom God had chosen. Then by the consent of all the people Saul was declared king. Finally, so that Saul nor any other might attribute the aforesaid business to chance or lot, Saul then made some proof of his valor in raising the siege of the Ammonites in Jabish Gilead (1 Sam. 11). At the urging of the people, he was again confirmed king in a full assembly at Gilgal. You see that he whom God had chosen, and the lot had separated from all the rest, is established king by the support of the people.
And for David, by the commandment of God, and in a manner more evident than the former, after the rejection of Saul, Samuel anointed for king over Israel, David, chosen by the Lord. (1 Sam. 16:13). After that, the Spirit of the Lord left Saul, and instead worked in a special manner in David. But David, despite all this, did not reign, but was compelled to save himself in deserts and rocks, often coming close to the very brink of destruction. In fact, he never reigned as king until after the death of Saul, for then by the acclamation of all the people of Judah, he was first chosen king of Judah, and seven years later by the consent of all Israel, he was inaugurated king of Israel in Hebron. So then, he is first anointed by the prophet at the commandment of God, as a token he was chosen. Secondly, by the commandment of the people when he was established king. And so that kings may always remember that it is from God, but by the people, and for the people’s sake that they reign, and that in their glory they don’t say (as is their custom) they hold their kingdom only by God and their sword, but also add that it was the people who first gave them that sword. The same order offered in Solomon. Although he was the king’s son, God had chosen Solomon to sit upon the throne of his kingdom, and by explicit words had promised David to be with him and assist him as a father his son. David had with his own mouth designated Solomon to be successor to his crown in the presence of some of the principal men of his court.
But this was not enough, and therefore David assembled at Jerusalem the princes of Israel, the heads of the tribes, the captains of the soldiers, and ordinance officers of the kings, the centurions and other magistrates of towns, together with his sons, the noblemen and worthiest personages of the kingdom, to consult and resolve upon the election. In this assembly, after they had called upon the name of God, Solomon, by the consent of the whole congregation, was proclaimed and anointed as king, and sat upon the throne of Israel. (1 Chr. 28-29) Then, and not before, the princes, the noblemen, his brothers themselves do him homage, and take the oath of allegiance. And so that it may not be said that that was only done to avoid the disputes which might arise amongst the brothers and sons of David about the succession, we read that the other following kings have, in the same manner, been established in their places. It is said, that after the death of Solomon, the people assembled to create his son Rehoboam king. (1 Ki. 12) After Amaziah was killed, (2 Chr. 25:25) Azariah, his only son, was chosen king by all the people, (2 Chr. 26:1) Ahaziah after Jehoram, Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah, after the decease of his father, whose piety might well seem to require that without any other solemnity, both he and the other were chosen and invested into the royal throne by the support of the people.
To which also belongs, that which Hushai said to Absolom: “Nay, but whom the Lord and His people, and all the men of Israel chose, his will I be, and with him will I abide” (2 Sam. 16:18). This is just like saying, “I will follow the king lawfully established, and according to the accustomed order.” Thus, although God had promised to His people a perpetual lamp (that is, a king) and a continual successor of the line of David, and that the successor of the kings of this people were approved by the Word of God Himself, despite this, we see that the kings of Israel did not reign before the people had ordained and installed them with the necessary ceremonies. It may be concluded from this that the kingdom of Israel was not a hereditary monarchy, if we consider David and the promise made to him, and that it was wholly elective, if we regard the particular persons. But it is apparent that the election is only mentioned so that the kings might always remember that they were raised to their high office by the people, and therefore they should never forget during life what a strict bound of observance they are tied to with those from whom they have received all their greatness. We read that the kings of the heathen have been established also by the people; for when they had either troubles at home, or wars abroad, someone, in whose ready valor and discreet integrity the people did principally rely and rest their greatest confidence, him they presently, with universal consent, established as king.
Cicero says, that among the Medes, Diocles, from a Judge of private controversies, was, for his uprightness, elected king by the whole people, and in the same manner were the first kings chosen amongst the Romans. Insomuch, that after the death of Romulus, the interregnum and government of the hundred senators being little acceptable to the citizens, it was agreed that from that time forward, the king should be chosen by the acclamation of the people, and with the approval of the senate. Tarquinius Superbus was therefore considered to a tyrant because being chosen neither by the people nor the senate, he intruded himself into the kingdom only by force and usurpation. Therefore Julius Caesar, long after, though he gained the empire by the sword, yet so he might add some pretense of legality to his former intrusion, he caused himself to be declared, both by the people and senate, perpetual dictator. Augustus, his adopted son, would never take on him as inheritor of the empire, although he was declared so by the testaments of Caesar, but always held it as of the people and senate. The same also did Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius, and the first that assumed the empire to himself, without any color of right, was Nero, who also by the senate was condemned.
Because none were ever born with crowns on their heads and sceptres in their hands, and because no man can be a king by himself, nor reign without people (whereas on the contrary, the people may subsist by themselves, and did so, long before they had any kings), it must of necessity follow that kings were at the first constituted by the people. And although the sons and dependents of such kings, inheriting their fathers’ virtues, may seem to have rendered their kingdoms hereditary to their offspring, and that in some kingdoms and countries, the right of free election seems of a sort buried, nevertheless in all well-ordered kingdoms, this custom still exists. The sons do not succeed the fathers before the people have first, as it were, re-established them by their new confirmation. Neither were they acknowledged in quality as inheriting it from the dead, but were approved and accounted kings only when they were invested with the kingdom, by receiving the sceptre and diadem from the hands of those who represent the majesty of the people. One may see most evident marks of this in Christian kingdoms which are at this day esteemed hereditary; for the French king, he of Spain and England, and others, are commonly inaugurated, and, as it were, put into possession of their authority by the peers, lords of the realm, and officers of the crown, who represent the body of the people; no more nor less than the emperors of Germany are chosen by the electors, and the kings of Polonia, by the wojewodas or palatines of the kingdom, where the right of election is yet in force.
In like manner also, the cities give no royal reception, nor entries to the king, until after their inauguration, and in ancient times they did not to count the times of their reign until the day of their coronation. This custom was strictly observed in France. But unless the continued course of some successions should deceive us, we must take notice, that the councils of the kingdoms have often preferred the cousin before the son, or the younger brother before the elder. For example, in France, Louis was preferred before his brother Robert, Earl of Eureux [Annales Gillii]; in like manner Henry before Robert, nephew to Capet. Which is more by authority of the people in the same kingdom, the crown has been transported (the lawful inheritors living) from one lineage to another, as from that of the Merovingian kings to that of the Charlemagnes, and from that of the Charlemagnes to that of Capets, the which has also been done in other kingdoms, as the best historians testify.
But not to wander from France, the long continuance and power of which kingdom may in some sort plead for a ruling authority, and where succession seems to have obtained most reputation. We read that Pharamond was chosen in the year 419, Pepin in the year 751, Charles the Great, and Charlemagne, the son of Pepin, in the year 768, without having any respect to their fathers’ former estate. Charlemagne dying in the year 772, his portion fell not presently into the possession of his brother Charles the Great, as it ordinarily happens in the succession of inheritances, but by the ordinance of the people and the estates of the kingdom he is invested with it; the same author witnesses, that in the year 812, Lewis the Courteous, although he was the son of Charles the Great, was also elected; and in the testament of Charlemagne, inserted into the history written by Nauclere, Charlemagne does entreat the people to choose, by a general assembly of the councils of the kingdom, which of his grandchildren or nephews the people pleased, and commanding the uncles to observe and obey the ordinance of the people. By this means, Charles the Bold, nephew to Louis the Courteous and Judith, declares himself to be chosen king, as Aimonius the French historian recites. In conclusion, all kings at the first were altogether elected, and those who at this day seem to have their crowns and royal authority by inheritance, have (or should have) first and principally their confirmation from the people. Although the people of some countries have been accustomed to choose their kings of such a lineage, which for some notable merits have worthily deserved it, yet we must believe that they choose the lineage itself, and not every branch that proceeds from it. Neither are they so tied to that election, if the successor degenerates, they may not choose another more worthy, neither those who come and are the next of that lineage are born kings, but created such, nor called kings, but princes of royal blood.
The Whole Body of the People is Above the King
Now, since the people choose and establish their kings, it follows that the whole body of the people is above the king. This is because he who is established by another is under that person, and he who receives his authority from another is less than the person from whom he derives his power. Potiphar the Egyptian sets Joseph over all his house; Nebuchadnezzar places Daniel over the province of Babylon; Darius sets the one hundred and twenty governors over his kingdom. It is commonly said that masters establish their servants, and kings their officers. In like manner, also, the people establish the king as administrator of the commonwealth. Good kings have accepted this title and even the bad ones themselves use of it; in fact, for a long period of time, no Roman emperor (aside from absolute tyrants such as Nero, Domitian, or Caligula) would allow himself to be called ‘lord.’ Furthermore, it must necessarily be, that kings were instituted for the people’s sake, neither can it be, that for the pleasure of some hundreds of men, and without doubt more foolish and worse than many of the other, all the rest were made, but much rather that these hundred were made for the use and service of all the other, and reason requires that he be preferred above the other, who was made only to and for his sake. Just as for a ship’s voyage, the owner appoints a pilot over her who sits at the helm and makes sure she maintain her course and not run aground. The pilot, while on duty, is strictly obeyed by the crew and even by the owner of the vessel despite the fact that he is a servant as well as the least in the ship. The only thing that makes a pilot different than the rest of the crew is that he serves in a better place than they do.
In a commonwealth, the king is the same as the pilot in a ship, the people are owners of the vessel, obeying the pilot, while he is looking out for the public good; as though this pilot neither is (nor ought) to be considered other than as a servant to the public, just as a judge or general in war differs little from other officers. But he is obligated to bear greater burdens, and expose himself to more dangers. By the same reason, the land the king acquires by use of arms by means of frontier expansion in warring on the enemy, or that which he gets by forfeiture or confiscations, actually belongs to the kingdom – not to the king but rather to the people that make up the kingdom, no more nor less than the servant does for his master; neither may one contract or obligate themselves to him, but by and with reference to the authority derived from the people. Furthermore, there are all sorts of people who live without a king, but we cannot imagine a king without people. And those who have been raised to the royal office were not advanced because they excelled other men in beauty and comeliness, nor in some excellency of nature that better enabled them to govern them as shepherds do their flocks, but since they are made out of the same substance as the rest of the people, they should acknowledge that they, as it were, borrow their power and authority.
The ancient custom of the French represents that exceedingly well, for they used to lift up on a buckler, and salute him king whom they had chosen. And why is it said, “I pray you that kings have an infinite number of eyes, a million ears, with extreme long hands, and feet exceedingly swift?” Is it because they are like Argos, Gerien, Midas, or various other mythological creatures so celebrated by the poets? Certainly not, but this is said in regard to all the people, whom the business of governing principally concerns — they lend to the king for the good of the commonwealth their eyes, their ears, their means, and their abilities. If the people forsake the king, he will presently fall to the ground, although his hearing and sight seemed most excellent at first, and that he was strong and in the best possible disposition. And even if he seemed to triumph in all magnificence, yet in an instant he will become most vile and contemptible: to be brief, instead of those divine honors wherewith all men adore him, he shall be compelled to become a petty schoolmaster, and whip children in the school at Corinth. Take away the foundation of this giant, and like the Colossus at Rhodes, he presently tumbles on the ground and breaks into pieces. Seeing then that the king is established in this degree by the people, and for their sake, and that he cannot subsist without them, who can think it strange, then, for us to conclude that the people are above the king?
Now, everything we say concerning the people universally also applies to those who in every kingdom or town lawfully represent the people, and who ordinarily are called the officers of the kingdom, or of the crown — but not those officials appointed by the king, since it is the king and not the people who places and displaces them at his pleasure. Indeed, after his death these officers have no more power, and are considered dead. On the other hand, the officers of the kingdom receive their authority from the people in the general assembly of the states (or, at the least, have done so by ancient custom) and cannot be disauthorized by anyone but them. So then the one depends on the king, the other on the kingdom; those of the sovereign officer of the kingdom, who is the king himself, and those of the sovereignty itself, that is, of the people, of which sovereignty, both the king and all his officers of the kingdom ought to depend. The responsibility of the one is proper relation to the care of the king’s person; that of the other, to save the commonwealth from damage; the first ought to serve and assist the king, just as all domestic servants are obligated to their masters; the other to preserve the rights and privileges of the people, and to hinder the ruler so that he neither omit the things that are advantageous to the state, nor commit anything that may cause damage to the public.
Briefly, the one are servants and domestics of the king, employed to obey his person. The other, on the contrary, are as associates to the king, in the administration of justice, participating of the royal power and authority, being bound to the utmost of their power to assist in the management of the affairs of state, just as the king, who is, as it were, their president, and principal only in order and degree.
Therefore, as all the whole people is above the king, and likewise taken in one entire body, are in authority before him, yet individually, every one of them is under the king. It is easy to know how far the power of the first kings extended, in that Ephron, king of the Hittites, could not grant Abraham the sepulchre, but in the presence and with the consent of the people (Gen. 23): neither could Hemor the Hevite, king of Sichem, contract an alliance with Jacob without the people’s assent and confirmation thereof (Gen. 34); because it was then the custom to refer the most important affairs to be dispensed and resolved in the general assemblies of the people. This might easily be practiced in those kingdoms which were then almost confined within the circuit of one town.
But when the kings began to extend their limits, and since it became impossible for the people to assemble together all into one place because of their great numbers, which would have been nothing but confusion, the officers of the kingdom were established, who should ordinarily preserve the rights of the people, and also, as when extraordinary circumstances required, the people might be assembled, or at the least such a fraction as might by the most principal members be a representation of the whole body. We see this order established in the kingdom of Israel which (in the judgment of the wisest politicians) was excellently ordered. The king had his cupbearers, his carvers, his chamberlains and stewards. The kingdom had her officers, to wit, the seventy-one elders, and the heads and chief chosen out of all the tribes, who had the care of the public faith in peace and war.
Furthermore, the kingdom had magistrates in every town, who had the particular government of them, as the former were for the whole kingdom. At such times when affairs of consequence were to be dealt with, they assembled together, but nothing that concerned the public state could receive any solid determination. David assembled the officers of his kingdom when he desired to invest his son Solomon with the royal dignity; when he would have examined and approved that manner of policy, and managing of affairs, that he had revived and restored, and when there was no question of removing the ark of the covenant.
And because they represented the whole people, it is said in the history, that all the people assembled. These were the same officers who delivered Jonathan from death, condemned by the sentence of the king, by which it appears, that there might be an appeal from the king to the people.
After that, the kingdom was divided through the pride of Rehoboam. The council at Jerusalem, comprised of seventy one elders, seems to have such authority that they might judge the king as well as the king might judge every one of them in particular.
In this council was presided over by the duke of the house of Judah, that is, some principal man chosen out of that tribe; as also, in the city of Jerusalem, there was a governor chosen out of the tribe of Benjamin residing there. This will appear more clear by examples: Jeremiah, sent by God to announce to the Jews the destruction of Jerusalem, was therefore condemned first by the priests and prophets, in whose hands was the ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and then afterwards by all the people of the city; that is, by the ordinary judges of Jerusalem, to wit, the milleniers, and the centurions. Finally, the matter being brought before the rulers of Judah, who were the seventy-one elders assembled, and set near to the new gate of the temple, he was acquitted by them..
In this very assembly, they discreetly condemned, in explicit terms, the wicked and cruel act of the king Jehoiachin, who, a little before, had caused the prophet Uriah, who also foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, to be slain.
We read in another place, that Zedekiah held the authority of this council in such reverence that he was so far from delivering of Jeremiah from the dungeon where the seventy-one had cast him, that he dare scarce remove him into a less rigorous prison. After persuading him to give his consent to the putting to death the prophet Jeremiah, he answered them, that he was in their hands, and that he might not oppose them in anything. (Jer. 38:5) The same king, fearing lest they might bring charges against him, to bring him to account for certain speeches he had used to the Prophet Jeremiah, was glad to feign an untrue excuse. It appears by this, that in the kingdom of Judah, this council was above the king — in this kingdom, I say, not fashioned or established by Plato or Aristotle, but by the Lord God Himself, being author of all their order, and supreme moderator in that monarchy. Such were the seven magi or sages in the Persian empire, who had almost a paralleled dignity with the king, and were termed the ears and eyes of the king, who also never dissented from the judgment of those sages.
In the kingdom of Sparta there were the ephori, to whom it was possible to appeal the judgment of the king, and who, as Aristotle says, had authority also to judge the kings themselves.
In Egypt the people were accustomed to choose and give officers to the king, to the end they might hinder and prevent any encroachment, or usurped authority, contrary to the laws. Now as Aristotle does ordinarily term those lawful kings, who have for their assistants such officers or counsellors, so also he makes no difficulty to say, that where they be absent, there can be no true monarchy, but rather an absolutely barbarous tyranny, or at the least such a dominion as does most nearly approach tyranny.
In the Roman Republic, such were the senators and the magistrates created by the people, the tribune of those who were called Celeres, the praetor or provost of the city, and others, insomuch as there lay an appeal from the king to the people, as Seneca declares by various testimonies drawn from Cicero’s books of the commonwealth, and the history of the Horatii sufficiently shows someone who, being condemned by the judges for killing his sister, was acquitted by the people.
In the times of the emperors, there was the senate, the consuls, the praetors, the great provosts of the empire, the governors of provinces, all attributed to the senate and the people, all of which were called the magistrates and officers of the people of Rome. And therefore, when that by the decree of the senate, the emperor Maximus was declared an enemy of the commonwealth, and that Maximus and Albinus were created emperors by the senate, the men of war were sworn to be faithful and obedient to the people of Rome, the senate, and the emperors. Now for the empires and public states of these times (except those of Turkey, Russia and such like, which are rather a rhapsody of robbers, and barbarous intruders, than any lawful empires), there is not one, which is not, or has not ever been governed in any other manner other than that we have described. And if through the negligence and sloth of the principal officers, the successors have found the business in a worse condition, then those who have, for the present, the public authority in their hands, are obligated to, as much as in them lies, return things back into their primary estate and condition.
In the empire of Germany, which is conferred by election, there are the electors and the rulers, both secular and ecclesiastic, the counts, barons, and deputies of the imperial cities, and as all these in their proper places are solicitors for the public good, likewise in the councils do they represent the majesty of the empire, being obliged to advise, and carefully foresee, that neither by the emperor’s partiality, hate, nor affection, the public state comes to harm. And for this reason, the empire has its chancellor, as well as the emperor his, both the one and the other have their peculiar officers and treasurers apart from each other. And it is a thing so well-known, that the empire is preferred before the emperor, that it is a common saying, “That emperor does homage to the empire.”
In like manner, in the kingdom of Poland, there are for officers of the crown, the bishops, the palatines, the castellains, the nobility, the deputies of towns and provinces assembled extraordinarily, before whom and with whose consent, and nowhere else, they make new laws, and decisions concerning wars. For the ordinary government there are the counsellors of the kingdom, the chancellor of the state, etc., although the king has his own stewards, chamberlains, servants, and domestics. Now if any man should demand who were the greater in Poland, the king, or all the people of the kingdom, represented by the lords and magistrates, he should do as much, as if he asked at Venice, if the duke were above the dominion. But what shall we say of kingdoms, which are said to be hereditary monarchies? We may indeed conclude the very same. The kingdom of France, heretofore preferred before all others in excellency of their laws and majesty of their estate, is a good example. Now, if those who have the public commands in their hands do not discharge their duties as they should, it does not follow that they are not obligated to do it. The king has his high steward of his household, his chamberlains, his masters of his games, cupbearers, and others, whose offices were accustomed to depend on the person of the king. After the death of their master, their offices then became void. And indeed, at the funeral of the king, the lord high steward, in the presence of all the officers and servants of the household, breaks his staff of office, and says, “Our master is dead, let every one provide for himself.” On the other side, the kingdom has her own officers, to wit, the mayor of the palace, who since has been called the constable, the marshals, the admiral, the chancellor, or great referendary, the secretaries, the treasurers and others, who heretofore were created in the assembly of the three estates, the clergy, the nobility, and the people.
Since the parliament of Paris was made sedentary, they are not thought to be established in their places before they have been first received and approved by that session of parliament, and may not be dismissed nor disposed but by the authority and consent of the same. Now all these officers take their oath first to the kingdom, which is as much as to say, to the people, then to the king who is protector of the kingdom, which can be seen by the tenure of the oath. Above all, the constable, who, receiving the sword from the king, has it girded around him with this charge, that he maintain and defend the commonwealth, as we can see by the words that the king then pronounces.
Besides, the kingdom of France has the peers (so called either for that they are the king’s companions, or because they are the fathers of the commonwealth) taking their names from the several provinces of the kingdom, in whose hands the king at his inauguration takes his oath as if all the people of the kingdom were in them present which shows that these twelve peers are above the king. They on the other side swear, “That they will preserve not the king, but the crown, that they will assist the commonwealth with their counsel, and therefore will be present with their best abilities to counsel the ruler both in peace and war,” as appears plainly in the formula of the oath of their peership.
And they therefore have the same right as the peers of the court, who, according to the law of the Lombards, were not only associates to the feudal lord in the judgment of causes, but also did take an account, and judge the disputes that happened between the lord and his vassals.
We may also know, that those peers of France often discussed suits and differences between the king and his subjects. Insomuch, that when Charles VI would have given sentence against the Duke of Brittany, they opposed it, alleging that the discussing of that business belonged properly to the peers and not to the king, who might not in any sort derogate from their authority.
Therefore it is that at the present day, the parliament of Paris is called the court of peers, being in some sort constituted judge between the king and the people; even between the king and every private person, and is bound and ought to maintain the least in the kingdom against the king’s attorney, if he undertake anything contrary to law.
Furthermore, if the king ordain anything in his council, if he treat any agreement with the neighboring rulers, if he begin a war, or make peace, as lately with the emperor Charles V, the parliament ought to interpose their authority, and all that which concerns the public state must be dealt with there. Neither is there anything firm and stable which the parliament does not first approve. And to the end that the counsellors of that parliament should not fear the king, formerly they did not attain to that place without the nomination of the whole body of the court; neither could they be dismissed for any lawful cause, but only by the authority of the said body.
Furthermore, if the orders of the king are not subsigned by a secretary of the kingdom, at this day called a secretary of state, and if the public decrees are not sealed by the chancellor, who has power also to cancel them, they are of no force or value. There are also dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, barons, seneschals, and, in the cities and good towns, mayors, bailiffs, lieutenants, capitols, consuls, syndics, sheriffs and others, who have special authority, through the circuit of some countries or towns, to preserve the people of their jurisdiction. At the present day some of these dignities have become hereditary. Thus much concerning the ordinary magistrates.
It has been shown in earlier parts of this series that it is God who appoints kings. Now we take this a step further and say that it is the people who establish those whom God appoints. We see from Deut. 17: 14-15 that while God does the choosing, the people set the king over them. “God would have it done in this manner so that kings should acknowledge that after God, they hold their power and sovereignty from the people.” This encourages kings to put the best interests of the people first and not to be “puffed with any vain imagination that they were created from material more excellent than other men.” This is the pattern throughout Scripture. In 1 Sam. 10, the people of Israel, via their representation through the lesser magistrates, assemble to cast lots and choose a king as if Samuel had not already anointed Saul. Only after Saul is chosen by lot and proves his worth in battle (1 Sam. 11) is he crowned king at the urging of the people. We see the same process with David: he is anointed by Samuel but does not actually reign as king until he is established by the people, first by Judah and then by all of Israel. And yet again with Solomon: it was not enough that God and David designated Solomon as David’s heir. King David assembled all of the lesser magistrates of the kingdom in 1 Chr. 28-29 and had them confirm the choice. We see the same pattern in 1 Ki. 12, 2 Chr. 25:25, and 2 Chr. 26:1. This view can be encapsulated by Hushai’s reply to Absalom in 2 Sam. 16:18: “Nay, but whom the Lord and His people, and all the men of Israel choose, his will I be, and with him will I abide.” Absalom could not be king because he had revolted against the rightful king; God had not appointed him, nor had the people lawfully chosen him.
“Because none were ever born with crowns on their heads and sceptres in their hands, and because no man can be a king by himself, nor reign without people (whereas on the contrary, the people may subsist by themselves, and did so, long before they had any kings), it must of necessity follow that kings were at the first constituted by the people.” And thus it is no surprise that the people’s establishing their kings is not unique to Israel. The kings of the Romans were chosen in the same manner, and even the emperors, except for the worst tyrants, also claimed to hold their position by the will of the people and the Senate. All the great European Christian monarchies had their origins in election by the people, however hereditary they may seem now. “For the French king, he of Spain and England, and others, are commonly inaugurated, and, as it were, put into possession of their authority by the peers, lords of the realm, and officers of the crown, who represent the body of the people; no more nor less than the emperors of Germany are chosen by the electors, and the kings of Polonia, by the wojewodas or palatines of the kingdom, where the right of election is yet in force.” Further, an heir is not considered a king, however firm or legitimate his claim on the title, until after his inauguration and coronation, where he is confirmed as king by the people via the lesser magistrates. And it is not a rare occurrence that the people may pass over an older brother to choose the younger, or pass over a son to choose an uncle; or even transfer the kingship to an entirely different house, as was done in France from “the Merovingian kings to that of the Charlemagnes, and from that of the Charlemagnes to that of Capets.”
“Now, since the people choose and establish their kings, it follows that the whole body of the people is above the king. This is because he who is established by another is under that person, and he who receives his authority from another is less than the person from whom he derives his power. Potiphar the Egyptian sets Joseph over all his house; Nebuchadnezzar places Daniel over the province of Babylon; Darius sets the one hundred and twenty governors over his kingdom. . . . In like manner, also, the people establish the king as administrator of the commonwealth.” “Just as for a ship’s voyage, the owner appoints a pilot over her who sits at the helm and makes sure she maintain her course and not run aground. The pilot, while on duty, is strictly obeyed by the crew and even by the owner of the vessel despite the fact that he is a servant as well as the least in the ship. In a commonwealth, the king is the same as the pilot in a ship, the people are owners of the vessel, obeying the pilot, while he is looking out for the public good.” There have often been people who lived without a king, but it is foolish to imagine a king without any people. Thus, while the king is above any one of his subjects individually, since “the king is established in this degree by the people, and for their sake, and that he cannot subsist without them, who can think it strange, then, for us to conclude that the people are above the king?”
How do the people exercise this power over the king? There are two kinds of government officials. The first type derives its authority from the king and is appointed by him to assist him in managing the kingdom. The second type derives its authority from the people themselves and is appointed by them to represent the people and to guard their rights against any usurpation by the king. It is this second type that we have been referring to as lesser magistrates. When the king loses his authority, the officials he appoints automatically lose theirs as well, but only the people can unmake one of their own officials. When a kingdom encompassed a single town or city, assembling all the people together to confirm a king’s decision, debate a policy, or make an appeal to the king was easy. However, as political entities grew, the need for representatives, or lesser magistrates, was born not only to govern local affairs, but also that through their representation the whole nation could be said to be assembled by the presence of these few men. This was the case when “David assembled the officers of his kingdom when he desired to invest his son Solomon with the royal dignity,” and also when “the kingdom was divided through the pride of Rehoboam. The council at Jerusalem, comprised of seventy one elders, seems to have such authority that they might judge the king as well as the king might judge every one of them in particular.” And once again we see this pattern beyond Israel. In Sparta, Egypt, the Roman Republic, the Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, the kingdoms of Poland and France, and all other well-run countries, lesser magistrates, appointed by and representing the people, have been a check on the king’s power; the king has needed their support and approval. These lower magistrates are “dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, barons, seneschals, and, in the cities and good towns, mayors, bailiffs, lieutenants, capitols, consuls, syndics, sheriffs and others, who have special authority, through the circuit of some countries or towns, to preserve the people of their jurisdiction.”
Excerpts from Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos obtained from here.