"TO HIS COY MISTRESS"
John Milton, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates
(to view the footnotes, click on the highlighted numbers)
   
John Milton’s The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649) argues that the English people did have the right to condemn their king, Charles I, to death in 1649. Furious at the monarchy’s embrace of what he understood to be a regression to Catholic ceremony and understanding Eikon Basilike as a type of idolatry, Milton challenges the notion of “divine right,” the doctrine that asserted a monarch’s right by birth to rule as a type of divinity on earth. Under “divine right,” no one would have the right to depose a monarch, regardless of the monarch’s actions and character. Milton begins by appealing to the people of England to cease their “slavery” to tradition and exercise judgment about the nature of their ruler. By condoning Charles, they were not free men but under the “double tyranny” of the king’s rule as well as the oppression that comes with their own abandonment of reason for the “custom” of divine right. Citing examples from Scripture, Milton argues that because man has always had free will, he has always had the power to determine his leaders. Ultimately, he argues, the English people will be remembered and celebrated for their decision to execute Charles: Rather than bringing them disgrace, this righteous exercise of their free will brings them glory.

THE TENURE OF KINGS AND MAGISTRATES:
PROVING THAT IT IS LAWFUL, AND HATH BEEN HELD SO THROUGH ALL AGES, FOR ANY, WHO HAVE THE POWER, TO CALL TO ACCOUNT A TYRANT OR WICKED KING, AND AFTER DUE CONVICTION, TO DEPOSE AND PUT HIM TO DEATH IF THE ORDINARY MAGISTRATE HAVE NEGLECTED OR DENIED HIM TO DO IT. AND THAT THEY WHO OF LATE SO MUCH BLAME DEPOSING, ARE THE MEN THAT DID IT THEMSELVES.

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 affections1 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. For, indeed, 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. Hence is it that tyrants are not oft offended, nor stand much in doubt of bad men, as being all naturally servile,2 but in whom virtue and true worth most is eminent, them they fear in earnest, as by right their masters; against them lies all their hatred and suspicion. Consequently, 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. . . .

But to unfold more at large this whole question, though with all expedient brevity, I shall here set down from first beginning, the original of kings; how and wherefore exalted to 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.3 This I shall do by authorities and reasons, not learnt in corners among schisms and heresies, as our doubling divines are ready to calumniate, but fetched out of the midst of choicest and most authentic learning, and no prohibited authors, nor many heathen, but Mosaical,4 Christian, orthodoxal, and, which must needs be more convincing to our adversaries, presbyterial.
No man who knows aught, can be so stupid to deny that all men naturally were born free,5 being the image and resemblance of God himself, and were, by privilege above all the creatures, born to command,6 and not to obey; and that they lived so, till from the root of Adam’s transgression falling among themselves to do wrong and violence, and foreseeing that such courses must needs tend to the destruction of them all, 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. And because no faith in all was found sufficiently binding, they saw it needful to ordain some authority that might restrain by force and punishment what was violated against peace and common right. . . .

Though perhaps till now no protestant state or kingdom can be alleged to have openly put to death their king, which lately some have written and imputed to their great glory, much mistaking the matter, it is not, neither ought to be, the glory of a protestant king never to put their king to death; it is the glory of a protestant king never to have deserved death. And if the parliament and military council do what they do without precedent, if it appears their duty, it argues the more wisdom, virtue, and magnanimity, that they know themselves able to be a precedent to others; who perhaps in future ages, if they prove not too degenerate, will look up with honor and aspire towards these exemplary and matchless deeds of their ancestors, as to the highest top of their civil glory and emulation. Which heretofore, in the pursuance of fame and foreign dominion, spent itself vaingloriously abroad, but henceforth may learn a better fortitude7—to dare execute highest justice on them that shall by force of arms endeavor the oppressing and bereaving of religion and their liberty at home: that no unbridled potentate or tyrant, but to his sorrow, for the future may presume such high and irresponsible license over mankind, to havoc8 and turn upside down whole kingdoms of men, as though they were no more in respect of his perverse will than a nation of pismires9 . . . .

 
 
Contributing author: Michelle Ephraim, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Responding to John Milton, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates

Answer the following questions in your notebook—this will be collated so that you can print or e-mail your work when you are finished.
 
 

1). Does Nalson’s picture seem to support or refute Milton’s argument that the people have a right to depose their king?

 
 

2). Analyze Milton’s representation of the king’s relationship with the people.


 

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