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Background for the Defense of the English People



salmasius.jpg (11798 bytes) Claude De Saumaise (April 15, 1588--September 3, 1653).

Salmasius studied at Paris (1604-06) and at Heidelberg (1606-09). During his years at Heidelberg he discovered the Palatine manuscript of the Greek Anthology. In 1610 his commentary on Solinus' Polyhistor was published. His enormous learning, especially in ancient languages—he was fluent in Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Persian, and Coptic, as well as Greek and Latin—led to offers from several universities. In 1631 he became professor at Leiden and stayed there for the remainder of his life, except for one year (1650-51) at the Swedish court, where he was a guest due to the renown his Defensio Regia pro Carolo I had brought him. He returned to Leiden soon after the publication of Milton’s reply, Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio.

Defensio Regia pro Carolo I ("Defense of the Reign of Charles I"), which was published anonymously in November 1649, was probably sponsored by Charles II, who is thought to have paid a hundred pounds for its printing. The work represents a reversal of Salmasius' earlier views; it defends absolute monarchy while it condemns the Parliamentary government in England. Milton’s reply, Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio, was published in 1651.

Defensio Regia pro Carolo I


  1. Printed November, 1649.
  2. The Regia called for European rulers to unite against the new English republic and place Prince Charles on the throne.
  3. It is thought that Charles paid a hundred pounds for the writing and printing of the Regia.
  4. Salmasius was so famous that he was thought to be the best representative for the royal cause. In representing Prince Charles’ claims to an English audience, Salmasius also had the advantage of being a Protestant.
  5. The Regia has a much more scholarly and detached tone than Milton’s reply.
  6. Salmasius did not place his name on the title page of his work.
  7. Salmasius had not studied up on English history or the immediate events that led to the execution of Charles on January 30, 1649.
  8. The great name of Salmasius required an answer. Milton was selected for the task.
  9. Throughout 1650, already blind in his left eye, his right eye failing rapidly, Milton worked on his answer to Salmasius, A Defence of the People of England, which appeared February 24, 1651.


  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?
Milton’s Response: A Defence of the People of England
  1. Milton describes his theme as one "deserving eternal remembrance," the noblest he could choose for enlightenment of the ages to come.
  2. The majesty of the English people shone more brightly than that of any monarch when they shook off the old superstition of divine right, toppled Charles from his throne, and set his head upon the block.
  3. God himself spoke at that moment through the voice of the English patriots.
  4. This overthrow of tyranny was the action of a great and noble people.
  5. In similar moments of past ages, a man has emerged who thought himself equal to the task of assessing the great actions of heroes and nations.
  6. England has chosen Milton to refute Salmasius.
  7. Milton has prepared for the noble task.
  8. From his youth he has studied great deeds, perhaps in the hope of touching greatness himself; but if not, at least to praise his heroes.
  9. He has (with his Eikonoklastes) already refuted the king himself (more specifically, the book attributed to the king, Eikon Basilike).
  10. He has the assurance of God’s own help.



firstdefense.jpg (20929 bytes)

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.

Milton’s Use of Invective in Defense of the English People

Salmasius is described as

  1. a knave,
  2. a brute beast,
  3. a blockhead,
  4. a dull brute;

Salmasius’ wife is a barking bitch.

Salmasius is further described as

  1. "a talkative ass sat upon by a woman,"
  2. "a eunuch priest, your wife for a husband."
  3. a "prince of liars,"
  4. a "wretched false prophet,"
  5. a "lying hired slanderer,"
  6. an "agent of royal roguery,"
  7. the "Arbiter-in-Chief of the Royal Lies,"
  8. the "mouthpiece of . . . infamy."
  9. a "hireling pimp of slavery,"
  10. a "concealer of slavery's blemishes,"
  11. a monstrous scoundrel
  12. a gallic cock,
  13. a dung-hill Frenchman,
  14. a French vagrant,
  15. a "cheap French mountebank."
  16. so "foul a procurer . . . that even the lowest slaves on any auction block should hate and despise you."

Salmasius' books are also a target: "no one has heaped up more dung than you . . . I promise to stuff you with chicken feed if by pecking through this whole dunghill of yours you can find me a single gem."

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