Background for the Defense of
the English People
||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 languageshe was fluent
in Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Persian, and Coptic, as well as Greek and Latinled 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 Miltons reply, Pro Populo
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. Miltons reply, Pro Populo
Anglicano Defensio, was published in 1651.
Defensio Regia pro Carolo I
Printed November, 1649.
The Regia called for European rulers to unite against the
new English republic and place Prince Charles on the throne.
It is thought that Charles paid a hundred pounds for the writing
and printing of the Regia.
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.
The Regia has a much more scholarly and detached tone than
Salmasius did not place his name on the title page of his work.
Salmasius had not studied up on English history or the immediate
events that led to the execution of Charles on January 30, 1649.
The great name of Salmasius required an answer. Milton was
selected for the task.
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.
Salmasius begins by calling the execution of
the king a parricide, an act "committed by a nefarious conspiracy of impious
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.
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.
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).
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."
The worst of these "baleful sects" are the Independents
(the Brownists). The Independents are the ones Salmasius blames for the execution of
Independents are the "dregs of the people."
"Is it a democracy which consists of the wickedest rabble,
the nobles being excluded?"
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."
The blood of Charles calls for revenge by all who sit upon
Salmasius cries for war against the English heretics:
"Persecute this hated root and wicked sect."
Divine Origin of Kingship
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."
Powers of a King
- If God hears the prayers of the heretics, no king will survive.
- Europe must rise up in defense of the English king, whose destiny
is one with that of all other kings of Europe.
- The Independents had no precedent and no law that could justify
either the trial of the king or his execution.
- The trial and execution of the king were a tyrannical action
"advanced beyond kingly power."
- No provision existed in English law for establishing a court in
order to try a monarch.
- 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."
- Salmasius traces the long tradition of absolute monarchy in the
ancient world, among the Romans, the Persians, the Greeks, the Assyrians, and the Jews.
- The Israelites, weary of the rule of judges, pleaded with God,
"Appoint over us a king."
- Kingship, though sometimes a failure, was at times a government of
- Solomon was the wisest of all kings and dear to Gods heart,
as was David.
- Clement declared that God creates kings, and said "You will
fear the king, knowing his choice to be of the Lord."
- In the Hebrew nation absolutism in kings was the rule rather than
- God directed the kings decisions.
- God forgave his kings more freely than he forgave other men. After
sending Uriah to his death and committing adultery with the dead mans wife, did not
David say to the Lord, "Against thee only have I sinned"?
- When God gave the Israelites a king, the gift was not a
punishment, but a blessing.
- Some of the greatest rulers were kings in fact if not in name.
- Moses, though called a prophet, was actually an absolute monarch.
- Divine right in a king was an actuality among the Hebrews.
- Kingship should not be condemned by the English as a wicked form
of government, and Charles I should not have been executed.
- When one king overthrows another the people must accept the new
king. In return he grants them the right of life.
- For the right to life the people owe their king obedience.
- Revolution in which one king drives out another are acceptable
because the form of government remains unchanged.
- 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.
- Kingdoms are sacred, even when one replaces another.
- 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.
- 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."
- However unjust they may be, kings are appointed by God.
- Not even the pope can release Christians from obedience to their
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.
- Kings are above both the law, and the will of their subjects.
- 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.
- Has not the convocation of Parliament always been the kings
prerogative, not Parliaments?
- Could Parliament sit at all except by the kings command?
- The king cannot make laws except by consent of both Houses,
neither can Parliament make a law except with the kings approval.
- Did not the king rule during that time when the Parliament was not
- In the time of reformation the king became the head of the church
and still retains this ecclesiastical supremacy.
- The king is the supreme commander over the armed forces; only he
can raise the standard and call men to arms.
- Only the king can create a peer.
- The highest court in the land is called the Kings Bench, and
the judges of this court sat at the kings pleasure.
- 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"
It was not the people, however defined, nor
the aristocracy, who sent the king to the block.
- 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.
- Nor was it the people who purged the Lower House of Parliament.
- "The army with their leaders did this."
- Who now rules the people of England with more than kingly power?
- Who levies taxes on them?
- Who disarmed the citizens of London?
- Who bore away and concealed in a tower the chains by which the
streets of the city were defended?
- Who filled the city with armed men?
- Who seized the public treasury?
- All these are acts of the army and its leaders.
- England is now governed, not by its people but by a military
tyranny like that which set up Claudius as emperor in ancient Rome.
- 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."
- Salmasius attributes the abolition of the House of Lords to the
action of the army and its leaders.
- Does Milton still hold that the people have carried through this
revolution and this parricide that has so shocked civilized men of all Europe?
Response: A Defence of the People of England
- Milton describes his theme as one "deserving eternal
remembrance," the noblest he could choose for enlightenment of the ages to come.
- 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.
- God himself spoke at that moment through the voice of the English
- This overthrow of tyranny was the action of a great and noble
- 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.
- England has chosen Milton to refute Salmasius.
- Milton has prepared for the noble task.
- 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.
- He has (with his Eikonoklastes) already refuted the king
himself (more specifically, the book attributed to the king, Eikon Basilike).
- He has the assurance of Gods own help.
Divine Right of Kings
- Milton wonders how Salmasius, the greatest
of European scholars, could seriously accept the principle of divine right.
- Salmasius--"Kings are coeval with the suns
- Salmasius also claims that a king is a father to his people.
- 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."
- 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?
- Milton mocks Salmasius for his ignorance of English politics and
his ignorance of Charles I and his actions.
- Charles had been an enemy to his own people for a full ten years?
- 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.
- Would Salmasius have preferred that the English had
"slaughter[ed] him like a beast without trial in the hour of his capture?"
- Would Charles himself not have preferred a trial?
- Had the English murdered Charles privately, all ages of the future
would have lost the benefit of their example.
- "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"
- 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
- 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
- Milton--"Those among us most favorable towards the king have
ever been guiltless of a belief so base."
- Even Salmasius did not hold this opinion "before he was
bribed" by Charles II.
- Is there any person in the world, except Salmasius himself, who
can really believe in such a principle?
- No precedent for such a statement exists in the best writers of
the Hebrews, the Greeks, or the Romans.
Between Kings and Tyrants
- The best Hebrew writers strenuously
- 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."
- Philo Judaeus is even more emphatic: "King and tyrant are
contraries . . . A king not only compels but complies."
- "May kings," exclaims Milton, steal, kill, and commit
adultery with impunity?"
- When a king "is witless, wicked, and passionate," shall
the nobility of the nation be silent?"
- Shall the magistrates and the masses of the people be acquiescent?
- What if a king massacres his people or burns their cities, shall
the people still be acquiescent?
- Christ the healer of souls and Christ the champion of political
freedom are inseparably en-twined.
- 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
- Though Christ took the form of a slave, he was a true liberator of
men in a political as well as a psychological sense.
- "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."
- 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.
- To surrender ourselves as slaves to Caesar or any other tyrant is
to dishonor our creator.
- 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.
- 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."
- The very nature of kingship is irreconcilable with Christianity.
- Salmasius--kings are appointed by God; they are bound by no laws;
those who kill a king are worse than parricides.
- 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."
- Salmasius--"Even wicked kings are appointed by God."
- Milton--"in a sense every evil is appointed by God."
However, "Reason, justice, and morality command the punishment of all sinners without
Milton responds to Salamasius attack on
the issue of the peoples role in the English Revolution
- Salmasius--"Did the people do violence
to the commoners of the lower house, putting some to flight?"
- 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?"
- Milton later qualifies his insistence that the English revolution
had broad mass support.
- Salmasius--"You must explain what you mean by the word
- Milton--"By people we mean all citizens of every
- Salmasius--attacks the populace as "blind and brutish,
without skill in ruling, and most fickle of men, the emptiest, and unsteadiest, and most
- 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."
- 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.
- Milton tacitly grants that the Independents, however righteous and
intrepid, were a small group of the English nation.
- Salmasius--"Not one hundred thousandth part of the people
agreed to this condemnation."
- Milton--"What of the rest, then, who let such a crime take
place against their will? Were they trunks of trees?"
- 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.
Miltons Use of Invective in Defense of
the English People
- a knave,
- a brute beast,
- a blockhead,
- a dull brute;
Salmasius wife is a barking bitch.
Salmasius is further described as
- "a talkative ass sat upon by a woman,"
- "a eunuch priest, your wife for a husband."
- a "prince of liars,"
- a "wretched false prophet,"
- a "lying hired slanderer,"
- an "agent of royal roguery,"
- the "Arbiter-in-Chief of the Royal Lies,"
- the "mouthpiece of . . . infamy."
- a "hireling pimp of slavery,"
- a "concealer of slavery's blemishes,"
- a monstrous scoundrel
- a gallic cock,
- a dung-hill Frenchman,
- a French vagrant,
- a "cheap French mountebank."
- 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
(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
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
(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