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Primary Sources – Unit Five – Absolutism and Constitutionalism in Western Europe (ca 1589-1715)

Charles I Authorizes Sunday Recreations

Charles I


Our dear father of blessed memory, [James I], in his return from Scotland, coming through Lancashire, found that his subjects were debarred from lawful recreations upon Sundays after evening prayers ended and, upon holydays; and he prudently considered that if these times were taken from them, the meaner sort, who labor hard all the week, should have no recreations at all to refresh their spirits; and after his return he further saw that his loyal subjects in all other parts of his kingdom did suffer in the same kind, though perhaps not in the same degree; and did therefore, in his princely wisdom, publish a declaration to all his loving subjects concerning lawful sports to be used at such times … in the year 1618. …

Our pleasure likewise is, that the bishop of that diocese take the like strait order with all the Puritans and precisians within the same, either constraining them to conform themselves or to leave the country, according to the laws of our kingdom and canons of our Church, and so to strike equally on both hands against the contemners of our authority and adversaries of our Church; and as for our good people’s lawful recreation, our pleasure likewise is, that after the end of divine service our good people be not disturbed, letted, or discouraged from any lawful recreation, such as dancing, either men or women; archery for men, leaping, vaulting, or any other such harmless recreation, nor from having of May-games, Whitsun-ales, and Morris-dances, and the setting up of Maypoles and other sports therewith used, so as the same be had in due and convenient time, without impediment or neglect of divine service; and that women shall have leave to carry rushes to the church for the decorating of it, according to their old custom; but withal we do here account still as prohibited all unlawful games to be used upon Sundays only, as bear and bull baitings, interludes, and at all times in the meaner sort of people by law prohibited, bowling.

Richelieu Evaluates the State of the French Monarchy



At the time when your Majesty resolved to admit me both to your council and to an important place in your confidence for the direction of your affairs, I may say that the Huguenots shared the state with you; that the nobles conducted themselves as if they were not your subjects, and the most powerful governors of the provinces as if they were sovereign in their offices.

I may say that the bad example of all these was so injurious to this realm that even the best regulated parlements were affected by it, and endeavored, in certain cases, to diminish your royal authority as far as they were able in order to stretch their own powers beyond the limits of reason.

I may say that every one measured his own merit by his audacity; that in place of estimating the benefits which they received from your Majesty at their proper worth, all valued them only in so far as they satisfied the extravagant demands of their imagination; that the most arrogant were held to be the wisest, and found themselves the most prosperous.

I may also say that the foreign alliances were unfortunate, individual interests being preferred to those of the public; in a word, the dignity of the royal majesty was so disparaged, and so different from what it should be, owing to the malfeasance of those who conducted your affairs, that it was almost impossible to perceive its existence.

It was impossible, without losing all, to tolerate longer the conduct of those to whom your Majesty had entrusted the helm of state; and, on the other hand, everything could not be changed at once without violating the laws of prudence, which do not permit the abrupt passing from one extreme to another.

The sad state of your affairs seemed to force you to hasty decisions, without permitting a choice of time or of means; and yet it was necessary to make a choice of both, in order to profit by the change which necessity demanded from your prudence.

Thoughtful observers did not think that it would be possible to escape all the rocks in so tempestuous a period; the court was full of people who censured the temerity of those who wished to undertake a reform; all well knew that princes are quick to impute to those who are near them the bad outcome of the undertakings upon which they have been well advised; few people consequently expected good results from the change which it was announced that I wished to make, and many believed my fall assured even before your Majesty had elevated me.

Notwithstanding these difficulties which I represented to your Majesty, knowing how much kings may do when they make good use of their power, I ventured to promise you, with confidence, that you would soon get control of your state, and that in a short time your prudence, your courage, and the benediction of God would give a new aspect to the realm.

I promised your Majesty to employ all my industry and all the authority which it should please you to give me to ruin the Huguenot party, to abase the pride of the nobles, to bring back all your subjects to their duty, and to elevate your name among foreign nations to the point where it belongs.

Richelieu and Louis XIII Demolish Feudal Castles

Louis XIII


Whereas formerly the assemblies of the estates of this realm and those of notable persons chosen to give advice to ourselves, and to the late king, our very honorable lord and father, on important affairs of this realm, and likewise the assembly of the estates of the province of Brittany held by us in the year 1614, have repeatedly requested and very humbly supplicated our said lord and father and ourselves to cause the demolition of many strongholds in divers places of this realm, which, being neither on hostile frontiers nor in important passes or places, only serve to augment our expenses by the maintenance of useless garrisons, and also serve as retreats for divers persons who on the least provocation disturb the provinces where they are located; …

For these reasons, we announce, declare, ordain, and will that all the strongholds, either towns or castles, which are in the interior of our realm or provinces of the same, not situated in places of importance either for frontier or defense or other considerations of weight, shall be razed and demolished; even ancient walls shall be destroyed so far as it shall be deemed necessary for the well-being and repose of our subjects and the security of this state, so that our said subjects henceforth need not fear that the said places will cause them any inconvenience, and so that we shall be freed from the expense of supporting garrisons in them.

Parliament Chastises Charles I: The Grand Remonstrance

English Parliament


The Commons in this present Parliament assembled, having with much earnestness and faithfulness of affection and zeal to the public good of this kingdom, and His Majesty’s honour and service for the space of twelve months, wrestled with great dangers and fears, the pressing miseries and calamities, the various distempers and disorders which had not only assaulted, but even overwhelmed and extinguished the liberty, peace and prosperity of this kingdom, the comfort and hopes of all His Majesty’s good subjects, and exceedingly weakened and undermined the foundation and strength of his own royal throne, do yet find an abounding malignity and opposition in those parties and factions who have been the cause of those evils, and do still labour to cast aspersions upon that which hath been done, and to raise many difficulties for the hindrance of that which remains yet undone, and to foment jealousies between the king and Parliament, that so they may deprive him and his people of the fruit of his own gracious intentions, and their humble desires of procuring the public peace, safety and happiness of this realm.

For the preventing of those miserable effects which such malicious endeavours may produce, we have thought good to declare the root and the growth of these mischievous designs: the maturity and ripeness to which they have attained before the beginning of the Parliament: the effectual means which have been used for the extirpation of those dangerous evils, and the progress which hath therein been made by His Majesty’s goodness and the wisdom of the Parliament: the ways of obstruction and opposition by which that progress hath been interrupted: the courses to be taken for the removing [of] those obstacles, and for the accomplishing of our most dutiful and faithful intentions and endeavours of restoring and establishing the ancient honour, greatness and security of this Crown and nation.

The root of all this mischief we find to be a malignant and pernicious design of subverting the fundamental laws and principles of government, upon which the religion and justice of this kingdom are firmly established. The actors and promoters hereof have been:

1. The Jesuited papists, who hate the laws, as the obstacles of that change and subversion of religion which they so much long for.

2. The bishops, and the corrupt part of the clergy, who cherish formality and superstition as the natural effects and more probable supports of their own ecclesiastical tyranny and usurpation.

3. Such councillors and courtiers as for private ends have engaged themselves to further the interests of some foreign princes or states to the prejudice of His Majesty and the state at home. …

In the beginning of His Majesty’s reign the [Catholic] party began to revive and flourish again. …

[There follows a long list of protests against arbitrary and excessive taxation.]

37. The Court of Star Chamber hath abounded in extravagant censures, not only for the maintenance and improvement of monopolies and other unlawful taxes, but for divers other causes where there hath been no offence, or very small; whereby His Majesty’s subjects have been oppressed by grievous fines, imprisonments, stigmatising, mutilations, whippings, pillories, gags, confinements, banishments; after so rigid a manner as hath not only deprived men of the society of their friends, exercise of their professions, comfort of books, use of paper or ink, but even violated that near union which God hath established between men and their wives, by forced and constrained separation. …

48. Titles of honour, judicial places, sergeantships at law, and other offices have been sold for great sums of money, whereby the common justice of the kingdom hath been much endangered, not only by opening a way of employment in places of great trust, and advantage to men of weak parts, but also by giving occasion to bribery, extortion, partiality, it seldom happening that places ill-gotten are well used. …

51. The bishops and the rest of the clergy did triumph in the suspensions, excommunications, deprivations, and degradations of divers painful, learned and pious ministers, in the vexation and grievous oppression of great numbers of His Majesty’s good subjects.

52. The [ecclesiastical court of] High Commission grew to such excess of sharpness and severity as was not much less than the Romish Inquisition, and yet in many cases by the archbishop’s power was made much more heavy, being assisted and strengthened by authority of the Council Table.

53. The bishops and their courts were as eager in the country; although their jurisdiction could not reach so high in rigour and extremity of punishment, yet were they no less grievous in respect of the generality and multiplicity of vexations, which lighting upon the meaner sort of tradesmen and artificers did impoverish many thousands.

54. And so afflict and trouble others, that great numbers to avoid their miseries departed out of the kingdom, some into New England and other parts of America, others into Holland. …

An Anonymous Pamphlet Urges Restoration of the Stuart Dynasty



If we take a view of the several pretensions, carried on in the nation apart, we shall find the most considerable to be the Roman Catholic, the Royalist, the Presbyterian, the Anabaptist, the Army, the Protectorian, and that of the Parliament.

1. ‘Tis the Roman Catholic’s aim not only to abrogate the penal laws, and become capable of all employments in the Commonwealth, but to introduce his religion, to restore the rights of the Church, and utterly eradicate all that he esteems heresy.

2. ‘Tis the Royalist’s desire to bring in the king as a conqueror, to recover their losses in the late war, be rendered capable of civil employments, and have the former government of the Church.

3. ‘Tis the Presbyterian’s desire to set up his discipline, to have the covenant re‘nforced, and only such as take it to be employed in church or state; to be indemnified in reference to what they have done, and secured of what they possess.

4. ‘Tis the wish of the baptized churches that there might be no ecclesiastical government of any kind, nor ministerial function, or provision for it; and that only persons so minded should be capable of employment; likewise to be indemnified for what they have done.

5. ‘Tis the aim of the Army to govern the nation, to keep themselves from being disbanded, or engaged in war, to secure their pay, and to be indemnified for all past action.

6. ‘Tis the desire of the family of the late Protector to establish the heir of the house, that they may rule him, and he the nation, and so both preserve and advance themselves.

7. ‘Tis the wish of the present Parliament (as far as they have one common design) to continue themselves in absolute power by the specious name of a popular government; to new-model and divide, and, at last, take down, the Army; and, finally, under the pretences of a committee of Parliament, or council of state, set up an oligarchy resembling that of the Thirty Tyrants in Athens.

Lastly, ‘t is the general interest of the nation to establish the ancient fundamental laws, upon which every one’s propriety and liberty are built, to settle religion, to procure a general indemnity for all actions past, to revive their languishing and almost dead trade, gain an alliance with our neighbour states; to put the government in such hands as, besides present force, can plead a legal title to it; into the hands of such with whose private interest that of the public not only consists, but in which ‘t is necessarily involved, which likewise does least contradict the aims of particular parties; lastly, the hands of such whose counsel is fit to direct in matters of deliberation, and courage fit to vindicate the injuries of the nation.

From which premises we may conclude that the pretensions of no party now on foot in the nation are attainable; or, if attained, are consistent with the good of other parties, or of the nation; or, in fine, with their own; and from hence likewise one would be apt to conclude that the ruin of the public is inevitable; there being no door of hope left open to receive, no method visible to unite, such distant and incompatible ends.

But, notwithstanding all this, ‘t is not impossible–no, nor hard–to find an expedient that shall evacuate all these difficulties; not only establish the general concernment, but (exorbitant passion only retrenched) satisfy the real interest of every party–nay, single person–in the nation.

Now to the cheerful reception of such an overture, I suppose there is no need to persuade, nor even to admonish, that words and names, however rendered odious, ought not to frighten us from our certain benefit and dearest interest. All that is demanded here is that if, upon serious consideration, the proposal be found reasonable, men would be so kind to themselves as to receive it. The assertion I doubt not to make most plain and evident, and therefore shall as plainly pronounce it. ‘T is this: the calling in the king is the certain and only means for the preservation of the kingdom, and also of the rights and interests of all single persons in it.

The English Bill of Rights



And whereas the said late King James II having abdicated the government, and the throne being thereby vacant, his Highness the prince of Orange (whom it hath pleased Almighty God to make the glorious instrument of delivering this kingdom from popery and arbitrary power) did (by the advice of the lords spiritual and temporal, and diverse principal persons of the Commons) cause letters to be written to the lords spiritual and temporal, being Protestants, and other letters to the several counties, cities, universities, boroughs, and Cinque Ports [five port towns on the English Channel, having special privileges], for the choosing of such persons to represent them, as were of right to be sent to parliament, to meet and sit at Westminster upon the two and twentieth day of January, in this year 1689, in order to provide such an establishment as that their religion, laws, and liberties might not again be in danger of being subverted; upon which letters elections have been accordingly made.

And thereupon the said lords spiritual and temporal and Commons, pursuant to their respective letters and elections, being now assembled in a full and free representation of this nation, taking into their most serious consideration the best means for attaining the ends aforesaid, do in the first place (as their ancestors in like case have usually done), for the vindication and assertion of their ancient rights and liberties, declare:

1. That the pretended power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws, by regal authority, without consent of parliament is illegal.

2. That the pretended power of dispensing with the laws, or the execution of law by regal authority, as it hath been assumed and exercised of late, is illegal.

3. That the commission for erecting the late court of commissioners for ecclesiastical causes, and all other commissions and courts of like nature, are illegal and pernicious.

4. That levying money for or to the use of the crown by pretense of prerogative, without grant of parliament, for longer time or in other manner than the same is or shall be granted, is illegal.

5. That it is the right of the subjects to petition the king, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal.

6. That the raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with consent of parliament, is against law.

7. That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defense suitable to their conditions, and as allowed by law.

8. That election of members of parliament ought to be free.

9. That the freedom of speech, and debates or proceedings in parliament, ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of parliament.

10. That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

11. That jurors ought to be duly impaneled and returned, and jurors which pass upon men in trials for high treason ought to be freeholders.

12. That all grants and promises of fines and forfetures of particular persons before conviction are illegal and void.

13. And that for redress of all grievances, and for the amending, strengthening, and preserving of the laws, parliament ought to be held frequently.

The Puritan Ethic Revealed

Richard Baxter


Every man that is able, must be steadily and ordinarily employed in such work as is serviceable to God, and to the common good. … Everyone that is a member of a church or commonwealth must employ their parts to the utmost for the good of the church and commonwealth, public service is God’s greatest service. To neglect this, and to say, I will pray and meditate, is as if your servant should refuse your greatest work, and to tie himself to some lesser easy part; and God has commanded you some way or another to labour for your daily bread, and not to live as drones on the sweat of others only. Innocent Adam was put into the Garden of Eden to dress it, and fallen man must eat his bread in the sweat of his brow (Genesis 3:19). And he that will not work must be forbidden to eat (2 Thes. 3:6, 10 and 12). And indeed, it is necessary for ourselves, for the health of our bodies, which will grow diseased with idleness. And for the health of our souls, which will fail if the body fail. And man in flesh must have work for his body as well as his soul. And he that will do nothing but pray and meditate, his like will (by sickness or melancholy) be disabled ere long to pray or meditate, unless he have a body extraordinary strong …

It gloryeth God, by showing the excellency of faith, when we contemn the riches and honor of the world, and live above the worldling’s life, accounting that a despicable thing, which he accounts his happiness, and loses his soul for … When seeming Christians are worldly and ambitious as others, and make as great matter of the gain, and wealth and honour, it shows that they do but cover the base and sordid spirit of worldlings, with the visor of the Christian name …

As labour is thus necessary so understand how needful a state a calling is, for the right performance of your labours. A calling is a stated course of labour. This is very needful for these reasons: (1) Out of a calling a man’s labours are but occasional or inconstant, so more time is spent in idleness than labour; (2) A man is best skilled in that which he is used to; (3) And he will be best provided for it with instruments and necessaries; (4) Therefore he does it better than he could do any other work, and so wrongs not others, but attains more the end of his labour; (5) And he does it more easily, when a man unused and unskilled and unfurnished, toils himself much in doing little; (6) And he will do his work more orderly, when another is in continual confusion, and his business knows not its time and place, but one part contradicts another. Therefore some certain calling or trade of life is best for everyman …

The first and principal thing to be intended in the choice of a trade or calling for yourselves or children is the service of God, and the public good. And, therefore, ceteris paribus [other things being equal], that calling which most conduces to the public good is to be preferred. The callings most useful to the public good are the magistrate, the pastor, the teacher of the church, schoolmaster, physician, lawyer, etc., husbandmen (ploughmen, graziers and shepherds); and next to them are mariners, clothiers, booksellers, tailors and such others that are employed about things most necessary to mankind. And some callings are employed about matters of so little use, as tobacco-sellers, lace-sellers, feather-makers, periwig-makers, and many more such, that he that may choose better, should be loath to take up with one of these, though possibly in itself it may be lawful. It is a great satisfaction to an honest mind, to spend his life in doing the greatest good he can, and a prison and a constant calamity, to be tied to spend one’s life in doing little good at all to others, though he should grow rich by it …

If thou be called to the poorest laborious calling, do not carnally murmur at it; because it is wearisome to the flesh, nor imagine that God accepts the less of thy work and thee. But cheerfully follow it, and make it the matter of thy pleasure and joy that thou art still in thy heavenly master’s services, though it be the lowest thing. And that He who knows what is best for thee, has chosen this for thy good, and tries and values thy obedience to Him the more, by how much the meaner work thou stoopest to at His command. But see that thou do it all in obedience to God, and not merely for thy own necessity. Thus every servant must serve the Lord, in serving their master, and from God expect their chief reward …

In doing good to others we do good to ourselves: because we are living members of Christ’s body, and by love and communion feel their joys, as well as pains.

Good works are comfortable evidence that faith is sincere, and that the heart dissembles not with God.

Good works are much to the honour of religion, and consequently of God, and much tend to men’s conviction, conversion and salvation.

Hobbes Describes the Natural State of War

Thomas Hobbes


Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war, as is of every man, against every man. For war, consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of time, is to be considered in the nature of war; as it is in the nature of weather. For as the nature of foul weather, lieth not in a shower or two of rain; but in an inclination thereto of many days together: so the nature of war, consisteth not in actual fighting; but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is peace.

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

It may seem strange to some man, that has not well weighed these things; that nature should thus dissociate, and render men apt to invade, and destroy one another: and he may therefore, not trusting to this inference, made from the passions, desire perhaps to have the same confirmed by experience. Let him therefore consider with himself, when taking a journey, he arms himself, and seeks to go well accompanied; when going to sleep, he locks his doors; when even in his house he locks his chests; and this when he knows there be laws, and public officers, armed, to revenge all injuries shall be done him; what opinion he has of his fellow-subjects, when he rides armed; of his fellow citizens, when he locks his doors; and of his children, and servants, when he locks his chests. Does he not there as much accuse mankind by his actions, as I do by my words? But neither of us accuse man’s nature in it. The desires, and other passions of man, are in themselves no sin. No more are the actions, that proceed from those passions, till they know a law that forbids them: which till laws be made they cannot know: nor can any law be made, till they have agreed upon the person that shall make it.

It may peradventure be thought, there was never such a time, nor condition of war as this; and I believe it was never generally so, over all the world: but there are many places, where they live so now. For the savage people in many places of America, except the government of small families, the concord whereof dependeth on natural lust, have no government at all; and live at this day in that brutish manner, as I said before. Howsoever, it may be perceived what manner of life there would be, where there were no common power to fear, by the manner of life, which men that have formerly lived under a peaceful government, use to degenerate into, in a civil war.

But though there had never been any time, wherein particular men were in a condition of war one against another; yet in all times, kings, and persons of sovereign authority, because of their independency, are in continual jealousies, and in the state and posture of gladiators; having their weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another; that is, their forts, garrisons, and guns upon the frontiers of their kingdoms; and continual spies upon their neighbours; which is a posture of war. But because they uphold thereby, the industry of their subjects; there does not follow from it, that misery, which accompanies the liberty of particular men.

To this war of every man, against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law: where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the two cardinal virtues. Justice, and injustice are none of the faculties neither of the body, nor mind. If they were, they might be in a man that were alone in the world, as well as his senses, and passions. They are qualities, that relate to men in society, not in solitude. It is consequent also to the same condition, that there be no propriety, no dominion, no mine and thine distinct; but only that to be every man’s, that he can get; and for so long, as he can keep it. And thus much for the ill condition, which man by mere nature is actually placed in; though with a possibility to come out of it, consisting partly in the passions, partly in his reason.

The passions that incline men to peace, are fear of death; desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living; and a hope by their industry to obtain them. And reason suggesteth convenient articles of peace, upon which men may be drawn to agreement. These articles, are they, which otherwise are called the Laws of Nature …

John Locke’s Vindication for the Glorious Revolution: The Social Contract

John Locke


87. Man being born, as has been proved, with a Title to perfect Freedom, and an uncontrouled enjoyment of all the Rights and Privileges of the Law of Nature, equally with any other Man, or Number of Men in the World, hath by Nature a Power, not only to preserve his Property, that is, his Life, Liberty and Estate, against the Injuries and Attempts of other Men; but to judge of, and punish the breaches of that Law in others, as he is perswaded the Offence deserves, even with Death it self, in Crimes where the heinousness of the Fact, in his Opinion, requires it. But because no Political Society can be, nor subsist without having in it self the Power to preserve the Property, and in order thereunto punish the Offences of all those of that Society; there, and there only is Political Society,where every one of the Members hath quitted this natural Power, resign’d it up into the hands of the Community in all cases that exclude him not from appealing for Protection to the Law established by it. And thus all private judgement of every particular Member being excluded, the Community comes to be Umpire, by settled standing Rules, indifferent, and the same to all Parties; and by Men having Authority from the Community, for the execution of those Rules, decides all the differences that may happen between any Members of that Society, concerning any matter of right; and punishes those Offences, which any Member hath committed against the Society, with such Penalties as the Law has established: Whereby it is easie o discern who are, and who are not, in Political Society together. Those who are united into one Body, and have a common establish’d Law and Judicature to appeal to, with Authority to decide Controversies between them, and punish Offenders, are in Civil Society one with another: but those who have no such common Appeal, I mean on Earth, are still in the state of Nature, each being, where there is no other, Judge for himself, and Executioner; which is, as I have before shew’d it, the perfect state of Nature.

88. And thus the Commonwealth comes by a Power to set down, what punishment shall belong to the several transgressions which they think worthy of it, committed amongst the Members of that Society, (which is the power of making Laws) as well as it has the power to punish any Injury done unto any of its Members, by any one that is not of it, (which is the power of War and Peace;) and all this for the preservation of the property of all the Members of that Society, as far as is possible. But though every Man who has enter’d into civil Society, and is become a member of any Commonwealth, has thereby quitted his power to punish Offences against the Law of Nature, in prosecution of his own private Judgment; yet with the Judgment of Offences which he has given up to the Legislative in all Cases, where he can Appeal to the Magistrate, he has given a right to the Commonwealth to imploy his force, for the Execution of the Judgments of the Commonwealth, whenever he shall be called to it; which indeed are his own Judgments, they being made by himself, or his Representative. And herein we have the original of the Legislative and Executive Power of Civil Society, which is to judge by standing Laws how far Offences are to be punished, when committed within the Commonwealth; and also to determin, by occasional Judgments founded on the present Circumstances of the Fact, how far Injuries from without are to be vindicated, and in both these to imploy all the force of all the Members when there shall be need.

89. Where-ever therefore any number of Men are so united into one Society, as to quit every one his Executive Power of the Law of Nature, and to resign it to the publick, there and there only is a Political , or Civil Society. And this is done where-ever any number of Men, in the state of Nature, enter into Society to make one People, one Body Politick under one Supreme Government, or else when any one joyns himself to, and incorporates with any Government already made. For hereby he authorizes the Society, or which is all one, the Legislative thereof to make Laws for him as the publick good of the Society shall require; to the Execution whereof, his own assistance (as to his own Decrees) is due. And this puts Men out of a State of Nature into that of a Commonwealth, by setting up a Judge on Earth, with Authority to determine all the Controversies, and redress the Injuries, that may happen to any Member of the Commonwealth; which Judge is the Legislative, or Magistrates appointed by it. And where-ever there are any number of Men, however associated, that have no such decisive power to appeal to, there they are still in the state of Nature.

90. Hence it is evident, that Absolute Monarchy, which by some Men is counted the only Government in the World, is indeed inconsistent with Civil Society, and so can be no Form of Civil Government at all. For the end of Civil Society, being to avoid, and remedy those inconveniencies of the State of Nature, which necessarily follow from every Man’s being Judge in his own Case, by setting up a known Authority, to which every one of that Society may Appeal upon any injury received, or Controversie that may arise, and which every one of the Society ought to obey; where-ever any persons are, who have not such an Authority to Appeal to, for the decision of any difference between them, there those persons are still in the state of Nature. And so is every Absolute Prince in respect of those who are under his Dominion.

91. For he being suppos’d to have all, both Legislative and Executive Power in himself alone, there is no Judge to be found, no Appeal lies open to any one, who may fairly, and indifferently, and with Authority decide, and from whose decision relief and redress may be expected of any Injury or Inconveniency, that may be suffered from the Prince or by his Order: So that such a Man, however intitled, Czar, or Grand Signior, or how you please, is as much in the state of Nature with all under his Dominion, as he is with the rest of Mankind. For where-ever any two Men are, who have no standing Rule, and common Judge to Appeal to on Earth for the determination of Controversies of Right betwixt them, there they are still in the state of Nature,and under all the inconveniencies of it, with only this woful difference to the Subject, or rather Slave of an Absolute Prince: That whereas, in the ordinary State of Nature, he has a liberty to judge of his Right, and according to the best of his Power, to maintain it; now whenever his Property is invaded by the Will and Order of his Monarch, he has not only no Appeal, as those in Society ought to have, but as if he were degraded from the common state of Rational Creatures, is denied a liberty to judge of, or to defend his Right, and so is exposed to all the Misery and Inconveniencies that a Man can fear from one, who being in the unrestrained state of Nature, is yet corrupted with Flattery, and armed with Power.

92. For he that thinks absolute Power purifies Mens Bloods, and corrects the baseness of Humane Nature, need read but the History of this, or any other Age to be convinced of the contrary. He that would have been insolent and injurious in the Woods of America,would not probably be much better in a Throne; where perhaps Learning and Religion shall be found out to justifie all, that he shall do to his Subjects, and the Sword presently silence all those that dare question it. For what the Protection of Absolute Monarchy is, what kind of Fathers of their Countries it makes Princes to be, and to what a degree of Happiness and Security it carries Civil Society where this sort of Government is grown to perfection, he that will look into the late Relation of Ceylon, may easily see.

The Sun King Describes the State of France at the Dawn of His Reign

Louis XIV


From my early infancy the very name of rois faineants or maires du palais [1] displeased me when mentioned in my presence. But I must point out the state of affairs: grievous disturbances throughout the kingdom before and after my majority; a foreign war in which these troubles at home had lost to France thousands and thousands of advantages; a Prince of my blood and of great name at the head of my enemies; many Cabals in the State; the Parliaments still in the possession and enjoyment of a usurped authority; at my Court very little disinterested fidelity and, on this account, my subjects, though outwardly most submissive, as much a responsibility and cause of misgiving to me as the most rebellious; a minister re-established in power despite so many factions, very skilful and very adroit, but whose views and methods were naturally very different from mine, whom, nevertheless, I could not gainsay, nor abate the least portion of his credit, without running the risk of again raising against him by some misleading appearance of disgrace those very storms which had been allayed with so much difficulty. I myself was still very young, though I had reached the majority of kings, which the State laws anticipate in order to avoid still greater evils, but not the age at which mere private persons begin to regulate freely their own affairs. I only knew to its full extent the greatness of my burden, without having yet learned my own capabilities. …

I made a beginning by casting my eyes over all the different parties in the State, not indifferently, but with the glance of experience, sensibly touched at seeing nothing which did not invite and urge me to take it in hand, but carefully watching what the occasion and the state of affairs would permit. Everywhere was disorder. …

The finances, which give movement and action to the great organisation of the monarchy, were entirely exhausted, so much so that we could hardly find the ways and means. Much of the most necessary and most privileged expenses of my house and my own privy purse were in arrears beyond all that was fitting, or maintained only on credit, to be a further subsequent burden. At the same time a prodigality showed itself among public men, masking on the one hand their malversations by every king of artifice, and revealing them on the other in insolent and daring luxury, as though they feared I might take no notice of them.

The Church, apart from its usual troubles, after lengthy disputes on matters of the schools, a knowledge of which they allowed was unnecessary to salvation for any one, with points of disagreement augmenting day by day through the heat and obstinacy of their minds, and ceaselessly involving fresh human interests, was finally threatened with open schism by men who were all the more dangerous because they were capable of being very serviceable and greatly deserving, had they themselves been less opinionated. …

The least of the ills affecting the order of Nobility was the fact of its being shared by an infinite number of usurpers possessing no right to it, or one acquired by money without any claim from service rendered. The tyranny exercised by the nobles over their vassals and neighbours in some of my provinces could no longer be suffered or suppressed save by making severe and rigorous examples. The range for dueling–somewhat modified by the exact observance of the latest regulations, over which I was always inflexible–was only noticeable in a now well advanced recovery from so inveterate an ill, so that there was no reason to despair of the remedy.

The administration of Justice itself, whose duty it is to reform others, appeared to me the most difficult to reform. An infinity of things contributed to this state of affairs: the appointments filled haphazard or by money rather than by selection and merit; scant experience and less knowledge on the part of some of the judges; the regulations referring to age and service almost everywhere eluded; chicanery firmly established through many centuries, and fertile in inventing means of evading the most salutary laws. And what especially conduced to this was the fact that these insatiable gentry loved litigation and fostered it as their own peculiar property, applying themselves only to prolong and to add to it. Even my Council, instead of supervising the other jurisdictions, too often only introduced disorder by issuing a strange number of contrary regulations, all in my name and as though by my command, which rendered the confusion far more disgraceful.

All this collection of evils, their consequences and effects, fell principally upon the people, who in addition, were loaded with impositions, some crushed down by poverty, others suffering want from their own laziness since the peace, and needing above all to be alleviated and occupied. …

[1] “Do-nothing kings” and mayors of the palace: terms dating from the time of the weak Merovian kings of France and their Carolingian successors.

Saint-Simon Describes Louis XIV

Duke of Saint-Simon

(c. 1695)

The king’s great qualities shone more brilliantly by reason of an exterior so unique and incomparable as to lend infinite distinction to his slightest actions; the very figure of a hero, so impregnated with a natural but most imposing majesty that it appeared even in his most insignificant gestures and movements, without arrogance but with simple gravity; proportions such as a sculptor would choose to model; a perfect countenance and the grandest air and mien ever vouchsafed to man; all these advantages enhanced by a natural grace which enveloped all his actions with a singular charm which has never perhaps been equaled. He was as dignified and majestic in his dressing gown as when dressed in robes of state, or on horseback at the head of his troops.

He excelled in all sorts of exercise and liked to have every facility for it. No fatigue nor stress of weather made any impression on that heroic figure and bearing; drenched with rain or snow, pierced with cold, bathed in sweat or covered with dust, he was always the same. I have often observed with admiration that except in the most extreme and exceptional weather nothing prevented his spending considerable time out of doors every day.

A voice whose tones corresponded with the rest of his person; the ability to speak well and to listen with quick comprehension; much reserve of manner adjusted with exactness to the quality of different persons; a courtesy always grave, always dignified, always distinguished, and suited to the age, rank, and sex of each individual, and, for the ladies, always an air of natural gallantry. So much for his exterior, which has never been equaled nor even approached.

In whatever did not concern what he believed to be his rightful authority and prerogative, he showed a natural kindness of heart and a sense of justice which made one regret the education, the flatteries, the artifice which resulted in preventing him from being his real self except on the rare occasions when he gave way to some natural impulse and showed that,–prerogative aside, which choked and stifled everything,–he loved truth, justice, order, reason,–that he loved even to let himself be vanquished.

Nothing could be regulated with greater exactitude than were his days and hours. In spite of all his variety of places, affairs, and amusements, with an almanac and a watch one might tell, three hundred leagues away, exactly what he was doing. … Except at Marly, any man could have an opportunity to speak to him five or six times during the day; he listened, and almost always replied, “I will see,” in order not to accord or decide anything lightly. Never a reply or a speech that would give pain; patient to the last degree in business and in matters of personal service; completely master of his face, manner, and bearing; never giving way to impatience or anger. If he administered reproof, it was rarely, in few words, and never hastily. He did not lose control of himself ten times in his whole life, and then only with inferior persons, and not more than four or five times seriously. …

Louis XIV’s vanity was without limit or restraint; it colored everything and convinced him that no one even approached him in military talents, in plans and enterprises, in government. Hence those pictures and inscriptions in the gallery of Versailles which disgust every foreigner; those opera prologues that he himself tried to sing; that flood of prose and verse in his praise for which his appetite was insatiable; those dedications of statues copied from pagan sculpture, and the insipid and sickening compliments that were continually offered to him in person and which he swallowed with unfailing relish; hence his distaste for all merit, intelligence, education, and, most of all, for all independence of character and sentiment in others; his mistakes of judgment in matters of importance; his familiarity and favor reserved entirely for those to whom he felt himself superior in acquirements and ability; and, above everything else, a jealously of his own authority which determined and took precedence of every other sort of justice, reason, and consideration whatever.

Saint-Simon Describes the Consequences of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes

Duke of Saint-Simon


The revocation of the Edict of Nantes, without the slightest pretext or necessity, and the various proscriptions that followed it, were the fruits of a frightful plot, in which the new spouse was one of the chief conspirators, and which depopulated a quarter of the realm; ruined its commerce; weakened it in every direction; gave it up for a long time to the public and avowed pillage of the dragoons; authorized torments and punishments by which many innocent people of both sexes were killed by thousands; ruined a numerous class; tore in pieces a world of families; armed relatives against relatives, so as to seize their property and leave them to die of hunger; banished our manufactures to foreign lands; made those lands flourish and overflow at the expense of France, and enabled them to build new cities; gave to the world the spectacle of a prodigious population proscribed without crime, stripped, fugitive, wandering, and seeking shelter far from their country; sent to the galleys nobles, rich old men, people much esteemed for their piety, learning, and virtue, people carefully nurtured, weak, and delicate;–and all solely on account of religion; in fact, to heap up the measure of horror, filled the realm with perjury and sacrilege, in the midst of the echoed cries of these unfortunate victims of error, while so many others sacrificed their conscience to their wealth and their repose, and purchased both by simulated abjuration, from which without pause they were dragged to adore what they did not believe in, and to receive the divine body of the Most Holy whilst remaining persuaded that they were only eating bread which they ought to abhor!

Such was the general abomination born of flattery and cruelty. From torture to abjuration, and from that to communion, there was often only a space of twenty-four hours; and executioners were the guides of the converts and their witnesses. … The king received from all sides detailed news of these conversions. It was by thousands that those who had abjured and taken the communion were counted; ten thousand in one place, six thousand in another,–all at once and instantly. The king congratulated himself on his power and his piety. He believed himself to have brought back the days of the apostles, and attributed to himself all the honor. The bishops wrote panegyrics of him; the Jesuits made the pulpit resound with his praise. All France was filled with horror and confusion; and yet there was never such triumph and joy, such boundless laudation of the king.

Mr. Cowherd