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Et de sa bouche sortait un glaive: Les monarchomaques au XVIe Siecle.

Paul-Alexis Mellet, ed. Et de sa bouche sortait un glaive: Les monarchomaques au XVIe Siecle.

Cahiers d'Humanisme et Renaissance 75. Geneva: Librairie Droz S. A., 2006. 188 pp. index. bibl. [euro]44.84. ISBN: 2-600-01045-9.

The term monarchomaque has been used widely, and somewhat loosely, to describe a diverse array of sixteenth-century Protestant authors of a Calvinist orientation who defended some version of the view that kings committed to a tyrannical agenda, especially in matters of religious conformity, could legitimately be resisted by their populations. Originally coined retrospectively by William Barclay (ca. 1600) to describe theorists allegedly bent on destroying monarchy, the word was applied mainly to continental thinkers such as Hotman, Beza, and Duplessis-Mornay, but also to the Scottish writer George Buchanan. Over time, monarchomaque has come to denote a particular approach to resistance theory that was far more corporatist than the position enunciated by seventeenth-century English proponents of the constitutional bases of resistance to tyranny, such as Locke.

There was, of course, no historical school of thought or movement tied to the so-called monarchomaques. The figures whose names are included under that label were wide-ranging in their intellectual backgrounds, religious and political agendas, and theoretical proposals. The leading question posed by the essays contained in this fine volume, then, is whether sufficient conceptual coherence exists among these authors to warrant continued usage of the term in the historiography of early modern political thought. This thread produces a collection of chapters that stand together as an integrated whole, even as they masterfully extend our understanding of many of the individual writers and texts grouped together under the monarchomaque rubric.

Although all of the essays are published in French, the contributors to the book hail from throughout Europe (Germany and the Low Countries, in addition to France) as well as the United States. Despite this geographic sweep, they are united in perspective by careful attention to historical detail. Unlike some historians of political ideas, who tend to weave their interpretations of texts without due regard to the contexts in which they were created, these scholars are sensitive and precise in attending to the issues and controversies that swirled around the religious politics of the sixteenth century. The question of context is particularly relevant in evaluating the vexed problem of the role played by the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre in consolidating and charging the fervor that led certain Calvinists to conclude that it might be necessary to advocate violent resistance to religious tyranny. While this topic forms the major thrust of Paul-Alexis Mellet's chapter, most of the other essays also touch on it in some way.

Rather than attempt to offer summary abstracts of the contents of the volume on a chapter-by-chapter basis, I wish to identify a few of the contributions that I found most compelling from the perspective of a historian of political thought who is especially interested in the background that framed early modern debates about political authority and the limits of power. (In doing so, I should emphasize, I do not mean to disparage the contributors whose work I do not mention.) Thierry Menissier traces some of the relevant intellectual contexts for the emergence of monarchomaque teachings about the relations of obedience that ought to obtain between princes, magistrates, and subjects. He does not merely treat sixteenth-century controversies--about, for instance, Machiavelli and Machiavellism--that immediately preceded the bulk of monarchomaque writings: he also looks back to the use of classical and Christian doctrines concerning obedience--for example, Aristotle and Cicero as well as the New Testament--that helped frame the early modern debate. In a subsequent chapter, Cornel Zwierlein addresses another relevant context for monarchomaque thought. He recounts a fascinating set of late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century discussions, first in Italy, then in Germany, about the obligation to defend the law of God against rulers who command its violation. As he points out, this formed an important dimension of the monarchomaque case for resistance--for instance, in the Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos. But the use of this idea was not especially new, nor was it Calvinist, nor even especially Protestant, in origin: the Florentine Savonarola played a role in its application, as did a number of Lutheran authors. Both Menissier and Zwierlein remind us that the political theory enunciated by the monarchomaques was by no means sui generis, but instead reflected lines of thought that had a long, venerable, and diverse history in Western political thought.

In sum, this volume has much to recommend it to scholars of the Reformation and early modern European history as well as to historically-minded political theorists.


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Author:Nederman, Cary J.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2007
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