Absolute power was contested

Those who are opposed to the ruling of a country by one single person, but believe in a monarchy by contractual agreement are referred to as monarchomaques.

Protestant monarchomaques

  • Théodore de Bèze (1519-1605) © S.H.P.F.

In France, the first monarchomaques were Protestant :

  • The lawyer Francis Hotman, who published Francogallia in Geneva in 1573 ;
  • The theologian Théodore de Bèze, who wrote Du droit des magistrates sur leurs sujets (The rights of magistrates over their subjects) (1574) ;
  • The author of Vindiciae contra Tyrannos (1579), who was probably Philippe Duplessis-Mornay.

There are some other anonymous works, notably Réveille-Matin des Français et de leurs voisins (A morning awakening for the French and their neighbours) which was published in 1574 in Edinburgh – (more probably in Bâle), and Discours politiques des diverses puissances establies de Dieu au monde (The political speeches of several powers established by God in the world, 1574).

Characteristics and common factors of these works

They all insisted on the sovereignty of the people, who were represented by the States General. The assembly of States were to chose the kings and magistrates and could remove them from power if they were to be unworthy of the trust placed in them ; they decided whether the country was to go to war or not, and made the laws. This form of monarchy by contractual agreement was the precursor of the future constitutional monarchy.

The people’s obedience was to be conditioned by the king’s respect of his promises. Should the sovereign be a tyrant, resistance becomes legitimate.

The Catholic monarchomaques

In 1584, when Henri of Navarre became heir to the throne, the monarchomaques, so as not to offend the future Henri IV, adopted a more moderate view of the situation,

Their arguments were taken up by some members of the League. This was the case, for example, in De Justa Henrici tertii abdicatione (1589) by the priest Jean Boucher, or De justa republicae in regis impios authoritate (1590), attributed to Bishop Guillaume Rose.

Catholic and Protestant tracts differed from each other in several ways : for instance, the Catholics made little distinction between religious and political tyranny. According to them, things spiritual and things temporal were closely linked. Thus the killing of a tyrant was more easily justified by Catholics than by Protestants.

Associated notes

  • Théodore de Bèze (1519-1605)

    Theodore Beza was one of the most prominent figures in the Reform movement. He supported Calvin and succeeded him as moderator, i.e. president, of the Company of pastors in Geneva....
  • François Hotman (1524-1590)

    François Hotman questioned royal absolutism.
  • The United Provinces of the Midi

    Strongly influenced by Calvinism, a political theory of State government was put into practice in the Midi for about twenty years. In this political system, the power comes from the...
  • Protestant "places of safety"

    The “places of safety”, strongholds in the hands of governors and granted to the Reformed, met religious and military requirements.
  • Protestantism after 1562

    In the second part of the XVIth century (1562-1598), in spite of persecution and long periods of civil war, the Reformed Churches became well organized. A political system, structured on...
  • The rise of Protestantism in France (1520-1562)

    Luther’s ideas began to spread in France from 1520 onwards. The authorities did their best to oppose them. From 1540, under Jean Calvin’s influence, a new Church took shape, but...
  • Jean Calvin (1509-1564)

    A generation after Luther, the Frenchman Jean Calvin became the organiser of the Reformation : he organised the Church, shaped the doctrine and defined the role of the Church in state government.