Reformed Theology [Essay Contest 2017] "Parliamentarians in the First English Civil War 1642-46 were justified in their armed resistance of Charles I."  Calvinism

[Essay Contest 2017] “Parliamentarians in the First English Civil War 1642-46 were justified in their armed resistance of Charles I.”

Reformed Theology [Essay Contest 2017] "Parliamentarians in the First English Civil War 1642-46 were justified in their armed resistance of Charles I."  Calvinism
[Essay Contest 2017] “Parliamentarians in the First English Civil War 1642-46 were justified in their armed resistance of Charles I.”

The years 1529-49 are perhaps the most vibrant and dynamic in English constitutional history. This essay does not deal with the execution of Charles I following the Civil Wars – neither is it assessing the merits of the Cromwellian Republic that followed. These separate debates are too easily conflated with the question at hand: does the Reformed faith allow men to take arms against their King, and did Charles I's actions 1529-42 warrant this? Godly men differed here. Yet if one accepts Calvinist resistance theories, even in their mildest form, there is a strong case that armed resistance of Charles I was not only permissible, but preferable.

Theodore Beza's de jure magistratuum published in 1572,during the French Religious Wars, is accepted as a standard articulation of Calvinist resistance theory. Therein, Beza identifies two legitimate reasons that private individuals, independent of their magistrates, may take up arms against a tyrant: that they have recently usurped power illegally, or that they are oppressing the people they should be serving1. Anticipating the objection that tyrants are indeed instituted of God, thus must never be resisted2, Beza argues that since the authority of government is derived from the commons, the commons may call a tyrant to account by force of arms – if they are acting against the constitution of the land they rule. One might reasonably doubt this thesis, as even though he convincingly argues earlier in the document for the rights to resistance of the Estates-General, there is a conspicuous lack of biblical justification wherever he argues in favour of private citizens rebelling. Calvin's more moderate view is easier to accept. In his 1559 revision of the Institutes3, Calvin does not only permit, but encourages "magistrates of the people, appointed to restrain the eagerness of kings" to protect the liberty of citizens. He accuses the corrupt magistrate who permits tyranny of "perfidy" and complicity. Calvin heavily stressed individual obedience to the state when expounding Romans 13 where Beza did not4, but viewed the levels of government below the King as having their own legitimacy to resist a tyrant. This found its outworking in Calvin's support of the Prince of Condé (a legitimate "Prince of the Blood") in France, who fought for the rights of Huguenots to worship freely, but the rejection of the Tumult of Amboise, a botched conspiracy to kidnap the King and arrest his inner circle. Calvin's resistance theory respects the authority granted by God to civil government, but also highlights the God-given duty of legitimate members of government to take seriously their role as "servants for [their citizens'] good".

Even if one rejects Beza's thesis permitting civilians to rise, independent from the magistrates, the Parliamentarian cause need not be condemned. Accepting Calvin's resistance doctrines is enough to legitimize a theoretical armed resistance by the Parliamentarians, if Charles was indeed tyrannical. MPs were elected by the gentry to represent the interests of each locality, pass laws and uphold the "ancient constitution of England" – easily fitting the qualification for Calvin's "magistrates of the people", who are "God's servants for good" alongside the King. The issue is to determine whether there was indeed tyranny in England from 1629. Though Whig historians such as S.R. Gardiner exaggerate the extent of absolutism, modern attempts at revision have been overly lenient to Charles. Examining Charles' questionable taxation methods, his oppressive and heretical religious settlement, and his personal illegal actions against the liberties of his subjects, it appears that armed resistance was justified:

The King, having dispensed with Parliament, looked to other sources of revenue; namely resurrecting obscure medieval taxes. This in itself was not tyrannical, but the novel way in which these "feudal dues" were applied was. Four examples should suffice. In 1630, some 2000 men were stung by "Distraint of Knighthood" – a long-abandoned 13th law century stating that all landowners worth £40 must attend the coronation. Heavy inflation had radically eroded the value of £40, hitting many modest landowners unfairly. In Ireland, the "Commission for Defective Titles" violated an agreement made between Charles and Irish landlords earlier in the reign, essentially stealing back land which had been sold by Edward VI, nearly a century before. "Forest Fines" were also exacted from those who lived within the boundaries of royal forests for the first time in centuries, despite the royal forests being in disuse. The most notorious tax was Ship Money. Originally designed for times of naval war, coastal counties would pay money for a ship. Charles levied this yearly in all counties, during peacetime. The court case assessing whether it was a legal tax only narrowly found in favour of the King: five of twelve judges found against, despite attempts to influence the judiciary. While technically legal, the King's extension of his tax machinery was exploitative and tyrannical.

Charles' religious settlement was more threatening. Radical Arminian theology was enforced, and Archbishop Laud ruled the Church with an iron fist. William Prynne was mutilated in 1632 for nonconformity to the enforced High-Church services. He was mutilated again with two other Puritans in 1637, for publishing tracts against Laudianism. Physical punishments had not been applied to Protestant gentry since the days of Bloody Mary. Charles instituted a religious settlement that peddled a dangerous, Deist Arminianism to the masses – contrary to the 39 Articles which had been enshrined in Parliamentary law. He did this also in Scotland, overruling the General Assembly. This violated the rights of the English, Scottish and Irish Churches to determine their own doctrine and practice, and dissent was punished in a way that resembled the Catholic tyranny of Mary Tudor.

Finally, in Charles' own illegal actions 1640-42, there is ample reason to label him a tyrant in need of restraint. He had links to both Army Plots that sought to purge MPs illegally. He was aware of "the Incident", the attempt to arrest leading Scots Covenanters. Most clearly of all, he personally violated the liberties of the Commons when he burst into the Long Parliament to arrest the Five Members. These liberties were enshrined in the English constitution: that no MP could be arrested while sitting, or for what he had said during the Parliament. These rights had been respected and defended by English monarchs since 1295. Charles never showed his colours as a tyrant more clearly than then.

In conclusion, Charles I was a tyrant in need of restraint. He created a tax system that stretched, even ripped, the seams of legality. He oversaw a takeover of the Church that destroyed its rights and proclaimed heresy from the pulpit. He enforced this in a manner more reminiscent of a Catholic tyrant than a paternalistic King. He steamrolled over the constitution that bound him. Accepting even the most mild form of Calvinist resistance theory is enough to justify the taking up of arms, as the English Parliament qualifies as a legitimate body to restrain and resist the King – they too were "Gods's servants for [the people's] good".


References:

  1. Theodore Beza, de jure magistratuum (1572), 5.4

2.Theodore Beza, de jure magistratuum (1572), 5.5

  1. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559), 4.20.31

  2. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559), IV.20.24

The years 1529-49 are perhaps the most vibrant and dynamic in English constitutional history. This essay does not deal with the execution of Charles I following the Civil Wars – neither is it assessing the merits of the Cromwellian Republic that followed. These separate debates are too easily conflated with the question at hand: does the Reformed faith allow men to take arms against their King, and did Charles I's actions 1529-42 warrant this? Godly men differed here. Yet if one accepts Calvinist resistance theories, even in their mildest form, there is a strong case that armed resistance of Charles I was not only permissible, but preferable.

Theodore Beza's de jure magistratuum published in 1572,during the French Religious Wars, is accepted as a standard articulation of Calvinist resistance theory. Therein, Beza identifies two legitimate reasons that private individuals, independent of their magistrates, may take up arms against a tyrant: that they have recently usurped power illegally, or that they are oppressing the people they should be serving1. Anticipating the objection that tyrants are indeed instituted of God, thus must never be resisted2, Beza argues that since the authority of government is derived from the commons, the commons may call a tyrant to account by force of arms – if they are acting against the constitution of the land they rule. One might reasonably doubt this thesis, as even though he convincingly argues earlier in the document for the rights to resistance of the Estates-General, there is a conspicuous lack of biblical justification wherever he argues in favour of private citizens rebelling. Calvin's more moderate view is easier to accept. In his 1559 revision of the Institutes3, Calvin does not only permit, but encourages "magistrates of the people, appointed to restrain the eagerness of kings" to protect the liberty of citizens. He accuses the corrupt magistrate who permits tyranny of "perfidy" and complicity. Calvin heavily stressed individual obedience to the state when expounding Romans 13 where Beza did not4, but viewed the levels of government below the King as having their own legitimacy to resist a tyrant. This found its outworking in Calvin's support of the Prince of Condé (a legitimate "Prince of the Blood") in France, who fought for the rights of Huguenots to worship freely, but the rejection of the Tumult of Amboise, a botched conspiracy to kidnap the King and arrest his inner circle. Calvin's resistance theory respects the authority granted by God to civil government, but also highlights the God-given duty of legitimate members of government to take seriously their role as "servants for [their citizens'] good".

Even if one rejects Beza's thesis permitting civilians to rise, independent from the magistrates, the Parliamentarian cause need not be condemned. Accepting Calvin's resistance doctrines is enough to legitimize a theoretical armed resistance by the Parliamentarians, if Charles was indeed tyrannical. MPs were elected by the gentry to represent the interests of each locality, pass laws and uphold the "ancient constitution of England" – easily fitting the qualification for Calvin's "magistrates of the people", who are "God's servants for good" alongside the King. The issue is to determine whether there was indeed tyranny in England from 1629. Though Whig historians such as S.R. Gardiner exaggerate the extent of absolutism, modern attempts at revision have been overly lenient to Charles. Examining Charles' questionable taxation methods, his oppressive and heretical religious settlement, and his personal illegal actions against the liberties of his subjects, it appears that armed resistance was justified:

The King, having dispensed with Parliament, looked to other sources of revenue; namely resurrecting obscure medieval taxes. This in itself was not tyrannical, but the novel way in which these "feudal dues" were applied was. Four examples should suffice. In 1630, some 2000 men were stung by "Distraint of Knighthood" – a long-abandoned 13th law century stating that all landowners worth £40 must attend the coronation. Heavy inflation had radically eroded the value of £40, hitting many modest landowners unfairly. In Ireland, the "Commission for Defective Titles" violated an agreement made between Charles and Irish landlords earlier in the reign, essentially stealing back land which had been sold by Edward VI, nearly a century before. "Forest Fines" were also exacted from those who lived within the boundaries of royal forests for the first time in centuries, despite the royal forests being in disuse. The most notorious tax was Ship Money. Originally designed for times of naval war, coastal counties would pay money for a ship. Charles levied this yearly in all counties, during peacetime. The court case assessing whether it was a legal tax only narrowly found in favour of the King: five of twelve judges found against, despite attempts to influence the judiciary. While technically legal, the King's extension of his tax machinery was exploitative and tyrannical.

Charles' religious settlement was more threatening. Radical Arminian theology was enforced, and Archbishop Laud ruled the Church with an iron fist. William Prynne was mutilated in 1632 for nonconformity to the enforced High-Church services. He was mutilated again with two other Puritans in 1637, for publishing tracts against Laudianism. Physical punishments had not been applied to Protestant gentry since the days of Bloody Mary. Charles instituted a religious settlement that peddled a dangerous, Deist Arminianism to the masses – contrary to the 39 Articles which had been enshrined in Parliamentary law. He did this also in Scotland, overruling the General Assembly. This violated the rights of the English, Scottish and Irish Churches to determine their own doctrine and practice, and dissent was punished in a way that resembled the Catholic tyranny of Mary Tudor.

Finally, in Charles' own illegal actions 1640-42, there is ample reason to label him a tyrant in need of restraint. He had links to both Army Plots that sought to purge MPs illegally. He was aware of "the Incident", the attempt to arrest leading Scots Covenanters. Most clearly of all, he personally violated the liberties of the Commons when he burst into the Long Parliament to arrest the Five Members. These liberties were enshrined in the English constitution: that no MP could be arrested while sitting, or for what he had said during the Parliament. These rights had been respected and defended by English monarchs since 1295. Charles never showed his colours as a tyrant more clearly than then.

In conclusion, Charles I was a tyrant in need of restraint. He created a tax system that stretched, even ripped, the seams of legality. He oversaw a takeover of the Church that destroyed its rights and proclaimed heresy from the pulpit. He enforced this in a manner more reminiscent of a Catholic tyrant than a paternalistic King. He steamrolled over the constitution that bound him. Accepting even the most mild form of Calvinist resistance theory is enough to justify the taking up of arms, as the English Parliament qualifies as a legitimate body to restrain and resist the King – they too were "Gods's servants for [the people's] good".


References:

  1. Theodore Beza, de jure magistratuum (1572), 5.4

2.Theodore Beza, de jure magistratuum (1572), 5.5

  1. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559), 4.20.31

  2. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559), IV.20.24

“>Link
Submitted June 08, 2017 at 07:31AM by RaucousElephant