The Historical Journal



RETHINKING REPUBLICANISM: VINDICIAE, CONTRA TYRANNOS IN CONTEXT 1


ANNE MCLAREN a1c1
a1 University of Liverpool

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Abstract

The article takes issue with current orthodoxy concerning early modern republicanism, centred on Quentin Skinner's model of classical republicanism. I argue that historians of political thought need to return to first principles in their practice in order to understand early modern republicanism, and I provide an example by using those principles to reassess one canonical text, Philippe de Plessis Mornay's Vindiciae, contra tyrannos. Reading the Vindiciae in context reveals it as a work whose radicalism lies, not in its engagement with the Roman law tradition, but in its express conviction that each and every individual is responsible for maintaining a covenanted relationship with God. My reassessment tracks the political, and specifically regicidal, consequences of commitment to that belief in England from the late sixteenth through the mid-seventeenth centuries. It destabilizes the anachronistic distinction between ‘political’ and ‘religious’ modes of thought that historians of political thought too often use to characterize early modern political discourse, and it points to the common ground shared and articulated by theorists including, inter alia, John Ponet, George Buchanan, and John Milton. The conclusion considers what this investigation reveals about republicanism as a political phenomenon in Europe and America from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries.

(Published Online February 24 2006)


Correspondence:
c1 School of History, University of Liverpool, L69 7WZ a.mclaren01@liverpool.ac.uk


Footnotes

1 I would like to thank J. H. Burns and John Pocock for commenting on earlier drafts of this article. Their trenchant criticism made the final version more coherent than it otherwise would have been and, in my view at least, more convincing. I presented a version of the article at the North American Conference for British Studies in Philadelphia in 2004 and would like to thank my co-panellists, Michael Winship and Ted Vallance, as well as the conference organizers. David Underdown's comments, as panel moderator, were extremely helpful. A British Academy travel grant made it possible for me to attend the conference, and the research was conducted during a period of leave funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. I would like to acknowledge both organizations.