Huguenots, Jesuits and Tyrants: Notes on the Vindiciae contra Tyrannos in Early Modern England

in Journal of Early Modern History


The first edition of the Vindiciae contra Tyrannos was published in 1579. In 1690 a pamphlet entitled Political Aphorisms was printed: this work, constructed by mixing entire passages from the Huguenot text and John Locke's first and second Treatise of government, presented a radical and secular theory of government as a contract between governors and governed. In this essay I want to explain the genesis of Political Aphorisms, or, in other words, I seek to elucidate part of the story of the Vindiciae contra Tyrannos in early modern England. More specifically, I argue that in order to understand the complexity and the problematic character of the French text in the English context scholars need to take into account the role of Catholic political thought. Catholic political theorists, in fact, appropriated for themselves many of the arguments put forward by the Huguenot author, and used them to undermine, in theory as well as in practice, the authority of the English sovereign. Understanding the role of English and European Catholic political thought can offer important insight into the current historiographical debate over the secular character of the theory of contract expressed in the Huguenot pamphlet.

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