The Theory of Contractual Monarchy in the Works of the Huguenot Monarchomachs


The French Wars of Religion (1562-1598) were often characterized in historiography as a revolutionary period, when some very advanced political theories were put forward by the parties in conflict. Some historians spoke of the existence of a form of popular sovereignty in many of the political writings produced during that time, where different constitutional mechanisms for restraining the powers of the monarchy were imagined. The first to propose such theories were the Huguenot theorists, especially those which would gain fame as the “Monarchomachs” (François Hotman, Theodore Beza, Philippe Duplessis-Mornay), a term coined by the royalist writer William Barclay at the beginning of the seventeenth century to describe the promoters of a political model of a limited monarchy where the ultimate sovereignty rested with the people. With Huguenots in active rebellion against the Crown, especially after 1572, when the defiance against the king (and not just against his “evil advisors” anymore) became openly acknowledged, the Monarchomachs strove to demonstrate that the people had a lawful right to actively resist (and even overthrow) a tyrannical monarch. The basis of their argument rested upon the concept of a political contract between the king and the people, which made the submission of the latter dependent on specific conditions set at the ascension of the king: if those conditions were violated, then the people were automatically released from their obligation of obedience.

Keywords: France, wars of religion, Monarchomachs, resistance, contract

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