- Les traités monarchomaques: Confusion des temps, résistance armée et monarchie parfaite (1560-1600)
With the publication of the Les traités monarchomaques so soon after the appearance of his edited collection Et de sa bouche sortait un glaive (2006), Paul-Alexis Mellet has established himself as the preeminent current scholar of the so-called Monarchomaque approach to armed resistance to tyranny that emerged in the late sixteenth century. It is no easy task to achieve such status, given the large body of literature that has been devoted to the topic in recent times. But Mellet (in the present book as well as the previous one) has opened a rich new vein of inquiry concerning, in particular, the intellectual diversity of the Monarchomaques and the coherence of the various positions that have been grouped under that label (itself a term of derision coined around 1600 by an opponent). Mellet's vision was reflected in the contributions to the edited volume but it is on full display in this magisterial study of the range and nature of the tracts that are associated with the Monarchomaques. Of perhaps greatest value is his thorough examination of a large body of writings that ordinarily have been ignored by scholars in favor of a nearly exclusive concentration on a few of the more famous Monarchomaque texts by authors such as François Hotman, Philippe Duplessis-Mornay, Théodore Beza, and George Buchanan.
Les traités monarchomaques is divided into three main sections. The first part concentrates on the formation of the distinctive identity of the Monarchomaque "movement" out of a diverse set of texts, many of which will not be familiar to readers possessing only a casual acquaintance with late sixteenth-century political thought. Mallet acknowledges that the ascription of a Monarchomaque school is a largely artificial and external construction that glosses over the great diversity of thinkers and treatises that have been included under that rubric. On the other hand, he demonstrates that certain common themes appear recurrently among opponents of tyrannical rule, so that to dismiss the use of the term Monarchomaque entirely is misleading and unwarranted.
The second section considers the circumstances of the production and circulation of the Monarchomaque texts. In particular, Mellet adopts a critical stance regarding the context in which the literature of resistance emerged after 1560. Rather than viewing Monarchomaque writings as a monolithic response to the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, he argues that many historical factors (intellectual as well as political) are important to understanding the emergence of opposition to illegitimate rulers among Protestant authors. This includes scriptural hermeneutics (specifically, of 1 Samuel 8) and concerns about the generally corrupt condition of the French court. Moreover, Mellet discusses the process through which Monarchomaque ideas were disseminated in Protestant circles.
The third and final part of Mellet's book surveys the positive political ideals of the Monarchomaque authors. There is a widespread impression that the Monarchomaques were deeply anti-royalist, critics of the practice, indeed the very [End Page 1267] idea, of monarchic authority. Mallet does an excellent job of demonstrating instead that their treatises reveal a strong belief in the legitimacy of kingship, albeit a vision of royal government with a constitutional dimension, on a model derived from a somewhat idiosyncratic reading of the historical record. He terms this shared ideal monarchie régénérée, the restortation of the original nature of kingship that had eroded over time into the tyrannical regimes of the latter day.
The book closes with an extremely useful bibliography of Monarchomaque sources, both in manuscript and in printed editions, that certainly opened my eyes to the extent of the literature that any careful student of the topic must master.
Les traités monarchomaques is, simply put, a totally indispensible addition to the scholarship on the history of early modern European political thought. Mellet explodes many myths about...