A Defense of the English Commonwealth & the Execution of Charles I - With An Added Engraved Portrait of Milton

Milton, John (1608-1674)

Joannis Miltoni Angli Defensio pro populo Anglicano: contra Claudii Anonimi, aliàs Salmasii, Defensionem regiam

Londini [i.e., Gouda?] typis Du-Gardianis, 1651


Quarto: [10], 104, [6] p. Collation: A-P4. Added portrait.

MADAN 3. A fine copy. With an added engraved portrait of Milton by Faithorne, dated 1670. Bound in 19th c. ivory vellum, ruled in gold and with the Grenville arms in gold stamped on both boards. Small hole in blank margin of title where a circular stamp has been erased, otherwise excellent.

For an explanation of the complicated publication history of this work, see F.F. Madan, "Milton, Salmasius, and Dugard" (The Library, ser.4 vol.4 (1923) 119-45) and "Revised bibliography of ... Milton’s Pro populo Anglicano defensio" (The Library, ser.5 vol.9 (1954) 119-45). The Madan numbers found in Wing and cited here refer to the numbers supplied by Madan in his articles.

Milton saw the execution of King Charles I as a triumph of freedom against tyranny. His Defense of the English People, published 24 February 1651, was an eloquent rebuttal in Latin of a work by Claude Saumaise ('Salmasius'), the European champion of monarchy. This frontispiece bears the arms of the new British Commonwealth, uniting England, Scotland and Wales without a king.

The Council of State ordered reprints for numerous European editions of this work, attesting to the saturation of this elegant piece of political theory. Because of its advocacy for a republic, it was burned and banned in Toulouse and Paris. As a result of its success, Milton was sought out by many international visitors and found new supporters.

"There were a dozen editions of this popular work over two years: one dated 1650 and the remainder 1651 or 1652" [Wikenheiser]. The edition dated 1650 was actually published in 1651, using "the old style of dating, under which the year did not officially begin till 25 March." (Maden). "This is the work which finally cost Milton his eyesight and which Warton characterized as 'the best apology ever offered for bringing kings ot the block. ' In 1660, all copies were ordered to be surrendered and, along with Eikonoklastes, "to be burnt by the common hangman." (Wickenheiser)

"Charles I was executed on 30 January 1649. Within weeks of the regicide, royalist exiles sought to commission a work to voice their horror at the event, mobilize opinion against the new regime, and issue a call for the rightful successor to be installed on the throne. Salmasius, the foremost Protestant scholar in Europe now that Grotius was dead, quickly offered his services. [...] Salmasius’ Defensio Regia centers on two absolutist propositions; that the people are not the origin of kingly power, which derives directly from God; and that the king is legibus solutus (i.e. above all positive laws), and therefore accountable to God alone.

"Milton’s chapter by chapter refutation of Salmasius, Pro Populo Aglicano Defensio, finally appeared in February 1651. While it resembles The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649) in being devoted as much to invective as to argument, these are more freely intermixed in the manner of Cicero’s Philippics on which it is modeled. Just as Cicero had offered himself as the savior of the republic in the face of Antony’s attempts to overthrow it, so Milton steps forward to champion the beleaguered Commonwealth against Salmasius. [...]

"It is significant that the Pro Populo appears on John Locke’s book-lists from 1667 onwards (he also owned a copy of the version of The tenure published in 1689). For not the least of the similarities between Locke and Milton is their adoption of a stoic perspective which allows them to assert, with the minimum of qualifications, the right of the people, and even of individuals, to resist their tyrannical rulers." (Quoted from Martin Dzelzainis’ introduction to John Milton: Political Writings, Cambridge 1991)

Madan, F.F., 3; ESTC R31896; Wing (CD-Rom, 1996), M2106