Now, seeing that kings have been ever established by the people, and that they have had associates joined with them to contain them within the limits of their duties, these associates, when considered in particular one by one, are under the king, and altogether in one entire body are above him. We must consequently see why kings were first established, and what is principally their duty. We usually esteem a thing just and good when it attains to the proper end for which it is ordained.
In the first place every one agrees that men, by nature loving liberty and hating servitude, and born rather to command than obey, have not willingly admitted to be governed by another, and renounced, as it were, the privilege of nature by submitting themselves to the commands of others for some special and great profit that they expected from it. For as Aesop says, "That the horse being before accustomed to wander at his pleasure, would never have received the bit into his mouth, nor the rider on his back, but that he hoped by that means to overmatch the bull." Neither let us imagine, that kings were chosen to apply to their own proper use the goods that are gotten by the sweat of their subjects; for every man loves and cherishes his own. They have not received the power and authority of the people so they can use it to pander to their pleasures: for ordinarily, the inferiors hate, or at least envy, their superiors.
Let us then conclude, that they are established in this place to maintain by justice, and to defend by force of arms, both the public state, and particular persons from all damages and outrages. This is why St. Augustine said, "Those are properly called lords and masters who provide for the good and profit of others, as the husband for the wife, fathers for their children." They must therefore obey them who provide for them; although, indeed, to speak truly, those who govern in this manner may in a sort be said to serve those whom they command over.
For, as says the same doctor, they command not for the desire of dominion, but for the duty they owe to provide for the good of those who are subjected to them; not affecting any lord-like domineering, but with charity and singular affection, desiring the welfare of those who are committed to them.
Seneca in the eighty-first epistle says, "That in the golden age, wise men only governed kingdoms: they kept themselves within the bounds of moderation, and preserved the meanest from the oppression of the greatest. They persuaded and dissuaded, according as it advantaged or disadvantaged, the public profit; by their wisdom, they furnished the public with plenty of all necessaries, and by their discretion prevented scarcity, by their valor and courage they expelled dangers, by their many benefits they increased and enriched their subjects; they pleaded not their duty in making pompous shows, but in well governing their people. No man made trial what he was able to do against them, because every one received what he was capable of from them," etc.
Therefore, to govern is nothing else but to provide for. These proper ends of commanding, being for the people's benefit, the only duty of kings and emperors is to provide for the people's good. The kingly dignity to speak properly is not a title of honor, but a weighty and burdensome office. It is not a discharge or vacation from affairs to run a licentious course of liberty, but a charge and vocation to all industrious employments for the service of the commonwealth; the which has some glimpse of honor with it because in those first and golden ages, no man would have tasted such continual troubles if they had not been sweetened with some relish of honor; insomuch as there was nothing more true than that which was commonly said in those times, "If every man knew with what turmoils and troubles the royal wreath was wrapped with, no man would desire to pick it up, even if it lay right at his feet."
When, therefore, that the distinction between 'mine' and 'thine' entered into the world, and that differences occurred between fellow citizens, touching the propriety of goods, and wars amongst neighboring people about boundary disputes, the people bethought themselves to have recourse to some one who both could and should take order that the poor were not oppressed by the rich, nor the patriots wronged by strangers.
Nor as wars and suits increased, they chose someone in whose wisdom and valor they gave all their confidence. See, then, why kings were created in the first ages; that is, to administer justice at home, and to be leaders in the wars abroad, and not only to repulse the incursions of the enemy, but also to repress and hinder the devastation and spoiling of the subjects and their goods at home; but above all, to expel and drive away all devices and debauchments far from their dominions.
This may be proved by every history, both sacred and secular. For the people of God, they had at first no other king but God Himself, who dwelt in the midst of them, and gave answer from between the cherubims, appointed extraordinary Judges and captains for the wars; by means whereof the people thought they had no need of lieutenants, being honored by the continual presence of their Sovereign King.
Now, when the people of God began to grow weary of the injustice of the sons of Samuel, on whose old age they dare no longer rely, they demanded a king after the manner of other nations, saying to Samuel, "Give us a king as other people have, that he may judge us." There is mentioned the first and principal point of the duty of a king, a little after they are both mentioned. "We will have" (said they) "a king over us like other nations. Our king shall judge us, and go in and out before us, and lead our armies." To do justice is always set in the first place, for so much as it is an ordinary and regular thing; but wars are extraordinary, and happen, as it were, haphazardly.
Therefore, Aristotle says, that in the time of Herold, all kings were judges and captains. For the Lacedemonian kings, they in his time also had sovereign authority only in the army, and that confined also to the commandments of the magistrates.
In like manner the Medes, who were ever in perpetual quarrels amongst themselves, at length chose Deolces to be judge, who had carried himself well in the deciding of some particular differences; presently after they made him king, and gave him officers and guards, that he might more easily suppress the powerful and insolent.
Cicero says that in ancient times all kings were established to administer justice, and that all institutions, and all laws, had one and the same end, which was, that equity and right might be duly rendered to all men. This may be verified by the propriety of the words in almost all languages. Kings are called by the Latins, Reges a regendo, for that they must rule and govern the limits and bounds, both of the public and particulars. The names of emperors, princes, and dukes have relation to their conduct in the wars, and principal places in battles, and other places of command. Likewise the Greeks call them in their language, Basiles, Archae, Hegomodes, which is to say chiefs of the people, princes, leaders. The Germans and other nations use all significant names which express that the duty of a king consists not in making glorious parades; but that it is an office of a weighty charge and continual care. But, in brief, the poet Homer calls kings the judges of cities, and in describing Agamemnon, he calls him wise, strong, and valiant. As also, Ovid, speaking of Erechtheus, says, that it was hard to know, whether justice or valor were more visible in him; in which these two poets seem exactly to have described the duties of kings and princes. You see what was the custom of the kings of the heathen nations; after whose examples, the Jews demanded and established their kings.
The Queen of Sheba said also to Solomon, that God had made him king over them to do judgment and justice. And Solomon himself, speaking to God, said, "Thou hast chosen me to be a king over Thy people, and a judge of Thy sons and daughters."
For this cause also the good kings, as David, Josephat, and others, being not able in their own persons to determine all the suits and differences of their subjects (although in the causes of greatest importance they reserved an appeal always to themselves, as appears in Samuel), had ever above all things a special care, to establish in all places just and discreet judges, and principally still to have an eye to the right administration of justice; knowing themselves to carry the sword, as well to chastise wicked and unjust subjects, as to repulse foreign enemies.
Briefly, as the apostle says, "The prince is ordained by God, for the good and profit of the people, being armed with the sword to defend the good from the violence of the wicked, and when he discharges his duty therein, all men owe him honor and obedience."
Seeing then that kings are ordained by God and established by the people, to procure and provide for the good of those who are committed unto them, and that this good or profit be principally expressed in two ways, to wit, in the administration of justice to their subjects and in the managing of armies for the defense against their enemies: certainly, we must infer and conclude from this, that the prince who applied himself to nothing but his own pleasures pursuits, or to those ends which most readily contribute "hereunto, who contemns and perverts all laws, who uses his subjects more cruelly than the barbarous enemy would do, he may truly and really be called a tyrant, and that those who in this manner govern their kingdoms, be they of never so large an extent, are more properly unjust pillagers and free-booters, than lawful governors."
We must here yet proceed a little further: for it is demanded whether the king who presides in the administration of justice has power to resolve and determine business according to his own will and pleasure? Must the kings be subject to the law, or does the law depend upon the king? The law (says an ancient) is respected by those who otherways condemn virtue, for it enforces obedience, and ministers' conduct in warfaring, and gives vigor and luster to justice and equity. Pausanias the Spartan will answer in a word, that it becomes laws to direct, and men to yield obedience to their authority. Agesilaus, king of Sparta, says that all commanders must obey the commandments of the laws. But it shall not be amiss to carry this matter a little higher. When people began to seek for justice to determine their differences, if they met with any private man that did justly appoint them, they were satisfied with it. Now for so much as such men were rarely and with much difficulty met with, and for that the judgments of kings received as laws were oftentimes found contrary and difficult, then the magistrates and others of great wisdom invented laws, which might speak to all men in one and the same voice.
This being done, it was expressly enjoined to kings, that they should be the guardians and administrators, and sometimes also, for so much as the laws could not foresee the particularities of actions to resolve exactly, it was permitted the king to supply this defect, by the same natural equity by which the laws were drawn; and for fear lest they should go against law, the people appointed them from time to time associates, counsellors, of whom we have formerly made mention, therefore there is nothing which exempts the king from the obedience which he owes to the law, which he ought to acknowledge as his lady and mistress, esteeming nothing can become him worse than that feminine of which Juvenal speaks: Sic volo, sic jubeo, sic pro ratione voluntas: I will, I command, my will shall serve instead of reason. Neither should they think their authority the less because they are confined to laws, for seeing the law is a divine gift coming from above, which human societies are happily governed and addressed to their best and most blessed end. Those kings are as ridiculous and worthy of contempt who repute it a dishonor to conform themselves to law, as those surveyors who think themselves disgraced by using a rule, a compass, a chain or other instruments, which men understanding the art of surveying are accustomed to do, or a pilot who had rather fail according to his fantasy and imagination, than steer his course by his needle and seaman's compass.
Who can doubt that it is more profitable and convenient to obey the law rather than the king who is but one man? The law is the soul of a good king, it gives him motion, sense and life. The king is the organ and, as it were, the body by which the law displays her forces, exercises her function, and expresses her conceptions. Now it is a thing much more reasonable to obey the soul than the body; the law is the wisdom of diverse sages, recollected in few words, but many see more clear and further than one alone. It is much better to follow the law than any one man's opinion, be he ever so perceptive. The law is reason and wisdom itself, free from all perturbation, not subject to be moved with ill-temper, ambition, hate, or favoritism. Entreaties nor threats cannot make to bow nor bend; on the contrary, a man, though endued with reason, permits himself to be lead and transported with anger, desire of revenge, and other passions which perplex him in such sort, that he loses his understanding, because being composed of reason and disordered affections, he cannot so contain himself, but sometimes his passions become his master. Accordingly we see that Valentinian, a good emperor, permits those of the empire to have two wives at once, because he himself was misled by that impure affection. Because Cambises, the son of Cyrus, became enamored of his own sister, he would therefore have marriages between brother and sister be approved and held lawful. Cubades, king of the Persians, prohibited the punishment of adulterers. We must expect such laws continually if we allow the law to be subject to the king. To come to our purpose, the law is an understanding mind, or rather an obstacle of many understandings: the mind, being the seal of all the intelligent faculties, is (if I may so term it) a parcel of divinity; insomuch as he who obeys the law, seems to obey God, and receive Him for arbitrator of the matters in controversy.
But, on the contrary, insomuch as man is composed of this divine understanding, and of a number of unruly passions; so losing himself in that brutishness, as he becomes void of reason; and, being in that condition, he is no longer a man, but a beast; he then who desires rather to obey the king than the law, seems to prefer the commandment of a beast before that of God.
And furthermore, though Aristotle were the tutor of Alexander, yet he confesses that the Divinity cannot so properly be compared to anything in this life, as to the ancient laws of well-governed states. He who prefers the commonwealth, applies himself to God's ordinances: but he who leans to the king's fancies, instead of law, prefers brutish sensuality before well-ordered discretion. To which also the prophets seem to have respect, who, in some places, describe these great empires as under the representation of ravening beasts. But to go on, is not he a very beast, who had rather have for his guide a blind and mad man, than he who sees both with the eyes of the body and mind, a beast rather than God? Whence it comes, that though kings, as says Aristotle, for a while, at the first, commanded without restraint of laws; yet presently after, civilized people reduced them to a lawful condition, by binding them to keep and observe the laws: and for this unruly absolute authority, it remained only amongst those who commanded over barbarous nations.
He says afterwards that this absolute power was the next degree to plain tyranny, and he would have absolutely called it tyranny, had not these beasts, like barbarians, willingly subjected themselves to it. But it will be replied, that it is unworthy of the majesty of kings to have their wills bridled by laws. But I will say, that nothing is more royal than to have our unruly desires ruled by good laws.
It is much pity to be restrained from that which we would do; it is much more worse to will that which we should not do, but it is the worst of all to do that which the laws forbid.
I hear, methinks, a certain furious tribune of the people who opposed the passing of a law that was made against the excess which then reigned in Rome, saying, "My masters, you are bridled, you are idle and fettered with the rude bonds of servitude; your liberty is lost, a law is laid on you that commands you to be moderate. To what purpose is it to say you are free, since you may not live in what excess of pleasure you like?" This is the very complaint of many kings at this day, and of their minions and flatterers. The royal majesty is abolished, if they may not turn the kingdom topsy-turvy at their pleasure. Kings may go and shake their ears, if laws must be observed. Therefore, it is a miserable thing to live, if a madman may not be permitted to kill himself when he will. For what else do those things which violate and abolish laws, without which, neither empires, no, nor the very societies of free-booters can at all subsist?
Let us then reject these detestable, faithless, and impious vanities of the court-flatterers, which make kings gods, and receive their sayings as oracles, and, worse, shamelessly persuade kings that nothing is just or equitable except as it takes its true form of justice or injustice according as it pleases the king to ordain, as if he were some god, which could never err nor sin at all. Certainly, all that which God wills is just, and therefore, suppose it is God's will; but that must be just with the king's will before it is his will. For it is not just because the king has appointed it; but that king is just, which appoints that to be held for just, which is so of itself.
We will not then say as Anaxarchus did to Alexander, much perplexed for the death of his friend Clitus, whom he had killed with his own hands; to wit, that Themis, the goddess of Justice, sits by kings' side, as she does by Jupiter's, to approve and confirm whatsoever to them shall seem good. Rather, she sits as president over kingdoms, to severely chastise those kings who wrong or violate the majesty of the laws. We can in no ways approve that saying of Thrasimachus the Chaldonian that the profit and pleasure of princes is the rule by which all laws are defined. Instead, right must limit the profit of princes, and the laws restrain their pleasures. And instead of approving that which that villainous woman said to Caracalla, that whatsoever he desired was allowed him, we will maintain that nothing is lawful but what the law permits.
And absolutely rejecting that detestable opinion of the same Caracalla, that princes give laws to others but received none from any; we will say, that in all kingdoms well established, the king receives the laws from the people which he ought carefully to consider and maintain. And whatsoever he does against them, either by force or fraud, must always be reputed unjust.