John Ponet's resistance theory (David Starkey)

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Reformed Covenanter

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The British historian, David Starkey in his book Monarchy makes mention of the English Reformer, John Ponet’s concept of resistance to tyranny:

Mary’s vengefulness had turned the propaganda coup of [Thomas] Cranmer’s recantation into a PR disaster, which fired her opponents with a new zeal to resist Bloody Mary. Among them was John Ponet, a Protestant bishop who’d fled into exile in Strasbourg when the burnings began. He was an old friend of Cranmer’s. But, unlike Cranmer, Ponet’s experience of Mary’s tyranny led him to question the intellectual foundations of the Supremacy, and reject outright the idea that the king was God’s anointed, ordained by Him to rule His church on Earth.

In 1556 he published a revolutionary book – A Shorte Treatise of Politike Power. Its title page, with the motto taken from Psalm 118, says it all: ‘it is better to trust in the Lord than to trust in princes.’ This meant that kings, far from being the God-like figures of Cranmer’s and Henry VIII’s imaginations, were human at best and subhuman at their all-too-frequent worst. And this meant in turn that kings were human creations and had to be subject to human control.

If, therefore, Ponet went on to argue, a king or queen broke human or divine law they should be reproved or even deposed. And if, like Mary, they were cruel and persecuting idolaters then it was a virtuous act to assassinate them as a tyrant. Henry VIII had realized that the Royal Supremacy could survive only if the monarchy kept to a middle way in religion. But Edward and Mary had ignored his warnings, and now, in Ponet’s groundbreaking work, had provoked a head-on challenge to the authority and legitimacy of kingship itself.

David Starkey, Monarchy: From the Middle Ages to Modernity (London, HarperCollins Publishers, Kindle Edition, 2006), pp 73-74.
 
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