II: The war, riots, and protests
The ethics of rule and the pragmatics of resistance
Laurentius Paulinus Gothus and Wilhelm Neumair von Ramsla on good governance and popular politics
Malte Griesse and Miriam Rönnqvistx
In historiography, the early modern period is generally presented as the period of state building. Through administrative reforms and the creation of a new bureaucracy, medieval estate-based society, with the crown at the top of a pyramid of personal dependencies, was gradually transformed into a modern territorial state. This process was constantly challenged by considerable segments of the population who were rising in rebellion against the palpable effects of state-formation, such as increasing taxes and military recruitment. This historical master narrative argues with hindsight and interprets early modern conflicts in the light of a teleological process with a normative outcome: the Weberian state. From the vantage point of this modern state, historical change and development was initiated and steered from above, whereas the population was merely reacting and resisting. In reality, early modern people could not even imagine the Weberian state and measure their own political experience in reference to it. But rebellions were a matter of concern.
In early modern Sweden, the trauma of past revolts, i.e. the Dacke War (1542-1543) and the Club War (1596-1597), affected the political elite’s rhetoric and tactics in dealing with (potential) unrest from below throughout the following century. In contrast to the European continent where various countries saw large-scale uprisings as a consequence of the strained political situation, the Swedish people’s dissatisfaction and the government’s apprehension of mass violence resulted in continuous negotiations of power between government and subjects.2 The conflicts culminated halfway through the 17th century, during the short period of external peace under Queen Christina, when the Swedish empire found itself on the verge of political crisis, with civil war impending because of the upheavals in combination with the contentious long Diet of 1650.3
Historians have characterised the 17th century as a century of crisis, but this was not merely an appreciation with hindsight.4 Contemporaries felt the ubiquity of revolts and civil wars. The French historian Jean Nicolas de
Parival was far from being alone, when he wrote his Short history of this iron century in 1653. He started by explaining his title,
‘I call this century the Iron Century, because all the evils & wonders, which have occurred in previous centuries in isolated form, have now come together. If the troubles have [formerly] been considerable in certain corners, they have now become enormous everywhere. You can mock my opinion, but Noah was also mocked for warning the people to do penance, & he began to build the Ark about a hundred years before the advent of the Deluge’.5
The Swedish political elite seems to have been as pessimistic about the future as Parival. They spoke about ‘dangerous rimes’ (‘desse fahrlige rider’) and feared that the ‘wildfire’ of civil war would spill over to Sweden.6
Innumerable studies and treatises on the phenomenon of revolt were written, especially in the academic world, and often addressed to monarchs and statesmen. In the manner of mirrors for princes, this advice literature explored the causes of revolt and recommended how to craft (more) efficient preventive policies. Many of these writings were published in the Holy Roman Empire, where the offspring of the Swedish elite went to university. Therefore, even if the public dissemination of information and news was far more limited in Sweden than it was in the territories of the Holy Roman Empire, the elites shared a communicative space and could easily resort to the same discursive and conceptual resources.
In order to explore this common space of debate on the delicate matter of resistance to established power, we would like to focus on unrest by comparing and contrasting two particularly illuminating contemporary works. The first one is Laurentius Paulinus Gothus’ monumental Ethica Christiana, published in Stockholm in seven volumes between 1613 and 1630, and the second is Wilhelm Neumair von Ramsla’s Vom Auffstand der Untern wider ihre Regenten and Obern sonderbarer Tractat, published in one big volume in Jena in 1633. These two works are representative of a common concern. At the same time, they stand out against the bulk of contemporary literature on revolt, because they were written in the vernacular languages and their reception was therefore not rigorously confined to the small academic and clerical world.7 As Andreas Dalner, the author of a Latin Treatise (1599) on seditions (in particular on the recent peasant wars in Austria) put it in his second edition in German (1601), the translation was ‘for the benefit of the commoner.’ This appeal to the commoner is clearly meant as a warning, which can already be seen from his almost exclusive focus on punishment. Could the choice of the vernacular also be an appreciation of popular politics or what we call ‘state-building from below’?
Whereas Gothus’ work is prominently featured in Swedish historiography,8 we have not been able to find many traces of Neumair’s treatise in Sweden. But it was written as a homage to King Gustavus II Adolphus and dedicated to Queen Christina and the Council of the Realm.9 Furthermore, the Swedish elites were very concerned about learning from foreign experience of revolt. They closely followed the contest movements in Europe through their ambassadors, and the Holy Roman Empire was naturally an important site, since Swedish armies were playing a key-role in the Thirty Years’ War.
We will focus on the significance attributed to unrest and resistance and the notion of good governance as it was advocated by the two authors. Do they condemn unrest per se, thus advocating a power state-oriented form of government ‘from above’? Would they justify resistance under certain circumstances, which could imply a more interactional perspective on political rule?
Gothus’ Ethica serves as a starting point for our chapter as it discusses unrest and (il)legitmate rule through the eyes of the political elite. From there, we move on to Neumair’s work that complements the perspective on unrest ‘from above’ with one ‘from below,’ highlighting cases in which unrest could be beneficial. Finally, we would like to propose an outlook towards Swedish government practice in the middle of the 17th century when coalitions between different estates, pamphlets and observation of unrest abroad led to government which provided room to manoeuvre for popular politics.
Good governance, tyranny, and the limits of legitimate resistance in Gothus’ Ethica Christiana
The Swedish political elite was educated at European universities, which resulted in a number of dissertations on the nature of legitimate rule and, more specifically, on the relationship of legitimate rule and unrest. This was especially relevant in Sweden, where several kings had come to power by means of a coup d’état. Sten Svantesson Bielkes dissertation ‘De jure regio’ from 1616 can be interpreted as a representative example of that, because he legitimised otherwise illegitimate seizures of power in Swedish history: Neither Gustavus I’s revolt against Christian II (known as the ‘tyrant’ in Sweden), nor the Engelbrekt uprising or the rebellion of Charles IX was considered illegal.10
Tying in with this line of thought and the importance of legitimising Swedish history in retrospect, Laurentius Paulinus Gothus did not generally condemn unrest either. The theologian, professor, and archbishop was born in Soderkoping in 1565 and died in Uppsala in 1646. In general, he supported the theocratic perspective on rule which presupposed the subjects’ passive subordination,11 but he was simultaneously influenced by notions from Johannes Althusius’ Política methodice digesta (1603)12 which belonged to the canon literature at the university of Uppsala at this time.13 According to Althusius’ understanding of the social contract, power belonged to the people who had yielded it to their regent under certain conditions.14
To ensure that the regent would meet these conditions, Althusius recommended the election of a group of ephori regni or optimates regni, intended to serve as representatives of the entire people in order to ensure that the regents would not exploit their power; they could even depose a monarch,15 because a revolt against a tyrant was legitimate.16
According to Gothus, the ephori regni consisted of the council of the realm and the representatives of the Diet, and they were the only instance of legitimate resistance against tyranny. However, Gothus does not only adopt the concept from Althusius, but also from King Charles IX, who took up the idea from the Dutch revolt against Spanish tyranny, in order to use it in his struggle for the Swedish throne against his nephew Sigismund.17 Similar to Bielke, Gothus thus contributes to legitimise the reigning dynasty by sanctifying its way to power. Duke Charles had allied with several grandees, who were members of the Council and influential actors of the noble Estate at the Diet, whom he considered ephori.'3 In contrast to Charles’ ambiguous encouragement of the rebellious peasants’ struggle against Sigismund’s governor of Finland, Kias Fleming, in the Club war,19 their support for his seizure of power retrospectively fell into oblivion and he even repudiated them. Without recurring to these concrete events, Gothus subscribes to this double legacy of legitimate and illegitimate rebellion.
Influenced by Martin Luther’s Small Catechism and oriented alongside the structure of the Decalogue, Gothus’ Ethica can be characterised as an ‘annotated catechism,’ with questions and answers provided by the author, underpinned with quotations and examples from the bible. For the purpose of this chapter, we limit ourselves to the author’s thoughts on unrest and legitimate rule.
In the first volume, unrest is mentioned implicitly in combination with the fourth commandment, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother’ which extended beyond the order of the private household regarding hierarchical conception and viewed the state as a household with the regent as the royal father who cared for his subjects; the children.20
Additionally, unrest is mentioned explicitly in Chapter 25 ‘On the sins of children and subjects,’ which was directed at the subjects.21 The first question the author raised in this context is ‘1. Which sins should children and subjects be wary of according to the content of the fourth commandment?’ According to his answer, there were two different kinds of sins against the government: Treating the ruler with contempt or incurring their wrath.
Gothus then posed the question ‘2. To disdain the parents/what is that?,’ and answered that it was considering oneself ‘too good to be obedient [...] [Because of an arrogant heart].’ This contempt could then ‘result in mocking words and gestures. If someone lets himself believe he is something/ which he is not after all/he betrays himself/Gal. 6.3 The eye cannot say to the hand/I do not need you: Or the head to the feet/I do not need you [Pl.]/1. Cor. 12.21. |...].’22
As this quotation directed at the subjects illustrates, the balance of the body politic was essential for good government. The organic metaphor portrayed in the example taken from Paul the Apostle’s epistle to the Corinthians, underlines that good governance was based on the cooperation of all body parts.23 And it is even more noteworthy, that in spite of his explicit chiding of the subjects’ disobedience against their sovereign, he chooses a biblical quotation that admonishes the head (sovereign) not to disdain the feet (people).
After his description of some of the subjects’ sins, the author identified these sinners as ‘1. Mockers, 2. Disobedients and defiants, 3. Non-pitiables [Sentorftige], 4. Insurgents. [...] My son/fear the LORD and the king/and do not get involved with rebels/Pro. 24.22.’24
Legitimate or illegitimate use of power depends on Gothus’ definition of tyranny. In the third chapter of Praxeos specialis ethicae christianae partis secundae tomus secundus (11:2), Gothus reflected on the reasons for political change. These could either originate from the monarch or the subjects. If the regent was considered responsible for political change, there were two possible reasons: His absence (e.g. due to warfare abroad, which was impending in 1629, when the volume was published and when the Diet had already sanctioned Gustavus II Adolphus’ intervention in the German war) or his ‘violent and tyrannical government.’25 This line of argument is further pursued in Chapter 4 which is dedicated entirely to tyrannical government (p. 27ff.). Here Gothus raises the question of what tyranny is and answers it as follows:
[Tyranny] is the illegal abuse of the monarchal office/with which the entire empire’s common (universal?) and specific rights/community/ state and welfare/are intentionally, persistently and irrevocably distorted and subdued by the Monarch. Because the government is God’s servant/for the good of the empire’s inhabitants/this means: That he shall promote/defend/protect and sustain/everything that provides his people and empire with spiritual and bodily welfare/which happens through the unrestricted course of God’s word/the strengthening of law and justice/and the application and benefit of one and all’s duly right and safety.16
Gothus put special emphasis on the monarch’s intention. If a regent ignored and acted against sound advice, his oath, warnings, and admonitions27 resulting in the oppression of his people, entrusted in his care by God, he lost the honourable title monarch and was reduced to a tyrant.28 However, it had to be borne in mind that even a monarch was human and could be at fault, which led Gothus to take into account that not all regents who failed in their government could automatically be considered tyrants.29 Ultimately, he claimed that if the monarch’s mistake did not result in the overthrow of the empire’s fundamental structure, freedom, the state and welfare of its inhabitants, and if it was not a consequence of his fundamentally evil nature, a flawed monarch was not to be considered a tyrant.30
The following chapter details measures concerning the dethronement of a tyrant, once more structured along leading questions to which the author provides answers and evidence. First and foremost, the council and noble estates (ephori regni) are bound to demonstrate and warn the regent about the consequences of his actions and convince him to abandon his improper behaviour.31 Only if the dialogue failed, council and estates had the right to liberate themselves from oppression caused by the monarch’s ungodly behaviour. ‘The laws’ and contracts’ form/that God has endowed/shall be held and obeyed imperturbably by Man. [...] Now God has endowed these laws and contracts with Monarchs/that they will uphold His connection and testimony/So shall their government be persistent: But where they transgress it [the contract]/it shall be destroyed and annihilated.’32 As this quotation illustrates, government was definitely God-given for Gothus, but the monarch himself was subject to the Godgiven contract between regent and subjects. In breaking this contract, the monarch violated legitimate rule and became a tyrant. It was not only considered a serious offense to break the contract with God but also to break the oath that the monarch had sworn to the estates in particular and to all inhabitants of his empire in general.33 Gothus emphasised that the same rights existed between government and subjects as between man and wife, parents and children, lords and servants.34 After his examination of political change implemented or caused by the monarch, Gothus then shifts his focus onto political change caused from below: Unrest and its origins. He differentiates between two different kinds of unrest, uprisings against the monarch on the one hand and civil war (‘Inbyrdes Tumult’) on the other.35 Similarly to his exploration of tyranny, he poses the question of what constituted unrest at the outset and answered: ‘Unrest is the subjects’ illegal riot and resistance/against their righteous Lord or Monarch/it happens either secretly or openly/[...] or hastily as courage and uprising.’36 The origins of unrest can be traced back either to the monarch or the people.37
In the first case, the reasons are first, (unnecessarily) high taxes; second, the monarch’s animosity against his own subjects and his favouring of foreigners (‘fremmande och Uthlendske’) or rogues and villains (‘Skalckar och Bofwar’) who are awarded prestigious posts; and third, the monarch’s renunciation of true faith.38 Addressing the subjects’ reasons for revolt, Gothus identified two different causes: greed and misery. The first one was internal struggles among the elite that fought for power and influence. The second one resulted from dissatisfied people who came together as factions, either because they were afraid of rightful punishment, or unjust treatment (fear of oppression) or general anxiety resulting from their difficult circumstances (poverty).39 The dissatisfied people would then form a mob and elect leaders (‘Gadda sigh tilhopa och keesa sigh Anforare’) and once those were found, the crowd would roam about ‘with their evil intention’ assaulting the monarch’s officers and servants.40 In this case, when unrest culminated in the empire, it could not be put down without ‘great riot and bloodbath.’41
Subsequently, Laurentius Paulinus Gothus focused on revolt prevention. He found that revolts could be prevented with the help of ‘general’ and ‘specific’ means which we nowadays would categorise as preventive measures and reactions to ongoing or imminent revolts. The ‘general’ means were reserved for the monarch and were intended to prevent the subjects’ organisation and intention to revolt. Most importantly, revolt prevention was achieved through ‘godly, just and gentle government,’42 the ‘defense of the innocent,’43 righteous taxes and tolls, the convocation of the Diet and lastly through espionage among the peasants. To that end, Gothus proposed the strategy to not only establish loyal officers throughout the country, but to calculatingly send out spies who could timely report all goings-on to the crown.44
To restrict their means of unrest, the regent had to encourage the common men to get absorbed in their occupations. Moreover, it was essential to remove their weapons and ammunition in agitated times, especially in ‘those parts of the country that were inclined to dispute and tumult.’45 In order to prevent them from spreading their evil intentions, forbidding the assembly of unsettled people was crucial. Suspicious people were not to be appointed to offices, above all not in their home regions. Instead, they were to be sent off to remote regions, where they were unknown and thus unable to easily find ‘brothers of steel,’ i.e. fellow combatants and like-minded rascals. However, it was ill-advised to choose a borderland region because this could turn them into enemies of state.46 It is evident that Gothus considered the borderlands to be potentially dangerous because of their proximity to foreign powers who could exploit and support expressions of unrest in Sweden.4^ To conclude, Gothus recommended the abolishment of all kinds of misapprehension, discord, pasquils, dubious affairs, and disputes about religion as well as political and mundane things between all inhabitants of the empire.48
The ‘specific’ means became applicable when the monarch had to react immediately, because ‘punishment and education [exhortation] shall be used at the right time.’49 Once more, the reaction to revolt is portrayed as twofold: A ‘good’ one that relied on persuasion and a ‘bad’ one that relied on coercion. According to the ‘good’ approach, the monarch was recommended to tread carefully and convince the subjects to surrender their erroneous ways. Another measure was to send capable men to negotiate with the rebels. In addition to that, the causes of the uprising were to be investigated and fines implemented. The capital, as well as other vital cities within the empire, had to be manned and protected by loyal men. If possible, the strategy to convince influential rebels to side with the monarch should be applied. If no common ground was established between the two opposing parties and both had armed themselves, the case should be allocated to careful and impartial judges.50
The ‘bad’ measures came into play when a monarch had exhausted all peaceful measures and had to make use of violence. Then a demonstration of power was needed, the ringleaders had to be punished initially. ‘That they who have been the origin of the uprising/be taken by the neck/and entrusted to the hands of the Monarch/for the punishment they deserve: As well as with those/that out of Evil and consciously have been part of their following/or have further spread their evil intention.’51 In the event of an impending second uprising, punishment should be suspended when the following was too powerful. In this high-risk scenario, Gothus found it advisable to either pardon everyone involved and forget the event altogether (‘slat alt fortret uthur sitt Sinne’52), provided that the former rebels would assure the monarch of their loyalty, or to postpone punishment. In any case, the simple-minded common men had to be treated mercifully and unconditionally [mildly]. ‘With the common men/who have been involved because of simple-mindedness and lack of judgement/or that have let others persuade them/when they resolve to modesty and promise improve-ment/will the Monarch live up to his good name/if he pardons them/or others for example/after lottery drawing or other measures punishes some of them.’53
In case there was no other way than violently suppressing an uprising, Gothus advised the monarch not to get personally involved, but rather to entrust the task to the military (general, Krigzoffwerste). The monarch should not stain his hands with blood.
Balancing interests and promoting the common good?
Neumair von Ramsla’s considerations on uprisings from below
It is not clear, what our second theoretician knew about Gothus’ opus magnum. Neumair von Ramsla was also a prolific and multidimensional author. In the 1620s, he published accounts of his European travels with the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, but in the face of the Thirty Years’ War, he mostly wrote on politics of war, problems of neutrality, international relations, and international law. However, his reflections on the phenomenon of resistance and revolt are not merely marginal thoughts in some more general work about international issues or Christian ethics, as it is the case with Gothus. Neumair devoted a whole voluminous German book to the
Rule and resistance 47 delicate issue: ‘Special treatise on uprisings of the inferiors against their regents and superiors.’54
The work stands out from other early modern treatise literature on insurrections and revolts. It assumes the perspective of both the ‘inferiors’ and their ‘regents and superiors’ in detailed and systematic fashion. Unlike most contemporary treatises on revolt, Neumair does not only examine the ‘inferiors’ reasons to ‘rise up against their rulers and superiors’ (Chapter 1), but asks ‘What are the benefits and advantages that the Inferiors, the Regents and Superiors, as well as others, and in common, can have from insurrection and rebellion’ (Chapter 2). This is symmetrically mirrored in the following Chapter 3 that deals with the disadvantages of revolt that both sides have to face. The two most extensive Chapters 4 and 5 are also symmetrically arranged. The first one asks ‘what the Inferiors have to consider, and what they should actually do, if they want to rise up against their rulers and superiors, or if they have already risen up’ (Chapter 4), and the second one, that is as thoroughly argued, asks how the ‘superiors’ can react to it (Chapter 5). Chapter 6 raises the question, how revolts and uprisings can come to an end. This systematic way of discussing a phenomenon from both sides on an equal footing and with the same degree of detail, and of restraining oneself from taking sides, stems from the disputatio in utremque partem, which was customary among the humanists. In the discussion of revolts, though, a symmetrical and equal perspective from below and above is rather unusual to be applied, since the two sides were far from being considered equivalent. In general, as in Gothus’ case, such treatises are addressed exclusively to the authorities in order to advise them on how to deal with revolts and to propose preventive measures. The prince is often compared to a helmsman who steers his ship at sea through bad weather and storms. The storms are the revolts, the sea is the people: Unpredictable and irrational. The ‘common man’ is therefore located outside the ship from the outset. Similarly, the people are frequently compared to wild animals. Against this background, it may become clearer what it means when Neumair advises rulers to refrain from overcharging their subjects with burdens and taxes, when he stresses that they are human beings, not insentient animals, and that God has created Man according to his own image, to which he adds the famous verse: ‘When Adam delved and Eva span/Who was then the gentleman.’55 But we can’t say if representatives of the people have consulted the book and tried to follow Neumair’s recommendations in the event of concrete revolts.56
In any case, the subjects are understood as actors in their own right, they have ‘agency,’ and the people are not thought of as being outside as in the case of the ship metaphor or the beast comparison. They are considered an integral part of the political order. Neumair’s discussion of the benefits and advantages of uprisings is of particular interest precisely where the common good is concerned, as he puts it, the ‘new, salutary laws and betterorder in rhe regiment [...] which would not happen otherwise.’57 He quotes cases in which the actors enforced their demands with the help of insurrections and the commonwealth benefited from that. This would have been the case, for example, of the revolting citizens of Szczecin who forced the Council to adopt laws against grain speculation (1555-1565).58 Neumair rejects a reversal of existing hierarchies, since not everyone could rule and if the lower strata kept the upper hand, ‘they would behave worse than those, whom they defeated, and their regiment would even be less beneficial for the common good.’ Nevertheless, he sees unrest as an absolutely necessary corrective for a regent otherwise unaware of the harmful consequences of certain innovations he introduced. Either he would give in from insight, or, if he was ‘merciless and cruel,’ he would only learn from his subjects’ disobedience and their threat to submit themselves to another ruler. Only in this way could the tyrannical ruler be persuaded ‘to do some soul-searching, to better himself, and to treat his inferiors in a milder way,’ or in the future ‘not to give cause to oppose him anymore.’ At the same time insurrection might ‘hold back some rulers or superiors, who have lust for war and domestic disturbance, so that they will refrain from warfare against others.’59
As far as war is concerned, Neumair sees its domestic consequences, the manifold burdens it entails for the population, as one of the main causes of revolts. This should come as no surprise in view of the ongoing Thirty Years’ War. In his first chapter, he lists 45 causes of revolt: And in this aetiology, he treats point IIX (sic!) most extensively: ‘That one oppresses the inferiors with such unusual and unruly impositions, or with new excise taxes and customs duties, sucks them out, or wants to lay heavier and heavier burdens upon them.’ In his historical examples, the burdens are primarily to war. However, in most cases, something else is added to really make people revolt: Inequitable distribution of burdens and the resulting feeling of injustice - ‘VI. that the judiciary is not allowed to work properly, or is administered in a partial an unequal manner or even completely denied, IX. that one has to suffer from violence and injustice committed by the regents or officials and their servants. For revolt and indignation of the people is mostly caused by the officials’ injustice,’ or ‘XIL that the subjects cannot obtain from the rulers and superiors what is due to them from right and equity, XIII. that the subjects are kept and treated in a bad and tyrannical manner by the superiors,’ etc.60 Favouritism of strangers and foreigners are also enumerated among the possible causes of revolt - and in contrast to Gothus Neumair refers to concrete examples, the Union Wars and the resistance of the Swedish elite against the omnipresence of Danes as officeholders in 1470 being one of them.61
The inferiors’ attention to injustice is sharpened by the fact that fundamental decisions about war and peace are taken without consulting those, who have to pay the bill. This idea can also be found in Neumair’s writings on ‘Alliances, War and Neutrality,’ where he advices the princes to involvehis subjects in decisions about war. Most bluntly he articulates this claim in a passage in Latin that he attributes to some classical writings from ancient Rome - apparently a way to put forth harsh criticism of rule in an innocuous manner:
According to a well-founded opinion, deliberation and decision on the opening of a war shall not be left to the Reigning Prince alone [...]. For it is not just and not worthy of the office of a prince if he undertakes wars for his own benefit [...]. In order to prevent this, the princes should [...] obtain the consent and mandate of the people subordinated to them. [...] If there was a king who would be so righteous and so concerned with the common good that he would never be guided by anger, desire or lust for power, one could leave it to him to decide whether to wage war. However, we take a prince as he usually is today, the authority [...] of all the relevant representatives of the people, should side with him, so that he can do nothing without them; for it is not his private interest that is concerned, but the well-being of the country. Matters that affect everybody have to be approved by everybody, as canonical law states (c. quod omnes ext. de Re. J. in 6).62
Here, Neumair comes close to the concept of ‘double majesty’ that Althusius had envisaged in his Politica, referenced by Gothus’ discussion of the ephori regni. Althusius made a distinction between majestas realis, the actual sovereignty of the people or the general public, and majestas personalis, which is conferred on the prince as the highest official authority who therefore does not have the status of a real sovereign.
With Althusius, the majestas realis is still largely limited to the estates (the ephori), while later with John Limnaeus the estates represent the entire people. Neumair, however, formulates more vaguely elsewhere: A prince should ‘do anything to ensure that he would not pass by his estates’ councils (Diet) and their reservations in such a trade, since war could easily come to his home,’ as it happened to Xerxes ‘when he wanted to cover Greece with war power.’ Neumair’s reluctance here is apparently a tribute to diplomacy. After all, he wrote in the first place as an advisor to princes. In any case, he argues with regard to the Reich, that a prince must obtain the consent of his subjects even when he has been commissioned by the emperor and the Reich to wage war. His most urgent duty was to his subjects, not to the emperor, which is usually reflected in his promise when he took office, ‘that at all times he should receive complaints, seek and promote their welfare, benefit and blossoming and protect them from everything harmful, detrimental and likely to corrupt them, which will not work if he light-heartedly brings war and trouble to their homes.’6’ In the case of the German principalities, the primary focus on the subjects’ needs has the side-effect of affirming the prince’s territorial autonomy against interference by the Emperor. This is not the case of Sweden, where the king did not have to fear encroachment by a superior (‘federal’) power.
It can hardly be denied that Neumair stands for juridification and a relief for the subjects. He also attributes to revolts a positive effect on the common good. Neumair’s reasoning calls to mind Machiavelli’s reflections in his Discourses on Titus Livy, where he presents insurrections as an integral part of the body politic’s metabolism. In order to keep the body’s vital functions going and to constantly rebalance the relations between people and elites, revolts were needed.64 Machiavelli does not appeal to the sovereign’s or the political elite’s morals. He conceives politics as a permanent adjustment of relations of power. According to him, the elites will constantly try to enhance their prerogatives, if the people do not confine their power and control them. This includes the threat of violence, and in order to be credible, this threat has to be realised from time to time. Neumair adopts Machiavelli’s realism when he asserts that one should not rely on the common good-orientation of a Prince. At the same time, his voluminous treatise shall make the Prince aware of the constant threat of popular violence. On the one hand, he still appeals to a classical canon of justice and what E.P. Thompson would later call ‘moral economy.’ On the other hand, he appeals to the elites’ interest in avoiding and anticipating crowd violence by satisfying the people’s completely justified demands.
The analogy between the father-child and the monarch-subjects relation, which is so prominent in Gothus’ paternalistic concept of good governance, cannot be found in Neumair’s treatise due to his Machiavellian concept of politics. Even though he speaks about justice and injustice, these values are held by the social actors. In his analysis, the author tries to refrain from moral judgments. This can be seen from his equal reference to goals and outcomes, which correspond to the people’s moral economy, and to goals which correspond to the lust for power, such as reigning one’s subjects more absolutely or getting more taxes from them, acquiring more territory, etc. He acknowledges that there are diverging interests in a commonwealth, which have to be negotiated and balanced. It is a question of power, or rather of powers in the plural - and revolts and uprisings are part of this renegotiation. This conception is hardly compatible with the comparison to a father, who naturally cares for his children.
Even if God comes up in some examples drawn from the Bible, Neumair does not argue from a theological standpoint.65 Religious differences play an important role as stumbling blocks and cause serious conflicts. This is why they have to be reckoned with as powerful creeds that move people to action. Monarchs might be conceived by some as God-given (and this will certainly reinforce their position of power), but they can be chased from the throne and replaced by others (who will not necessarily do better), whereas fathers cannot be replaced. Therefore, the normative concept of tyranny is not central to Neumair’s approach, even though he quotes many examples of subjects revolting against tyrannical rule.
Neumair is also interested in the form revolts take. He asks hoiv revolts unfold and provides a sociology of mobilisation and of the dynamics of communication: ‘the inferiors gather secretly, or in public, in separate groups. Then it often occurs that two or more come together, and one tells his woes to another, and complains about the regent, others join the small group, their number increases, and everybody wants to know what this means, up to the point where it is a crowd that is growing bigger and bigger and people stir up each other and gain momentum.’66 He also takes into account other means of communication, such as drums, whistles, and especially bells, which were used by insurgents to propagate their grievances and to rally further support. In many cases, the authorities would not only try to disarm their subjects67 and sometimes raze fortresses and city walls, once the rebellion was quelled, but they would also proscribe the use of these objects or even confiscate them, as it was the case with the church bells that were used by insurgents as tocsins: ‘Therefore in 1525, [after] the huge peasant uprising, the bells of Steiermark were thrown from the church spires/in order to prevent them [the peasants] from convening and gathering.’68 Neumair notes that insurgents sometimes make use of print media to disseminate their concerns. Interestingly he advises the regent to react in print on his part only in such cases and to publish only what is absolutely necessary, notably when ‘something is attributed to him, of which he is innocent.’69 This advice to stick to the truth in a printed disclaimer is no moral exhortation, but builds on pragmatic considerations that this kind of lies would hardly stand up to public scrutiny.
With regard to his sociology of mobilisation, Neumair recommends that ‘one should not give them time and space for coming together and coordinating their actions or strengthening their forces,’ and he continues in Latin: ‘For there is nothing more dangerous in the event of a sedition than to hesitate and, while ignoring what is going on, to give them time for deliberation and consultation, and to allow them to reinforce their ranks...’ It has to be emphasised, though, that these considerations only refer to the last ‘point by which a prince can prevent turmoil and conspiracy,’ namely to foresight, which is preceded by virtue, the subjects’ esteem, and his wisdom.70 Similar to Gothus, Neumair recognises that governments sometimes use informants as a measure of foresight: ‘they secretly hire people, who shall pay attention to what is going on, and once they observe something, rapidly signal it [to the government].’71 These informants are in the first place supposed to find out the locals’ most pressing needs, so that the authorities have a chance to remedy these evils.72 Neumair does not assume that spies or anybody else would be able to prevent the subjects from communicating their grievances.
His advice to bar them from assembling refers to their military activity and coordination.
Even though the chapter addressed to the authorities is the longest one in the entire treatise,75 Neumair is far from adopting a top-down approach. He recommends to the authorities how to re-act and provides examples of how regents have re-acted in the past, to actual revolts and to the threat thereof. He therefore does not conceive of the ‘superiors’ as rhe proactive part and of the subjects as purely reactive. In revolts especially, he sees sites of subjects’ agency and of intensified interaction between those below and those on top. And he recognises that this interaction can become extremely violent. While Neumair tries to soberly analyse all possible outcomes, he clearly opts for peaceful settlement, negotiation, and compromise. The use of violence should only be considered an ultimate resource, since it would only entail exasperation and bedevil peaceful coexistence in the long run: ‘The best option in such cases [of confrontation] is that both parts cede a bit to each other. [...]Take the case of a regent who wants to impose his inferiors with a heavy tax, but the inferiors resist [...] and ultimately rise in rebellion. Both sides could cede a little bit, the superior by reducing and moderating the desired tax, the inferiors by not denying the superior what they owe to him [obedience?]. One can see from insensible animals that this is what they actually do and how one cedes to the other in order to prevent bigger nuisance. There were two little roebucks who met on a nose-piece across a deep water. Since the nose-piece was so narrow that they could not pass by each other, one of them, to cross the bridge without detriment, lay down and let the other step over him. Pliny.’74
None of the two authors advocates a pure top-down approach of government. Although both write in the vernacular and thereby potentially address an audience beyond academic and clerical circles, there are notable differences in their assessment of legitimate rule and the role of revolt and agency from below.
Gothus’ Ethica Christiana is not primarily a treatise on revolts, and in its catechetical form, it addresses both rulers and subjects in order to summon them to Christian morals. Most likely he is providing a guide to the clergy about what to tell their parishioners from the pulpit. His standpoint is theological and the ultimate reference of his consideration is the Bible. From this perspective, he denounces tyranny and stipulates good governance and commitment to common welfare. He tends to repudiate changes of the existing political and confessional order, which he conceives as God-given and likens it to the concept of a household under a benevolent fatherly authority. He is perfectly aware that there can be disagreements about how to serve the common welfare - and this is why, in his eyes, the monarch should not be questioned, unless he undermines his own authority by evil intentions and by abandoning the common good. The corrective advocated by Gothus is the institution of the ephori regni. He remains slightly vague about who the ephori actually are, but generally ascribes the role to the Council of the Realm and the Estates. Their main task is to consult the monarch and to dissuade him from a lapse into tyrannical government. Resistance against the monarch is only legitimate when he persistently pursues evil intentions and tenaciously proves insensible to their good advice. However, resistance against a monarch can only be enforced by all estates together or by their chosen representative (riksforestandare'), as we have seen in the case of Charles IX.75 Gothus’ Ethica is, therefore, certainly meant as a justification of the reigning line of the Vasa monarchs. It is an open question, though, to what extent it can be legitimate to question the reigning monarch’s authority if not on the basis of his or her Catholic or non-Lutheran heresy. At any rate, from his theocratic point of view, popular political agency would be illegitimate and abusive - and this is why he clearly advises the government to disarm the subjects and prevent them from assembling.
In Neumair’s treatise, we can find these recommendations, too, but his secular standpoint is completely different from Gothus’. Neumair’s considerations are not bereft of biblical references, but he would not rely on God and the rulers’ or the subjects’ moral or Christian intentions as a guideline for politics, since he conceives of politics as a constant confrontation, negotiation, and bargaining of interests, be they material, spiritual, or in terms of power. In line with Machiavelli’s realism, he implies that the more power is expanded, the more it tends to engender lust for power and ultimately results in abuse of power. Therefore, it would be naive, to rely on God to hold rulers back from tyranny or subjects from rebellion. In many cases of conflict and impending confrontation, Neumair and Gothus advise rulers similarly in terms of what concrete action to take. And even in the long run they advocate similar preventive measures such as providing equitable justice and winning the subjects’ esteem.
First, Neumair’s recommendations appeal to self-interests instead of morals. The monarch is not summoned to win his subjects’ love or to avoid violent repression for the sake of Christian ethics or for the sake of love, but for the sake of his self-interest in maintaining power and consolidating his reign. Second, Neumair structures his entire treatise symmetrically and equally advises the ‘inferiors,’ the real or potential agents of revolt and resistance - and he analogously appeals to their self-interests. He is far from repudiating revolt outright. He dryly considers it an important option for the ‘inferiors’ to further their interests, to combat what they perceive as offenses, injustice, etc. He even recognises that it is the subjects’ most effective means of political agency. Without the option of revolt, he implies, it would hardly be possible to balance the diverging interests of those below and those on top. If, in the end, he rather recommends yielding, compromise, and ensuing peaceful conflict resolution, he again does not do anything else, but appeal to the subjects’ interests, since violent confrontation would most likely cause enormous damage. But negotiation is not possible under premises of complete asymmetry of power; therefore, the subjects must have an interest so that the potential of rebellion would not be regarded as an empty threat.
If we now look at the decades following the publication of these treatises and at the actual course of Swedish domestic policies in the mid-17th century crisis, we might ask, to what extent the authors’ recommendations were taken to heart. To be sure, we do not have proof of the actual reception of these works, neither by prominent statesmen, nor (and even less) by the ordinary people. Especially for the commoners, we must assume that they have never read Gothus’ Ethica, although they might have heard of him from the pulpit, and they would not have even heard of Neumair. But still, the two authors’ reflections on good and bad governance and on legitimate or illegitimate resistance are not in the first place ingenious and original reasoning without precedent, they rather systematise contemporary arguments. This makes it easier to assess what was actually happening in the mid-17th century. Especially against the background of omnipresent revolt on the European continent and the British isles and in the light of the enormous pressure exerted by an alliance of the lower Estates (burghers, peasants, and most of the clergy) against excessive taxation, disarming of the peasant soldiers returning from the sites of the Thirty Years’ War, and especially against the donations of crown lands to the nobility, the elites harboured considerable fear of impending civil war. And the threat of violent outbreak was real. But the huge social and political tensions that divided the country did not ultimately result in an explosion. Instead, the opposing parties were negotiating their interests with the option of recourse to violence in their pocket. Diplomats closely observed what was going on abroad and Schering Rosenhane, the Swedish ambassador to the French court, repudiated Mazarin for having provoked civil war in France. In line with both Gothus and Neumair, he even conceded that the Cardinal, as the Queen’s favourite and a foreigner in France, was incapable of mediating the cleavages of the realm and rapidly embodied the common evil rather than the common good. However, in his Observationes politicae on the Fronde, Rosenhane mostly embraced the pragmatic arguments we can find in Neumair, especially his preference for constant communication and negotiation to balance diverging interests and to prevent the outbreak of violence. Rosenhane was rapidly called back from Paris and co-opted into the Queen’s Council. He published his insights in Sweden and could contribute to a policy of non-violent settlement of conflicts.76 When violence escalated in most countries on the continent, in Sweden, under the constant threat of civil war, the crown would side with the lower Estates, and in the long run, the nobility would acquiesce in its partial re-expropriation in 1655 and 1680. Did the nobles do so out of charity or Christian ethics, as advocated by Gothus? It is more likely that they rather did so grudgingly, out of self-interest,
Rule and resistance 55 in order to avert more severe damage, like the ‘insensible’ roebucks in Neumair’s fable.
- 1 The authors would like to thank prof, einer. Nils Erik Villstrand for commenting on this text.
- 2 Cf. Roberts 1953, 1958 and Hallenberg & Holm 2016.
- 3 E.g. Wittrock 1953, pp. 160-161. For the crisis of peace in Sweden after the Treaty of Westphalia, cf. Karonen 2012, pp. 189-209.
- 4 Cf. Roberts 1962; Parker 2013; Benigno 2010.
- 5 Parival 1654, Au lecteur. Henry Kamen has taken up Parival’s label for his famous monograph.
- 6 Rönnqvist 2014, 2017.
- 7 Dalner 1601, pp. 14-16.
- 8 For different aspects of Gothus’ works cf. e.g. Landgren (2008); Oja (1999); Olli (2004); Sellberg (2010); Runeby (1962); Runefelt (2001); Äslund (2005).
- 9 According to the Swedish National Library, three copies of Neumair von Ramsla’s treatise exist presently in Sweden: In the Skokloster Castle Library, in the National Library in Stockholm, and Växjö City Library. It would be interesting to gather more information on these three copies and, if possible, their original owners.
- 10 Runeby 1962, p. 29. On the reign of Gustav Vasa, cf. Larsson, L.-O. 2002 and his revolt against Christian II, Larsson 2005, p. 274; on the Engelbrekt uprising, cf. Ahnlund 1934; on the struggle between Karl IX and Sigismund, cf. Villstrand 2009.
- 11 Laurentius Paulinus Gothus, https://sok.riksarkivet.se/sbl/artikel/11079, Svenskt biografiskt lexikon (article by Olle Hellström), accessed 2020-02-07.
- 12 The chapter on tyranny is not present in the first edition of Althusius’ Política from 1603. The opposite of tyranny was according to Althusius: ‘Gerecht, rechtmäßig und heilsam wird die Herrschaft genannt, die das Wohl und den Nutzen der Einzelnen wie aller Glieder erstrebt, hierfür Sorge trägt, und umgekehrt alle Nachteile und Übel von ihnen abwendet, sie gegen Ungerechtigkeiten und fremde Gewalt verteidigt und ihr ganzes Handeln im Einklang mit den Gesetzen hält.’ Althusius, pp. 172-173.
- 13 Villstrand 2005, p. 70.
- 14 Cf. Lindroth 1975, p. 356. Althusius, p. 168ff.
- 15 Cf. Althusius, chapter XVIII, on the ephori regni, cf. Lindroth, p. 356; Hueglin, Runeby p. 19; On the Ethica Christiana, Lindroth, S. 98ff.
- 16 Cf. Althusius 2003, p. 164ff.; Runeby 1962, p. 16ff; Cf. Hueglin 1999, p. 188. For the adaption of ephori regni in Denmark, cf. Kanstrup 1972.
- 17 Runeby, p. 45ff; Nauman, p. 91; Hermansson, p. 258.
- 18 Nilsson 1996, p. 171; Larsson 2005, p.398ff; Hedberg 1995, p. 45f.
- 19 Larsson 2005, p. 353ff.
- 20 The field of research on the early modern Swedish household and its conceptions is comprehensive. Cf. e.g. Karonen 2009, p. 26; Harnesk 2003, p 10, Runefelt 2001, p. 125.
- 21 Gothus 1:1., p. 285/287.
- 22 Gothus, p. 268f.
- 23 The notion of the body politic evoked here, also corresponds with Althusius’ conception of the state and the pursuit of the welfare of its different limbs. Althusius, p. 168.
Gothus 1629, p. 286f. The meaning of ‘sentörftig’ is arguable, but the meaning ‘non-pitiable’ is more likely than ‘retarded’ (19th century). We would like to thank prof, einer. Mats Thelander and associate professor Lennart Larsson for their help with this particular translation.
‘Woldsambligh och Tvrannisk Regering,’ p. 21. 11:2.
II: 2, p. 27.
Gothus does not mention the ephori explicitly here, but the description corresponds with their duties. According to Althusius, power was confided to the regent by the people, not by God.
Cf. IL 2, p. 28. In fact, according to Gothus, he is not merely a tyrant, but also an enemy of state and a violent criminal (‘Tyran/Landzens fiende och Woldzwerckare,’ p. 28).
This corresponds to Althusius’ politica, chapter XXXVIII. ‘Als Tyrann darf aber nicht sogleich der bezeichnet werden, der nur in einem Teil seines Amtes und seiner Herrschaft fehlbar gehandelt hat. Man muss bedenken, dass auch er nur ein Mensch ist.’ Althusius, politica, p. 389.
IL2, p. 29.
II: 2, p. 47.
Then Lagh och Contracts form/som Gudh haffwer stichtadt/Skal aff Menn-iskiom fast och oryggeligh hallas och effterkommas. [...] Nw haffwer Gudh instichtadt sädana Lagh och Contracts form med Monarcher/At ther the halla hans förbund och Witnesbyrd/Sä skal theras Regemente blifwa städandes (?): Men hwar the them öffwerträdha/Sä skal thet blifwa förstördt och omintet. II: 2, p. 49.
Cf. IL2, p. 51.
Cf. IL2, p. 53.
II: 2, p. 93.
Gothus, II: 2, p. 93.
IL2, p. 94.
IL2, p. 94f. Monarch seduced by foreigners? Ethica Christiana IL2, Kap. VI, p.93. It is not clear who the ‘evil foreigners’ Gothus referred to were. Tying in with the aforementioned function of political theory as a legitimiser of the past and the established rule, one might think of the origin of the Engelbrekt rebellion which was partly explained by Eric of Pomerania’s appointment of foreigners.
II: 2, p. 93.
IL2, p. 97.
IL2, p. 98.
IL2, p. 99. ‘itt Gudheligit/retwyst och Sachtmodigt Regemente.’
IL2, p. 100. ‘förswara the Menlösa.’
IL2, p. 101.
IL2, p. 102. Probably Gothus has in mind Southern Sweden and the region of the Dacke war. Cf. Larsson; Neighborhood trouble.
Cf. IL2, p. 103.
Cf. e.g. Larsson 1982, p. 13f.
Cf. IL2, p. 103.
IL2, p. 104.
For these reasons, cf. IL2, pp. 104-107.
Gothus, IL2, p. 108.
IL2, p. 109.
Gothus, 11:2, p. 110. It is curious that Gothus advocates lottery drawing to select those to be punished. This practice can be found in martial law, cf. Stollberg-Rilinger 2014.: It was applied in 1625 by the Bavarian governor in an event of a smaller revolt in Upper Austria against Counter-Reformation, apparently because the ring-leaders could not be seized. This recourse to martial practice (later called Frankenburg game of dice) was resented by the population as a manifestation of foreign rule. The event is generally considered as the trigger of the huge Upper Austrian Peasant war of 1626.
For the following considerations see Griesse 2013, pp. 186-190.
Neumair 1633, p. 436. The earliest written trace of this levelling proverb has been found in the context of the English peasant revolt of 1381. Cf. Rölleke 1999, p. 127.
And of course, Neumair could not present his chapter IV as a recommendation and guide to revolt for 'the inferiors’ and the chapter therefore starts with a disclaimer that he does not want to his considerations to be misunderstood as an approval of uprisings. On the contrary it was meant to be a warning against rebellion, p. 147-148. This disclaimer does not prevent him from advising rebels, for instance, to take up arms against their government in a moment when it is involved in external warfare and therefore weakened, p. 226.
Cf. Schulze 1983.
Neumair, p. 76.
Neumair, pp. 76-77, 81-83. Such links to interstate relations are no coincidence, since in other writings Neumair has extensively dealt with war and the possibilities of its containment. See for instance ‘Alliances and Leagues in Wartime’ (1624), 'Memories and Rules of War’ (1630). And after his treatise on Uprisings he still wrote 'Military Rules and Memories’ (1637), 'On War. Strange Treatise or Action’ (1641). Solche Brückenschläge zu den zwischenstaatlichen Beziehungen sind bei Neumair kein Zufall, hat er sich doch in anderen Schriften ausführlich mit dem Krieg und den Möglichkeiten seiner Eindämmung beschäftigt: 'Verbündnisse und Ligen in Kriegszeit’ (1624), 'Erinnerungen und Regeln vom Kriegswesen’ (1630), ‘Militärische Regeln und Erinnerungen’ (1637), 'Vom Krieg. Sonderbarer Tractat oder Handlung’ (1641). Vgl. ADB 23 (1886). pp. 542-543, https://de.wikisource.org/wiki/ ADB:Neumayr_von_Ramsla,_johann_Wilhelm.
Neumair, pp. 16, 31, 39-40.
In chapter V., where advises rulers how to prevent revolt he elaborates on the question, p. 452-453.
Quoted from Ernst Reibstein, Neumayr von Ramsla als Völkerrechtsautor (Stuttgart: Max Planck Institut für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht 1951), p. 139.
Reibstein, p. 141.
Cf. Sergius Koderer’s elaboration Machiavelli’s metaphor of constipation that obstructs the functioning of the political body’s functioning. Sergius Kodera, Virtudi ed omori: Machiavellis Tugendbegriff als physiologische Konzeption.Tn Im Korsett der Tugenden: Moral und Geschlecht im kulturhistorischen Kontext, herausgegeben von Andrea Bettels und Mariacarla Gadebusch Bondio,’ 189-208. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag 2013.
At some point, he concedes that only God can end an uprising, but God could easily be replaced by chance, p. 142.
Neumair, p. 428.
This chapter V has more than 300 pages. Neumair, p. 426-739.
- 74 Neumair, p. 458-459.
- 75 Gothus 11:2, p. 81 ff. Here, Gothus mentions neither ephori nor the Council of the Realm.
- 76 Griesse 2021.
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