A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century

By J. W. Allen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
LE GRANT MONARCHIE DE FRANCE

ONE who wishes to understand the development of political thought in France in the sixteenth century can do no better than begin by studying Le Grant Monarchie de France of Claude de Seyssel. De Seyssel's view was that of an ex-minister of Louis XII, at one time Chancellor of France, at another ambassador to England, a bishop and a scholar, a man of long and varied experience in the affairs of Church and State. It was the view, too, of a man of acute intelligence and observation and of much common sense. Le Grant Monarchie was written during his retirement after thē death of Louis XII, apparently in response to a request for counsel from the new King. It was published in 1518. It has been said that we can gather from this book how France thought of herself and her political constitution at the commencement of the sixteenth century.1 This observation is so far true that much of the controversy that followed can be read as a commentary on or an expansion, on one side or another, of the views of Seyssel.

Yet the contrast between Seyssel and Barclay is very pronounced. In view of what followed, the most striking thing about Seyssel's book is the absence from it of any reference to divine right. His grant monarchie rests not on divine right in any sense or degree, but on custom and expediency. He is one of the few writers of the sixteenth century, outside Italy, who show clear signs of having been influenced by Machiavelli.2 From the Florentine writer he had learned something, from his own experience, much more. To Seyssel government was simply a practical problem of how to maintain peace and order and justice. He recognized customary rights without inquiring into their nature: with other kinds of 'right' he did not concern himself. A great deal, he remarked, in his preface, has been written to little purpose about the best form of government. Men arrange things in their own minds as they wish them to be and picture a society of sensible and virtuous beings, ruled as such beings might

____________________
1
A. Jacquet in Revue des Questions Historiques.
2
Many of the sixteenth-century writers who refer to or attack Machiavelli do not even show any real acquaintance with his works.

-275-

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