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The main aim of the article is to try to understand Erasmus's Institutio Principis Christiani both as a contribution the particular debates of the Netherlands of the 1510s and to the more general Erasmian program of the time. The more general program provides Erasmus with the discursive tools to participate in the debate and to reflect at the same time on how politics and sovereignty are to be seen as part of his Philosophia Christiana. The paper will also argue that the rhetorical activity of the intellectual builds a bridge from Erasmus's political philosophy to actual political participation. It is the intellectual who should try to direct and control the use of monarchical power with the right use of words and reason.

Institutio Principis Christiani, between political practice and political philosophy.


Erasmus's ideas on politics have not always received large-scale scholarly attention. A recent article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy summed up a still somewhat prevalent attitude towards the Dutch humanist according to which "with one significant exception, Erasmus's ideas on politics were conventional for his times and unremarkable". [1] The exception referred to here is his pacifism, an element of his thought that has been the subject of a number of works not all focused exclusively on questions related to politics. A common critique running through a centuries-old historiography on the Dutch humanist has been his lack of understanding regarding the institutional basis of social life and his narrow focus on the disposition or the ethics of politics, an accusation formulated in the Stanford Encyclopedia essay with some clarity. [2]


It is, thus, quite unsurprising that Erasmus rarely appears in the histories of sovereignty often focusing on the emergence of the modern notion of the concept that became to be defined in clear legal and institutional terms where the concepts of the abstract state, legislation and sovereignty in a territorial space were inseparably tied together in their respective definitions, one phrasing of which could be "a supreme indivisible authority within a territory". The traditional line of argument on the history of sovereignty would probably take as its starting point the medieval legal discussions on imperium between the Italian cities and the Holy Roman Emperor, debates on sovereignty between the pope and the emperor or other European monarchies, and theories of popular sovereignty as exposed by Marsilio of Padua and Bartolus Saxoferrato. Very often these debates were conducted in a legal discourse drawing heavily from the conceptual framework of Roman law. The decisive moment in the development of distinctively modern notions of sovereignty emphasizing coercive lawmaking is situated in the late 16th and 17th centuries, when the question of sovereignty is treated in a more or less systematic manner by Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes in the wake of absolutism and modern nation states. [3] My intention in this article is not to rewrite this story but only to make a few remarks on what sovereignty could have meant for the most famous representative of a generation of Northern humanists before Bodin and Hobbes, a tradition whose voice was clearly discernible in many of the late 16th century critiques of Bodin. In these assessments, the French jurist was heavily criticized not only for the fact that he handed absolute sovereignty to the monarch but also for his narrowly legal understanding of the concept, even though Bodin himself never discarded moral insights emphasizing the fact the sovereign power was bound by natural and divine law. [4]


In doing this, it would probably be rather unfruitful to project a certain modern definition of sovereignty into the writing of Erasmus and try to find out where sovereignty, understood in modern terms, could possibly lie according to the Dutch humanist. I am rather more interested in trying to understand what meanings the concept of sovereignty could imply in the writing of Erasmus in Institutio Principis Christiani both in relation to the specific context of the Netherlands of the time and to the more general intellectual program of Erasmus at the time he wrote the text. The program I am referring to here should not, however, be taken as a full-fledged theory of politics but as a more loosely defined set of ideas. I believe that this could give a somewhat more philosophical dimension to the purely contextual readings of Institutio focusing on the ongoing debates in the Netherlands connected to the complex relationship between the estates vis-à-vis the monarchs and to the different party interests that played a role in all this. It is ultimately in the framework of this more general set of ideas that Erasmus's Institutio becomes understandable as a contribution to the Erasmian understanding on the nature of sovereignty and politics.


In addition to the contextual element and the general place of Institutio in the Erasmian program of the moment, I would like to make a third point about Erasmus's understanding of the dynamics of actual political discussion. Here I try to show that Erasmus's rhetorical understanding of theories and the role of the intellectual portrays a practice of politics where the ruler is subordinate to the humanist in questions of moral authority. This implies the active role of intellectuals [5] in directing and assessing politics. Hence, the intellectual can and has to participate in the limitation of actual sovereignty as understood in legal terms. The third point is, thus, not about theories of sovereignty as such but about how sovereignty could and should be limited through political practice in a monarchical context. This, I think, relates to Brendan Bradshaw's idea of rhetoric as a bridge between the contingent world of politics and the utopian world of idealized Platonic political philosophy. [6]


My final aim is to show that Erasmus, who has traditionally been portrayed as a monarchist, has a very carefully constructed understanding of the limits of sovereignty and that his Institutio can largely be seen as an attempt to draw the limits of monarchy taken as a political reality one could not escape in the context of the Netherlands. Since I am unable to do here a complete mapping of the internal changes in Erasmus's thinking in the 1530s and 1530 in the rise of Mercurio Gattinara's campaign of universal monarchy for Charles and the Lutheran threat, I will be focusing heavily on Institutio and, consequently, on Erasmus's understanding of politics in the more optimistic years around 1515. There is no doubt that both processes had an effect on Erasmus's understanding of politics and sovereignty and would probably paint a different picture of the connection between political practice and political thought in Erasmus as it developed in the torrid years of the early 16th century. [7]

Institutio Principis Christiani as a defence of the privileges of the Netherlands.


Institutio Principis Christiani, the work I am mostly focusing on here, is a piece in which two traditional literary genres come together, namely the mirror-for-princes and the epideictic genre of classical rhetoric, also known as the genre of praise and blame. Both genres had a strong moral function; their existence was closely tied to their fundamental ethical aspiration to remind the ruler not only of his legal status and possibilities, but of the moral limits and norms of virtuous government together with the duties of the prince towards the body politic. [8] Thus, already in the choice of the literary genre we are entering a tradition of moral discourse where the central rhetorical duty of the text is to teach (docere) the prince, or whoever happens to govern, the correct moral behavior. Hence, the discussion on and around sovereignty, or rather around dominium, imperium, regnum, maiestas and potentia, the words employed in the text, happens in a text that does not primarily aspire to neat legal distinctions but to making a moral claim. This, however, is not to say that there is no understanding of the legal context in Erasmus's work since the moral duties of the ruler cannot be completely separated from the legal and institutional setting the prince finds himself in. Thus, moral and legal viewpoints on sovereignty are closely connected, sometimes even inseparable.


I would agree with Tracy that Erasmus conceptualizes sovereignty in a distinct institutional and legal setting in his Institutio, that is the Netherlands of the early years of the 16th century. That this is the context in which Institutio is composed is already strongly suggested by the fact that Erasmus at the time was closely connected to Jean Sauvage, a man who personally commissioned Erasmus's famous Querela Pacis in 1517 and might have had something to do with the publication of Institutio as well. Sauvage was a close friend of the Lord of Chièvres [9] and a member of the so called National Party in the Netherlands interested in the defense of the rights of the provinces and towns against the imperial aspiration of the Habsburgs. In addition to this, he together with his followers was pursuing a policy of peace and negotiation with France and its threatening ally, the Duchy of Guelders. The practice of politics and the relationship between the Habsburg princes, provincial estates and the Estates General were complicated indeed and had to be based on constant negotiations between the ruler on one hand and the estates, the towns and the provinces on the other to a far greater degree than in France, where the monarchs had the reputation of enjoying dominium regale, the power to gather taxes at their own will without negotiating with the estates. As a matter of fact, in the early 16th century the Netherlands' Estates enjoyed a power compared to the Estates of Aragón and Piedmont under a monarchy that was constantly forced to negotiate its tax revenues and that had, at least since the times of the emperor Maximilian, suffered from suspicion and unpopularity. [10] In short, in the Netherlands of the time there was a strong living tradition of limited monarchy based on the idea of consent (consensus), a consent that highlighted the power and importance of the provinces and the general estates. [11]


One finds both indirect and direct allusions in Insitutio to the fact that monarchical power is based on a mutual agreement with the people, on their consent that was symbolically represented in the tradition of the so-called joyous entries to various cities were the reciprocal nature of politics is manifested and the ruler reminded of his duties towards customs and lawfulness. [12] The argument underlying the mutual relationship between the prince and his subjects and highlighting the role of a prince as the guarantor of laws and privileges was well known in the Netherlands and used to counter claims of sovereign power that had their own tradition going back at least to the work of Philip of Leiden in the 14th century. In truth, the arguments drawn from these traditions were complex and employed by numerous writers in an eclectic manner depending on the rhetorical context a writer found himself in but they provided the background for any discussion on questions concerning the power of princes at the moment. [13]


The fact that some kind of agreement existed between the prince and the people is brought up over and over again in Institutio. In one of the many sections of the text focusing on the comparison between a tyrant and a Christian prince Erasmus declares that "There is a mutual interchange between the prince and the people. The people owe you their tribute, they owe you obedience and respect, but you in turn owe the people a good and vigilant prince." proceeding immediately to point out that if a monarch tries to extract a tax, the people will readily pay only if a ruler fulfills his duty towards them. [14] One of the pressing issues of the day, namely that of taxation, is brought up in such an explicit manner that it could hardly go unnoticed by an early 16th century reader. In addition to this, the fact that allegiance is sworn by both sides on a certain understanding of the duties of the monarch towards the people is also explicitly pronounced. [15] Finally, the Dutch humanist underlies the fact that the sovereign is the ruler of free men and not of slaves devoid of rights. Free man, albeit a term with more than one semantic layer, refers, in addition to other types of freedoms, also definitely to a freedom or freedoms (that is privileges) guaranteed by law. In fact, it is only with and through law that people become free from the arbitrary power of others, including princes, according to one of the key principles of Institutio. As Erasmus himself puts it here, man is free twice over: once by nature, and again by his laws. [16]


The most direct reference that could by no means go unnoticed by an early 16th century reader familiar with the situation was, however, Erasmus's discussion on ideal and practical arrangements of government. He argues that monarchy is the most perfect form of government by analogy to the divine order but that "if no more than ordinary man is presented (things being what they are nowadays), then monarchy should preferably be checked and diluted with a mixture of aristocracy and democracy to prevent it ever breaking out into tyranny: and just as the elements mutually balance each other, so let the state be stabilized by similar control". [17] This is not the only occasion that Erasmus took upon himself the task of defending the system of the Netherlands. Already in his Panegyricus, written in 1504 and printed together with Institutio in the Froben edition of 1516 that was clearly meant to be a general political treatise, [18] Erasmus underlined the contract between towns and the monarch in the Netherlands by referring to the tale of Antiochus. "He sent out a letter to every city under his rule with instructions that if any command of his was contrary to the official laws, it was not to be obeyed. In the same way, you do not demand obedience of your people unless you have obeyed the laws yourself, and far from thinking it lèse-majesté, if anyone contests your word, you are delighted to be reminded of your sacred duty and of the oath by which you bound yourself when you entered on your principate."  [19]

Towards a more general understanding of Institutio Principis Christiani as an Erasmian text.


The agreement with men is not, however, the only contract binding the sovereignty of the prince according to Erasmus. [20] As a matter of fact, it is the moral argument that makes a direct link to the more general Erasmian program at this time. [21] It is in this context that one could talk about a theory of Erasmian politics, in which questions of sovereignty become understandable only in relation to the ends of politics in human life. In this moment Erasmus is in the middle of both his theological and educational projects that point towards the restoration of man to his true essence, a path epitomized by Jesus Christ. In this process Erasmus's theology tries to overcome what he often calls the frigid tradition of scholastic theology focused on system building through the method of dialectical reasoning. He tries to achieve this by constructing an alternative view of dialectic as a way of making the truth of the Bible alive in the individual. Education is inseparably connected to this project since the truth of the Bible is not available to an unlearned mind but only to those with sufficient learning, exegetical tools, and hermeneutics, to penetrate to the ultimate layers of the Biblical truth. [22]


The idea of restoring man to his God-like nature is also in the heart of any political discussion since Erasmus sees the faith of his educational and theological program as being closely connected to what happens in the political sphere which, in turn, is judged by its capacity to contribute to the overall program. [23] In this view politics is subordinate to more fundamental questions of the ultimate ends of human life and its conceptual framework has to be seen in relation to questions of anthropology, theology and morals. In practice this means that the Erasmian moral and theological program is possible only under wise government with good and just laws and the whole point of Erasmus's Institutio and his Panegyric is to explain what wise government could possibly mean. As was already said, wisdom, even political wisdom, has to be understood in relation to the ends of political community, namely through its contribution to the perfecting and education of its citizens. [24]


Erasmus is rather explicit about the fact that a purely legal understanding of the duties of the prince is not enough for a truly Christian ruler dedicated to the moral program as understood by the Dutch humanist. A number of metaphors running through the work are meant to describe and instil in the mind of the reader the paternal duties of the prince vis-à-vis the people. In different parts of the work, the ruler is compared to a father, farmer, good husband and a shepherd: whenever this is done, the fundamental responsibilities of the ruler are evoked and highlighted. Even when Erasmus likens the ruler to God, it is not the power that is brought to the forefront but the responsibility, kindness and love of the ruler. [25]


However, in no place does Erasmus bring together the sovereignty of the ruler with his moral duties as explicitly as when he discusses the differences between a pagan and a Christian prince. He starts by stating that "always bear in mind that the words dominion, imperial authority, kingdom, majesty, and power are pagan terms, not Christian; the imperial authority of Christians is nothing other than administration, benefaction and guardianship"  [26] and strongly argues against the conceptualization of the relationship between the ruler and the ruled as one between a master and a slave presenting, once again, a number of metaphors emphasizing their mutual interdependence. A little later he goes on to refute the possible counterarguments according to which such an understanding of imperium relegates the sovereign to the role of a mere servant, and "takes away the prince's own rights and attributes more to the pagan prince than to the Christian prince". Erasmus dismisses both arguments by trying to show that true magnificence and honor, the things a prince traditionally seeks and that motivate his actions, are compatible only with wise Christian rule since it is the perfecting and happiness of the ruled that constitutes the true greatness of a ruler. He states that the greater and more flourishing of that which is subjected to your rule is, the more magnificent and glorious your reign is judged to be and that "the honor shown to the tyrant is not honor at all, but flattery or pretence; it is not obedience, but servitude; nor is the magnificence he displays genuine, but rather arrogance; he possesses not authority but force."  [27] In short, Erasmus's main point is to try to convince the potential reader that a purely legal understanding of the power of the prince is not sufficient and what is demanded of him is a commitment to the duties and responsibilities of a Christian ruler. The realization of these requirements constitutes true greatness and real power. [28]


There is, of course, another dimension to Erasmus's thinking that goes beyond the moral assessment of the individual acts of power of the ruler. This is the claim that the only thing that in the end guarantees good government is that the ruler himself becomes Christian, that an actual and complete spiritual transformation happens in the ruler. The idea is very much present in Institutio, which is hardly surprising since true Christianity according to Erasmus might come about through the practice of good teaching. The idea is simply that good politics in the end is possible only when the internal constitution of the leader is good and that this can be furthered through the correct education. It seems to me, however, that just as in his discussion on monarchy Erasmus comes to the conclusion that, in the absence of a perfect monarch, a mixed government is preferable and his whole program cannot be dependent solely on a complete inner conversion of the monarch. If this was the case, the only real political act would be the pious and Christian oratory pointing towards a conversion and no real politics in the strong sense would be required afterward since the Christian conversion of the ruler would naturally lead to Christian politics. In truly Christian politics the role of the intellectual as guiding and assessing the rule would become next to obsolete. That this is not necessarily the case requires one to go beyond the confines of Institutio. By reading Erasmus's actual communication with the monarchs of Europe, especially Henry VIII in the 1510s, it is clear that Erasmus was acutely aware of the limitations of the monarchs. [29] Thus, real politics exist in the less than perfect world where the humanist is forced to survive and participate. [30] How should participation then be conducted?

From Ideas to Practice


In my understanding the theoretical point made first and the more theoretical connections between the general Erasmian program together with the treatment of political concepts such as sovereignty come together in Erasmus's way of conceptualizing politics in general. On one hand one could argue that in Erasmus the defense of the legal status quo and the legal limitations of sovereignty ultimately derive from the moral argument since, as was already stated, it is only with good laws that wise government is possible. Thus, in the narrower context of the Netherlands of the 1510s, Erasmus seems to equate good laws and lawfulness with the tradition and legal status quo of the Netherlands against the Habsburgian claims presented as almost tyrannical by their nature. But on the other hand, I would argue that because of Erasmus's rhetorical understanding of politics, his understanding that a theory always aspires not only to the teaching (docere) of norms but to the moving (movere) of the audience to its side, the assessment of theories has to take into consideration their rhetorical capacities. In other words, ideas on politics or theology derive their meaning not only from the purely theoretical aspects but also from the rhetorical ability to actually speak to people, to make a difference.


The rhetorical ideal of decorum, or appropriateness, I think captures this idea pretty well. Erasmus's most comprehensive discussions on the nature of decorum took place only in the late 1520s and 1530s on theCiceronianus and Ecclesiastes where the basic idea of decorum is explicitly pronounced. [31] But already before the explicit formulation of the principle, Erasmus's whole writing seems to have been strongly influenced by decorum. [32] Acording to this principle the construction of a political argument and the selection of an appropriate style happen by taking into account a large number of contextual phenomena such as place, time, subject, persons involved et cetera The idea of decorum is on the one hand that the style has to be fitted to the requirements of the topic but on the other hand that argumentation itself cannot be based only on the analysis of the logical and moral properties of the object of discussion. It has been emphasized that stylistic decorum is intrinsically tied to prudential judgment and practical reason in humanist thinking, notions that emphasize the fundamentally ethical dimension of the concept. This implies that the treatment of the object should be situated in a carefully analysed context where logically uninteresting phenomena, such as the social position of the interlocutors, what passions to activate and so on, become one of the defining elements of the argument structure. [33] It should be remembered that decorum is never a fully technical term in the sense that it would only shed light on the possibilities of rhetoric as a means to persuade the listener in whatever the matter might be, but that it comprises of a strongly moral component as well. In other words, all the rhetorical ends, teaching, moving and delighting come together in the thinking through of an argument.


This practical or rhetorical side of Erasmus's political thinking is highlighted by the interest of the Dutch thinker and a number of humanists closely connected to him on the possibilities of political action. In many ways, Erasmus and a number of other humanists in the 1510s are constantly looking for active politics, a way of realizing the centuries old Ciceronian dream of vita activa albeit in a strikingly different context from the Roman statesman in which the possibility for a symmetrical republican discussion was somewhat limited because of the monarchical regimes of Europe. [34] But Erasmus still understood that the rhetorical, persuasive tradition could provide the intellectual, well versed in humanist disciplines a link to have a say or make a difference in the new asymmetrical culture of discussion. One example could be the fact that Institutio like so many other contemporary humanist texts puts a lot of emphasis on the role of the counselor and the tutor as decisive for successful politics. It is the counselor who is in the end responsible for the guiding of the monarch and it is the counselor that has to fulfill his moral task of constantly reminding the ruler of his duties and of the limits of his sovereignty. His is the moral duty to teach (docere) and to move (movere) the sovereign to morally right action, he is the person responsible for the evocation of the old dichotomies between a ruler and a tyrant, between real and deceiving honor and other conceptual tools designed to morally assess the action of the ruler. As a matter in fact, if one looks at the generation of Northern humanists in the early 16th century context, one actually sees that they are obsessed not only about writing books but also about guaranteeing themselves the political ethos that could make change in the political realm possible. Very often they become tutors, counselors, political writers and pamphleteers.


It is possible, however, that Erasmus together with some other Northern humanists, understood the role of teaching to extend far beyond the traditional confines of political counseling. There are clear indications in Erasmus that it is not only the traditional counselor close to the monarch that can contribute to the teaching of norms but that in the Europe of the early 16th century the printing press had made possible a wider and more impersonal participation through the practice of writing. They can contribute by taking a stance in a question related to a particular political discussion but they can also participate by contributing to the general moral education of European monarchs. Thus, teaching as understood in classical rhetoric is almost omnipresent in every aspect of culture. [35]


Hence, in addition to a theoretical system of the ends of politics and its relation to the moral duties of the emperor, Erasmus had in his mind a very distinct idea of how the practice of governing could be limited through the active use of moral authority, a moral authority that is inseparable from the ethos or imagined social position of the person that has the authority to have an opinion on these matters. Thus, the theoretical authority of Erasmian political thinking is linked to a claim of the moral and political authority of the intellectual. Seeing political theories and utopias as political practice implies that they can be understood as an active and continuous way of framing, criticizing and making sense of actual policies. It is the intellectual that is ultimately responsible for the guarding and teaching of right moral and political conduct, it is the intellectual that, in the end, holds supreme moral authority and should be listened to by the ruler. The ruler, in questions of intellectual authority, is definitely not sovereign in Erasmus's understanding. I think that a metaphor used by Erasmus's close friend Vives in his De anima et vita captures quite well the kind of idea Erasmus has in his mind about the practice of monarchy. Vives likens monarchy to the composition of the mind where the monarch is the will and the counselor or the intellectual the reason, the ultimate seat of truly moral action. [36] What controls and guarantees the moral integrity of the intellectual as understood by Erasmus is another question altogether and would require its proper treatment.



In Institutio Erasmus contributed to the ongoing debate between the estates and the Habsburg princes in the Netherlands by providing a strong defense of the prevalent model based on consent between the rulers and the provinces. In reminding the young Charles of his duties towards the laws and customs of the Netherlands he resorted to a normative language that has to be understood in relation to the overall program of social and religious reform Erasmus was propagating at the time, where politics was judged by its capacity to further the general reform, that is the perfecting of citizens. Thus, the monarch can never be sovereign in purely legal terms since he is demanded of a certain kind of use of power in line with Erasmus's understanding of morals. Even though good politics would in theory only be possible if the ruler himself became a true Christian pursuing and advancing true Christian goals from his very heart, Erasmus was well aware that his Institutio was composed in a world in which this was not necessarily the case. Thus, a control of politics through a wise, responsible and continuous rhetoric of counselors, tutors and intellectuals that constantly reminds the ruler of his duties and directs him to wise decisions, even if not bringing about a complete transformation in the ruler, would be an actual way of controlling monarchy.


Kaarlo Havu
PhD Researcher, Department of History and Civilization
European University Institute
Villa Schifanoia, Via Boccaccio 121
50133 Firenze, Italia
E-Mail: Kaarlo.Havu@EUI.eu

[1] Charles Nauert: Desiderius Erasmus, in: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/erasmus/, <01.10.2012> (first published 22.09.2008); James Henderson Burns / Mark Goldie (eds.): The Cambridge History of Political Thought 1450-1700, Cambridge 1991, does not dedicate a separate treatment to Erasmus' political thinking. In the famous work of John William Allen: A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century, New York 1928, Erasmus is not even mentioned.

[2] Charles Nauert: Desiderius (see FN 1); Ferdinand Geldner: Die Staatsauffassung und Fürstenlehre des Erasmus von Rotterdam, Berlin 1930, 83-92, 148-149; Guido Kisch: Erasmus und die Jurisprudenz seiner Zeit: Studien zum humanistischen Rechtsdenken, Basel 1960, 60-67, 118-123; Hanan Yoran: Between Utopia and Distypia, Erasmus, Thomas More, and the Humanist Republic of Letters, USA 2010, 1-16.

[3] Helmut Koenigsberger: Monarchies, States Generals, and Parliaments: the Netherlands in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, Cambridge 2001, 1-16. For a classical treatment of these issues see Quentin Skinner: Foundations of Modern Political Thought, Cambridge / London / New York / Melbourne 1978.

[4] Skinner: Foundations (see FN 3), 293-297. Johannes Althusius, for instance, criticized Bodin not only on legal but also on moral grounds. See Julian Franklin: Sovereignty and the Mixed Constitution: Bodin and his critics, in: James Burns / Goldie: Cambridge History of Political Thought (see FN 1), 298-328, here: 307-309, 312; London Fell: Origins of Legislative Sovereignty and the Legislative State, vol. 1, Königstein 1983, 1-18.

[5] I am using the term somewhat similar to Hanan Yoran. See Yoran: Between Utopia and Distypia (see FN 2). I am aware of the strong 19th and 20th century connotations of the term but I think it captures the active, engaged, and at times even public side of thinking not necessarily included in terms such as scholar, philosopher, thinker or even humanist or man of letters.

[6] Bradshaw refers primarily to Thomas More's Utopia but makes the link from Utopia to Erasmus's Institutio explicitly. See Brendan Bradshaw: Transalpine Humanism, in: Burns / Mark: Cambridge History of Political Thought (see FN 4), 95-131, here: 111-113, 125-128.

[7] It is most likely that Erasmus grew much more skeptical about the possibilities of rhetoric to bring about moral change. See for instance Jacques Chomarat: Grammaire et rhétorique chez Èrasme, 2 vols, Paris 1981, vol. 2, 53-75.

[8] Chomarat: Grammaire (see FN 7), vol. 2, 930-950. On the importance of epideictic rhetoric as an ethical genre for the Renaissance see Brian Vickers: Epideictic and Epic in the Renaissance, in: New Literary History 14 (1983), 497-537. For mirror-for-princes see Skinner: Foundations (see FN 3), 118-128.

[9] Sauvage and Lord of Chièvres had an enormous impact on the policy making of young Charles in the 1510s and could be regarded as the most powerful political actors of the time. For more detailed information see Pieter G. Bietenholtz (ed.): A Biographical Register of the Renaissance and Reformation, vols 1-3, Toronto 1985-1987.

[10] Koenigsberger: Monarchies (see FN 3), 1-15; James D. Tracy: The Politics of Erasmus: a Pacifist Intellectual and his Political Milieu, Toronto 1978, 49-69; James D. Tracy: Holland under Habsburg Rule, 1506-1566, Berkeley 1990, 1-89.

[11] Tracy: Politics (see FN 10), 35-38.

[12] Tracy: Holland (see FN 10), 44.

[13] Tracy: Holland (see FN 10), 47-50.

[14] Erasmus Desiderius: Institutio Principis Christiani, in: Desiderius Erasmus: Institutio Principis Christiani saluberrimis referta praeceptis, per Erasmum Roterodamum, cum aliis nonnullis eodem pertinentibus, apud Iohann Froben, Basel 1516, 11-67, here: 32 (page numbers in this edition always refer to a double page, single pages are not numbered): "Est mutuum inter principem ac populum commercium, tibi populus censum debet, debet obsequium, debet honorem, sed tu vicissim populo debes bonum ac vigilantem principem, cum exigis vectigal a tuis veluti debitum, fac prius excutias temet ipsum, num illis officii tui vestigal persolveris". All the English translations are taken from the series Collected Works of Erasmus, Toronto 1974.

[15] Erasmus: Institutio (see FN 14), 18: "Nempe animus Principe dignus, hoc est in rempublicam paternus. Hac lege populus in tua iuravit verba"; 26: "Refert in libris Politicis Aristoteles, in nonnullis Oligarchiis hunc fuisse morem, ut inituri magistratum, conceptis verbis iurarent in hunc modum. Plebem odio profequar et pro virili adnitar, ut illi sit male. At Princeps initurus magistratus longe diversa iurat suis."

[16] Erasmus: Institutio (see FN 14), 29: "At homo divinum est animal, ac bis liberum, primum natura, deinde legibus."; 31: "Cum natura genuerit omneis homines liberos, et praeter naturam inducta sit servitus, quod ethnicorum etiam leges fatentur, cogita quam non conveniat, Christianum in Christianos usurpare dominium, quos nec leges servos esse voluerunt, et Christus ab omni servitute redemit."

[17] Erasmus: Institutio (see FN 14), 29: "...verum quando id haud scio an umquam contingat, quin potius magnum et exoptandum si detur mediocris, ut nunc sunt res hominum praestiterit monarchiam, Aristochratiae et Demochratiae admixtam temperari diluiquae, ne quando in tyrannidem erumpat, sed quemadmodum elementa vicissim sese librant, ita simili moderamine consistat respublica."

[18] Interestingly, the Froben edition is comprised of Erasmus's Institutio and Panegyricus, Isocrate's oration to Nicocles, and Plutarch's De discrimine adulatoris together with some very short texts. The overall message of the Institutio analyzed here is strengthened by other treatments focusing on monarchical duties and on the selection of counselors.

[19] Erasmus Desiderius: Panegyricus gratulatorius de felici ex Hispania reditu, ad illustrissimum Principem Philippum Maximiliani filium. in: Desiderius Erasmus: Institutio Principis Christiani saluberrimis referta praeceptis, per Erasmum Roterodamum, cum aliis nonnullis eodem pertinentibus, apud Iohann Froben, Basel 1516, 67-116, here: 94: "Is datis ad singulas civitates suas literis, interdixit, ut si quod prater leges publicas iussisset, ne sibi in eo parerent unquam. Itidem tu ne postulas quidem a tuis, ut tibi pareatur, nis parveris ipse legibus, neque protinus maiestatem lesam existimas, si quis verbo refragetur, quin gaudes magis admoneri religionis et iurisiurandi, quo temet in sulscipiendo princpiatu obstrinxisti."

[20] See especially Erasmus: Institutio (see FN 14), 18-19.

[21] The primacy of the ethical in relation to the juridical has been noticed by a number of writers. For a classical interpretation of Erasmus as a moralist with little understanding of legal problems see Kisch: Erasmus (see FN 2), 60-67; and Yoran: Between Utopia and Distypia (see FN 2), 108-116. In many works on Erasmus's political thought this is considered simply as a weakness, as a fundamental incapacity to understand the role institutions play in politics, and the question of what politics could possibly mean for Erasmus in relation to his overall thinking is not raised as a central problem.

[22] All the layers of the program are present in Enchiridion (1503) where learning, reading the Bible and piety are closely connected. For a formulation of Erasmus's theological program, see for instance Paraclesis's introduction to his New Testament (1516). The link between the general Erasmian program with political thinking is explicitly made in Bradshaw: Transalpine Humanism (see FN 6).

[23] The idea that princes themselves are not responsible for the reform but provide the necessary conditions for it is emphasized in the prefatory letter to Paul Volz of the 1518 edition of Enchiridion. See Desiderius Erasmus: Enchiridion militis Christiani, apud Johann Froben, Basel 1519, 14-16.

[24] Erasmus explains all this in the part titled The Arts of Peace. See Erasmus: Institutio (see FN 14), 43-48. In the 1518 dedicatory letter to Enchiridion Erasmus puts a strong emphasis on the fact that good rule creates the conditions for Christian life. See Erasmus: Enchiridion (see FN 23), 14-16. Bradshaw makes the connection between politics and theology explicit. See Bradshaw: Transalpine Humanism (see FN 6). See also James M. Estes: Officium principis christiani: Erasmus and the Origins of the Protestant State Church, in: Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 83 (1992), 49-72. Already Pierre Mesnard tried to understand Erasmus's political view in the overall context of his theological program. See Pierre Mesnard: L'essor de la philosophie politique au XVIe siècle, Paris 1951, 86-90.

[25] Erasmus: Institutio (see FN 14), 21: "Theologia Christianorum tria praecipua quaedam in Deo ponit, summam potentiam, summam sapientiam, summam bonitatem. Hunc ternarium pro viribus absolvas oportet, nam potentia sine bonitate mera tyrannis est, sine sapientia pernicies, non regnum". For other metaphors, see especially Erasmus: Institutio (see FN 14), 44.

[26] Erasmus: Institutio (see FN 14), 30: "Cogitato semper dominium, imperium, regnum, maiestatem, potentiam, ethnicorum esse vocabula non christianorum, christianum imperium nihl aliud esse quam administrationem quam beneficentiam atque custodiam."

[27] Erasmus: Institutio (see FN 14), 32: "Ad haec honos qui tyranno exhibetur, ne honos quidem est, sed aut adulatio, aut simulatio, nec obsequium, sed servitus, nec splendor est verus, quem ostentat, sed fastus, nec potentia, nec potentia, sed vis...". About true magnificence see Erasmus: Institutio (see FN 14), 31-32.

[28] Like Otto Herding has put it, according to Erasmus to rule is to bear a cross. See Otto Herding: Isokrates, Erasmus und die Institutio Principis Christiani, in: Rudolf Vierhaus / Manfred Botzenhart (eds.): Dauer und Wandel der Geschichte: Aspekte europäischer Vergangenheit, Münster 1966, 101-143, here: 121-137.

[29] James D. Tracy has suggested that a good way to read Erasmus's printed works is to compare them with his unpublished letters. According to Tracy, this would be a way to deconstruct the rhetorical element of Erasmus's printed work at least to a certain extent and get closer to Erasmus's real intentions. See James D. Tracy: Erasmus among the Postmodernists: Dissimulatio, Bonae Litterae and Docta Pietas revisited, in: Hilmar Pabel (ed.): Erasmus' Vision of the Church, Kirksville 1995, 1-40, here: 9-19. Erasmus's ambivalent although often optimistic attitude to Henry VIII and to Charles in the 1510s is evident. See the entries on Charles and Henry respectively in Bietenholtz: A Biographical Register (see FN 9).

[30] This is exactly the dilemma of the counselor in Thomas More's Utopia. See Brendan Bradshaw: More on Utopia, in: Historical Journal 24 (1981), 1-27, here: 14-27.

[31] Erasmus: Ciceronianus, in: Desiderius Erasmus: De recta Latini Graecique sermonis pronunciatione dialogus. Eiusdem dialogus cui titulus, Ciceronianus, sive, de optimo genere dicendi. Cum aliis nonnullis, quorum nihil non est novum. Dialogus, cui titulus est Ciceronianus sive de optimo dicendi genere dialogus, cui titulus est Ciceronianus sive de optimo genere dicendi, apud Iohann Froben, Basel 1528, 219-422, here: 289: "Verum illu appositum, unde perpenditur, nonne partim a rebus, de quibus verba fiunt: partim a personis, tum dicentium, tum audientium: partim a loco, tempore, reliquisque circunstantiis." In his De conscribendis epistolis, first published in 1522 by Erasmus but written over the course of more than 20 years, the Dutch humanist is already fully aware of the requirements of decorum for an appropriate style. See Desiderius Erasmus: Opus de conscribendis epistolis ex postrema autoris recognitione, Basel 1534, 5-6, 23-34. As Peter Mack has put it in Erasmus's Ecclesiastes there are no firm rules to decorum since it depends on the judgment of the speaker. See Peter Mack: A History of Renaissance Rhetoric, 1380-1620, Oxford / New York 2011, 101-102.

[32] Jacques Chomarat has argued very convincingly for the primacy of rhetorical understanding in Erasmus's conceptualization of knowledge and theories in general. See Chomarat: Grammaire (see FN 7), 13-25.

[33] The idea is present in Aristotle and Cicero. Especially Cicero's treatment of decorum in the third book of De oratore was influential. Other representatives of Northern humanism were well aware of the concept as well. Erasmus's close friend Juan Luis Vives, for example, composed a short work on political rhetoric in 1523 (De consultatione) targeted for the counselor where the principle of decorum is appropriated to a political context. In some ways Lisa Jardine's idea of Erasmus as someone who launched and marketed up-and-coming humanists through careful mastering of the possibilities of printing press can be seen as a way to guarantee humanists the proper ethos to write about these issues. Jardine has made an interesting case study of Juan Luis Vives in this respect. See Lisa Jardine: Erasmus, Man of Letters, Princeton 1993, 14-20; on the ethical side of decorum and prudence, see Stephen Pender: The Open Use of Living: Prudence, Decorum and the "Square Man", in: Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric, vol. 23, No. 4 (2005), 363-400.

[34] The cases of some of the most prominent representatives of the so called Northern humanism are paradigmatic. Thomas More, Guillaume Budé, Juan Luis Vives, to name but a few, actively seek the role of a counselor at some stage of their career. For biographical details see Bietenholtz: A Biographical Register (see FN 9). Skinner has noted the overall tendency of Northern humanists to discuss questions related to counseling and active politics (negotium). See Skinner: Foundations (see FN 3), 216-221.

[35] Erasmus: Institutio (see FN 14), 246-248 (39-40). Erasmus discusses the implicit flattery of titles, statues, portraits, and inscriptions. In a way the whole culture should teach moral norms to the monarch.

[36] Juan Luis Vives: De anima et vita, in: Juan Luis Vives: Opera omnia vol 2. apud Iacobum Parcum impensis Episopij Iunioiris, Basel 1555, 497-595, here: 534.

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Kaarlo Johannes Havu : Erasmus on Sovereignty. Politics and Rhetoric in Institutio principis Christiani , in: zeitenblicke 12, Nr. 1, [10.06.2013], URL: http://www.zeitenblicke.de/2013/1/Havu/index_html, URN: urn:nbn:de:0009-9-36158

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