Anglo-American Chronology, 1534-1689

Anglo-American Chronology, 1534-1689

For American Heritage



Sir Thomas More, executed 1535


1528/29: William Tyndale first to employ “divine right of kings”

1534: Act of Supremacy undoes over 1,000 years of Anglo-Saxon Common Law

1535: Execution of Sir Thomas More and John Fisher

1547: Henry VIII dies

1558-1603: Reign of Elizabeth I


1603-1625: Reign of James I

1607: Establishment of Jamestown, Virginia

1610: Laws of Virginia [AHR]

1619: First Africans sold in colonies, but sold as “indentured servants”

1620: Mayflower Compact (Roundheads), originally known as Plymouth Combination [AHR]



1625-1649: Reign of Charles I

1630: Formation of Massachusetts Bay Company

1630: Model of Christian Charity [AHR]

1635: Roger Williams flees Massachusetts

1642-1652: William Berkeley (Cavalier), governor of Virginia

1642-1651: English Civil War between Roundheads and Cavaliers

1640: Massachusetts forbids male entry into church without being armed

1645: Speech to General Court [AHR]

1647: Massachusetts Capital Laws [AHR]

1649: Execution of Charles I



1649-1660: Puritan Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell

1660-1685: Restoration and Reign of Charles II

1669: Under constitution written by John Locke, chattel slavery begins in Carolinas

1676: King Philip’s War leaves nearly 1/3 of Puritans in New England dead

1681: Formation of Pennsylvania

1682: Pennsylvania Frame of Government [AHR]

1685-1688: Reign of James II

1688: Glorious Revolution, Reign of William and Mary


Guide to Early Modern Political Thought

Bradley Birzer


Why develop?

  • Loss of religious unity; loss of citizenship in Christendom
  • Rise of the Nation States; centralized bureaucracies; centralized militaries
  • Politics suddenly trumped culture, religion, theology, etc.


With the triumph of politics, the West had the urgent need to reexamine fundamental questions about politics—especially about the origins of societies and the nature of power.  Ideas such as a “state of nature” and a “social contract” re-emerged and arose to replace the story of Genesis.  During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, one sees many defenses of state power and, conversely, the traditional defenses of the power of the individual and of the community.


William Tyndale (1494-1536)

  • Author of Obedience of a Christian Man (1528-1529)
  • Argued for the “Divine Right of Kings”; that a king had a duty to reform and control the Church. This is, of course, a complete reversal of the medieval notion of kingship. “In 1528 Anne Boleyn exacerbated Henry’s lust for imperial power by giving him a book that justified everything he would ever want to do. That book was William Tyndale’s The Obedience of a Christian Man. More called this book “a book of disobedience” and diplomatically cautioned Henry about its content. Henry was already highly cautious about the author; he had, in fact, banned Tyndale from England for advocating Luther’s revolutionary ideas. Nonetheless, he was soon seduced by the claims of Tyndale’s book. This book is famous in the history of political thought because it gives the first jurisdiction in the English language for the divine right of kings.” (Gerard Wegemer, Thomas More: Portrait of Courage (Scepter, 1998), 131.)
  • “We know also of another person who particularly influenced Henry–William Tyndale. The latter’s Obedience of the Christian Man, the first thorough-going apologia of Caesaropapism, argued on the evidence of the Old Testament and early Christian history–and brought to him by Anne Boleyn–made a mark. ‘This is book for me and for all kings to read,’ he said when he had finished it. Tyndale’s sweeping assertion of the rights and duties of princes and their claim to the undivided allegiance, body and soul, of their subjects, may well have opened up a new world for Henry even if he did not yet intend to realize the new order of kingship in England.” (J.J. Scarisbrick, Henry VIII (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968), 247.


The Neo Scholastics (three neo-Thomist Jesuits (Juan de Mariana (1536-1624); Roberto Bellarmino (1542-1621); and Francisco Suárez (1548-1617))

  • Each responded to Tyndale, denying a “divine right” and reasserting a “divine duty”
  • Hoped to reclaim the “commonwealth” from the “privatewealth”
  • Argued for a right to rebellion (king derived ultimate power from God, but immediate power from the people)
  • Argued for the right to regicide by a community, but not by private individuals or private groups
  • Defended a familial social contract theory: family (natural) is the primary unit of society; governments (artificial in form) follow the will of the families in coalition
  • Promoted and developed Natural Law theory and, ultimately, Natural Rights theory.


Anonymous (16th Century)

  • Huguenot
  • Wrote “Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants”
  • Defended religious liberty


Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

  • Truly great tennis player
  • Believed man inherently bad; an unrestrained society results in a war of all against all
  • Argued that a proper social contract found only in the Leviathan


James Harrington (1611-1677)

  • Author of The Commonwealth of Oceana (1656), a utopian republic of freeholders


Algernon Sydney (1623-1683)

  • Author of Discourses Concerning Government (posthumous, 1698)
  • Denied the “divine right of kings” and supported regicide


John Locke (1632-1704)

  • Claimed that one is born a Tabula Rasa (that is, a blank slate; all human development, therefore, comes from education and experience)
  • Claimed man is inherently good and a fundamentally material being
  • Argued there had been a radical state of nature; the few problems in the state of nature could be solved by a social contract.
  • Author of Fundamental Constitutions of the Carolinas, 1669; profoundly pro-slavery:
  1. “Since charity obliges us to wish well to the souls of all men, and religion ought to alter nothing in any man’s civil estate or right, it shall be lawful for slaves, as well as others, to enter themselves, and be of what church or profession any of them shall think best, and, therefore, be as fully members as any freeman. But yet no slave shall hereby be exempted from that civil dominion his master hath over him, but be in all things in the same state and condition he was in before.”
  2. “Every freeman of Carolina shall have absolute power and authority over his negro slaves, of what opinion or religion soever.”


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