The assembly of the three estates

Besides all this, in ancient times, the general or three estates were assembled every year (and these days, they meet when required by urgent necessity) and all the provinces and towns of any size, meaning the burgesses, nobles and ecclesiastical persons, did they all send their deputies, and there they did publicly deliberate and conclude matters which concerned the public state. The authority of this assembly was always such that whatever it decided, whether it were to establish peace, or declare war, or create a regent in the kingdom, or impose some new tribute, was held firm and inviolable. And even by the authority of this assembly, kings themselves, if convicted of loose intemperance, or incompetence, or even for a charge as great as tyranny, were removed from the throne. And not only that, but all their descendants also were excluded from the royal succession, just as their ancestor was, by the same authority, raised to the throne of the same kingdom. Those whom the consent and approval of the estates had formerly raised, were by the dissent and disallowing of the same council, afterwards cast down. Those who, stepping in the virtuous steps of their ancestors, treated their own election to the throne as if it had been owed to them by right of inheritance, were driven out and disinherited for their degenerate ingratitude. For being tainted with insupportable vices, they made themselves incapable and unworthy of such honor.

This shows that familial succession was tolerated in order to avoid all the plotting, sneaky and underhanded canvassing for votes, discontent of the unsuccessful candidates, interregnums, and other troubles resulting from holding elections. But on the other hand, when these successions brought other mischiefs more pernicious, when tyranny trampled on the kingdom, and when a tyrant possessed himself of the royal throne, the medicine proving much worse than the disease, then the estates of the kingdom lawfully assembled in the name of all the people, have ever maintained their authority, whether it were to drive out a tyrant, or other unworthy king, or to establish a good one in his place. The ancient French had learned that from the Gauls, as Caesar shows in his commentaries. For Ambiorix, king of the Eburons, (or Leigeons) confesses, " That such were the condition of the Gaulish empire, that people lawfully assembled had no less power over the king, than the king had over the people." This also appears also in Vercingetorix, who gives an account of his actions before the assembly of the people.

In the kingdoms of Spain, notably Aragon, Valentia, and Catalonia, there is the very same. For that which is called the Justitia Major in Aragon has the sovereign authority in itself. And there, the lords who represent the people proceed so far, that both at the inauguration of the king, as also at the assembly of the estates, which is observed every third year, they say to the king these exact words, "We who are as much worth as you, and have more power than you, choose you king upon these and these conditions, and there is one between you and us who commands over you, to wit, the Justitia Major of Aragon, who often refuses that which the king demands, and forbids that which the king enjoins."

In the kingdoms of England and Scotland the sovereignty seems to be in the parliament, which heretofore met almost every year. They refer to as parliaments the assembly of the estates of the kingdom, in which the bishops, earls, barons, and deputies of towns and provinces deliver their opinions, and resolve with a joint consent the affairs of state. The authority of this assembly has been so sacred and inviolable, that the king dare not abrogate or alter that which had been there once decreed.

It was that which heretofore called and installed in their charges all the chief officers of the kingdom, even sometimes the ordinary councillors of that which they call the king's privy council. In some, the other Christian kingdoms, as Hungary, Bohemia, Denmark, Sweden, and the rest, they have their officers apart from the kings; and histories, together with the examples that we have in these our times, sufficiently demonstrate that these officers and estates have known how to use their authority, even to the deposing and driving out of tyrannical and unworthy kings.

However, we must not think that this cuts too short the wings of royal authority, or that it is just the same as taking the king's head from his shoulders.

We believe that God is almighty, neither think we it in any way diminishes His power because He cannot sin; neither do we say "that His empire is less to be esteemed, because it cannot be neither shaken, nor cast down" (??? where is that quote from?). Neither also must we judge a king to be too much abused, if he be withheld by others from falling into an error, to which he is over much inclined, or for that by the wisdom and discretion of some of his counsellors, his kingdom is preserved and kept entire and safe, which otherwise, by his weakness or wickedness, might have been ruined. Will you say that a man is less healthy because he is surrounded with discreet physicians who advise him to avoid all intemperance, and forbid him to eat such foods as are harmful to the stomach, and who purge him many times against his will. And when he resists, who will prove his better friends, these physicians who are studiously careful of his health, or those sycophants who are ready at every turn to give him that which must of necessity hasten his end? We must then always observe this distinction: The first are the friends of the king. The other are the friends of Francis who happens to be king. The friends of Francis are those who serve him. The friends of the king are the officers and servants of the kingdom. For, seeing the king has this name, because of the kingdom, and that it is the people who give being and consistence to the kingdom, and if the kingdom is lost or ruined, he must needs cease to be a king, or at the least not so truly a king, or else we must take a shadow for a substance.

Without question, those are most truly the king's friends, who are most industriously careful of the welfare of his kingdom and his worst enemies are those who neglect the good of the commonwealth, and seek to draw the king into the same lapse of error.

And, as it is impossible to separate the kingdom from the people, nor the king from the kingdom, in like manner, neither can the friends of the king be disjoined from the friends of the people, and the kingdom.

I say further, that those who, with a true affection, love Francis had rather see him a king than a subject. Now, seeing they cannot see him a king, it necessarily follows, that in loving Francis, they must also love the kingdom.

But those who would be esteemed more the friends of Francis, than of the kingdom and the people, are truly flatterers, and the most pernicious enemies of the king and public state.

Now, if they were true friends indeed, they would desire and endeavour that the king might become more powerful, and more assured in his estate according to that notable saying of Theopompus, king of Sparta, after the ephores or controllers of the kings were instituted. "The more," said he, "are appointed by the people to watch over, and look to the affairs of the kingdom, the more those who govern shall have credit, and the more safe and happy shall be the state."


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