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This article sets out a novel analysis of Sir Robert Filmer's (1588-1653) well-known but often misread Patriarcha (1620s-30s). Claiming that a preoccupation with John Locke's criticism of Filmer has had distorting effects on modern historiography and has prevented an appropriate contextual approach to the work. The article proceeds along four lines. Firstly, drawing on the discovery of a manuscript note it re-maps the configuration of its arguments, aims and intellectual milieu. Secondly, it presents the treatise as the powerful articulation of the patriarchalist paradigm deployed to attack the emerging language of county patriotism and the theory of papal deposing power formulated by Jesuit thinkers like Robert Bellarmine and Francisco Suarez. Thirdly, it places Patriarcha in the context of the late 1620s' parliamentary debates from which emerged the Petition of Right (1628) illuminating the reasons why Filmer made use of the notion of the king as pater patriae with the aim of opposing (quasi)-republican defenders of the so-called ‘common people'. Finally, the article reshapes the role of patriarchalism in the history of early modern European political thought, especially with regard to the centrality of the idea of ‘arbitrary' power.

Keywords: Charles I; Jesuits; Parliament; Patriarcha; Robert Filmer; context; father; historiography; nation; patriarchalism; patriots

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2012

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