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Kings, Peers, and Parliament: Virtue and Corulership in Walter Burley's Commentarius in VIII Libros Politicorum Aristotelis*

  • Cary J. Nederman

Extract

Although he was one of the most eminent philosophers of the early fourteenth century, Walter Burley has seldom attracted much attention for his contributions to political theory. To some extent, this neglect may be blamed on the unfortunate history of the dissemination of Burley's major political work, the Commentarius in VIII Libros Politicorum Aristotelis (composed between 1338 and 1343). While widely circulated during the later Middle Ages, a fact indicated by the large number of extant manuscripts, the Commentarius did not follow Burley's other commentaries on Aristotle's writings into print during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. To my knowledge, no satisfactory explanation has ever been adduced for this lacuna, but it has not been rectified to the present day; a printed edition of the Commentarius, based either on a single manuscript or a critical examination of all the manuscripts, has yet to appear. This absence of a printed version of the text is especially inexplicable in view of the rarity of commentaries on the Politics prior to the end of the fourteenth century.

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This essay was composed in honor of the retirement of Neal Wood as Professor of Political Science at York University. An earlier version was presented at the 1991 meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association in Kingston, Ontario and benefitted from the comments of Professors Bob Fenn and James Moore. Thanks are also due to the anonymous readers for Albion for their helpful suggestions.

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1 For an outline of Burley's life and career as we know it, see Martin, Conor, “Walter Burley,” Oxford Studies Presented to Daniel Callus (Oxford, 1964), pp. 194230. The best general examination of Burley's philosophical contributions is Juarez, Agustin Uña, Aristotles en siglio XIV: La Tecnica Comentaristica de Walter Burley al “Corpus Aristotelicum” (Madrid, 1978).

2 Within the “classic” histories of Western political thought in the Middle Ages, Burley is unnamed, as documented by Thomson, S. Harrison, “Walter Burley's Commentary on the Politics of Aristotle,” Melanges Auguste Pelzer (Louvain, 1947), p. 562. Among more recent works of scholarship, a similar lack of attention is apparent. There is no mention of Burley in such survey, works as: Ullmann, Walter, Principles of Government and Politics in the Middle Ages (London, 1961); Morrall, John B., Political Thought in Medieval Times (New York, 1962); and, more recently, Monahan, Arthur P., Consent, Coercion and Limit: The Medieval Origins of Parliamentary Democracy (Kingston and Montréal, 1987). In the massive Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought, ed. Bums, J. H. (Cambridge, 1988), Burley merits only a single brief mention (pp. 485–86).

3 This dating of the Commentarius is offered by Daly, Lowrie J., “The Conclusions of Walter Burley's Commentary on the Politics, Books I to IV,” Manuscripta 12 (1968): 80. Burley also addresses some issues related to political theory in his own Expositio super decem libros Ethicorum Aristotelis (Venice, 1498). Moreover, in the Commentarius Burley refers to a “tractatus de regno” (see below note 17), which Thomson, “Walter Burley's Commentary,” takes to refer to “some work he planned to write,” but that “it seems safe to assume…remained only a plan and a hope” (p. 577). This has been disputed, however, by Daly, Lowrie J., “Walter Burley and John Wyclif on Some Aspects of Kingship,” Melanges Eugénes Tisserant, 4 vols. (The Vatican, 1964), 4: 169 n17, who wonders “if Burley could simply have meant his ‘tractatus tertius’ of the third book of the Politics that he describes as a ‘tractatus specialiter de regno.’” While Daly's interpretation remains implausible—since the context for the reference is Burley's discussion of the king's calling of Parliament, which is never addressed in the commentary on Book Three—the real meaning of the citation will probably never be known short of the discovery of a “de regno” (or mirror of rulers) treatise that can be safely ascribed to Burley's hand.

4 A manuscript census was attempted by Thomson, , “Walter Burley's Commentary,” p. 564, which he admits is not complete (pp. 564–65 n30). It was supplemented by Maier, Anneliese, “Zu Walter Burley's Politik-Kommentar,” Recherches de Theologie ancienne et medievale 14 (1947): 332–36 and by Genet, Jean-Philippe, “The Dissemination of Manuscripts Relating to English Political Thought in the Fourteenth Century,” in England and her Neighbours, ed. Jones, M. and Vale, M. (London, 1989), pp. 218–19, 232. There may be as many as 40 extant manuscripts of the Commentarius. In the present essay, I shall be citing (with corrections) from the version in MS. Balliol 95, ff. 161r–232r.

5 Thomson, , “Walter Burley's Commentary,” pp. 560–61.

6 For the development of the commentary tradition on the Politics, see: Grabmann, Martin, Die mittelalterlichen Kommentare zur Politk des Aristoteles (Munich, 1941); Cranz, F. Edward, “Aristotelianism in Medieval Political Theory: A Study of the Reception of the Politics” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1940); Martin, Conor, “The Commentaries on the Politics of Aristotle in the Late Thirteenth and Early Fourteenth Centuries” (Ph.D. diss., University of Oxford, 1949); Martin, , “Some Medieval Commentaries on Aristotle's Politics,” History 36 (February & June 1951): 2944; Dunbabin, Jean, “Aristotle in the Schools,” in Trends in Medieval Political Thought, ed. Smalley, B. (Oxford, 1965), pp. 6585; and Dunbabin, , “The Reception and Interpretation of Aristotle's Politics,” in The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy ed. Kretzmann, N., Kenny, A. and Pinborg, J. (Cambridge, 1982), pp. 723–37.

7 Martin, , “Some Medieval Commentaries,” pp. 3435.

8 This influence is documented by Daly, , “Walter Burley and John Wyclif,” pp. 179–83.

9 The method of the Commentarius is described by Thomson, , “Walter Burley's Commentary,” pp. 567–69 and Lowrie Daly, J., “Some Notes on Walter Burley's Commentary on the Politics,” in Essays in Medieval History Presented to Bertie Wilkinson, ed. Sandquist, T. A. and Powicke, M. R. (Toronto, 1969), pp. 276–79.

10 Ibid., p. 281.

11 Thomson, , “Walter Burley's Commentary,” p. 574; Martin, , “Some Medieval Commentaries,” p. 39; and Daly, Lowrie J., “The Conclusions of Walter Burley's Commentary on the Politics, Books V and VI,” Manuscripta 13 (1969), p. 144.

12 Eccleshall, Robert, Order and Reason in Politics (Oxford, 1978), p. 71.

13 Dunbabin, , “The Reception and Interpretation of Aristotle's Politics,” pp. 729–30.

14 MS. Balliol 95, f. 198v: “…tamen quia exempla de factis Grecorum et nationum remotarum non sunt nobis nota, et exempla ponimus propter noticiam habendam non curam ponere exempla sua per quae non poterimus melius cognitionem habere.”

15 For instance, Thomson, , “Walter Burley's Commentary,” p. 577 terms them “a few interesting details.”

16 In the present essay, I shall follow the Greek edition of the Politics by Rackham, H. (Cambridge, Mass., 1932); translations will be mine.

17 MS. Balliol 95, f. 182r: “Intelligendum quod in rectis principatibus aliis a regno principatur multitude) et hoc est plures et adhuc in regno multitudo constitut ex rege et proceribus et saepientibus regni quodammodo principatur. Itaque tantum vel magis principatur huiusmodi multitudo quam rex solus, et propter hoc rex convocat parliamentum pro arduis negociis expediendis. Ista magis patebunt in tractatu de regno.”

18 Sayles, G. O., The King's Parliament of England (London, 1975), pp. 2134 and Marongiu, Antonio, Medieval Parliaments: A Comparative Study, trans. Woolf, S. J. (London, 1968), pp. 4854.

19 Dunbabin, , “The Reception and Interpretation of Aristotle's Politics,” p. 730.

20 Cited in Constitutional History of Medieval England, 1216–1399, ed. Wilkinson, B., 3 vols. (London, 1958), 3: 301. On this early meaning of parliamentum, see Sayles, , The King's Parliament of England, pp. 3547.

21 This point is stressed by, for instance, Ormrod, W. M., The Reign of Edward III: Crown and Political Society in England 1327–1377 (New Haven, 1990), pp. 200–02; Prestwich, Michael, The Three Edwards: War and State in England, 1272–1377 (London, 1980), p. 146; Douglas, David C., The Norman Achievement, 1050–1100 (Berkeley, 1969), pp. 86, 95 and 113–14; Keen, Maurice, England in the Later Middle Ages (London, 1973), pp. 1213; Wilkinson, Bertie, “The ‘Political Revolution’ of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries in England,” Speculum 24 (1949): 502–03; and Harriss, G. L., “The Formation of Parliament 1272–1377,” in The English Parliament in the Middle Ages, ed. Davies, R. and Denton, J. (Manchester, 1981), pp. 2960.

22 For an elaboration of Aristotle's own position on kingship, see Newell, W. R., “Superlative Virtue: The Problem of Monarchy in Aristotle's ‘Politics,’” Western Political Quarterly 40 (1987): 159–78.

23 We know, for instance, that in both 1327 and 1338 Burley served the king in a diplomatic capacity, and that he enjoyed patronage in the form of income from royally-appointed offices. See Daly, , “Some Notes on Walter Burley's Commentary,” pp. 272–73.

24 MS. Balliol 95, ff. 184r: “In optima enim politia quilibet propter talem principem superexcellentem alios in bono virtutis reputat se multum honoratum, ut quilibet diligit gradum suum et contentus est, et quilibet vult singularem honorem regit et videtur sibi quod in rege and cum rege conregnat, et proper intimam dileccionem civium ad regem est intima inter cives, et est regnum fortissimum sicut hodie patet de rege Anglorum, propter cuius excedentem virtutem est maxima concordia in populo anglicano, quia quilibet est contentus de gradu suo sub rege.”

25 Ormrod, , The Reign of Edward III, p. 200. Burley's view may be compared with a contemporary encomium of Edward III, couched in highly personalized terms, proposed by William of Ockham in An princeps (in his Opera Politico, vol. 1, ed. Offler, H. S. [2nd ed.; Manchester, 1974], p. 228). In turn, Burley's comments might also fruitfully be contrasted with the more critical remarks about Edward's conduct in the Speculum Regis Edwardi III (possibly by William of Pagula); see Nederman, C. J., “Welfare or Warfare? Medieval Contributions,” International Journal of Moral and Social Studies 1 (Autumn 1986): 224–26. The author of the Speculum promises to Edward the “love of the people” in a fashion similar to Burley, but only on condition that the king cease his oppression of the poor and the peasantry.

26 Dunbabin, Jean, “Government,” in The Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought, p. 486.

27 On this concept of representation, see Nederman, Cary J., “Knowledge, Consent and the Critique of Political Representation in Marsiglio of Padua's Defensor Pacis,” Political Studies 39 (March 1991): 1935.

28 This divergence is based on the report of MS. Vatican Codex Borghesi 129 given by Daly, , “The Conclusions of Walter Burley's Commentary on the Politics, Books I to IV,” p. 92.

29 The best recent account of this period is by Fryde, Natalie, The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II, 1321–1326 (Cambridge, 1979).

30 Anderson, Perry, Lineages of the Absolutist State (London, 1974), pp. 116–17.

31 Martin, , “Some Medieval Commentaries on Aristotle's Politics,” p. 39.

32 For instance, Eccleshall, , Order and Reason in Politics, p. 71.

33 For the following, see Aristotle, Politics, 1287b19–35.

34 Aristotle, , Nicomachean Ethics, ed. Rackham, H. (Cambridge, Mass., 1926), 1155a331155b7; my translation.

35 MS. Balliol 95, f. 186r: “…multi possunt melius inquirere et iudicare quid agendum sit et quid non quam unus solus. Quod probatur probatione exemplari. Sicut inconveniens est dicere quod unus duobus oculis et duabus auribus magis et melius percipiat quam multi multis auribus et multis oculis, et sicut inconveniens est dicere quod unus melius operatur duabus manibus et pedibus quam multi multis manibus et multis pedibus, sic inconveniens est dicere quod unus melius iudicet per suam prudentiam quam multi. Et ideo videmus quod principes faciunt sibi multos oculos et multos pedes et manus, quia faciunt sibi multos comprincipantes….Faciunt autem principes illos qui sunt amici sui et amici principatus, quia si non essent amici utriusque sed alterius ut principatus non curarent de bono principis sed principatus, et si non diligerent principatum sed principem non curarent de bono principatus. Et quia comprincipantes debent esse amici, et amicos oportet esse similes et equates, medium est quod similes quod similes et equates secundum virtutem oportet principari….”

36 MS. Balliol 95, f. 186r: “Non est naturale unum semper secundum suam voluntatem principari aliquibus sibi similibus et equalibus secundum virtutem.”

37 MS. Balliol 95, f. 186r: “Intelligendum quod qui diligit principem secundum quod rulerps est diligit principatum, quia ratio principis sumitur ex ratione principatus sed non quod qui diligit principem secundum quod talis homo quod propter hoc diligit principatum.”

38 Magna Carta, arts. 52, 55 and 61 in Sources of English Constitutional History, ed. Stephenson, C. and Marcham, F. G. (New York, 1972), pp. 123–26.

39 Sayles, , The King's Parliament of England, pp. 4869.

40 Wilkinson, Bertie, The Later Middle Ages in England, 1216–1485 (London, 1969), pp. 61, 71–72 and 219–20.

41 Prologue to the Ordinances of 1311 in Sources of English Constitutional History, p. 193.

42 Carmen de Bello Lewensi, ed. Kingsford, C. L. (Oxford, 1890), 2: 535–38: “Pars in principio palam protestatur: Quod honori regio nichil machinatur, vel querit contrarium; immo reformare studet statum regium et magnificare.”

43 On the historical emergence of a distinction between “king” and “Crown” implied here, see Maddicott, J. R., Thomas of Lancaster, 1307–1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II (Oxford, 1970), p. 82, and Keen, , England in the Later Middle Ages, p. 87.

44 Nederman, , “Knowledge, Consent and the Critique of Political Representation in Marsiglio of Padua's Defensor Pacis,” pp. 2123.

45 The following analysis draws from themes most cogently articulated by Philip Corrigan and Sayer, Derek, The Great Arch: English State Formation as Cultural Revolution (Oxford, 1985), pp. 1542, and Brenner, Robert, “The Agrarian Roots of European Capitalism,” in The Brenner Debate, ed. Aston, T. H. and Philpin, C. H. E. (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 254–58. For a more extended historical exposition, see Nederman, Cary J., “State and Political Theory in France and England, 1250–1350” (Ph.D. diss., York University, 1983), pp. 125–87.

46 White, A. H., Self-Government at the King's Command (Minneapolis, 1938).

47 Some of these have been identified by Brenner, , “The Agrarian Roots of European Capitalism,” pp. 226–42, 246–53.

48 On the bodily analogy and its implications for John, see Nederman, Cary J., “The Physiological Significance of the Organic Metaphor in John of Salisbury's Policralicus,” History of Political Thought 8 (Summer 1987): 211–23, and A Duty to Kill: John of Salisbury's Theory of Tyrannicide,” Review of Politics 50 (Summer 1988): 365–89.

49 This is examined by Nederman, Cary J., “The Royal Will and the Baronial Bridle: The Place of the Addicio de Canis in Bractonian Political Thought,” History of Political Thought 9 (Winter 1988): 415–29. For some of the sources of the Bractonian doctrines, see Radding, Charles M., “The Origins of Bracton's Addicio de cartis,” Speculum 44 (1969): 239–46.

50 Speculum Justiciariorum, ed. Whittaker, W. J. (London, 1895), pp. 7–8, 155–56.

51 For example, the Modus Tenendi Parliamentum and other documents in Parliamentary Texts of the Later Middle Ages, ed. Pronay, M. and Taylor, J. (Oxford, 1980) and Fleta, ed. Richardson, H. G. and Sayles, G. O., 2 vols. (London: Selden Society, 1955), 2: 109.

52 Fortescue, John, De laudibus legibus Anglie, ed. Chrimes, S. M. (Cambridge, 1949), ch. 13, and On the Governance of England, ed. Plummer, C. (Oxford, 1885), ch. 2.

53 Fortescue, De laudibus legibus Anglie, ch. 36: “…concessione vel sensu totius regni in parliamento.” Fortescue makes similar statements in chs. 18 and 53.

54 As I have pointed out in “State and Political Theory in France and England,” pp. 482–88 and Bracton on Kingship First Visited: The Idea of Sovereignty and Bractonian Political Thought,” Political Science 40 (July 1988): 4966. The theoretical departures occasioned by the rise of the Tudor monarchy are the subject of a forthcoming monograph by Neal Wood, which I have been privileged to consult in typescript.

55 One thinks in this instance especially of William of Ockham, who makes only a single reference to Aristotle (and then to the Nicomachean Ethics) in his one treatise on English affairs, the An princeps. See Nederman, Cary J., “Royal Taxation and the English Church: The Origins of William of Ockham's An princeps,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 37 (July 1986): 387.

56 Given Fortescue's interest in the Thomas/Peter commentary, it would be interesting to know whether he was also familiar with Burley's Commentarius. If so, this might help to explain why he was able to bring Aristotle to bear so readily on the conditions of political life in England.

57 Hanson, Donald W., From Kingdom to Commonwealth (Cambridge, Mass., 1970), pp. 1213.

58 Thomas Aquinas could equally well serve as an example, as has been demonstrated by Catto, Jeremy, “Ideas and Experience in the Political Thought of Aquinas,” Past and Present 71 (May 1976): 321.

* This essay was composed in honor of the retirement of Neal Wood as Professor of Political Science at York University. An earlier version was presented at the 1991 meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association in Kingston, Ontario and benefitted from the comments of Professors Bob Fenn and James Moore. Thanks are also due to the anonymous readers for Albion for their helpful suggestions.

Kings, Peers, and Parliament: Virtue and Corulership in Walter Burley's Commentarius in VIII Libros Politicorum Aristotelis*

  • Cary J. Nederman

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