Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 April 2011
If a prince doe violently breake the bonds of pietie and justice, an other prince may justly and lawfully exceede his owne limittes, not to invade the other's, but to force him to be content with his owne. If a prince use tyrannie towards his people, we ought to ayde no lesse, than if his subjectes shoulde raise sedition against him.A short Apologie for Christian Souldiours (1588)
This chapter examines attitudes towards tyranny and extreme atrocities against foreign civilian populations in early modern Europe, and the measures that were both proposed and taken to end them. The period c. 1500–1700 was a vitally important one in the formulation of international law, concepts of sovereignty, and the emergence of the modern international system; and governments took what today would be termed humanitarian considerations into account in making foreign policy.
This chapter shows that, in the sixteenth century, a discourse against egregiously abusive government (‘tyranny’) emerged in influential treatises on political thought and the nascent ‘Law of Nations’. This theoretical consensus against extremes in government action was matched, to some extent, by state practice. Lawyers and statesmen, as well as philosophers and theologians, argued that tyranny and atrocity were illegitimate and that action to end them was legitimate in terms of the Law of Nations. Partly on the basis of such arguments, princes threatened or used force against regimes that egregiously ill-treated foreign civilian populations.