How Superior Powers Oght To Be Obeyd of Their Subjects

About this text

Introductory notes

Christopher Goodman (1520-1603) was among the early Protestants to seek refuge Geneva in the reign of Mary. He was prominent in the group of British exiles and was a friend and associate of John Knox. He contributed to the translation of the Geneva Bible and wrote vituperatively against the queen. He is best known for his treatise How superior powers ought to be obeyed… (1558). The work provides a justification of resistance to tyrannical rulers, and is much cited by later republicans like John Milton. Unlike Calvin and his followers, Goodman sanctions the right of active resistance to all believers, not just civil authorities. The vehemence of Goodman’s views made him unpopular with Elizabeth, and he faced repeated problems even after his return to England. The extract used here strongly counters the view that the rebel to an unjust king should be punished with “sword, famine, and pestilence”.

subjects: and Wherin they may law-
fully by Gods Worde be disobeyed
and resisted.
Wherin also is declared the cause of all this pre
sent miserie in England, and the onely way
to remedy the same.

The Lord hath broght upon them a nation from a
farre contrey, an impudent nation and of a strange
4. Deut. 28.’

Printed at Geneva by John Crispin.



[Page 131]

To be shorte, if she at the burninge of three hundreth Martyrs at the jeste, coulde have bene satisfied and unfaynedly moved to confesse the true Christe and Messias, and repented her former rebellion in giving contrarie commandement to all her dominions, charging them to receave agayne the true religion and to expell all blasphemous idolatrie of the pestilent papistes: and that none shulde speake any evill agaynst Christe and his Religion (as did Nabuchadnezer by the example of three persons onely, whom the fire by the power of God coulde not touche) then were she more to be borne with, and reverenced as a Ruler (if it were lawfull for a woman to rule at all) then were there also some probabilitie in the reasons of the adversaries of this doctrine. Otherwise as you now see, it maketh nothing at all for their purpose.

The second objection out of Jeremie. 27. Another Argument is gathered of the words written in the same Prophet Jeremie: speaking of the dominion which God was purposed to geve unto Nabuchadnezer kinge of Babylon on this wise: [Page 132] I have made the earthe and men (saithe the Lorde) and the beastes upon the earthe in my strength and stretched out hand, and it do I geve to him that pleaseth me. And therfore have I geven all this lande in to the hands of Nabuchadnezer my servant. And all nations and mightie kinges shall serve him, and till the tyme of his lande do come, that is, till I visite him, and his countrie also. And it shall come to passe, that I will visite the nation or kingdome which will not serve the kinge of Babell with sworde, famine, and pestilence. Wherfore serve ye the kinge of Babell and lyve. Beholde, saye they, (who thinke it in no case lawfull to withstande ungodlie Rulers) This wicked kinge is constitute of God, and made his servante. And moreover those that shulde withstand him, are cursed and threatned with sword, famine, and pestilence. And therfore to disobey suche, muste nedes be unlawfull.

Answere. Jeremie. 5. wherfore Tyrantes are called Gods instrumentes. Nabuchadnezer as it is wrytten in Jeremie, is called the maule of the Lorde, and his instrument of warre, by the which he was determyned to beate doune all Nations and kingdoms, punishing them [Page 133] for their synnes and idolatrie. And therfore the Lorde calleth him his servante, for that he had chosen him to that office. Nether ought we to marvell that God will use the labours of ungodlye persones, seing all being his creatures are at his commandement, as is Satan with all his infernall spirites. Then God, having appoynted Nabuchadnezer to this office to be his tormentor, as well in skourginge and correcting his owne people, as in destroyinge his open enimies: it was requisite that God shuld minister unto him sufficient power, for the accomplishment of his determinat counselle, which the Lorde did in such abundance, as no Nation was able to resiste him, that shuld not perishe either with the sworde of Nabuchadnezer, or famine, either els in that the Lorde himself would from heaven fight on his parte withe the plague of pestilence.

This is a selection from the original text


famine, god, king, pestilence, rebellion, religion

Source text

Title: How Superior Powers Oght To Be Obeyd of Their Subjects

Author: Christopher Goodman

Publisher: John Crispin

Publication date: 1558

Edition: 2nd Edition

Place of publication: Geneva

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from images available at Early English Books Online: Bibliographic name / number: STC (2nd ed.) / 12020 Physical description: 234, [6] p. Copy from: Yale University Library Reel position: STC / 1173:15

Digital edition

Original author(s): Christopher Goodman

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) title page
  • 2 ) pages 131-133


Texts collected by: Ayesha Mukherjee, Amlan Das Gupta, Azarmi Dukht Safavi

Texts transcribed by: Muhammad Irshad Alam, Bonisha Bhattacharya, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Muhammad Ehteshamuddin, Kahkashan Khalil, Sarbajit Mitra

Texts encoded by: Bonisha Bhattacharya, Shreya Bose, Lucy Corley, Kinshuk Das, Bedbyas Datta, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Sarbajit Mitra, Josh Monk, Reesoom Pal

Encoding checking by: Hannah Petrie, Gary Stringer, Charlotte Tupman

Genre: Britain > non-fiction prose > politics and governance

For more information about the project, contact Dr Ayesha Mukherjee at the University of Exeter.