The Development of Early Modern Resistance Theory and the Execution of Charles I




Project Summary

This summer I used the College Alumni Society Research Grant I received to remain on campus while I accessed primary sources available through Penn Libraries to inform and support the writing of my history honors thesis. I am working on the topic on tyrannicide, the justified killing of bad rulers, using the execution of Charles I of England in 1649 as a case study. Specifically, I examined the rhetoric of the King’s killers to determine if there was a conscious effort on their part to reuse arguments from and appeal to the authority of tyrannicidal theorists from the previous century, many of whose writings were products of power struggles that occurred between secular and religious leaders and groups on opposing sides of the newly formed confessional divide. Generally, I found that while there was some appeal to the writings of earlier continental theorists, the rhetoric of Charles’s opponents tended to appeal to other sources of authority such as the Scriptures, historical precedents, and English Common Law.  

While working on this project, I have learned a great deal about the English Civil Wars and about early modern political theory, especially concerning the purpose and origins of government. Besides this content knowledge, I have also learned about the process of conducting historical research, such as how to locate and manage a great number of sources and how to take effective notes when reviewing said sources. The work I have done has been valuable to me in that it has given me insight into my own feelings about pursuing a career as a professional researcher and has also sparked an interest in law, particularly work in jurisprudence, as a potential career field. Additionally, it gave me occasion to utilize several resources available at Penn, such as the Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection at the Kislak Center, of which I would regrettably not have otherwise taken advantage. And that, in my opinion, would have been a missed opportunity.

The Development of Early Modern Resistance Theory and the Execution of Charles I