Modern History Sourcebook:
James VI and I: True Law of Free Monarchies, 1598
THE KINGS THEREAFTER in Scotland were before any estates or ranks of men within the
same, before any Parliaments were holden or laws made; and by them was the land
distributed (which at the first was wholly theirs), states erected and decerned , and
forms of government devised and established. And it follows of necessity that the Kings
were the authors and makers of the laws and not the laws of the Kings. . . . And according
to these fundamental laws already alleged, we daily see that in the Parliament (which is
nothing else but the head court of the King and his vassals) the laws are but craved by
his subjects, and only made by him at their rogation and with their advice. For albeit the
King made daily statutes and ordinances, enjoining such pains thereto as he thinks meet,
without any advice of Parliament or Estates, yet it lies in the power of no Parliament to
make any kind of law or statute without his sceptre be to it for giving it the force of a
law. . . . And as ye see it manifest that the King is overlord of the whole land, so is he
master over every person that inhabiteth the same, having power over the life and death of
every one of them. For although a just prince will not take the life of any of his
subjects without a clear law, yet the same laws whereby he taketh them are made by himself
or his predecessors, and so the power flows always from himself; as by daily experience we
see good and just princes will from time to time make new laws and statutes, adjoining the
penalties to the breakers thereof, which before the law was made had been no crime to the
Subject to have committed. Not that 1 deny the old definition of a King and of a law which
makes the King to be a speaking law and the law a dumb King; for certainly a King that
governs not by his law can neither be countable to God for his administration nor have a
happy and established reign. For albeit it be true, that 1 have at length proved, that the
King is above the law as both the author and giver of strength thereto, yet a good King
will not only delight to rule his subjects by the law, but even will conform himself in
his own actions thereunto; always keeping that ground, that the health of the commonwealth
be his chief law.
James I, "True Law of Free Monarchies," as reprinted in J. R. Tanner, Constitutional
Documents of the Reign of James I 1602-1625 (1930), p 187.
This text is part of the Internet
Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and
copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.
Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright.
Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational
purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No
permission is granted for commercial use of the Sourcebook.
© Paul Halsall, July 1998