This article seeks to revise existing interpretations of the political writings composed by the early Stuart MP, Sir John Eliot (1592–1632), while imprisoned in the Tower of London between 1629 and 1632. In particular, it challenges the common understanding of Eliot as an absolutist writer. This characterization is shown to be based on a misreading of his principal treatise, The monarchie of man, and the problematic assumption that De jure – a translation he undertook of the continental absolutist, Arnisaeus – should be taken to epitomize Eliot's own views. The article also refutes the notion that The monarchie of man is an uncontroversial text that ignores contemporary political context. It is argued that the treatise can, in fact, only be read in relation to the constitutional crisis of the late 1620s: Eliot's work is presented as a subversive attack on Charles I's tyrannical pretensions, which supplies a remedy in the form of a Ciceronian insistence on active virtue. These findings in turn have implications for how we understand the political thought and culture of early Stuart England more generally.
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