Defoe’s Political Theory and The Monmouth Rebellion

Defoe’s Political Theory and The Monmouth Rebellion
Defoe’s intentions with the poem go further than responding to The Foreigners and defending the king. Defoe understood and had ‘command of the intricacies of European politics and geography’ [16]. Defoe was aware of what was happening in Europe and he ‘understood England’s national identity and international role as inextricably linked to the wider European picture’. [17] This was not always a positive awareness, he was fearful of England becoming weak in peacetime and it is one of the many reasons that he fought and believed so deeply in King William III. He felt that King understood the need to keep a strong military even in peacetime (see The Standing Army Debate, European War and the Balance of Power). It is therefore important when reading The True-Born Englishman to consider ‘the context of Defoe’s ‘larger scheme’ of national and international politics.’ [18]

To contextualise how much emphasis Defoe placed on his political intentions; in the ninth edition, which included an explanatory preface, Defoe did not mention Tutchin’s poem at all, but ‘instead [he] stressed the general ideological basis of his work.’ [19] There were ten separate editions of The True-Born Englishman; with each new edition it focused more and more on the political message rather than as a response to Tutchin.

Defoe had strong political views on the relationship between the Monarch and his people. He was a pro-monarchy dissenter, so in More Short-Ways with the Dissenters he wrote: ‘I find a Declamation relating to the benefit of a single Person in a Common Wealth, wherin it is declar’d and prov’d from History and Reason, that Monarchy is the best Government’. [20] His ideological stance was mainly founded upon his political view that the country should be run by a Monarchical government that sets policies for the people and not a country run by an ‘urban power elite’ [21] (parliamentary government.) (see PART II, p47-line starting ‘The Government’s ungirt’) This was all very well but as mentioned in the section on The Glorious Revolution, Defoe’s ideological basis behind a Monarchical government needed a certain type of King. This is why The Glorious Revolution in 1688 was very important to Defoe’s political theories; there is evidence to suggest that prior to King William III, Defoe did not like the way in which the Monarchy controlled its people. He feared the idea of divine powers being attributed to a king, these principals were found in ‘Defoe’s retrospective assessments, here and elsewhere, of his nation’s experience under Charles II and James II [and they] reveal a mind troubled by the divinely absolute powers attributed to the king. […] popery and arbitrary power’. (see PART I-p8, line starting ‘Worship’d as God) [22] This culminated in his fear of control by foreign powers which he believed would happen under a Catholic ruler like King James II: ‘Catholicism and executive tyranny were feared to be the consequence of the accession of a Catholic prince to the throne of Protestant England in February 1685.’ [23] (see Preface, line starting ‘particular People,’) King William III was not divinely attributed to the throne, Defoe on this matter stated: ‘for I believe no Man in the World was ever the People’s King more than his present Majesty’ [24] Defoe’s fears were therefore initially settled by King William III’s appointment to the throne. (see PART II, p41-line starting ‘Their prayers heard’)

Defoe did not just write about his political theory, there is evidence to suggest he also actively took part in the Monmouth Rebellion. (see PART II, p65-line starting ‘thus my first’) The rebellion took place in 1685; it was an attempt by a group of civilians (mainly Protestants) who contested King James II, to remove him from the throne; it was led by the Duke of Monmouth and was unsuccessful in its plight. It was discovered through manuscripts of Defoe’s dated in 1683, that he possessed ‘a strident anti-Catholicism and [had] an interest in martial kings and the professionalism of soldiers’. [25] This was a contributing factor that saw Defoe travel and allegedly take up arms in the rebellion against the Roman Catholic King. What Monmouth Rebellion helps to contetextualise is the emphasis Defoe placed on his political thoughts. The ‘political and ideological influences working on the young Defoe can help to explain his later addiction to the image of the charismatic warrior king, who was to redeem English and European Protestantism.’ [26] This is why ideologically King William III was an important figure to Defoe’s politics. Manuel Schonhorn argues that: ‘The co-existence of religious radicalism, millennial expectations, and the mediation of a godly Protestant monarch in the history of the young Defoe and his family go far toward explaining his religio-political bent.’ [27] What one can take from this is that Defoe’s political thoughts relied on the figure of a Protestant King who was willing to fight for the people (see PART II, p54-line starting ‘He fights to save’) and infers Defoe’s dislike for a Roman Catholic Monarchy and shows his opposition to a governmental parliament. (see PART II, p44-line starting ‘How all their Persecuting’) Defoe’s involvement in The Monmouth Rebellion shows that he was willing to risk his life and the life of his family to fight for his ideological political beliefs.

Daniel Defoe, The True-Born Englishman. A Satyr. The Ninth Edition. With Explanatory Preface, available sources: as part of a subscription to Eighteenth Century Collections Online, the digital facsimile can be viewed at: link

(ESTC T70651)

It is difficult to find an authoritative cost-free ninth edition online, however please view the following for a similar edition with an explanatory preface. Available as part of the Luminariam Editions: link
(Please note its authoritative nature is not confirmed)

Daniel Defoe, More Short-Ways with the Dissenters, available sources: as part of a subscription to Eighteenth Century Collections Online, the digital facsimile can be viewed at: link

(ESTC T32980)

(No cost-free text version currently available)


[16] Novak, Maximillian E Daniel Defoe: Master of Fictions. p.146
[17] Mueller, Andreas A Critical Study of Daniel Defoe’s Verse. p.173
[18] ibid, p.173
[19] ibid, pp.149-50
[20] Defoe, Daniel More Short-Ways with the Dissenters. London: [s.n.], printed in the year, 1704. [ESTC T32980, copy on ECCO] p.1
[21] Schonhorn, Manuel Defoe’s Politics; Parliament, Power, Kingship, and Robinson Crusoe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. pp.9-10
[22] ibid, p.14
[23] ibid, p.10
[24] Defoe, Daniel Some Reflections on a Pamphlet Lately Publish’d, Entituled, An Argument Shewing That a Standing Army Is Inconsistent with a Free Government. London: printed for E. Whitlock near Stationers-Hall, 1697. [ESTC R40379, copy on EBBO] p.5
[25] Schonhorn, Manuel Defoe’s Politics, p.16
[26] ibid, p.16
[27] ibid, p.16

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