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Sir Robert Filmer (1588 – 26 May 1653) was an English political theorist who defended the divine right of kings. His best known work, Patriarcha, published posthumously in 1680, was the target of numerous Whig rebuttals, including Algernon Sidney's Discourses Concerning Government, James Tyrrell's Patriarcha Non Monarcha and John Locke's Two Treatises of Government. Filmer also wrote critiques of Thomas Hobbes, John Milton, Hugo Grotius and Aristotle.
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The son of Sir Edward Filmer of East Sutton in Kent, he studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he matriculated in 1604. Knighted by Charles I at the beginning of his reign, he was an ardent supporter of the king's cause, and his house is said to have been plundered by the parliamentarians ten times. He was imprisoned in Leeds Castle in 1643.
He and his father died in the same city, and he is buried in the church there, surrounded by his descendants to the tenth generation. His son, also Robert, was created the first of the Filmer baronets in 1674.
Patriarcha and other works 
Filmer was already a middle-aged man when the controversy between the king and the House of Commons roused him into literary activity. His writings afford examples of the doctrines held by the extreme section of the Divine Right party.
The most comprehensive expression of Filmer's thought is given in Patriarcha, or the Natural Power of Kings, which was published posthumously in 1680, but was probably begun in the 1620s, and almost certainly was completed before the Civil War began in 1642. According to Christopher Hill, "The whole argument of ... Patriarcha, and of his works published earlier in the 1640s and 1650s, is based on Old Testament history from Genesis onwards".
His position was enunciated by the works which he published during his lifetime. Of the Blasphemie against the Holy Ghost from 1646 or 1647 was against Calvinists, starting from John Calvin's doctrine on blasphemy. The Freeholders Grand Inquest (1648) concerned English constitutional history; Filmer's early published works did not receive much attention, while Patriarcha circulated only in manuscript. Anarchy of a Limited and Mixed Monarchy (1648) was an attack on a treatise about monarchy by Philip Hunton. Hunton had maintained that the king's prerogative is not superior to the authority of the Houses of Parliament.
His Observations concerning the Original of Government upon Mr Hobbes's Leviathan, Mr Milton against Salmasius, and H. Grotius' De jure belli ac pacis appeared in 1652. As its title suggests, it attacks several political classics, the De jure belli ac pacis of Grotius, the Leviathan of Thomas Hobbes, and the Defensio pro Populo Anglicano of John Milton. The pamphlet entitled The Power of Kings, and in particular, of the King of England (written 1648) was first published in 1680.
Filmer's theory is founded upon the statement that the government of a family by the father is the true origin and model of all government. In the beginning God gave authority to Adam, who had complete control over his descendants, even over life and death itself. From Adam this authority was inherited by Noah; here, Filmer most likely quotes the legend of Noah, who sailed up the Mediterranean and allocated the three continents of the Old World to the rule of his three sons. From Shem, Ham and Japheth the patriarchs inherited the absolute power which they exercised over their families and servants; and it is from these patriarchs that all kings and governors (whether a single monarch or a governing assembly) derive their authority, which is therefore absolute, and founded upon divine right.
The difficulty inherent in judging the validity of claims to power by men who claim to be acting upon the 'secret' will of God was disregarded by Filmer, who held it in no way altered the nature of such power, based on the natural right of a supreme father to hold sway. The king is perfectly free from all human control. He cannot be bound by the acts of his predecessors, for which he is not responsible; nor by his own, for it is impossible that a man should give a law to himself - a law must be imposed by another upon the person bound by it.
With regard to the English constitution, he asserted, in his Freeholders Grand Inquest touching our Sovereign Lord the King and his Parliament (1648), that the Lords give counsel only to the king, that the Commons are to perform and consent only to the ordinances of parliament, and that the king alone is the maker of laws which derive their power purely from his will. Filmer considered it monstrous that the people should judge or depose their king, for they would then become judges in their own cause.
Filmer was a severe critic of democracy. In his opinion, democracy of ancient Athens was in fact a "justice-trading system". Athenians never knew real justice, only the will of the mob. Ancient Rome was, according to Filmer, ruled fairly only after the Empire was established.
Filmer's theory, owing to a timely posthumous publication, obtained a wide recognition. Nine years after the publication of Patriarcha, at the time of the Revolution which banished the Stuarts from the throne, John Locke singled out Filmer among the advocates of Divine Right and attacked him expressly in the first part of the Two Treatises of Government. The first Treatise goes into all his arguments seriatim, and especially pointing out that even if the first principles of his argument are to be taken for granted, the rights of the eldest born have been so often cast aside that modern kings can claim no such inheritance of authority, as Filmer asserts.
His first son Sir Edward Filmer was Gentleman of the Privy Chamber. He died in 1668 and the East Sutton estate passed to his brother Robert who was created a baronet in 1674 in honour of their father's loyalty to the Crown. See Filmer baronets.
List of works 
- Of the Blasphemie against the Holy Ghost (1647).
- The Free-holders Grand Inquest (1648).
- The Anarchy of a Limited or Mixed Monarchy (1648).
- The Necessity of the Absolute Power of All Kings (1648).
- Observations Concerning the Originall of Government, upon Mr Hobs Leviathan, Mr Milton against Salmasius, H. Grotius De Jure Belli (1652).
- Observations on Mr Hobbes's Leviathan. In G. A. J. Rogers, Robert Filmer, George Lawson, John Bramhall & Edward Hyde Clarendon (eds.), Leviathan: Contemporary Responses to the Political Theory of Thomas Hobbes. Thoemmes Press (1995).
- Observations Upon Aristotles Politiques concerning Forms of Government, Together with Directions for Obedience to Gouvernors in dangerous and doubtfull times (1652).
- An Advertisement to the Jury-Men of England Touching Witches (1653).
- An Advertisement to the Jury-Men of England Touching Witches, The Rota at the University of Exeter, (1975).
- Patriarcha (1680).
There are two modern editions of the complete works of Filmer:
- Filmer: Patriarcha and Other Writing, edited by Johann P. Sommerville (Cambridge University Press, 1991).
- Patriarcha and other political works of Sir Robert Filmer, edited by Peter Laslett (B. Blackwell, 1949).
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Sir Robert Filmer". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Venn, J.; Venn, J. A., eds. (1922–1958). "Robert Filmer". Alumni Cantabrigienses (10 vols) (online ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Patriarcha and Other Writings, ed. by Johann P. Sommerville (1991), viii, xiii, xxxii-xxxiv ("The Date of Filmer's Patriarcha"); John M. Wallace, The Date of Sir Robert Filmer's Patriarcha, The Historical Journal, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Mar., 1980), pp. 155-165.
- Christopher Hill, The English Bible and the Seventeenth-Century Revolution (1993), p. 20.
- Ian Bostridge, Witchcraft and Its Transformations, C.1650-c.1750 (1997), p. 14.
- Kim Ian Parker, The Biblical Politics of John Locke (2004), pp. 80-1.
Further reading 
- Bałuk, Teresa. "Sir Robert Filmer's Description of the Polish Constitutional System in the Seventeenth Century," The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 62, No. 2, Apr., 1984.
- Cuttica, Cesare. Sir Robert Filmer (1588-1653) and the Patriotic Monarch, Manchester University Press, 2012.
- Daly, James. Sir Robert Filmer and English Political Thought, University of Toronto Press, 1979.
- Daly, James. "Some Problems in the Authorship of Sir Robert Filmer's Works," The English Historical Review, Vol. 98, No. 389, Oct., 1983.
- Greenleaf, W. H. "Filmer's Patriarchal History," The Historical Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2, 1966.
- Jones, Myrddin. "Further Thoughts on Religion: Swift's Relationship to Filmer and Locke," The Review of English Studies, New Series, Vol. 9, No. 35, Aug., 1958.
- Laslett, Peter. "Sir Robert Filmer: The Man versus the Whig Myth," The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 5, No. 4, Oct., 1948.
- Schochet, Gordon. "Sir Robert Filmer: Some New Bibliographical Discoveries," The Library, Vol. XXVI, 1971.
- Smith, Constance. "Filmer, and the Knolles Translation of Bodin," The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 52, Jul., 1963.
- Sommerville, J. P. "From Suarez to Filmer: A Reappraisal," The Historical Journal, Vol. 25, No. 3, Sep., 1982.
- Tuck, Richard. "A New Date for Filmer's Patriarcha," The Historical Journal, Vol. 29, No. 1, Mar., 1986.
- Watson, Wilfred. "The Fifth Commandment; some Allusions to Sir Robert Filmer's Writings in Tristram Shandy," Modern Language Notes, Vol. 62, No. 4, Apr., 1947.