Juan de Mariana


This document presents biographical information about Juan de Mariana that  seems generally pertinent to the Measure for Measure argument.  There are already short biographies of Mariana available on the internet, including one at http://www.mises.org/content/juandemariana.asp and one at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09659b.htm.  


Mariana was born around 1536, and thus was over 65 by the time Measure for Measure was published, and, one would think, at the height of his fame.  Up until the age of 38 (1574), he had traveled widely, becoming ordained to the priesthood in Rome in 1561, and teaching at colleges in Italy and France for the next thirteen years (Rome, Loreto, Sicily, Messina and Palermo from 1561-1569; Paris from 1569-1574). In Rome, one of his pupils was Roberto Bellarmine, later the cardinal who persecuted Galileo and whose writings (e.g. “In a commonwealth, all men are born naturally free and equal” (De Clericis, Ch. VII) are echoed in Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Declaration of Rights (“All men are by nature equally free and independent”) and the Declaration of Independence (“All men are created equal”).  In Paris, it is said, his lectures on Thomas Aquinas attracted such crowds that people hung out of the windows to hear them. 


He returned to Spain in 1574.  Per G. Kasten Tallmadge, "Juan de Mariana," in Gerald Smith, ed., Jesuit Thinkers of the Renaissance (Marquette U.P. 1939), at 159:


“During this time [the 1570s] he was appointed synodal examiner and counsel for the Holy Tribunal of the Inquisition.  His fame waxed greatly, and by 1580, when he was forty four years old, he was recognised everywhere as one of the highest authorities in matters of theology." Returning to Spain in 1574, he devoted the rest of his long life to literary endeavors, and served as counselor to the Spanish Inquisition.”


The remainder of his long life seems to have been devoted primarily to literary endeavors.  He published the first 20 books of his Latin History of the Matters of Spain in 1592, with the idea of making Spain’s glorious history known to the world at large, and published an expanded version of that work in 1595.  Spanish versions of the History came out in 1601 and 1606.


In 1598-99, he published “On the King and His Education” (“De Rege et Regis Institutione”) which he claimed he wrote at the behest of Philip II – who had just died – although it is doubtful that Philip II was would have endorsed the chapter in which Mariana justified tyrannicide, much less his contention that the defeat of the Spanish Armada was attributable to Divine rage at the “vile lusts of a certain prince” (i.e. Philip II).  This work also contains Mariana’s suggestion that the Spanish crown authorize and reward privateers for harassing shipping in the English channel.


De Rege might have attracted the attention of Shakespeare as well as King James, both of whom had thoughts on the divine right of kings as well as tyrannicide:


“For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground

And tell sad stories of the death of kings;

How some have been deposed; some slain in war,

Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;

Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed;

All murdered . . . .”


(Richard II, 3.2.155-60)


There is a disagreement among Mariana’s biographers as to whether Mariana’s later treatise on debasement appeared as a chapter in the 1599 De Rege.  The only English translation, by G.A. Moore, does not contain the debasement chapter, and neither does the 1854 Spanish translation of the work, but this is as far as I have pursued the question. 


In 1599, Mariana published De Ponderibus et Mensuris (and indeed, it was bound with some volumes of De Rege), which detailed the history of the very important topic of weights and measures from ancient times to the Spain of his day.  De Ponderibus has not been translated into English, and I have seen no summaries beyond a paragraph or two.  My paper suggests that this work might contain some of Mariana’s thoughts on debasement – in fact, it has been confused with his treatise on debasement:


“A flurry of anti-Mariana publications followed in the same year. This included calls from the Sorbonne to imprison Mariana, which were printed in London in 1610 under the title Copy of a late Decree of the Sorbone at Paris, for the condemning of that impious, and hereticall opinion, touching the murthering of Princes, generally mantayned by the Jesuits. With unfortunate timing, Mariana's unrelated treatise on the depreciation of Spanish currency, De ponderibus et mensuris (Toledo, 1599) noted as one of the finest analyses of political economy-- was also attracting domestic and foreign criticisms and he was subsequently condemned to home imprisonment for treason the same year L'antimariana was published.).”


From a summary of Roussel, Michel,  L'Antimariana ou refutation des propositions de Mariana (Rouen, Jean Petit, 1610), available at



The above paragraph refers to the attention that Mariana’s writings on tyrannicide attracted after the assassination of Henry IV of France in 1610, and how Mariana was imprisoned for the views on debasement expressed in De Mutatione Monetae (1609).


The “antimariana” by Roussel was not the first book to take Mariana to task for his writings, however.  In 1603, Juan Fernandez de Velasco, Constable of Castile (who held about a dozen other titles, and who was to be the leading Spanish Ambassador at the 1604 peace conference between Spain and England) directed his secretary, Pedro Mantuan(o), to write a critique of Mariana’s History of Spain.  I have been unable to ascertain whether Mantuan (who was about 27 years old at the time, and who went on to become a historian of some repute) attended the Peace Conference with his employer, but it is widely believed that Shakespeare himself was there for eighteen days, along with the other King’s Men.


In 1605, Mariana published, in Mainz, a second edition of De Rege, which contained some minor changes that might have been intended to mollify the Jesuits.  The scholars who do not believe that the 1599 version of De Rege included the chapter on debasement say that the 1605 version did.  For purposes of my Measure for Measure argument, I assume that these latter scholars are correct.


In 1609, he published Seven Treatises in a single volume.  The volume included De Mutatione Monetae, which, as above, got him imprisoned at the age of 74.


Mariana died in 1624, aged 87 or 88.