Madariaga, Probabilism and the Polysynodial Regime of the Spanish Monarchy

Daniel Schwartz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper examines the use of the theological doctrine of probabilism by the Valencian political writer Juan de Madariaga in his Del senado y su príncipe of 1617. Madariaga’s work is but one example of the phenomenal diffusion of probabilism in political and legal writings in seventeenth century Spain. Such popularity must be understood in the institutional context of the Habsburg monarchy, effectively managed by an expanding number of powerful councils (consejos), constituting what Spanish historians call a ‘polysynodial regime’. Probabilists argued that council members could, within limits, defer to the majority opinion within the council without shirking their conscientious duties. As explained by Madariaga, by morally allowing such deferrals, probabilism strengthened the cohesiveness of the councils and preserved their authority in the eyes of the king and the people. It is suggested that by relying on probabilism in order to foster unanimity within the council, Madariaga was in fact attempting to remove occasions for one of the favoured criticisms against the polysynodial regime: that the multiplicity of contradictory advice confused the monarch and prevented the sort of expedite action necessary for solving the urgent problems of the monarchy.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)143-162
Number of pages20
JournalGlobal Intellectual History
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

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© 2022 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Madariaga
  • Probabilism
  • Spanish political thought
  • dissenting votes
  • political counsel


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