Divine right of kings

The theory of divine right was developed by James VI of Scotland (1567–1625), and came to the fore in England under his reign as James I of England (1603–1625). Portrait attributed to John de Critz, c. 1605
Augustus as Jove, holding scepter and orb (first half of 1st century AD).[1] The Imperial cult of ancient Rome identified Roman emperors and some members of their families with the divinely sanctioned authority (auctoritas) of the Roman State. The official offer of cultus to a living emperor acknowledged his office and rule as divinely approved and constitutional: his Principate should therefore demonstrate pious respect for traditional Republican deities and mores. Many of the rites, practices and status distinctions that characterized the cult to emperors were perpetuated in the theology and politics of the Christianized Empire.[2]

The divine right of kings, divine right, or God's mandate is a political and religious doctrine of royal and political legitimacy. It asserts that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving the right to rule directly from the will of God. The king is thus not subject to the will of his people, the aristocracy, or any other estate of the realm. It implies that only God can judge an unjust king and that any attempt to depose, dethrone or restrict his powers runs contrary to the will of God and may constitute a sacrilegious act. It is often expressed in the phrase "by the Grace of God", attached to the titles of a reigning monarch.

Origins

Outside of Christianity,[clarification needed] kings were often seen as either ruling with the backing of heavenly powers or perhaps even being divine beings themselves. However, the Christian notion of a divine right of kings is traced to a story found in 1 Samuel, where the prophet Samuel anoints Saul and then David as mashiach or king over Israel. The anointing is to such an effect that the monarch became inviolable, so that even when Saul sought to kill David, David would not raise his hand against him because "he was the Lord's anointed".

Adomnan of Iona is one of the earliest Christian proponents of this concept of kings ruling with divine right. He wrote of the Irish King Diarmait mac Cerbaill's assassination and claimed that divine punishment fell on his assassin for the act of violating the monarch. Adomnan also recorded a story about Saint Columba supposedly being visited by an angel carrying a glass book, who told him to ordain Aedan mac Gabrain as King of Dal Riata. Columba initially refused, and the angel answered by whipping him and demanding that he perform the ordination because God had commanded it. The same angel visited Columba on three successive nights. Columba finally agreed, and Aedan came to receive ordination. At the ordination Columba told Aedan that so long as he obeyed God's laws, then none of his enemies would prevail against him, but the moment he broke them, this protection would end, and the same whip with which Columba had been struck would be turned against the king. Adomnan's writings most likely influenced other Irish writers, who in turn influenced continental ideas as well. Pepin the Short's coronation may have also come from the same influence.[3] The Carolingian dynasty and the Holy Roman Emperors also influenced all subsequent western ideas of kingship.

In the Middle Ages, the idea that God had granted earthly power to the monarch, just as he had given spiritual authority and power to the church, especially to the Pope, was already a well-known concept long before later writers coined the term "divine right of kings" and employed it as a theory in political science. For example, Richard I of England declared at his trial during the diet at Speyer in 1193: "I am born in a rank which recognizes no superior but God, to whom alone I am responsible for my actions", and it was Richard who first used the motto "Dieu et mon droit" ("God and my right") which is still the motto of the Monarch of the United Kingdom.

With the rise of nation-states and the Protestant Reformation in the late 16th century, the theory of divine right justified the king's absolute authority in both political and spiritual matters. Henry VIII of England declared himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England, and exerted the power of the throne more than any of his predecessors. As a political theory, it was further developed by James VI of Scotland (1567–1625), and came to the force in England under his reign as James I of England (1603–1625). Louis XIV of France (1643–1715) strongly promoted the theory as well.

Scots texts of James VI of Scotland

The Scots textbooks of the divine right of kings were written in 1597–1598 by James VI of Scotland despite Scotland never having believed in the theory and where the monarch was regarded as the "first among equals" on a par with his people. His Basilikon Doron, a manual on the powers of a king, was written to edify his four-year-old son Henry Frederick that a king "acknowledgeth himself ordained for his people, having received from the God a burden of government, whereof he must be countable". He based his theories in part on his understanding of the Bible, as noted by the following quote from a speech to parliament delivered in 1610 as James I of England:

The state of monarchy is the supremest thing upon earth, for kings are not only God's lieutenants upon earth and sit upon God's throne, but even by God himself they are called gods. There be three principal [comparisons] that illustrate the state of monarchy: one taken out of the word of God, and the two other out of the grounds of policy and philosophy. In the Scriptures kings are called gods, and so their power after a certain relation compared to the Divine power. Kings are also compared to fathers of families; for a king is truly parens patriae [parent of the country], the politic father of his people. And lastly, kings are compared to the head of this microcosm of the body of man.[4]

James's reference to "God's lieutenants" is apparently a reference to the text in Romans 13 where Paul refers to "God's ministers".

(1) Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. (2) Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. (3) For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: (4) For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. (5) Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. (6) For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. (7) Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.[5]