Define: Divine Right Of Kings

Divine Right Of Kings
Divine Right Of Kings
Quick Summary of Divine Right Of Kings

The concept of the Divine Right of Kings asserts that the monarch is appointed by God to govern the nation, granting them the authority to rule without the need for consent from others. This ideology originated in ancient times when individuals held the belief that rulers received their power from God. While it was embraced by certain English kings, it ceased to exist once the monarch who adhered to this belief departed from the country.

What is the dictionary definition of Divine Right Of Kings?
Dictionary Definition of Divine Right Of Kings

The Divine Right of Kings is a political theory that asserts that a monarch is selected by God to govern and possesses the absolute right to rule due to their birth. This theory originated during the mediaeval era, when individuals believed that God bestowed power upon rulers and the church. For instance, the earlier Stuart kings in England asserted the Divine Right of Kings, leading to a power struggle with Parliament for political supremacy. James II also subscribed to this theory, but it faded away following his flight and abdication. Although the Divine Right of Kings is no longer widely embraced, it was previously employed to justify absolute monarchy.

Full Definition Of Divine Right Of Kings

The concept of the Divine Right of Kings is a political and religious doctrine that asserts a monarch’s legitimacy and right to rule directly from the will of God. This principle suggests that a king is not subject to any earthly authority, deriving his right to govern directly from a divine mandate. The Divine Right of Kings was a significant influence on the politics and governance of Europe from the mediaeval period through the early modern era, particularly impacting the structure of monarchies in countries like England, France, and Spain.

Historical Origins

The roots of the Divine Right of Kings can be traced back to various ancient and mediaeval beliefs and practices. The early Christians were influenced by the Hebrew Bible, which included the idea that kings were chosen by God, as seen in the stories of King Saul and King David. Similarly, the Roman Empire provided a precedent for the notion of divine sanctioning of rulers, with emperors often being deified after their deaths.

In the early Middle Ages, the Church played a crucial role in the coronation of kings, symbolically endorsing the monarch’s divine right. This practice reinforced the idea that the king’s authority was sanctioned by God. The doctrine became more formally articulated during the reign of Charlemagne and the Carolingian dynasty, where the coronation ceremonies involved elaborate religious rituals signifying the divine approval of the monarch’s rule.

Theoretical Foundations

The theoretical foundations of the Divine Right of Kings were laid out by various theologians and political theorists. One of the most influential figures was St. Augustine, whose writings in the “City of God” emphasised the divine origins of political power. However, it was not until the late mediaeval period and the Renaissance that the doctrine was fully developed.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, prominent thinkers such as Jean Bodin and King James VI and I of Scotland and England articulated the Divine Right of Kings in more comprehensive terms. Bodin, in his work “Six Books of the Commonwealth” (1576), argued that sovereign power was absolute and indivisible, with the monarch being God’s representative on earth. King James VI and I, in their treatise “The True Law of Free Monarchies” (1598), asserted that kings are accountable only to God and that their subjects must obey them unconditionally.

Implementation and Impact

The Divine Right of Kings had profound implications for the governance and political structures of Europe. In France, it was most notably associated with the reign of Louis XIV, the “Sun King”, who epitomised absolute monarchy. Louis XIV’s famous assertion, “L’État, c’est moi” (“I am the state”), encapsulated the essence of the divine right doctrine. His reign saw the centralisation of power and the diminishing influence of the nobility and other intermediary institutions.

In England, the doctrine played a critical role during the reigns of the Stuart monarchs. James I and his son Charles I strongly advocated for the Divine Right of Kings, leading to significant political conflict. This culminated in the English Civil War (1642–1651), where the Royalists, who supported the king, clashed with the Parliamentarians, who opposed the notion of unchecked royal authority. The eventual execution of Charles I in 1649 and the establishment of the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell marked a temporary end to the belief in divine rights in England.

Decline and Legacy

The decline of the Divine Right of Kings began in the late 17th century, particularly with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England. The overthrow of James II and the ascension of William III and Mary II to the throne established a constitutional monarchy, significantly limiting the powers of the king and affirming the supremacy of Parliament. This shift was further solidified by the Bill of Rights 1689, which laid the groundwork for modern parliamentary democracy.

In France, the doctrine persisted until the French Revolution of 1789, which radically transformed the political landscape and led to the establishment of the First Republic. The revolution dismantled the notion of divine right and absolute monarchy, replacing it with principles of popular sovereignty and republicanism.

Despite its decline, the Divine Right of Kings left a lasting legacy on the development of modern political thought. It highlighted the relationship between religion and politics and influenced the subsequent evolution of ideas about sovereignty, legitimacy, and the role of the state.

Key Figures and Texts

Jean Bodin

Jean Bodin was a French jurist and political philosopher whose work “Six Books of the Commonwealth” (1576) provided one of the most thorough justifications for the absolute power of monarchs. Bodin argued that sovereignty was indivisible and that the monarch was the supreme authority, answerable only to God. His ideas significantly influenced the development of absolutist theories of governance in France and beyond.

King James VI and I

King James VI of Scotland and I of England were staunch proponents of the Divine Right of Kings. In his treatise “The True Law of Free Monarchies” (1598), he outlined his belief that kings were divinely appointed and that their authority should be absolute and unquestioned. James’s views on kingship were pivotal during his reign and set the stage for the conflicts between the monarchy and Parliament that characterised the 17th century in England.

Robert Filmer

Sir Robert Filmer was an English political theorist best known for his work “Patriarcha” (1680), which defended the divine right of kings and patriarchalism. The filmmaker argued that monarchs were akin to the fathers of their nations, with a God-given authority that could not be challenged by their subjects. His ideas were widely critiqued by later political philosophers, most notably John Locke.

Criticism and Opposition

The doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings faced significant opposition and criticism from various quarters. Political theorists, religious reformers, and philosophers all challenged the notion of divine sanction for absolute monarchy.

John Locke

John Locke, an English philosopher, was one of the most vocal critics of the Divine Right of Kings. In his “Two Treatises of Government” (1689), Locke refuted Filmer’s “Patriarcha” and argued for the principles of natural rights and government by consent. Locke’s ideas laid the groundwork for modern democratic theory and had a profound impact on the development of constitutionalism.

The English Civil War

The English Civil War (1642–1651) was a significant event that challenged the Divine Right of Kings. The conflict between the Royalists, who supported King Charles I, and the Parliamentarians, who opposed his absolute rule, led to a re-evaluation of the principles of governance and the role of the monarchy. The eventual execution of Charles I and the establishment of the Commonwealth marked a decisive rejection of the divine right doctrine in England.

The Glorious Revolution

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 was another crucial turning point in the decline of the Divine Right of Kings. The overthrow of James II and the installation of William III and Mary II as co-monarchs established a constitutional monarchy and affirmed the primacy of Parliament. This revolution marked the end of absolute monarchy in England and set a precedent for the development of modern democratic governance.


The Divine Right of Kings was a doctrine that profoundly shaped the political and religious landscape of Europe for several centuries. While it provided a theoretical justification for absolute monarchy and the centralisation of power, it also faced significant challenges and criticisms that eventually led to its decline. The legacy of this doctrine can be seen in the subsequent evolution of political thought and the development of modern concepts of sovereignty, legitimacy, and democracy.

Throughout its history, the Divine Right of Kings illustrated the complex interplay between religion and politics and highlighted the evolving nature of political authority. As monarchies transitioned towards constitutional and democratic forms of governance, the principles of divine right were replaced by ideas emphasising the sovereignty of the people and the accountability of rulers. This transformation laid the foundation for the modern political systems that continue to shape the world today.

Divine Right Of Kings FAQ'S

The Divine Right of Kings is a political and religious doctrine that asserts that a monarch’s authority to rule is derived directly from God.

No, the Divine Right of Kings is an outdated concept that is no longer recognised in most modern legal systems.

The Divine Right of Kings often granted monarchs absolute power, which could influence the legal system and potentially lead to unfair or biased rulings.

The Divine Right of Kings was primarily associated with European monarchies, particularly during the mediaeval and early modern periods.

While the doctrine claimed absolute authority for monarchs, in practice, there were often limitations imposed by other powerful individuals or institutions, such as the nobility or the church.

Yes, the Divine Right of Kings often dictated that the monarch’s eldest son would inherit the throne, establishing a hereditary system of succession.

The Divine Right of Kings often intertwined religious and political authority, with the monarch being seen as God’s representative on Earth. This relationship could influence the legal status of religious institutions and practices.

The Divine Right of Kings could potentially limit individual rights and freedoms, as the monarch’s authority was considered absolute and not subject to challenge.

The influence of the Divine Right of Kings began to decline during the Enlightenment period in the 18th century, as ideas of democracy and individual rights gained prominence.

No, there are no countries today that officially adhere to the Divine Right of Kings. Most modern legal systems are based on constitutional principles and democratic governance.

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This glossary post was last updated: 10th June 2024.

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