Divine Right of Kings

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The Divine Right of Kings is a European political and religious doctrine of political absolutism. Such doctrines are largely, though not exclusively, associated with the mediæval and ancien régime eras. It states that a monarch owes his rule to the will of God, not to the will of his subjects, parliament, the aristocracy or any other competing authority. This doctrine continued with the claim that any attempt to depose a monarch or to restrict his powers ran contrary to the will of God.

Its symbolism remains in the coronations of the British monarchs, in which they are anointed with Holy oils by the Archbishop of Canterbury, thereby ordaining them to monarchy. It is further evidenced by efforts to trace the genealogy of European monarchs to King David of the Old Testament, in the apparent belief that it legitimizes the rule of the present monarch. The king or queen of the United Kingdom is the last monarch still to undergo such a ceremony, which in other countries has been replaced by an inauguration or other declaration. It is the reason why the British Royal Family's motto is Dieu Et Mon Droit (God and my [birth] Right - i.e. I rule with God's blessing).


[edit] The concept

The concept of Divine Right of Kings is only one manifestation of a much broader concept of "royal God-given rights", which simply says that "the right to rule is anointed by God (or gods)" which is found in other cultures. This concept was also found in the Aryan and Egyptian traditions. Thomas Aquinas accepted the overthrow of a king and even regicide when the laws of the king are untenably unjust, and towards the end of the Middle Ages many philosophers such as Nicholas of Cusa and Francisco Suarez propounded similar theories. In addition, the concept of Mandate of Heaven required that the emperor properly carry out the proper rituals, consult his ministers, and made it extremely difficult to undo any acts carried out by an ancestor.

Japanese imperial theory based the legitimacy of the Emperor of Japan on his descent from Amaterasu, however unlike the European case, this divinity did not usually translate into political power, unless the Emperor had (as Emperor Meiji did) the military might to back up his claim.

In the western world it came to be associated with the Reformation. The notion of divine right of kings was certainly in existence in the mediæval period, but was not generally well received by the Church or nobility. It was in the early modern era, under the ancien régime, that the notion became extensively used as a primarily political mechanism, i.e. for increasing the power of kings within centralized monarchies relative to their nobles and subjects. It was given its most comprehensive formulations by the French bishop Bossuet and King James I of England, but it owes much to the earlier writings of Augustine of Hippo and Paul of Tarsus.

In the Epistle to the Romans, chapter 13, Paul wrote that earthly rulers, even though they may not be Christians, have been appointed by God to their places of power for the purpose of punishing evildoers. Some Biblical scholars believe that Paul was writing, in part, to reassure the Roman authorities who ruled his world that the Christian movement was not subversive. The difficulty posed for later Christians is that the New Testament contained no explicit plan for the government of a mostly Christian society. It assumed that Christians would always be a minority in a pagan world, and its political counsel was limited mostly to advising members to obey the law and stay out of the way of pagan government.

Augustine of Hippo modified these emphases in his work De Civitate Dei for the purpose of a newly converted Roman Empire that was in serious political and military turmoil. While the City of Man and the City of God may stand at cross-purposes, both of them have been instituted by God and served His ultimate will. Even though the City of Man – the world of secular government – may seem ungodly and be governed by sinners, even so, it has been placed on Earth for the protection of the City of God.

During the early reign of Louis XIV of France, Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet took this argument to its furthest conclusion. Reviewing Old Testament precedents concerning the selection of kings, Bossuet concluded that kings were God's anointed representatives on earth. Each of them has been given his throne by God Himself, and to rebel against their authority is to rebel against God. No parliament, nobleman, nor the common people had a right to participate in that God-given authority, since it was conferred by divine providence through the right of primogeniture.

Bossuet wrote not to justify the authority of an already autocratic monarchy, but to shore it up against further incidents of turmoil that had shaken the French throne, such as the series of Frondes, in which French noblemen had fought petty civil wars against the authority of Louis XIII, and against Louis XIV himself. Bossuet's teaching ultimately proved to be the cause of much turmoil and bloodshed in France; the notion of divine right was finally overthrown in the French Revolution.

[edit] Stuarts

The early Stuarts discovered problems when relying on the Divine Right of Kings. Parliament in particular had grown in power by this stage, and was beginning to assert itself more, even to the extent of direct conflict with the king's wishes. The idea that a king never had to answer to an earthly power was falling out of favour. The power balance was shifting: instead of Parliament being a body that influenced the monarch and made suggestions, but without having any real power, it was now a real force to contend with. And as Parliament gained power, the ruling monarch lost power and rights.

Various arguments regarding the issues are exemplified and taken further still in the following passages from Chapter 20 of James I's Works:

"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 are called gods. There be three principal similitudes 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 patriæ, the politique father of his people. And lastly, kings are compared to the head of this microcosm of the body of man.
"Kings are justly called gods, for that they exercise a manner or resemblance of divine power upon earth: for if you will consider the attributes to God, you shall see how they agree in the person of a king. God hath power to create or destroy, make or unmake, at his pleasure, to give life or send death, to judge all and to be judged nor accountable to none; to raise low things and to make high things low at his pleasure, and to God are both souls and body due. And the like power have kings: they make and unmake their subjects, they have power of raising and casting down, of life and of death, judges over all their subjects and in all causes and yet accountable to none but God only.
"I conclude then this point touching the power of kings with this axiom of divinity, That as to dispute what God may do is blasphemy, so is it sedition in subjects to dispute what a king may do in the height of his power. But just kings will ever be willing to declare what they will do, if they will not incur the curse of God. I will not be content that my power be disputed upon; but I shall ever be willing to make the reason appear of all my doings, and rule my actions according to my laws."

James' subjects were not willing to submit to these assertions. A contrary doctrine arose, formulated by judges such as Sir Edward Coke, that the King of England was the creation of the law of England, and therefore subject to that law. This doctrine found adherents in Parliament, spurred on by precedents such as the Barons Revolt that led to Magna Carta in 1215.

This conflict ultimately came to a head in the English Civil War, which was won by the forces representing Parliament and led to the regicide of Charles I in January 1649 - the first time an English monarch had been convicted of treason. The Parliamentary victory, despite the Restoration of 1660, was followed up by the Glorious Revolution of 1688, drove the Stuarts from power.

[edit] Additional information on theory

Divine Right is a theory that God intended a sovereign's family to lead the nation. Most divine right sovereigns ruled with absolute power, believing that they had to report only to God, not their advisors, nobles, or citizens. If some one threatened the sovereign's rule, that person was considered an enemy of God, and usually was excommunicated, killed, or exiled.

Purposes of Divine Right

Divine Right was used mainly as a tool to keep the citizens in line; if a ruler disliked what a group of citizens were doing, he could punish them in the name of God. Divine Right was also as a claim to the throne, mostly used to force an unpopular ruler on unconsenting people, and many times went on to creating absolutist governments, where everything the ruler said or did was law.

Results of Divine Right

As mentioned above, many Divine Right rulers created absolutisms, and most rulers were greatly disliked by their citizens. Some rulers, however, did great things and treated their people fairly. For example, Charlemagne held Divine Right, but greatly expanded France's borders, while remaining well liked by his people. As well, Scipio Africanus was said to be favoured by the Roman Gods, but he was also almost universally admired as a great leader, a cunning logistician, a brilliant general, a beautiful orator, a supreme intellectual and a general tribute to Roman culture (except by Cato, who hated him for not being "Roman" enough).

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

fr:Droit divin it:Diritto divino dei re ja:王権神授説 pt:Direito divino dos reis sv:Kungadömet av Guds nåde zh:君權神授說

Divine Right of Kings

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