ⓘ Divine right of kings. The divine right of kings, was a political and religious doctrine. It meant that a monarch was given the right to rule by God alone. His ..

Divine right of kings

ⓘ Divine right of kings

The divine right of kings, was a political and religious doctrine. It meant that a monarch was given the right to rule by God alone. His authority could not be questioned because he ruled in Gods name. It gave a king absolute rule over his subjects.


1. Beginnings

Pharaohs and some other ancient Kings were thought to actually be gods or descendants of gods. That concept went away when monotheism spread. A medieval principle held that God gave the right in to rule in secular matters to political rulers. God gave the right to rule over spiritual matters to the Pope as head of the Church. This has been called the doctrine of the two swords. In 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as the Holy Roman Emperor. From that time on the Emperor was the secular power while the Pope was the spiritual power. This concept began to break down prior to the First Crusade. Rather than have the Emperor provide the manpower for the crusade, the Pope called on the nobility of Europe directly.


2. Rise and fall

In England, Henry VIII broke free of the Catholic church and the authority of the Pope. By the Acts of Supremacy in 1534 Henry was both king and "Supreme Head" of the Church of England. Following the Protestant Reformation the theory of divine right gave the king absolute authority as Gods representative on earth in both political and spiritual matters. It made him accountable to no one but God. James I of England in his speech to Parliament in 1609 said:

In France the theory had been considered from the 13th century. Although France remained Catholic, her kings gradually pulled away from papal rule. By the 16th century the king replaced the pope as supreme authority over the French church. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688–89 the divine rights theory was no longer popular in England. In France, kings including Louis XIV of France 1643–1715 continued the divine rights doctrine. That was until the French revolution in 1789. By the 19th century it no longer had any credibility.


3. China

The Chinese culture had a similar but older concept called the Mandate of Heaven. A good ruler had the blessings of heaven. But one who ruled badly would cause the mandate to be removed. When the Peoples Republic of China was formed in 1949, they claimed the Mandate of Heaven from the people.


4. Other websites

  • Divine Right of Kings, Spartacus Educational Archived 2013-05-12 at the Wayback Machine
  • J.P. Sommerville, Divine Right of Kings, University of Wisconsin Archived 2017-08-01 at the Wayback Machine