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Divine right of kings

Divine right of kings. A high view of monarchy resting on biblical texts which associate kings closely with God through their anointing. Because of this sacramental association, the early view held that the character of the king was irrelevant: the virtue lay in the office, not in the person. The execution of Charles I did not break the hold of this belief (indeed, it contributed to the view that Charles I was a martyr, to be remembered as such in the Book of Common Prayer); it persisted as a motive for many of the non-Jurors. They refused to accept the accession of William and Mary, on the ground that this involved breaking their previous oath to James II and his successors. The divine right of kings meant that at most they could engage in passive obedience to the usurper. Nine bishops (including the archbishop of Canterbury, W. Sancroft) and about 400 priests were deprived of their posts. Sancroft perpetuated the succession of non-juring bishops by securing the congé dʾélire from James II in exile. Gradually the non-Jurors were absorbed into the Anglican Church, the last bishop, Robert Gordon, dying in 1779.

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divine right of kings

divine right of kings. It was taken for granted in early modern Europe that monarchs derived their authority from God, but the French wars of religion in the late 16th cent. produced a passionate debate about the limitations, if any, upon royal power. James VI of Scotland, the protestant son of a catholic mother, took part in this as he defended his own authority against the claims of both presbyterians and Jesuits. But his insistence that kings were gods in their own right, above the law in theory (though rarely in practice), alarmed his English subjects after 1603, who enjoyed political liberties and property rights embodied in the common law and protected by Parliament. James never, in fact, threatened these, but the less flexible Charles I overrode property rights through prerogative taxation, and political liberties by ruling without Parliament. The divine right of kings apparently died with him but was resuscitated during the later Stuart period. Only after the Glorious Revolution did it become irrelevant.

Roger Lockyer

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Divine Right of Kings

DIVINE RIGHT OF KINGS

The authority of a monarch to rule a realm by virtue of birth.

The concept of the divine right of kings, as postulated by the patriarchal theory of government, was based upon the laws of God and nature. The king's power to rule was derived from his ancestors who, as monarchs, were appointed to serve by God. Regardless of mis-conduct, a king or his heir could not be forced to forfeit the right to the obedience of subjects or the right to succeed to the throne. This concept was formulated to dispel any possibility of papal and ecclesiastical claims to supremacy in secular as well as spiritual matters.

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