The Divine Right of Kings

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A Divine Right King

A divine right king refers to the doctrine exhibited by the leaders of absolute monarchies. In particular, the kings receive the authoritarian powers from God. For this reason, no individual can hold those at the helm of monarchies accountable whenever they undertake certain actions. It is important to note that the divine right monarchies were started in Europe and there was the belief that the political power had temporal powers bestowed upon him by God. The turn of the seventeenth century saw the development of new monarchs where the rulers had the authority over the state and the church.[1] One of the rulers that had the divine right of kings was King James I who ruled the United Kingdom between 1603 and 1625. On the other hand, the late seventeenth century saw rulers Lois XIV becoming the king of France between 1643 and 1715.[2] Comparing the two divine right kings reveals that there are similarities, differences, and further critiques of the systems.

United Kingdom Versus French Revolution Divine Right Monarchies

Comparison

Louis XIV took over France after the demise of Mazarin in 1661.[3] It is important to note that Louis XIV made it clear that his administration would operate without a chief minister. Moreover, he considered himself as the individual God had chosen and bestowed him the right to exercise absolute powers. For this reason, Louis XIV selected the symbol of the sun as the main image on his emblem. The primary reason for the move was to cultivate the perception that he had omniscient powers. On the other hand, Louis XIV equated himself to the state. Similarly, upon the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, James I succeed her and became the first family member of the Stuart lineage to rule England.[4]

Unlike Elizabeth, James I was not attractive and equally was not a hero. However, he had a strong belief in the divine right of kings’ doctrine. James considered himself as God’s appointee and therefore he thought he had supernatural powers. Hence, the similarity between the two divine right monarchies is the fact that both Louis XIV and James I believed they had no equal when it came to their realm.

When it came to religious matters, the King must not be under any man. However, the King is under God and this was the case for Louis XIV reign. In particular, in 1685, the Catholic church revoked the Edict of Nantes that allowed the French citizens to exercise their freedom of worship.[5]

Therefore, Louis XIV enforced the laws that would end Protestant schools and clergy. Moreover, the gatherings by the Protestant clergy were made illegal whereas the marriages officiate by Protestant preachers were considered invalid. Owing to the fact that no one would convince the King to overturn his decision, approximately 800,000 Protestant clergymen migrated to the nearby countries such as Germany, England, and Switzerland.[6] Similarly, the religious leaders in Scotland such as Parson were unable to discredit the actions undertaken by James I. It is important to note that there was no means the people could exclude themselves when it came to the succession of James I. Therefore, they had to oblige to the fact the church would be under James I. Hence, no man would be above the king with the divine right.

Lastly, the similarity that exists between King James I and Louis XIV was that no one had the ability to surpass the ruler when it came to administering justice. Moreover, the ruler would be the last to receive justice. King James, I during his reign had the support of Lord Justice Sir Edward Coke, the Archbishop of Canterbury Richard Bancroft, and the Lord Chancellor Francis Bacon regarding how he executed justice.[7]

In particular, the people had to accept the concept of law adopted by King James I. It is important to note that before the ascension of James I to power, Bacon was closely linked to the members of the Earl of Essex who were in conflict with the followers of Coke. However, there was the need for the two to work under King James I in 1606. The same applies to Louis XIV who did anything to prove he was a strong ruler. In particular, no one would deviate from the rules he had set. The primary reason was that he considered his position to be royal, grand, and noble. Therefore, he created the Court of Versailles that over time saw the succession of the divine right monarch powers by the subsequent rulers.

Contrast

Whereas some of the divine right kings do not face rebellion, others do. In the case of Louis XIV, his ascension to power saw the creation of an uprising dubbed as “Fronde”. It is important to note that the uprising comprised nobles, urban poor, merchants, and peasants.[8]

The primary reason for the rebellion was due to the fact that the French citizens wanted one of their own to rule. At one point, the rioters managed to drive Louis XIV from his palace. Therefore, it was beyond his expectations that such an act would occur and this resulted in him fully taking charge of running the government. In particular, he stripped off the powers he had bestowed upon the Cardinal and decided to be responsible for everything that occurred. Louis XIV claimed that he was the Sun King who was at the center of everything that was taking place in the nation.

On the other hand, the experience was different for King James I. In particular, the ruler made it clear that no one was allowed to obey evil. It is important to note that becoming a rebel and disobeying the ruler amounted to committing evil as this was showing disrespect to the commonwealth. Moreover, the rebellion of some people would have an adverse impact on the safety of the monarchy and thereby was not tolerated. For this reason, the people who were not pleased by the monarch in the United Kingdom did not have to overthrow the ruler but rather commit themselves to prayer in a move to request for change. However, the rebellion that was likely to occur was from the princes as they would use foul means to access the throne but they were closely monitored. Such an incident occurred when the sons of King John and Saul tried to oppose King James I as they saw that he was preventing them from accessing the throne.

Critiques of the Divine Right Monarchies

The divine right kings have over time been criticized owing to the use of divinity to exercise indefinable authority. For this reason, people are unable to obtain the truth from their leaders. Besides, all the actions from a divine right ruler are subjective. For this reason, divinity assists in justifying earthly authority that should not be questioned. The case applies to King James I and Louis XIV who used divinity to substantiate their abolitionist regimes. Moreover, the rulers possessed superior power that placed them above common and statute law. Therefore, the king had the right of issuing laws without seeking the consent of the followers. On the other hand, the people were unable to rebel since the feared the consequences that the disillusioned leaders might take. Hence, there was the unnecessary use of divinity which can be equated to blasphemy.

Secondly, the divine right kings such as Louis XIV were opposed to undermining the royal authority instead of upholding what was right.[9]

Therefore, the outcome was posing danger to religion. It is important to note that the church would fall under the ruler and the oath administered to church leaders by the rulers would prevent them from resisting any changes that would take place. Despite the notion that the divine right kings would use their authority to avoid controversy, it seemed impossible. In particular, the administration of justice would not be in a fair manner if the rulers are above it. Hence, there is a high possibility that controversy will result. Besides, there is a limited field within which the divine right kings operate and are likely to apply excesses where it is not appropriate. For example, the move by Louis to revoke the freedom of worship shows how decisions by divine right kings can be controversial.

Bibliography

Hill, Christopher. The century of revolution: 1603–1714. Routledge, 2014.

Lossky, Andrew. Louis XIV and the French monarchy. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994.

[1] Christopher, Hill. The century of revolution: 1603–1714. Routledge, 2014. 15

[2] Andrew, Lossky. Louis XIV and the French monarchy. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994. 41

[3] Ibid., 45

[4] Christopher, Hill. The century of revolution: 1603–1714. Routledge, 2014. 18

[5] Andrew, Lossky. Louis XIV and the French monarchy. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994. 46

[6] Ibid., 48.

[7] Christopher, Hill. The century of revolution: 1603–1714. Routledge, 2014. 25

[8] Andrew, Lossky. Louis XIV and the French monarchy. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994. 55

[9] Andrew, Lossky. Louis XIV and the French monarchy. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994. 63

November 13, 2023
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