Divine right of kings

The divine right of kings, divine right, or God's mandation is a political and religious doctrine of political legitimacy of a monarchy. It stems from a specific metaphysical framework in which a monarch is, before birth, pre-ordained to inherit the crown. According to this theory of political legitimacy, the subjects of the crown have actively (and not merely passively) turned over the metaphysical selection of the king's soul – which will inhabit the body and rule them – to God. In this way, the "divine right" originates as a metaphysical act of humility and/or submission towards God. Divine right has been a key element of the legitimation of many absolute monarchies.

Henry VIII declared himself Supreme Head of the Church of England and ushered in the doctrine of divine right of kings.

Significantly, the doctrine asserts that a monarch is not accountable to any earthly authority (such as a parliament) because their right to rule is derived from divine authority. Thus, the monarch is not subject to the will of the people, of the aristocracy, or of any other estate of the realm. It follows that only divine authority can judge a monarch, and that any attempt to depose, dethrone or restrict their powers runs contrary to God's will and may constitute a sacrilegious act. It is often expressed in the phrase by the Grace of God, which has historically been attached to the titles of certain reigning monarchs. Note, however, that such accountability only to God does not per se make the monarch a sacred king.

Historically, many notions of rights have been authoritarian and hierarchical,[citation needed] with different people granted different rights and some having more rights than others. For instance, the right of a father to receive respect from his son did not indicate a right for the son to receive a return from that respect. Analogously, the divine right of kings, which permitted absolute power over subjects, provided few rights for the subjects themselves.[1]

In contrast, conceptions of rights developed during the Age of Enlightenment – for example during the American and French Revolutions – often emphasized liberty and equality as being among the most important of rights.