Divine right of kings

political and religious doctrine of the legitimacy of monarchs

The divine right of kings, divine right, or God's mandate is a political and religious doctrine of royal and political legitimacy.  It asserts that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving the right to rule directly from the will of God.  The king is thus not subject to the will of his people, the aristocracy, or any other estate of the realm, including (in the view of some) the Catholic Church.  It implies that only God can judge an unjust king and that any attempt to depose, dethrone, or restrict his powers runs contrary to the will of God and may constitute a sacrilegious act.  It is often expressed in the phrase "by the Grace of God," attached to the titles of a reigning monarch.

The American Revolution began with certain latent hopes that it might turn into a genuine break with the State ideal.  The Declaration of Independence announced doctrines that were utterly incompatible not only with the century-old conception of the Divine Right of Kings, but also with the Divine Right of the State.  …  If revolution is justifiable a State may even be criminal sometimes in resisting its own extinction.
Randolph Bourne
If one takes the thought into one's head that the leaders of the people do not receive their inspirations directly from providence itself, that they obey purely human impulses, the prestige that surrounds them will disappear.  One will irreverently resist their sovereign decisions, as one resists anything man-made whose utility has not been clearly demonstrated.  …  It was free inquiry that demonetized the fiction of divine right, to the point where the subjects of monarchs or of aristocracies based on divine right obey them only insofar as they think it in their own self-interest to obey them.
Gustave de Molinari



  • In order to subsist, then, temporal power needs a consecration that comes from spiritual authority; it is this consecration that confers upon it legitimacy, that is to say conformity with the very order of things. Such was the raison d'être of the 'royal initiation' […] and it is in this that the 'divine right' of kings properly consists, what the Far-Eastern tradition calls the 'mandate of Heaven'.
    • René Guénon, Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power (1929), pp. 28–29

  • 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 they are called gods.  There be three principal [comparisons] 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 patriae [parent of the country], the politic father of his people.  And lastly, kings are compared to the head of this microcosm of the body of man.

10Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?So Pilate said to him, "Do you not speak to me?  Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?"
11Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.Jesus answered [him], "You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above.  For this reason the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin."
  • John 19:10–11 (NABRE).

    15Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.Then the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech.
    16And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  And you are not concerned with anyone's opinion, for you do not regard a person's status.
    17Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou?  Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?Tell us, then, what is your opinion:  Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?"
    18But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?Knowing their malice, Jesus said, "Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?
    19Shew me the tribute money.  And they brought unto him a penny.Show me the coin that pays the census tax."  Then they handed him the Roman coin.
    20And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?He said to them, "Whose image is this and whose inscription?"
    21They say unto him, Caesar's.  Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.They replied, "Caesar's."  At that he said to them, "Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."
  • Matthew 22:15–21 (NABRE).

    1Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers.  For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God.
    2Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves.
    3For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil.  Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:For rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil.  Do you wish to have no fear of authority?  Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it,
    4For he is the minister of God to thee for good.  But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.for it is a servant of God for your good.  But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer.
    5Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.Therefore, it is necessary to be subject not only because of the wrath but also because of conscience.
    6For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.This is why you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.
    7Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.Pay to all their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.
  • Romans 13:1–7 (NABRE).

    13Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king as supreme
    14Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the approval of those who do good.
    15For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:For it is the will of God that by doing good you may silence the ignorance of foolish people.
    16As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.Be free, yet without using freedom as a pretext for evil, but as slaves of God.
    17Honour all men.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honour the king.Give honor to all, love the community, fear God, honor the king.
    18Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and equitable but also to those who are perverse.
  • 1 Peter 2:13–18 (NABRE).

    • Anarchists hold that morality must be upheld in all cases, and not abandoned whenever State actions are involved.  Men have long since rejected the Divine Right of Kings; surely it is now past time to do the same with all claims that the State is Extra-Human or Extra-Moral.  The State must be judged on the same level and by the same principles as all other human actions and institutions; one rule applies to all.
      • John V. Peters, "Anarchism and Government," The Libertarian Forum 2, no. 10, ed. Murray N. Rothbard (New York, NY: Joseph R. Peden, 15 May 1970), p. 3.

    Wikipedia has an article about: