Divine Right Of Kings: What It Is

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The Divine Right of kings: What is it?

        The divine right of kings is the belief that monarchs or rulers received their rights to rule directly from God, so that all of their actions and decisions were supposedly derived straight from God. The wishes of God were uppermost; the consent and wishes of the people and subjects was rarely ever taken into consideration. A monarch was a direct representative of God. It was believed that a king had to have godly virtues in order to rule properly.

        The people firmly believed that it was up to God to punish a wicked king, and not up to the people to take matters into their own hands. As far as the people were concerned, the king could do no wrong because if he could make it to the throne, he was "the chosen one". Therefor if the king decided to be evil, then so be it, the Lord would deal with that. They believed that God was omniscient, forever watching for an unfit king that would receive his just rewards when judgment day comes.

When was it predominant?

The idea of the divine right was at its highest point in England and Scotland when the House of Stuart reigned. The French also followed this dictum, especially during the rule of Louis XIV. The Stuarts ruled England and Scotland during most of the 1600's and early 1700's. They were harsh, undemocratic rulers without thought for the people. They only thought of themselves. The first Stuart to rule England was James IV of Scotland. After becoming King he change his tittle to James I of England.
The Divine Right of Kings in Shakespeare's Work

Shakespeare's time (1564-1616) fell right into the time of Stuart rule, therefore the firm belief in the Divine Right had a lot of influence in his work. It is interesting to note that although Macbeth was an evil king, the people didn't let God punish him, but chose instead to dethrone Macbeth themselves, where as the belief of the time was that God would be the ultimate nemesis. This belief was an anachronism, because in the time Macbeth ruled, the divine right was not yet established, but he used the belief from his modern times and infused it into the play. Shakespeare actually turned the belief around because he had the witches (who were representatives of Satan) tempt Macbeth with the prophecies. When Macbeth performed evil deeds, there was supposed to be divine intervention. Instead of God, the witches (the Devil) were the cause of Macbeth's downfall, lead by temptation. Although Macduff was the initial downfall of Macbeth, Macbeth's carelessness came from over confidence brought on by the witches' second set of prophecies. In this play the handwork is seen by the devil.

        In the mid section of the play, after the death of Duncan, Macbeth feels guilty of the murder and seeks forgiveness from God: "But wherefore could not I pronounce, Amen? I had most need of blessing, and Amen. Stuck in my throat" (Act II, ii, L42-44). This showed how most evil rulers, would seek forgiveness from God, but not from the people. As long as God forgave, Macbeth would feel innocent. Keep in mind that in the Doctrine, the ruler's powers are not subject to religious limitations. Therefore the comandment "Though shall not kill" did not apply.

        Many believed that the divine right excused rulers from punishment and gave them the freedom of conscience to perform ungodly deeds, without having to repent in the near future. This would explain why this belief has not held to this day. Many believed that no one not even kings were beyond the scrutiny of God and that either way their evil doings would be punished whether they believed it or not. After the murder of Duncan, nature was in an uproar, which was God frowning upon the acts of man, specifically the actions of Macbeth. "Ah, good farther, though see'st, the heavens, as troubled with man's act, threaten his bloody stage: by the clock, "˜tis day"¦ Turn't wild in nature" (Act II, ii, L5-21). This show omniscient presence of God. Even though rulers had the Divine Right, Maceth was not rightfully king as of yet, and God showed his displeasure in his actions.


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