Christian political doctrine that hereditary monarchy is the system approved by God, hereditary right cannot be forfeited, monarchs are accountable to God alone for their actions, and rebellion against the lawful sovereign is therefore blasphemous.
The doctrine had its origins in the anointing of Pepin in 751 by the pope after Pepin had usurped the throne of the Franks. It was at its peak in 16th- and 17th-century Europe as a weapon against the claims of the papacy – the court of Louis XIV of France pushed this to the limit – and was in 17th-century England maintained by the supporters of the Stuarts in opposition to the democratic theories of the Whigs and Puritans. Many of this latter group migrated to the American colonies to avoid persecution.
The nature of the doctrine The doctrine embraces the belief that kings are the direct representatives of God, and as such are to receive the obedience due to God's viceroy on earth. They owe obedience to God alone, and are relieved from all responsibilities towards their subjects.
The 17th and 18th centuries James I of England, in his Trew Law of Free Monarchies, insisted on divine right as a principle. This was carried to extremes by the supporters of his son. Charles I's claim to divine right was a direct cause of the Royalist and Parliamentary struggles of the 17th century.
The doctrine was again invoked in the Exclusion Crisis (see Exclusion Bills) and in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when James II was replaced in an aristocratic coup by William of Orange. The most influential exposition of divine right in English is to be found in Sir Robert Filmer's Patriarcha (1680), which argues by analogy that the powers of God over the universe, of father over family, and sovereign over people, are all divinely ordained and absolute. The success of John Locke's Two Treatises on Government (1690) signalled the decline of the theory of divine right in England, although versions are found, especially in France until 1789, where it was opposed by Rousseau.
Causes of the English Civil War, 1642