divine right, doctrine that sovereigns derive their right to rule by virtue of their birth alone—a right based on the law of God and of nature. Authority is transmitted to a ruler from his ancestors, whom God himself appointed to rule. Because the sovereign was responsible not to the governed, but to God alone, active resistance to a king was a sin ensuring damnation. The doctrine evolved partly in reaction against papal claims to wield authority in the political sphere. In England, King James I and his son Charles I made many claims based on divine right, and a notable exponent of the theory was Sir Robert Filmer. It ceased to be important in England after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The epitome of the doctrine is found in the rule of Louis XIV of France.
See J. N. Figgis, The Theory of the Divine Right of Kings (1896, repr. 1965); F. Kern, Kingship and Law in the Middle Ages (tr. 1939, repr. 1970).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.