James VI & I on the Divine Right of Kings

 

A SPEACH TO THE  LORDS AND COMMONS OF THE PARLIAMENT AT WHITE-HALL, ON WEDNESDAY THE XXI. OF MARCH. ANNO 1609 [1610 new style].

 

The State of MONARCHIE is the supremest thing vpon earth: For Kings are not onely GODS Lieutenants vpon earth, and sit vpon GODS throne, but euen by GOD himselfe they are called Gods. There bee three principall similitudes that illustrate the state of MONARCHIE: One taken out of the word of GOD; and the two other out of the grounds of Policie and Philosophie. In the Scriptures Kings are called Gods, and so their power after a certaine relation compared to the Diuine power. Kings are also compared to Fathers of families: for a King is trewly Parens patrię, the politique father of his people. And lastly, Kings are compared to the head of this Microcosme of the body of man.

     Kings are iustly called Gods, for that they exercise a manner or resemblance of Diuine power vpon earth: For if you wil consider the Attributes to God, you shall see how they agree in the person of a King. God hath power to create, or destroy, make, or vnmake at his pleasure, to giue life, or send death, to iudge all, and to bee iudged nor accomptable to none: To raise low things, and to make high things low at his pleasure, and to God are both soule and body due. And the like power haue Kings: they make and vnmake their subiects: they haue power of raising, and casting downe: of life, and of death: Iudges ouer all their subiects, and in all causes, and yet accomptable to none but God onely. They haue power to exalt low things, and abase high things, and make of their subiects like men at the Chesse; A pawne to take a Bishop or a Knight, and to cry vp, or downe any of their subiects, as they do their money. And to the King is due both the affection of the soule, and the seruice of the body of his subiects: And therefore that reuerend Bishop here amongst you, though I heare that by diuers he was mistaken or not wel vnderstood, yet did he preach both learnedly and trewly annent this point concerning the power of a King: For what he spake of a Kings power in Abstracto, is most trew in Diuinitie: For to Emperors, or Kings that are Monarches, their Subiects bodies & goods are due for their defence and maintenance. But if I had bene in his place, I would only haue added two words, which would haue cleared all: For after I had told as a Diuine, what was due by the Subiects to their Kings in generall, I would then haue concluded as an Englishman, shewing this people, That as in generall all Subiects were bound to relieue their King; So to exhort them, that as wee liued in a setled state of a Kingdome which was gouerned by his owne fundamentall Lawes and Orders, that according thereunto, they were now (being assembled for this purpose in Parliament) to consider how to helpe such a King as now they had; And that according to the ancient forme, and order established in this Kingdome: putting so, a difference betweene the generall power of a King in Diuinity, and the setled and established State of this Crowne, and Kingdome. And I am sure that the Bishop meant to haue done the same, if hee had not bene straited by time, which in respect of the greatnesse of the presence preaching before me, and such an Auditory, he durst not presume vpon.

     As for the Father of a familie, they had of olde vnder the Law of Nature Patriam potestatem [fatherly power], which was Potestatem vitę & necis [the power of life and death], ouer their children or familie, (I meane such Fathers of families as were the lineall heires of those families whereof Kings did originally come:) For Kings had their first originall from them, who planted and spread themselues in Colonies through the world. Now a Father may dispose of his Inheritance to his children, at his pleasure: yea, euen disinherite the eldest vpon iust occasions, and preferre the youngest, according to his liking; make them beggers, or rich at his pleasure; restraine, or banish out of his presence, as hee findes them giue cause of offence, or restore them in fauour againe with the penitent sinner: So may the King deale with his Subiects.

     And lastly, as for the head of the naturall body, the head hath the power of directing all the members of the body to that vse which the iudgement in the head thinkes most conuenient. It may apply sharpe cures, or cut off corrupt members, let blood in what proportion it thinkes fit, and as the body may spare, but yet is all this power ordeined by God Ad ędificationem, non ad destructionem [to edification not to destruction]. For although God haue power aswell of destruction, as of creation or maintenance; yet will it not agree with the wisedome of God, to exercise his power in the destruction of nature, and ouerturning the whole frame of things, since his creatures were made, that his glory might thereby be the better expressed: So were hee a foolish father that would disinherite or destroy his children without a cause, or leaue off the carefull education of them; And it were an idle head that would in place of phisicke so poyson or phlebotomize the body as might breede a dangerous distemper or destruction thereof.

     But now in these our times we are to distinguish betweene the state of Kings in their first originall, and betweene the state of setled Kings and Monarches, that doe at this time gouerne in ciuill Kingdomes: For euen as God, during the time of the olde Testament, spake by Oracles, and wrought by Miracles; yet how soone it pleased him to setle a Church which was bought, and redeemed by the blood of his onely Sonne Christ, then was there a cessation of both; Hee euer after gouerning his people and Church within the limits of his reueiled will. So in the first originall of Kings, whereof some had their beginning by Conquest, and some by election of the people, their wills at that time serued for Law; Yet how soone Kingdomes began to be setled in ciuilitie and policie, then did Kings set downe their minds by Lawes, which are properly made by the King onely; but at the rogation of the people, the Kings grant being obteined thereunto. And so the King became to be Lex loquens [speaking law], after a sort, binding himselfe by a double oath to the obseruation of the fundamentall Lawes of his kingdome: Tacitly, as by being a King, and so bound to protect aswell the people, as the Lawes of his Kingdome; And Expresly, by his oath at his Coronation: So as euery iust King in a setled Kingdome is bound to obserue that paction made to his people by his Lawes, in framing his gouernment agreeable thereunto, according to that paction which God made with Noe [i.e. Noah] after the deluge, Hereafter Seed-time, and Haruest, Cold and Heate, Summer and Winter, and Day and Night shall not cease, so long as the earth remaines. And therefore a King gouerning in a setled Kingdome, leaues to be a King, and degenerates into a Tyrant, assoone as he leaues off to rule according to his Lawes. In which case the Kings conscience may speake vnto him, as the poore widow said to Philip of Macedon; Either gouerne according to your Law, Aut ne Rex sis. And though no Christian man ought to allow any rebellion of people against their Prince, yet doeth God neuer leaue Kings vnpunished when they transgresse these limits: For in that same Psalme where God saith to Kings, Vos Dij estis [you are gods], hee immediatly thereafter concludes, But ye shall die like men. The higher wee are placed, the greater shall our fall be. Vt casus sic dolor : the taller the trees be, the more in danger of the winde; and the tempest beats sorest vpon the highest mountaines. Therefore all Kings that are not tyrants, or periured, will be glad to bound themselues within the limits of their Lawes; and they that perswade them the contrary, are vipers, and pests, both against them and the Commonwealth. For it is a great difference betweene a Kings gouernment in a setled State, and what Kings in their originall power might doe in Indiuiduo vago [an undefined individual]. As for my part, I thanke God, I haue euer giuen good proofe, that I neuer had intention to the contrary: And I am sure to goe to my graue with that reputation and comfort, that neuer King was in all his time more carefull to haue his Lawes duely obserued, and himselfe to gouerne thereafter, then I.

     I conclude then this point touching the power of Kings, with this Axiome of Diuinitie, That as to dispute what God may doe, is Blasphemie; but quid vult Deus [what God wants], that Diuines may lawfully, and doe ordinarily dispute and discusse; for to dispute A Posse ad Esse [from "may be" to "is"]is both against Logicke and Diuinitie: So is it sedition in Subiects, to dispute what a King may do in the height of his power: But iust Kings wil euer be willing to declare what they wil do, if they wil not incurre the curse of God. I wil not be content that my power be disputed vpon: but I shall euer be willing to make the reason appeare of all my doings, and rule my actions according to my Lawes.


 


 

 This speech was delivered on 21 March 1610, and printed shortly afterwards.