The Doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings

Frontispiece to Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan (1651), by Abraham Bosse (1602-1676)

The Divine Right of Kings is a political and religious doctrine that states that a monarch’s authority is derived from God and not from the people or their elected representatives. It was first developed in the Middle Ages and continued to be used until the 18th century. This doctrine has been used to justify absolute monarchy, where a monarch holds absolute control over his or her subjects. In some cases, it was also used to legitimize divinely inspired laws and policies which could not be challenged by the people. From interactive activities to engaging seminars from renowned historians, there are plenty of ways to explore this fascinating subject.

When the Protestant Reformation took off in the early 1500s, many religious reformers rejected the authority of the pope and the Catholic Church. As a result, kings and queens of the monarchies of Europe gained power. Monarchical power increased as reformers, counter-reformers, and the people sought the protection of the monarchies during the religious civil wars.

What is the Divine Right of Kings?

During this time, the doctrine of the “Divine Right of Kings” gained strength. The Divine Right of Kings was the belief that the king or queen derived his or her authority to rule directly and only from God. As such, he or she was not accountable for his or her actions to any earthly authority or to the people. To be sure, the monarch or hereditary ruler was expected to abide by God’s moral law and civil laws, and he or she might also, at times, answer to a church that held some power. For the most part, however, he or she could only be judged by God. Any subject’s attempt to judge the monarch was considered defiant of God’s will. The monarchs, therefore, tended to rule absolutely — without any real limit or restriction. The Divine Right doctrine, therefore, was deeply flawed.

Monarchs held the authority to determine and enforce the religious doctrine of the official state church in his or her kingdom and to impose this doctrine on the people. Religious oppression and persecution resulted for those who differed in their beliefs from the official church.

Subsequently, some thinkers rose up and challenged the Divine Right of Kings, calling for not only religious but also political reform in the church and civil government.

Grow Your Knowledge of American History with the American Heritage Education Foundation

Learning about American history is an important part of understanding our nation and its culture. With the American Heritage Education Foundation (AHEF), you can gain a deeper appreciation for our history and explore its many fascinating aspects. Our organization offers educational resources that will help you grow your knowledge on topics such as the U.S. Constitution, the Civil War, and other important events in American history. From interactive activities to engaging lectures from renowned historians, there are plenty of ways to explore this fascinating subject. So why not take advantage of the opportunity to grow your knowledge?


From AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.

Source:  Kamrath, Angela E.  The Miracle of America:  The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief.  Second Edition.  Houston, TX:  American Heritage Education Foundation, 2014, 2015.

Activity:  Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 1, Part 1, Activity 3:  Causes and Effects of the Reformation, pp. 56.  HS.
This unit is available to download from the Member Resources at

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