Classic Podium: Kings are justly called gods

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The Independent Culture
From a speech by King James VI of Scotland, who became King James I of England, proclaiming the divine right of kings, at Whitehall Palace

(21 MARCH, 1609)

THE state of monarchy is the supremest thing upon earth; for kings are not only God's lieutenants upon earth, and sit upon God's throne, but even by God himself they are called gods. In the Scriptures, kings are called gods, and so their power after a certain relation compared to the divine power. Kings are also compared to fathers of families: for a king is truly parens patriae, the politic father of his people. And lastly, kings are compared to the head of this microcosm of the body of man.

Kings are justly called gods, for that they exercise a manner or resemblance of divine power upon earth. For if you will 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 unmake at his pleasure, to give life or send death, to judge all, and to be judged [by] nor accountable to none.

To raise low things, and to make high things low at his pleasure, and to God are both soul and body due. And the like power have kings: they make and unmake their subjects: they have power of raising and casting down: of life and of death: Judges over all their subjects, and in all causes, and yet accountable to none but God only. They have power to exalt low things, and abase high things and make of their subjects like men at the chess. A pawn to take a bishop or a knight, and to cry up or down any of their subjects, as they do their money. And to the king is due both the affection of the soul, and the service of the body of his subjects.

As for the father of a family, they had of old under the law of Nature patriam potestatem, which was potestatem vitae et necis over their children or family. Now, a father may dispose of his inheritance to his children, at his pleasure: yea even, disinherit the eldest upon just occasions, and prefer the youngest, according to his liking; make them beggars, or rich at his pleasure; restrain or banish out of his presence, as he finds them give cause of offence, or restore them in favour again with the penitent sinner. So may the king deal with his subjects.

And lastly, as for the head of the natural body, the head hath the power of directing all the members of the body to that use which the judgement in the head thinks most convenient. It may apply sharp cures, or cut off corrupt members, let blood in what proportion it thinks fit, and as the body may spare, but yet is all this power ordained by God ad aedificationem, non ad destructionem.

But now in these our times we are to distinguish between the state of kings in their first original, and between the state of settled kings and monarchs, that do at this time govern in civil kingdoms.

A king governing in a settled kingdom, leaves to be a king, and degenerates into a tyrant as soon as he leaves off to rule according to his laws. In which case the King's conscience may speak unto him, as the poor widow said to Philip of Macedon; either govern according to your law, aut ne Rex sis. And though no Christian man ought to allow rebellion of people against their prince, yet doth God never leave kings unpunished when they transgress these limits; for in that same psalm where God saith to kings, Vos dii estis, he immediately thereafter concludes, "But ye shall die like men".

The higher we are placed, the greater shall our fall be. Ut casus sic dolor: the taller the trees be, the more in danger of the wind; the tempest beats forest upon the highest mountains.

Therefore all kings who are not tyrants, or perjured, will be glad to bound themselves within the limits of their laws; and they that persuade them the contrary are vipers, and pests, against both them and the commonwealth. For it is a great difference between a king's government in a settled state, and what kings in their original power might do. As for my part, I think God, I have ever given good proof, that I never had intention to the contrary. And I am sure to go to my grave with that reputation and comfort, that never king was in all his time more careful to have his laws duly observed, and himself to govern thereafter, than I.

Just kings will ever be willing to declare what they will do, if they will not incur the curse of God. I will not be content that my power be disputed upon, but I shall ever be willing to make the reason appear of all my doings, and rule my actions according to my laws.