History 367 Society and Ideas in Shakespeare’s England

Divine Right: Arguments 01 The Bible: Romans 13:1: “The powers that be are ordained of God”

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Divine Right: Arguments 01

  • The Bible: Romans 13:1: “The powers that be are ordained of God”;

  • Mark 3:24: “And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand” (indivisible sovereignty); also Luke 11:17: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation”; Matthew 6:24: “No man can serve two masters”.

  • Proverbs 8:15: “By me kings reign, and princes decree justice”;

  • Psalms 105:15: “Touch not mine anointed”.

Divine Right: Arguments 02

  • Some decline in use of biblical arguments in late seventeenth century: growth of biblical criticism (e.g. Hobbes);

  • Growth of science: decline of mystical/ magical beliefs about kingship among educated;

  • But such beliefs continued to flourish among people at large; touching for the King’s (/Queen’s) evil.

Divine Right: Arguments 03

  • Scrofula; France and England: a royal competition; the record English toucher: Charles II touched about 4,500 people per year;

  • Queen Anne was the last English monarch to touch for the Queen’s (/King’s) evil; on of the people she touched was Samuel Johnson.

  • The German Georges abandoned the practice; but French kings continued it until the Revolution..

A Touchpiece (time of Anne)

Divine Right: Arguments 04

  • The Great Chain of Being; the universe as a purpose-driven hierarchy;

  • Order, authority, and hierarchy in each part of the natural world; human society corresponds with animal societies, e.g. bees; monarchy among bees showed that monarchy was also natural for humans;

  • Bees long thought to be ruled by a King (though Charles Butler showed it was a Queen, in The Feminine Monarchie or the Historie of Bees, 1609).

Butler on Bees, revised edition of 1634.

Divine Right: Arguments 05

  • The idea of the universe as a hierarchy guided by divine purposes was (to some extent) undermined by scientific thinking from Galileo to Newton; the scientists saw the universe as matter in motion, governed by uniform laws.

  • The theory of absolute and indivisible sovereignty was underpinned by fear of anarchy and civil war; such fear arguably receded in the late-1600s; tyranny vs. anarchy.

Divine Right: Arguments 06

  • Divine right was supported by authoritarian social theory; stable family life seen as essential to human survival; fatherly/ husbandly power regarded as necessary to stable family life;

  • Allowing people to resist sovereigns will mean allowing wives and children to resist fathers/ husbands.

  • The consent of a woman is required for her to become the wife of a particular man.

Divine Right: Arguments 07

  • But a husband’s power over his wife stems from God and nature, not from her consent; she does not transfer power to him, and he is not accountable to her;

  • Similarly, the sovereign’s power stems from God and nature, not from the people’s consent (consent as nomination/ designation, and consent as transference).

Divine Right: Arguments 08

  • Arguments against resistance: allowing resistance would lead to anarchy; permitting resistance only to tyrants unworkable, as there was no agreement on who was a tyrant;

  • People who argued for limited government and rights of resistance contended that rulers who misgoverned would be called to account not by the uneducated masses, but by the people’s representative in parliament, acting in an orderly and law-abiding fashion.

Divine Right: Arguments 09

  • But – on the principles of those who argued for limited government and resistance – it was difficult to see why a parliament could not be just as tyrannical as a king, and why it should not be called to account by the people as a whole – including women, children, and the uneducated.

  • At the root of the claim that governments are accountable to the people, was the idea that power was at first in the hands of the people as a whole, since by nature no individual has any more right to govern than anyone else (all were at first free and equal).

Divine Right: Arguments 10

  • However, even if people were all at first free and equal, it did not follow that when they joined together in society, the whole society had the right to govern; they would have been free and equal even if no one had any right to govern; the society might have appointed a king, whose powers came not from the people but from God/ nature;

  • This was the argument of Marc’ Antonio de Dominis (1566-1624) in De Republica Ecclesiastica (1617-22).

Marc’ Antonio de Dominis: the Fat Bishop (Archbishop of Spalato; Dean of Windsor)

1624: the King’s Men acted Thomas Middleton’s A Game at Chesse

Sir Robert Filmer: Politics, Patriarchalism, and the Family

  • Filmer’s ideas regarded as silly c. 1700-1900;

  • Taken seriously by J. N. Figgis c. 1900; regarded as a greater political theorist than John Locke by J. W. Allen c. 1930; in later twentieth century was studied by James Daly and Gordon Schochet; in 21st by Cesare Cuttica.

  • His arguments utilized by feminists against Locke: Carole Pateman; Linda Nicholson.


  • Growth of interest in Filmer connected with change in attitude to doing the history of ideas; emphasis on importance of historical context (rather than seeing ideas as abstract and timeless truths); Quentin Skinner and the Cambridge School;

  • Filmer’s ideas may not appeal to us; but in their historical context they were rational and persuasive.

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