SMU Journal of Undergraduate Research


This paper analyzes the development of James I’s theory of divine right in England and how its application elevated the sovereignty of the monarch to the extent of absolutism in the early seventeenth century. Since divine right ultimately conflicted with the ancient laws and customs of the English government, James’s theory provoked newfound interpretations of the political and judicial authority of the ruler. From a plethora of political treatises, religious sermons, and parliamentary records, these interpretations ultimately affected how governmental institutions, such as Parliament and the courts, interacted with the monarchy. Parliamentarians became more submissive to the king's will, the importance of constitutional law was diminished, and political theories grew more in favor of divine right. As such, by the end of James’s reign, divine right was no longer a theory but rather a political reality, a development which enabled the king to rule with absolute power, all at the expense of parliamentary autonomy, constitutional supremacy, and individual liberty. Therefore, discourse over the true nature of monarchal government not only became more prevalent, but divine right itself became significantly entrenched within the English monarchy. This development altered the English political landscape entirely, inevitably leading the kingdom to civil war in the 1640s and a fervent resurgence of divine right with the restoration of Charles II in 1660. Thus, this paper reveals that divine right during the reign of James I was paramount towards the transformation of the monarchy in early modern England, for it created a myriad of unique and complex understandings of rulership that would ultimately lead to the expansion of absolutism, civil conflict, and political unrest for the remainder of the century.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License