James I of England
Speech to Parliament (1609)

Edited from the original text by Frank Luttmer

The King Majesty's Speech to the Lords and Commons on Wednesday the 21st of March Anno. Dom. 1609

The state of the monarchy is the supremest thing upon the 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. There be three principal similitudes that illustrates the state of the monarchy. One taken out of the word of God, and the two other out of the grounds of policy and philosophy. In the Scriptures kings are called gods, and so their power after a certain relation compared to fathers of families, for a king is truly parens patriae, the politic father of the 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 has power to create, or destroy, make, or unmake at his pleasure, to give life, or send death, to judge all, and to be judged 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 the power of raising and casting down, of life and of death; judges over all their subjects, and in all cases, and yet accountable to none but God only. They have the power to exalt low things and abase high things, and make of their subjects like men at 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 potestatam vitae at 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 such 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 has 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. For even as God, during the time of the Old Testament, spake by oracles and wrought by miracles, yet how soon it pleased him to settle a Church which was bought and redeemed by the blood of his only Son, Christ, then was there a cessation of both, he ever after governing his people and Church within the limits of his revealed will. So in the first original of kings, whereof some had their beginning by conquest, and some by election of the people, their wills at that time served for law. Yet how soon kingdoms began to be settled in civility and policy, then did kings set down their minds by laws, which are properly made by the king only, but at the rogation of the people, the king's grant being obtained thereunto. And so the king became to be lex loquens, after a sort, binding himself by a double oath to the observation of the fundamental laws of his kingdom, and expressly, by his oath at his coronation. So as every just king in a settled kingdom is bound to observe that paction made to his people by his laws, in framing his government agreeable thereunto, according to that paction which God made with Noah after the deluge: "Hereafter seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease, so long as earth remains." And therefore a king governing in a settled kingdom leaves to be 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 any rebellion of people against their prince, yet does God never leave kings unpunished when they transgress these limits . . . . The higher we are placed, the greater shall our fall be . . . . Therefore all kings that 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, both against 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 in individuo vago. As for my part, I thank 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.

I conclude then this point touching the power of kings with this axiom of divinity: that as to dispute what God may do is blasphemy, but quid vult deus, that divines may lawfully, and do ordinarily, dispute and discuss, for to dispute a posse ad esse is both against logic and divinity, so is it sedition in subjects to dispute what a king may do in the height of his power. But 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.