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Editor's Introduction

Front matter
Book I
Book II
Book III
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The Right Divine of Kings to Govern Wrong!

[Front Matter]



Dedicated to the Holy Alliance

[Cruikshank image of grim king being annointed by two priests, one of
                        whom is pouring "Oil of Steel" and "Discord" on the king's head.]
"The devil will not have me damn'd, lest the oil that is in me should set hell on fire." SHAKESPEARE.

1821. Eighteenpence.

Printed by W. Hone
45, Ludgate-Hill, London.



WHEN a gang of desperate ruffians disguise themselves, and take the road armed, it is a sure sign of robbery and murder; and it becomes the duty of an honest man to raise a hue and cry, and describe the villains.

With that view, I dedicate to you this little book; in the hope, that some who understand the dead language of Despotism, may be induced to translate it into the living tongues of the good people of the Continent.

I pray God to take your ROYALTY into his immediate keeping.



O! DULNESS, if thy sons can learn one thing,
Teach but that one, sufficient for a King;
That which thy Priests, and thine alone, maintain,
Which, as IT dies, or lives, THEY fall, or reign:
May ye, O Cam and Isis, preach it long,

It was a maxim of the consitution of this country that the King could do no wrong. He had high authority for stating that the King could not commit Folly, much less Crimes.2
(Report of a BISHOP'S Speech.)
If a King can do no wrong, why was King James II. banished? and if a King can do wrong, why the plague are we constantly affirming that he cannot? Either way we should stand self-condemned, and if we are not set down as a nation of scoundrels, we must think ourselves pretty easy under the appellation of fools.3
------------------------- We love
The King, who loves the law, respects his bounds,
And reigns content within them: him we serve
Freely and with delight, who leaves us free:
But recollecting still that he is man,
We trust him not too far. KING though he be,
And King in England too, he may be weak
And vain enough to be ambitious still;
May exercise amiss his proper pow'rs,
Or covet more than freemen choose to grant.
Beyond that mark is TREASON. 4


The Drawings are by Mr. GEORGE CRUIKSHANK.


Perish those poets, and be hush'd the song,
Which with this nonsense charm'd the world so long,
That he who does no right, can do no wrong.5


To condemn nonsense, especially in high places, is proper: there are ancient precedents for it.

A thousand years before Christ, Nathan, a priest in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, knew that David the Lord's annointed, had not only worked folly in Israel, by committing adultery with a beautiful woman, but had committed crime, by causing her husband to be put to death. The honest priest charged both the folly and the crime upon the king! He went up to his majesty with this Address: "Thou art the man!" He prosecuted him at the bar of his own conscience, convicted him, and passed sentence upon him--"The sword shall not depart from thine house!"

Three thousand years after this, a priest, sent into an English House of Lords by the nomination of the king, affirms there, that "he had 'high authority' for stating, that the king could not commit folly, much less crime!"6

What a scene! A priest of the Church of England, who promised, before he received the Holy Ghost,7 to lay aside the study of the world and the flesh, who received the Holy Ghost upon that condition, who had a Bible put into his hands to preach truth from, and who--with the Holy Ghost in him, took the sacrament as the most solemn of all oaths, to perform what he had promised--this Priest, who again received the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a Bishop, and again took the oath of the sacrament--this Bishop, regardless of his sacramental oath, puzzles himself behind the Treasury bench with the quillets of the English law, and forgets Nathan!--this Right Reverend Father in God, by divine permission, studies the 'Pleas of the Crown,' talks of 'high authority,' and forgets the authority of his Bible!--bends, like his folding-crook, in the presence of the king of England, and forgets Him whose kingdom is not of this world!--stands, as stiff as his staff, at London--blinks Jerusalem,--squints towards archiepiscopal Canterbury--and inculcates Passive obedience and Non-resistance!

The Doctrine of Divine Right, or 'the King can do no wrong,' is the evil genius of Liberty, the vital spark of Legitimate right, the very soul of Despotism. It demands the prostitution of moral principle, sophisticates scripture, and converts the peace and good will of Christianity into envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness. What it can do, may be known by what it has done. Take a hero--a ruffian who has ravaged and desolated every fair region he could penetrate--a brutal ferocious wretch, of gigantic form, and cruel feature, ignorant of every thing but crime; his sword serrated by hacking the bones of the brave defenders of their country, with halters for the necks of the peaceful at his girdle: toss him an iron sceptre surmounted by the emblems of death and folly; give him the world to crush beneath his feet; and tell me in what age Priestcraft, standing upon the divine right of tithes, would refuse to throw the ermine of royalty over the monster's shoulders, anoint him as from the Lord, and light him up to the world as an image of the Divinity!

According to the law of England, the king can do no wrong. Mr. Justice Blackstone says, the Prerogative of the Crown extends not to do any injury; it is created for the benefit of the people; and, therefore, cannot be exerted to their prejudice.8

Now, if the prerogative of the crown was created for the benefit of the people, is it not plain, that, should it cease to be exerted for their benefit, it would be useless; and that, should it be extended to do them injury, it would be oppression. Will the Bishop say, that oppression is no wrong, or that if oppression should come from the royal prerogative, oppression is right? If he does say this, I ask him, how long, after oppression should be exercised through the prerogative by virtually irresponsible ministers and be declared no wrong, he supposes that a king of England could sit on the throne, or the bishops who maintain the doctrine, sit either at its right hand in the Lords, or any where else? I tell this bishop, that though the law may not suppose it possible for a king of England to do wrong, because it intends him to do right, yet if he should do, and continue to do, oppressive wrong, not all the bishops of England, nor all the bayonets of all the mercenaries of Europe, could keep that king upon the throne of an oppressed people against their united will.

A king of England is not king in his own right, or by hereditary right. The nation is not a patrimony. He is not king by his own power; but in right of, and by the power of the law. He is not king above the law; but by, or under, the law. All the authority that he has, is given to him by law; and he can only rule according to law: for were he to rule against the law, he would be king against the law, and depose himself. The law is the Sovereign, or paramount authority; hence, a king of England is a subject; and in this respect, he and all the people are upon a level before the law--they are all his fellow-subjects; though, as chief magistrate, he is the first subject of the law.

A king of England who regards the happiness of the people, and his own safety, would not wish to be stronger than the law founded on the public will, makes him. More strength would be unnecessary to his welfare, and hurtful to theirs. All power over others, from the watch-box to the throne, tends to injure the understanding, and corrupt the heart. A good King would not desire unlimited power; a bad one would abuse it. He would become mad; and drive the people mad. A despot is a demon. Artillery and fetters with the royal robe flung over them--a cannon ball capped with the royal crown--animated by the royal will--crushing, burning, and butchering liberty, property, and human life--personify the power of an unlimited King.

The ensuing satire shows the folly and danger of such power. It is a partial revival of the Jure Divino, written by DANIEL DE FOE in 1706. After the lapse of a century, nearly the same reason exists for the publication as the author adduced on its first appearance. It had never appeared, he says, had not the world seemed to be going mad a second time with the error of passive obedience and non-resistance. It is not precisely so now: the people have not gone mad, but a bishop has, who may bite his brethren; and there is a slavish party of High Church zealots and pulpit casuists in the country who virtually support the doctrine--although if they attempt reducing it to practice, they may dig a pit beneath the throne, and engulph the dynasty. To expose this destructive doctrine, and disentangle the threads so artfully twisted into snares for the unwary by priestcraft, De Foe composed his Satire. He was the ablest politician of his day, an energetic writer, and, better than all, an honest man; but not much of a poet. The Jure Divino is defective in arrangement and versification. It is likewise disfigured by injudicious repetition; a large portion is devoted to the politics of the time, and it is otherwise unfit for republicans entire; but it abounds with energetic thoughts, forcible touches, and happy illustrations. The present is an attempt to separate the gold from the dross. The selection is carefully made; from the parts rejected the best passages are preserved, the rhyme and metre are somewhat bettered, the extracts are improved and transposed, and many additions of my own are introduced. The production scornfully rejects the slavish folly, senseless jargon, and venal hypocrisy, which pretend that power is from God and not from the People. It defies those who draw upon scripture in support of Divine Right to show that scripture lays down any rules of political government, or enjoins any political duties; or that it does not leave the people to determine by their own reason what government and what governors are best for themselves. It is a forcible and argumentative satire against the nonsense from hole-and-corner and lawn-sleeve men; and presents a series of peculiarly strong and quotable lines, to engraft on the common sense of the free-minded, honest, and open-hearted of my countrymen. If it aids them in the occasional illustration and emphatic expression of their opinions, the pains I have taken will be rewarded.

There is another reason for publishing this satire, besides the revival of Priestcraft. Its twinbrother is alive. Kingcraft rears up its terrific mass, muffled in the mantle of Legitimacy; its head cowled and crowned, and dripping with the holy oil of Divine Right; its eyes glaring deadly hate to human happiness; its lips demanding worship for itself. Denouncing dreadful curses against the free, and yelling forth threatenings and slaughter, it stamps with its hoof, and coils together its frightful force to fall on young Liberty and squelch it. Its red right-arm is bared for the butchery of the brave who love Freedom and dare contend for it. It has prepared its chains and dug its dungeons, erected its scaffolds, and sharpened its axes for the wise and excellent of the earth; and its bloddy banners are unfurled in insolent anticipation of unholy triumph!--

----------------Still monarchs dream
Of universal empire growing up
From universal ruin! Blast the design,
Great God of Hosts, nor let thy creatures fall,
Unpitied victims at ambition's shrine!9

So prayed the Bishop of London, (Porteus--not Howley) and so fervently prays,





All notes are Hone's except when indicated by the editor's initials, [KG].

1. [KG] From The Dunciad, Book 4, 183-88. Hone has altered the passage slightly probably to enable it to stand alone out of context. [return]
2. [KG] The reference here is likely to a press report on a speech by William Howley, Bishop of London, whose support for George IV during the "Queen Caroline Affair" often bordered on claims of divine right. [return]
3. [KG] From a letter from Swift to Pope. It is likely that Hone found this passage in Charles Pigott's Political Dictionary (London: Daniel Isaac Eaton, 1795), where it is cited under the heading "King (infallibility of the)" (p. 66). [return]
4. [KG] From Cowper's The Task, Book 5, "The Winter Morning Walk." [return]
5. [KG] From Jure Divino, Book II. Hone has softened the language somewhat--Defoe has "Perish those Poets, be Damn'd the Song," with a footnote explaining and defending his poetic rather than vulgar use of "Damn'd." [return]
6. [KG] William Howley, Bishop of London. See the Introduction for more on Howley. [return]
7. Priests of the Church of England 'receive the Holy ghost' at the command of the bishop on their ordination. They receive it again when made Bishops.
See the Form of Ordination. [return]
8. Commentaries, vol. i. p. 245. [return]
9. [KG] The quotation is from Beilby Porteous's "The Bishop of London's Opinion on War", published in 1793 (and reprinted in Vicesimus Knox's Elegant Extracts of 1796). [return]
10. [KG] This is a republication of The Spirit of Despotism by Vicesimus Knox, originally published anonymously in 1795. Several items from Hone's correspondence suggest that the Knox family objected to the republication (see, for example, V. Knox to William Hone, 15 September, 1821, Add. MS 40120, f. 166). This discontent probably explains why Hone does not name the author of the "Rare and Extraordinary Book" which appeared early in 1821 with Hone as the publisher. The volume, incidentally, met with some critical approbation: in a letter to Hone dated 10 February, 1821, the antiquarian Francis Douce claimed that the book reflected the "honest emanation of an elegant, humane, and philosophical mind" (Add. MS 40120, f. 160). [return]