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Law and change: Scottish legal heroes
Law and change: Scottish legal heroes

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1.3 The traditional ‘divine right of kings’

Around this time new ideas began to emerge with challenges being made to the traditional idea of the ‘divine rights of kings’ (that the right of monarchs to rule came directly from the will of God). In his writings, George Buchanan, a Renaissance scholar and tutor to James VI introduced the idea that the ancient Kings of Scotland had been elected and not divinely appointed. Monarchs were therefore subject to the law of Scotland. If a monarch broke their contract with the people, then in law, the people were entitled to depose that monarch. Whilst this idea emerged at a time when reasons to depose Mary Queen of Scots were being discussed, it was subsequently rejected by her son James VI. In later centuries the idea of the ‘divine rights of kings’ was replaced by ideas of democracy and rebellion.

Figure 4 George Buchanan, Figure 5 Mary Queen of Scots, Figure 6 James VI

Activity 1 The development of the Scottish legal system

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Take a few moments to reflect on what you have learnt and answer the following questions:

  1. What aspects of the development of the Scottish legal system in medieval times did you find most surprising?
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Comment

There is no correct answer, it will depend on your own perceptions and knowledge. When we asked colleagues they produced a range of answers including the number of early influences on the legal system and the institutions that have survived and evolved into the current legal system.

  1. What words from Section 1 would you identify as having relevance to the current legal system?
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Comment

The words you may have identified with the current legal system include the following:

  • rights and responsibilities
  • jury
  • justice administered in the name of the monarch
  • the sheriff courts
  • access to justice
  • dispensing justice
  • jurisdiction
  • appeals
  • administrating justice.