Com’st thou because the anointed king is hence?
Why, foolish boy, the King is left behind
And in my loyal bosom lies his power.
(Act 2, scene 3, lines 100–103)

The Duke of York addresses these words to Bolingbroke when his nephew breaks the conditions of his exile and returns to England. York’s purpose here is to rebuke Bolingbroke for thinking he can claim the throne simply by returning to England when the king is gone. A king isn’t made simply by assuming the throne, York implies. Rather, a king must be anointed by God. These lines further reference the early modern theory of the king’s two bodies. According to this theory, the king has both a mortal body (the “body natural”) and an immortal body (the “body politic”). When the mortal body dies, the political body of the king—the one sanctified by God—lives on in his successor. Alternatively, a king may temporarily confer the power of the body politic on to a deputy in his stead. This explains why York claims that the king’s power lies in his own “loyal bosom.”

Not all the water in the rough rude sea
Can wash the balm off from an anointed king.
The breath of worldly men cannot depose
The deputy elected by the Lord.
(Act 3, scene 2, lines 55–58)

Richard speaks these words to his advisors soon after returning from his war in Ireland. Aumerle has just advised that “Bolingbroke, through our security, / Grows strong and great in substance and in power” (3.2.34–35). But Richard dismisses Aumerle’s words of caution, believing his power as king remains secure. As he asserts with these lines, he is a divinely “anointed king,” and as such can only be deposed by “the Lord” Himself. No amount of water can wash off the anointing “balm,” nor can “the breath of worldly men” take away his power of command. Ironically, however, even as Richard speaks with such confidence, the audience knows that Bolingbroke has already outmaneuvered the king—not on a spiritual plane, but in the earthly sphere of politics.

York: Great Duke of Lancaster, I come to thee
From plume-plucked Richard, who with willing soul
Adopts thee heir, and his high scepter yields
To the possession of thy royal hand.
Ascend his throne, descending now from him,
And long live Henry, fourth of that name!
Bolingbroke: In God’s name, I’ll ascend the regal throne.
(Act 4, scene 1, lines 112–19)

Whereas Richard frequently proclaims that the authority of his kingship is divinely sanctioned, Bolingbroke never seems to indicate a belief in the divine right of kings. Thus, it comes as a surprise when, in the climactic scene of Richard’s deposition, Bolingbroke announces that he’ll “ascend the regal throne” as Henry IV, and that he’ll do so “in God’s name.” Bolingbroke’s proclamation is best understood as a political performance that gestures to the doctrine of divine right, even as the circumstances clearly contradict that that doctrine. Indeed, Bolingbroke doesn’t inherit the throne; he seizes it.