The Great Chain of Being was a religious and philosophical concept common to Renaissance Europe. The Great Chain of Being is an ordered hierarchy of all life in the universe, starting with monocellular organisms and rising up the scale of intelligence and complexity to human beings. The only creatures higher on the Great Chain of Being were supposed to be God and His angels. There were also hierarchies within links on the Great Chain -- for instance, clergymen were supposed to be superior to the common man, for they were closer to God. Kings, too, were said to be closer to God than the common man; it is from this belief that the concept of the "divine right of kings" springs.

Bacon, Galileo and Descartes did much to undermine this philosophy, but it didn't really fall out of popularity until the late 18th century.