Monday, January 23, 2023

King James I

King James I (1566—1625), that is James Charles Stuart, was officially the King of Scotland and known as James VI for more than thirty years ― including throughout his childhood, when regents governed on his behalf ― prior to the union of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603.

In his native Scotland, he was a literary patron, and was active as a writer himself; there he headed a circle of Scottish poets and musicians known as the Castalian Band, which included William Fowler and Alexander Montgomerie.

James’ greatest contribution to English literature is the Bible he commissioned in 1604 — which became known as the King James Version or Authorized Version — and was published in 1611. It has been called "the most celebrated book in the English-speaking world" and has had, and continues to have, significant influence on its literature.

James believed in the divine right of kings, which had been the common perspective in Scotland. In England, however, Parliament had power despite James I’s belief that they had no rights at all except by the king's grace. This belief is reflected in the following poem, although he also makes it clear that the king (and I would add that parliament, and even cruel dictators) would have no power except that it is given by God.

Sonnet Prefixed to His Majesty's Instructions
to His Dearest Son, Henry the Prince

God gives not kings the style of gods in vain,
For on His Throne His sceptre do they sway;
And as their subjects ought them to obey,
So kings should fear and serve their God again.
If then ye would enjoy a happy reign,
Observe the statutes of your Heavenly King,
And from His Law make all your laws to spring,
Since His lieutenant here ye should remain:
Reward the just; be steadfast, true, and plain;
Repress the proud, maintaining aye the right;
Walk always so as ever in His sight,
Who guards the godly, plaguing the profane,
And so ye shall in princely virtues shine,
Resembling right your mighty king divine.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.