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America's Beginnings

God's Plantation - Chapter 3

by Phyllis Mackall

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In her days every man shall eat in safety,
Under his own vine, what he plants; and sing
The merry songs of peace to all his neighbours:
God shall be truly known; and those about her
From her shall read the perfect ways of honour,
And by those claim their greatness, not by blood.
Nor shall this peace sleep with her: but as when
The bird of wonder dies, the maiden phoenix,
Her ashes new create another heir,
As great in admiration as herself…
His honour and the greatness of his name
Shall be, and make new nations: he shall flourish,
And, like a mountain cedar, reach his branches
To all the plains about him: our children's children
Shall see this, and bless heaven.

-- Archbishop Cranmer's "prophecy" concerning Queen Elizabeth and King James in Shakespeare's King Henry the Eighth, 1613.

By 1606, conditions had improved for establishing a permanent English colony abroad, thanks in part to the new king.

After Queen Elizabeth's death in 1603, her second cousin, King James VI of Scotland, was offered -- and gladly accepted -- the throne of England. He had been king of Scotland for 36 difficult years. In 1603, he was crowned James I of England, and united the two countries into Great Britain.

The following year, this "British Solomon" negotiated a peace treaty with Spain, making the seas relatively safe for shipping between the old and new worlds.

For centuries it has been fashionable for historians to write disparagingly about King James. Queen Elizabeth was "a hard act to follow." Only in the 20th century have historians begun to acknowledge that James' faults were at least balanced by his virtues. Lady Antonia Fraser, in her recent biography of James, concluded that he feared God and tried to serve Him by his own lights.

It was a miracle that James was born, survived, remained sane, and lived to make the significant contributions he made both to Great Britain and the world. The hand of God surely was upon his life, and James recognized that it was.

The tragic Mary Queen of Scots was his mother. While she was carrying him, her life was threatened, and she was made to witness a brutal murder that was staged, some believe, to cause her to miscarry.

When James was only an infant, he was removed permanently from Mary's care. He had no memories of her, and they never met again. Baptized a Catholic, at age 13 months James was crowned king of Scotland in Protestant rites. He was reared as a Protestant by the Scottish nobility, and his tutors turned the boy king into a wry, little old man. By the age of 8, James could easily translate a chapter of the Bible from Latin into French and then into English.

Gradually, despite threats on his life and incredible intrigues, the powerless, poverty-stricken young king gained control of the Scottish nobility and subdued them. To survive, he had learned to be devious, but the violence that had always threatened his existence made him a heart-felt pacifist who avoided bloodshed at any cost. His motto was Beati pacifici ("blessed are the peacemakers").

After having tamed the unruly Scots, James was convinced that ruling the more prosperous, settled English would be simple. It wasn't, to the increasing detriment of his temper.

James was one of the most theological and scholarly kings England ever had. He once admitted to English university students that he would have enjoyed devoting his life to being a scholar. Since God made him a king, James did the next best thing. Fancying himself schoolmaster of the realm, he wrote fatherly advice to his subjects in the form of tracts. He also wrote poetry and meditations on the Psalms.

His tract, Counterblaste to Tobacco, written in 1604, dealt with the evils of "drinking" (as it was called then) tobacco. James never forgave Raleigh for having introduced the unhealthy habit to his subjects.

Some suggest that William Shakespeare's Macbeth was written as a tribute of sorts to this Scottish monarch who believed in the existence of witches and demons. King James not only believed in demons, he wrote a tract on the subject, Demonologie, in 1597.

One of the first things James did after becoming king of England was to call the Hampton Court Conference in January, 1604, "for the hearing and for the determining, things pretended to be amiss in the Church."

James took his role as head of the Church of England seriously. He was well read in theology, and he once interrupted his bishop's sermon to correct the unfortunate man (Elizabeth reportedly had the same habit).

Protestants who had fled to the Continent to avoid persecution under Mary Tudor's reign (1553-1558) brought back the new, strict Protestantism called Puritanism, which spread rapidly throughout the church. Officially, however, the Church of England assumed a moderate position between Puritanism and Catholicism.

James was in his element at the Hampton Court Conference. He enjoyed matching wits with the Puritans -- for about a day, but then his patience wore thin, and he sided with his moderate bishops.

It was a Puritan, however, who made the suggestion that brought immortality to the Hampton Court Conference -- and to King James. Dr. John Reynolds, president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, a leader of the Puritan faction in the Church of England, proposed a new Bible translation.

James was delighted. "I profess," he said, "I could never yet see a Bible well translated in English; but I think that, of all, that of Geneva is the worst."

Actually, the Geneva Bible, translated in Geneva by the exiled Reformers, was popular throughout Europe. It even was the version authorized for use in the Church of Scotland. James detested it because some of its footnotes offered the possibility that a subject could disobey his king -- and James was a firm believer in subjects submitting to the divine right of kings.

The new "Authorized Version" that his English scholars and clergymen would translate with his backing -- and prodding -- would be printed without any of those "dangerous and traitorous" marginal notes.

 

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