Basilikon Doron

James VI and Mary, Queen of Scots

Tudor and Stuart Catholicism is often shoved from center-stage by the cacaphony of Puritan agitation. As a result, the sixteenth and seventeenth century Religious Settlement is frequently portrayed as a compromise with Puritan minds, having scant theological or moral basis. Missed is the Crown’s timely intervention against religious fanaticism, particularly how royal family and marital ties shaped church conservatism. Personal affections for “catholic” cousins, uncles, and spouses among the nobility tempered church policy. The writings of James VI to his eldest son, Henry, effuse with this sentiment, “as a witness to my Son, both of the honest integrity of my heart, and of my fatherly affection and natural care” (McIlwain, p.5); generally privileging family, natural succession, and continuation of custom against factional advantage and religious radicalism. Basilikon Doron therefore anticipates a conservative element whereupon later Stuarts, such as Charles I and James II, would indulge secular or loyalist Roman catholics (1). The Basilikon’s preface is largely a warning against fanaticism and the wiles of parliament as it loosed itself upon Scotland while quickening in England. Pervasive throughout the Basilikon  is a tacit awareness of Prince Henry’s maturity and eventual union of Scottish and the English thrones. Therefore, James renders a verdict on the respective politics of his realms. James’ distaste for Puritanism is strikingly evident, prefiguring Charles I’s ‘Letter to the Prince of Wales’ (SKCM tract).  Curiously, James finds commonalities between Puritanism and Anabaptism, noting their mutual iconoclasm, disdain for civil authority, and wild quotation of scripture. James’ exposure of Puritanism as a subset of Anabaptism was an opinion shared with late-Elizabethan divines like Hooker and Whitgift who theologically labored to remove aspects of Calvinism from high-church Anglicanism. James explains the rebellious spirit possessed by Puritanism thusly,

“as to the name Puritans, I am not ignorant that the style thereof doth properly belong only to that vile sect among the anabaptists, called the family of love; because they think themselves only pure, and in a manner without sin, the only true church, and only worthy to be participant of the sacraments, and all the rest of the world to be but abomination in the sight of God. Of this special sect I principally mean, when I speak of Puritans; divers of them, as Browne, Penry and others, having at sundry times come into Scotland, to sow their popple amongst us (and from my heart I wish, that they had left no scholars behind them, who by their fruits will in the own time be manifested) and partly indeed, I give this style to such brain sick and heady Preachers their disciples and followers, as refusing to be called of that sect, yet participate too much with their humors, in maintaining the above errors; not only agreeing with the general rule of all anabaptists, in the contempt of the civil magistrate, and in leaning to their own dreams and revelations; but particularly with this sect, in accounting all men profane that swear not to all their fantasies, in making for every particular question of the policy of the church, as great commotion, as if the article of the Trinity were called in controversy, in making the scriptures to be ruled by their conscience, and not their conscience by Scripture; and he that denies the least iota of their grounds; not worthy to enjoy the benefit of breathing, much less to participate with them in the sacraments: and before that any of their grounds be impugned, let King, people, Law and all other be trod under foot: Such holy wars are to be preferred to an ungodly peace: no, in such cases Christian Princes are not only to be resisted unto, but not to be prayed for, for prayer must come of Faith; and it is revealed to their consciences, that God will hear no prayer for such a Prince.” (McIlwain, p. 7)

James VI had reasonable dislike of threats against his civil peace, ‘trodding under foot King, people, and Law’ (2). Further along the Preface, sects like Puritans are mentioned in contrast to ‘princely’ Reformation countries, e.g.., “sundry parts of Germany” (and Denmark as well as England).  These former states were Lutheran. Given the close relation early Lutherans had with Anglicans upon the crucible period of Religious Settlement during Henry VIII’s reign, the affinity is not surprising. Furthermore, Germans shared a similar sovereignty with both England and Scotland, i.e.,”Cuius region eius religio”. Nonetheless, James appears to delineate the boundaries of official Protestantcy, perhaps a Nordic catholicism. Of course, the inclusion of Denmark belongs to James’ marriage to Countess Anna von Oldenberg, a conservative Lutheran and sometimes Erasmusian catholic (3). Certainly northern Protestant states had a vested interest in maintaining a ‘princely order’ against unruly Puritanical spirits. James therefore identified the Puritans with a radical democratic impulse contrary not only to state and church but also divine pattern as he knew it,

“But the reformation of Religion in Scotland, being extraordinarily wrought by God, wherein many things were inordinately done by a popular tumult and rebellion, of such as blindly were doing the work of God, but clogged with their own passions and particular respects, as well as appeared by the destruction of our policy, and not proceeding from the Princes Order, as it did in our neighbor country of England, as likewise in Denmark, and sundry parts of Germany; some fiery spirited men in the ministry, got such a guiding of the people at that time of confusion, as finding the gust of government sweet, they begot to fantasy to themselves a Democratic form of government: and having (by the iniquity of time) been overwell baited upon the wrack, first of my Grandmother, and next of mine own mother, and after usurping the liberty of the time in my long minority, settled themselves so fast upon that imagined Democracy, as they fed themselves with the hope to become Tribuni plebis: and so in a popular government by leading the people by the nose, to bear the sway of all the rule. And for this cause, there never rose faction in the time of my minority, nor trouble sen-syne, but they that were upon that factious part, were ever careful to persaude and allure these unruly spirits among the ministry, to spouse that quarrel as their own: where-through I was ofttimes calumniated in their popular sermons, not for any evil or vice in me, but because I was a King, which they thought the highest evil.” p.23

Of course, democracy and hereditary rule mix poorly. In this case, toleration and indulgence was affected by love of parents, not exactly political expediency as skeptics claim. An angle to consider is how royal familialism drove early Protestant ecumenicism. If there was such a thing as media via, it greatly benefited from extended families cultivated by monarchs. James’ maternal line touched France through his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary fled Scotland at age five and was raised in the Guise Household until the death of her first husband, Francis II, whereupon Mary returned to Scotland, continuing her education through tutors hired by the Guise. In the later treatise known as a ‘Premonition’, James recalled the catholic humanism and moderation of his mother, a Religion James’ sometimes claimed his own,

“And as for the Queen my Mother of worthy memory; although she continued in that Religion she was nourished, yet was she so far from being superstitious or Jesuited therein, that at my Baptism (although I was baptized by a Popish Archbishop) she sent him word to forbear to use the spettle in my Baptism; which was obeyed, being indeed a filthy and an apish trick, rather in scorn then imitation of Christ. And her own very words were, That she would not have a pockie priest to spit in her child’s mouth. As also the Font wherein I was Christened, was sent from the late Queen here of famous memory [Elizabeth I], who was my Godmother; and what her Religion was, Pius V was not ignorant. ” ( p. 122)

Customs of Godparentage, kept by Anglicans and Lutherans alike, enhanced the role of family upon religion. Catherine Parr, a Lutheran, was godparent to Elizabeth I. Elizabeth I in turn was the godparent of James. Meanwhile, Valois and Bourbon were chosen as baptismal sureties for Stuarts, perhaps maintaining ties to the Auld. Queen Anna sought a Bourbon, Henry of Navarre, as fiance for her daughter, Elizabeth, before James insisted upon the Elector in Palsgrave, Frederick V.  Marriages and Godparents often signaled the Crown’s religious and political sentiments, yet the warmth of household tutelage likely did more to foster christian cooperation than pamphleteering or university disputation. The familial ties born of marriage could even continue post-mortum. At Westminster chapel, Mary Queen of Scots’ tomb was fit a “great mother” whereupon both Anna of Denmark and the last Stuart, Anne of Great Britain, would bury their children. The moderation family and household exerted over religion spilt over to the retention of men at court as well as men-servants upon succession, “steadfastly serving” not only the catholic James V of Scotland but even his reportedly Puritanical grandchild, Prince Henry (4).

“The other point is only grounded upon the straight charge I give my Son, not to hear nor suffer any unreverent speeches or books against any of his parents or progenitors: wherein I do alledge my own experience anent the Queen my mother; affirming, that I never found any that were of perfect age the time of her reign here, so steadfastly true to me in all my troubles, as these that constantly kept their allegiance to her in her time.” p. 6

Thinking in terms of “parents and predecessors” is not an easy task for modern historians who understand statecraft by philosophical egoism. James’  wisdom contravenes today’s political correctness which tends to depreciate ancestry, “For how can they love you, that hated them whom of ye are come?”.  Family lealty– often communicated by religious tropes like sonship, maternity, and matrimony– made an affective discourse that restrained harshness according to the fifth commandment.  Lancelot Andrewes based the same precept of  fatherhood and husbandry to the King, “Jus Regium cometh out of jus Patrium, the Kings right from the Fathers, and both hold by one Commandment” (A Sermon, p. 13). James himself says, “By the law of Nature the King becomes a natural Father to all his Lieges at his coronation” (Works,p. 65). Thus, the familial precept understood by hereditary succession ameliorated and conserved both religious and political feelings:

” It is then, the false and unreverent writing or speaking of malicious men against your Parents and Predecessors: ye know the command in God’s law, Honor your Father and Mother: and consequently, seen ye are the lawful magistrate, suffer not both your Princes and your Parents to be dishonored by any; especially, sith the example also toucheth yourself, in leaving thereby your successors, he measure of that which they shall meet out gain to you in your like behalf. I grant we have all our faults, which, privately betwixt you and God, should serve you for examples to meditate upon, and mend in your person; but should not be a matter of discourse to others whatsoever. And sith ye are come of as honorable Predecessors as any Prince living, repress the insolence of such, as under pretence to tax a vice in the person, seek craftily to stain the race, and to steal the affection the people from their posterity: For how can they love yo, that hated them whom of ye are come? Wherefore destroy men innocent young sucking Wolves and foxes, but for the hatred they bear to their race? and why will a coult of a Courser of Naples, give a greater price in a market, then an Ass-colt, but for love of the race? It is therefore a thing montrous, to see a man love the child, and hate the Parents: as on the other part, the infaming and making odious of the parents, is the readiest way to bring the son in contempt. And for conclusion of this point, I may also allege my own experience: For besides the judgments of God, that with my eyes I have seen fall upon all them that were chief traitors to my parents, I may justly affirm, I never found yet a constant biding by me in all my straits, by any that were of perfect age in my parent days, but only by such as constantly bode by them; I mean specially by them that served the Queen my mother: for so that I discharge my conscience to you, my Son, in revealing to you the truth, I care not, what any traitor or treason-allower think of it” p. 21

Eventually “treason-allowers” overran the Stuart throne, starting with democratic leveling from the puritans, their perpetual-summon in parliament, and finally the execution of King Charles. Republicanism and the democratic impulse hardly vanished after the Restoration. Meanwhile, what girded the monarchy’s supremacy was not political expediency. Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, James VI &I , and even, to some extent, George III were strong sovereigns. Rather, stability was secured by those divine blessings joined by the Godly honor of parents , “that thy days may be long in the land the Lord thy God giveth thee”. However, the process of rebellion wore upon the natural order of even the best family-based rule.

According to James, there are several reasons for the superiority of the monarchist system. Foremost is its conformity to the divine pattern.  James describes monarchy as that “form of government, as resembling divinity, approacheth nearest to perfection” p. 53. The divine aspect should be self-evident given both Christ the Son and God the Father are clearly in possession of Kingly authority. The divine pattern is also given by Nature which meant, “through the Law of Nature the King becomes a natural Father to all his Lieges at his Coronation: And as the Father of his fatherly duty is bound to care for the nourishing, education, and virtuous government of his children; even so is the king bound to care for all his subjects” p. 55.  Also, “The King towards his people is rightly compared to a father of children, and to a head of a body composed of divers members: For as fathers, the good Princes, and Magistrates of the people of God acknowledged themselves to their subjects. And for all other well ruled common-wealths, the style of Pater patriae was ever, and is commonly used to Kings” p. 64.  Thus, the King combines heavenly and earthly figures of Parental/Fatherly authority.  These aspects were set into confusion upon the rise of parliamentary supremacy, precipitating other ‘inversions’ of  justice and nature.  James warns,

 “Neither deceive yourself with many that say, they care not for their Parents curse, so they deserve it not. O invert not the order of nature, by judging your superiors, chiefly in your own particular! But assure yourself, the blessing or curse of the Parents, hath almost ever a Prophetic power joined to it: and if there were no more, honor your Parents, for the lengthning of your own days, as God in his Law promiseth. Honor also them that are in loco Parentum unto you, such as your governors, upbringers, and praeceptors” p. 41

For the early modern period, how family duties shaped religious settlement is a rarely touched subject. In other words, the sovereign’s religious affinities with their parents; spousal influence upon court and hearth; and even the role of cousins and uncles in rites of Godparentage deserves greater significance than parliamentary squabble. The charity of the household often included, and even partly indebted, to secular catholics whose overall contribution moderated church policy between successions. The Hencrician standards are probably most representative what in retrospect might be considered nordic doctrine.

This begs another question of British familialism, namely, how Auld and Schmalkaldic engagement sketched a possible “northern catholicism”. As the Reformation/counter-reformation squared off, the moment of a nordic church passed. It might have included JansenitesLutherans, and the more conservative members of the German Reformed. These eddies reappear from time to time throughout Anglo-German relations, making a large impact during the 19th century, especially through the writings of Schleiermacher. Prussian Union and National Church ideas surfaced in pluralistic countries like the United States and Germany where the probability of nation-state formation at times was tenuous, but even this late-stage protestant catholicity was orchestrated by national princes.

The influence of familialism shouldn’t be downplayed, and when asking what contributed to the final breakdown of european, particularly, nordic Christendom, it was the alienation of royal elites who normally advanced and protected the provincial church , severing the head from the body (5), driving a nail into a basically Protestant coffin.

  • Lancelot, Andrewes, A Sermon Preached before His Majesty. London (1610).
  • McIlwain, Charles Howard. The Political Works of James I Harvard (1918)

1. “Toleration” and “indulgence” can be code for ethical and liturgical ‘relativism’. Make no mistake, James I disliked what he called the Papists, even moreso after the powder-treason. But for the Jacobean Church catholic indulgence meant a degree of civil rights rather than religious comprehension. James divided the loyal and secular “catholic” from the Popish, the former being more typical of his own household. James explains the difference: “Amongst which a form of Oath was framed to be taken by my Subjects, whereby they should make a clear profession of their resolution, faithfully to persist in their obedience unto me, according to their natural allegiance; To the end that I might hereby make a separation, not only between all my good subjects in general, and unfaithful Traitors, that intended to withdraw themselves from my obedience; But specially to make a separation between so many of my Subjects, who although they were otherwise Popishly affected, yet retained in their hearts the print of their natural duty to their Sovereignty; and those who being carried away with the like fanatical zeal that the Powder-Traitors were, could not contain themselves within the bounds of their natural Allegiance, but thought diversity of religion a safe pretext for all kind of treasons, and rebellions against their Sovereign… whereby they both gave me occasion to think the better of their fidelity, and likewise freed themselves of that heavy slander, that although they were fellow professors of one Religion with the powder-Traitors, yet were they no joined with them in treasonable courses against their sovereign; whereby all quietly minded Papists were put of despair, and I gave a good proof that I intended no persecution against them for conscience cause, but only desired to be secured of them for civil obedience, which for conscience cause they were bound to perform” p. 71-72 .

2. Charles I retrospectively describes more completely the Puritan menace, confirming the consternation of James I, “Nothing seemed less considerable than the Presbyterian faction in England for many years, so compliant they were to public order; nor, indeed, was their party great either in Church or State as to men’s judgments; but as soon as discontents drove men into sidings, as ill humors fall to the disaffected part, which causes inflammations, so did all at first who affected any novelties adhere to that side, as the most remarkable and specious note of difference (then) in point of religion.  All the lesser factions at first were officious servants to Presbytery, their great master, till time and military success, discovering to each their peculiar advantages invited them to part stakes; and leaving the joint stock of uniform religion, they pretended each to drive for their party the trade of profits and preferments to the breaking and undoing not only of the Church and State, but even of Presbytery itself, which seemed and hoped at first to have engrossed all.” (Letter to the Prince of Wales, p. 3-4: Reprinted from Sir Charles Petrie (ed) The Letters of Charles I, Funk & Wagnalls, New York, 1968)

3. There is very little literature on the religious convictions of Queen Anna of Denmark. She was not a self-styled theologian like Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, or James VI&I. Anna was raised a conservative Lutheran by her grandmother, but, upon her arrival in Calvinist Scotland, she was alienated by its iconoclastic Presbyterianism, becoming a friend of recusants. However, these sympathies might be understood as dislike for Presbyterianism rather than Protestantism in general– an attitude also common among catholic Lutherans and Anglicans. Jill Rait observes, “By 1585, the theological differences between Lutherans and Reformed were so exaggerated that some of the Lutherans felt closer to catholics thand to the Calvinists. In fact, some of the German Lutheran princes sent troops and supplies to the Catholic Guise, others helped Henry III, and others allowed mercensaries to be recruited for the Huguenot leader, Henry of Navarre.” (p. 9, The Colloquy of Mentbeliard)… Upon her death, Anna confessed to the Bishop of London, “I renounce the mediation of all saints and my own merits”. An account of Anna’s religious devotion is given in Ethel Williams’ Anne of Denmark, Longman (1970), 109-112. See also Bliss, ‘Religious Belief of Queen Anne’, English Historical Review, IV, 110. 

4. Some Jacobean indulgences up to the Powder-Treason are listed on p. 76, Works: “How many did I honor with Knighthood, of known and open Rescusants? How indifferently did I give audience, and access to both sides, bestowing equally all favors and honors on both professions? How free and continual access, had all ranks and degrees of Papist in my Court and company? And above all, how frankly and freely did I free Recusants of their ordinary payments? Besides, it is evident what straight order was given out of my own mouth to the Judges, to spare the execution of all Priests, (not withstanding their conviction), joining thereunto a gracious Proclamation, whereby all Priests, that were at liberty, and not taken, might go out of the country by such a day: my general Pardon having been extended to all convicted Priests in prison: whereupon they were set a liberty as good subjects: and all Priests that were taken after, sent over and set at liberty there. But time and paper to make enumeration of all the benefits and favors that I bestowed in general and particular upon Papists” p. 76

5. The supremacy of the Prince was a basic tenet of early “magisterial” protestantism which became more acute as reconciliation with Rome grew further distant. Not surprisingly, the prerogative of the King in his church was a top plank of the old high church party, but when Tory influence in parliament took permanent defeat in 1833, high church men scrambled for a new base, making stronger claims about apostolic succession and the independence of the bishop vis-a-vis the popular factor.   Therefore, tractarianism was one trajectory for the high church party. James warns Prince Henry the leaven of Puritanism: “[they] informing the people, that all kings and princes were naturally enemies to the liberty of the Church…For if by the example thereof, once established in the Ecclesiastical government, the Politic and civil estate should be drawn alike, the great confusion that thereupon would arise may easily be discerned” p. 23. Of course, the “great confusion” would be the modern social revolution. The severing of the princely hierarch from his estates as prelude to eventual flattening and proletarianization itself.  An “inversion of the natural order” wonderfully explains the remainder of the 19th and 20th century, and why the Continuing movement came into being.  Interestingly, post-Napoleonic Europe attempted a Christian unity through the Congress of Vienna, divided between constitutional and autocratic monarchies– a fascinating period where the great European monarchies might have salvaged something of Christendom until the final tragedy of WWI ?

8 responses to “Basilikon Doron

  1. Just a correction. Scots Jemmy is writing to Prince Henry, the older brother of Charles I. Henry IX is the brother of Bonny Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender, both sons of James, the Old Pretender, who was the son of James II. Charles II and James II had a brother Henry, Duke of Gloucester.


  2. Correction of correction. Henry IX is the brother of Bonny Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender, both sons of James, the Old Pretender, who was the son of James II. Charles II and James II had a brother Henry, Duke of Gloucester. Sorry about the screw-up. Should have looked at the genelogy book first.


  3. Thanks Benton. I guess I jumped the gun on the “IX”. Perhaps if he reached his ‘perfection of years’ and ‘possession of inheritance’? Some books on Prince Henry can be obtained here.
    and if you’re curious about Countess Anna (James’ catholic-Lutheran wife), more uncommon books for her are likewise <here:


  4. Prince Henry, though named Prince of Wales, never mounted the throne. The designation of Cardinal Stuart as Henry IX was purely nominal under the circumstances. As the grandson of James VII & II, he was considered to be the legitimate successor—if there had been a Stuart Restoration. However, his Roman Catholicism and the Cardinalate, which did not necessarily involve major orders, rendered all this a non-starter, one of those peculiarities of nomenclature.


  5. thewhitechrist

    Fascinating. Cleary, the duties of children to their parents, is contained in the Commandment. Even such a ‘presbyterian’ as Rushdoony in his Institutes ‘establishes the law’ in this instance.

    – Fr. John+


  6. Charles,
    Thanks for the post. Do you have any resources on monarchy withing a Protestant context? I have a lot of the traditional Orthodox and Roman arguments for monarchy. I was wondering whether the Protestant Scholastics give any arguments.


    • Hello Jacob,

      The Jacobean period is the watershed for such writings, most of which is diatribe for the royal prerogative against parliamentary claims. Prior to James I, you might want to read any Anglican exposition on the decalogue. Favorites include Cranmer’s 1543 Catechism as well as the 1547 Homily ‘Exhortation on Good Order’. Fifth commandment expositions usually explain the Crown’s role in settling adiaphoric controversy, giving the English church a relatively higher view about common order than those typical of the continent, perhaps something of how reformation proceeded by a national vs. municipal basis. You’ll find the subject of episcopacy and monarchy are closely bound together, so, anytime church polity comes to fore the Crown’s supremacy is normally touched. As a consequence, Anglicanism was especially vulnerable to republican and democratic movements, often coinciding with decolonialization and imperial devolution by the middle of the 19th century. From here on, we witness a tailspin in both doctrine and order that has yet to be resolved. For Anglican continuers, the conservation of Supremacy carefully translated to the bishopric ought to be an important question. Anyway, here are some recommended starters, but there are literally no end of such manuscripts given the prolonged and studied conflict surrounding early constitutionalism and mixed government:

      McIlwain, Charles H., The Political Works of James I. Harvard (1918).
      Overall, John. The Convocation Book of 1606. London (1690).
      Figgis, John Neville. Divine Right of Kings. Cambridge (1914).
      Filmer, Sir Robert, Patriarcha, London (1913).
      Goldast, Melchior. …Monarchia S. Romani Imperii…, Frankfurt (1668). — contains Henrician reprints of apologies for royal power by Stephen Gardiner and Edward Fox.

      Please share any similar authors from the Lutheran side. Meanwhile, I plan to post an upcoming study on the difference between Christian Prince and secular President. I also have some links to right of this comment under the category “British Monarchy”. Please see the ‘King’s Evil’.


  7. A legacy of the Guise with respect to the personal union of Scotland and England eventually took the form of “Anglo-Gallicanism” or “Cisalpinism“. This brand of English Catholicism was ex-communicated by the Apostolic Vicars under pressure from Italy in the late-eighteenth century. The English Cisalpines disclaimed the temporal authority of the Pope, recognizing the complete sovereignty of the Stuart and later, the Hanoverian, thrones. By the mid-nineteenth century Papal claims to temporal supremacy rendered the Cisalpine position impossible for English Catholics, but the influence of French catholicism upon Britain might be worth future study, implicating Gallicanism as well as calvinistic Jansenism.


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