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King James I and the Godly Prince

Basilicon Doron (1598) was King James I of England’s (also James VI of Scotland) heartfelt appeal to his son, Henry. It contained instructions for him should he succeed James to the throne. At the beginning James placed a sonnet summarising the argument of the work. It is rather charming and contains a simple statement of the divine right theory of kingship, so prevalent in the early modern period. It also betrays the piety that James attached to his role as God’s ‘Lieutenant’. The sonnet reads as follows, with updated spelling:


God gives not Kings the style of Gods in vain,
For on his Throne his Scepter do they sway:
And as their subjects ought them to obey,
So Kings should fear and serve their God again;
If then you would enjoy a happy reign,
Observe the Statutes of your heavenly King,
And from his Law, make all your Laws spring:
Since his Lieutenant here you should remain,
Reward the just, be steadfast, true, and plain,
Repress the proud, maintaining aye the right,
Walke always so, as ever in his sight,
Who guards the godly, plaguing the profane:

And so you shall in Princely virtues shine,
Resembling right your mighty King Divine.1

  1. James I, Basilicon Doron, in J. P. Sommerville (ed.), King James VI and I: Political Writings, (Cambridge: Cambrige University Press, 2006), pp. 1-2

By Simon Kennedy

Simon is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland. He resides in Geelong, Victoria with his wife and four children.

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