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James VI of Scotland (James I of England)


Continuing our look at Scottish History of the 17th Century

In 1603, James VI of Scotland (1566 – 1625) inherited the throne of England, following the death of Elizabeth I, by virtue of his mother’s descent from Henry VII, and became James I of England. James was a Protestant, and when he came of age in 1581 he signed the ‘King’s Covenant’ (already discussed), declaring his commitment to the Protestant cause. However, the court still had a large number of Roman Catholic advisors, and courtiers, and to save the King from their influence, some Protestant nobles had him kidnapped. On his release, James surrounded himself with advisors who were unsympathetic to the Presbyterian cause.

One of his first acts as King of England was to attempt to unite the churches of the two parts of his kingdom, using the existing Act of Uniformity (passed in 1584). This may also have been partly a result of the actions of the English Puritans, who presented the new king with a petition calling for the right to worship without liturgy. At the Hampton Court Conference, (The Hampton Court Conference was held in 1604, between the Puritans and the English Bishops. The only concession made to the Puritans was some small changes in the Book of Common Prayer.)

James took a conciliatory view, but having confused the Puritans with the Scottish Presbyterians, decided that a uniform, Episcopal system was best for the unity of the kingdom. His first attempts failed in Scotland, and James resorted to what he called ‘Kingcraft’ to get his own way. Basically this involved a series of gradual measures aimed at achieving uniformity across the two kingdoms. One of James’ favourite sayings was, “No bishop, no king”.

In 1610, James persuaded the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to adopt an Episcopal system, and eventually succeeded in having the Articles of Perth enacted. (The Articles of Perth were five decrees in which the Church of Scotland was forced to accept Episcopal practice and government. Perhaps more importantly, under the Articles James himself claimed to have the right to decide such matters without reference to the General Assembly.) The Kirk accepted them in 1618, and the Scottish Parliament in 1621.accepted in 1618. In fact James’ Episcopal system was reasonably moderate in its reform of the Kirk. It was arranged for the administrative bishops to be recognised as the presidents of the existing presbyteries and synods, and this was accompanied by more generous financial provision for the local parishes.

His attempts to impose Bishops upon the Scottish church were met with some reluctance, but many churchmen and politicians actually found this compromise reasonably acceptable. There were, however, those of the Melvillian camp to whom no such compromise would ever be acceptable. These Scottish Presbyterians saw the King’s Episcopal reforms as too close to the Romanism they had so recently eschewed. They were reasonably small in number at this time, but their sense of purpose and their vision for the Presbyterian cause should not be underestimated. With a sense of mission that grew over the years, the Covenanters gathered support among the ordinary citizens, who deeply respected their zeal and bravery.

In the opinion of James, his Episcopal reforms of the Kirk would achieve two ends. It would enable him to control his recalcitrant Scottish brethren, and at the same time bring some organic unity to his two kingdoms. It was in this atmosphere that James authorised a new translation of the Bible, the Authorised Version of 1611.

(It was at the Hampton Court Conference of 1604 that one of the delegates, J Reinolds, suggested that there should be a new English Bible translation. James authorized the project. Fifty-four learned revisers were commissioned to undertake the work, taking the Bishop’s Bible as their basis to retain an acceptable ecclesiastical language. Their work was published in 1611, and within a generation it had replaced all other English versions in the churches. One wonders why James, a blatantly immoral and irreligious man gave his personal imprimatur to such a work. Some have speculated that his only motive for so doing was to get the Geneva Bible out of the hands of the people. The Geneva Bible contained marginal notes of a distinctly Calvinistic hue, and was the Bible used by both Presbyterian and Puritan. This is not to decry the KJV translation, which was the work of the scholars, not of the king)

There was no reason why the settlement of 1610 should not have eventually bedded in and been sustained, with close unity throughout the two kingdoms, had not James’ successor, Charles I made such a disaster of his ecclesiastical policy – posting on that subject tomorrow!

From → Covenanters, History

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