Home What We
Pages By
Pages By

(Originally Titled "The Learned Men": The Text Here Used Is That Of "The Learned Men")
Chapter 8: King's Pleasure
(A PDF Copy Of The Complete Book Is Available Here)
(A WordPerfect Copy Of The Complete Book Is Available Here)


Do you know for a fact that if you were to
die today that you would not go to hell?
If you do not know, click here.


King’s Pleasure 

            While the scholars were busy with the Bible, their royal patron was pursuing his usual interests. Twice a week at Whitehall there were cockfights, and in November of 1604 the king was much at Royston.

            Royal visits were an expense hard to be borne by the countryside so honored. One day a favorite among the king’s hounds, Howler, was missing. The next day in the field Howler came in among the rest of the hounds. The king, glad of his return, spied a paper about his neck: “Good Mr. Howler, we pray you speak to the King (for he hears you every day and so doth he not us) that it will please His Majesty to go back to London, for else the country will be undone; all our provision is spent already, and we are not able to entertain him longer.” Unperturbed by this plain speaking from the local farmers who had to supply his retinue. King James stayed on for a fortnight.

            On December 4 the Earl of Worcester wrote from Royston, “In the morning we are on horseback by eight, and so continue in full career from the death of one hare to another until four at night . . . five miles from home.”

            All this was while Bancroft was taking office as Archbishop, and Lancelot Andrewes was faithfully setting aside his days for “translation time.”

            At the Christmas season, 1604, Sir Philip Herbert married Lady Susan Vere in the king’s presence. The bride and groom lodged in the council chamber at Whitehall, where the king in shirt and nightgown conducted a reveille matin before they were up, even lolling on the bed. In such coarse doings James behaved as if the Bible had no effect on him. Yet he continued to show interest in the new translation and in time gave preferment to the translators one by one.

            The day before Twelfth Night, James made young Prince Charles Duke of York. For Twelfth Night there was Ben Jonson’s Masque of Blackness. The queen was six months pregnant, but again she and her ladies, this time with blackened faces and arms, appeared in the play with their hair down and wore rich gauzy draperies which shocked the guests. Courtiers in the masque were dressed as Moors, riding sea horses and other frightful fishes. At the banquet, guests so wildly assailed the king’s provisions that tables and trestles went down before any could touch the food, and jewels and gold chains were lost in the scramble. The king joined in the gaming afterwards.

            Such royal routs cost thousands of pounds. The learned men who revised the Scriptures were, meanwhile, getting nothing except their rooms and commons while they were away from home. Weekly they returned on horseback or afoot to their churches where they had to conduct many a service. At the New Year those of them who were bishops sent the king from ten to thirty pounds in gold.

            On February 8 there was a play, The Fair Maid of Bristol, at Whitehall. Two weeks later the king went to Newmarket, which was starting its long sporting career in horse racing.

            For the queen’s lying-in there was much clamor about who should carry the white staff, hold the back of the chair, keep the door, rock the cradle, and such services, all more or less fixed by custom. The birth of the princess was on April 8. She lived only a little over two years.

            Continuing their royal revels, on June 3 the king and his party went again to the Lion’s Tower. There they watched live cocks thrown to male and female lions and torn to pieces. But when the keeper lowered a live lamb into the cage, the lions merely sniffed at it and let it alone. Alas, the lions had no real chance to lie down with the lamb, for at this point the keepers lifted it out safely.

            Presumably the work of translation continued peaceably amid the court activities in sports, gaming, and amateur theatricals, but during the next year one royal pastime inevitably disturbed the translators. This was the visit of King James to Oxford, August 27, 1605. Corpus Christi College has preserved the charge to heads of houses over a month before this royal progress: 

1.         All doctors and graduates, scholars, fellows and probationers to provide before the first day of August next gowns, hood, and cape according to the statutes of their houses and orders of the university, and that all commoners and halliers do wear round caps, and colors and fashions in their apparel as the statutes do provide. 

2.         That whosoever shall be seen by the vice chancellor or protectors or other overseers appointed by the delegates in the street or any public place, during the King’s Majesty’s abode, otherwise apparelled than the statutes of their houses or the university appoint for their degree, shall presently forfeit ten pounds and suflEer imprisonment at the discretion of the said officers, the said forfeit to be levied by the vice chancellor or whom he shall appoint. 

3.         That upon the day when the King cometh, all graduates shall be ready at the ringing of St. Maries bell to come in their habits and hoods according to their degrees, and all scholars in their gowns and caps shall stand quietly in such order as shall be appointed, until his majesty be passed into Christ Church, and the train being passed, every one may report to his own college. 

4.         That all scholars, bachelors, and masters do diligently frequent the ordinary lectures during the time of his majesty’s abode. 

5.         That no scholar of what degree soever presume to come upon the state in St. Maries, upon pain of one month’s imprisonment and forty pounds fine, and that no master of arts presume to come within the compass of the rail or stage below, where the disputers sit, but with his hood turned according to his degree, and none but masters of arts and bachelors of law shall presume to come into that place. 

6.         That the scholars which cannot be admitted to see the plays do not make any outcries or undecent noise about the hall, stairs, or within the quadrangle of Christ Church, upon pain of present imprisonment and any other punishment according to the direction of the vice chancellor and proctors. 

7.         That they warn their companies to provide verses to be disposed and set upon St. Maries, or to other places convenient, and that those verses be corrected by the deans or some others appointed by the head. 

8.         That a short oration be provided at every house to entertain his majesty if his pleasure be to visit the same, and verses set up. 

9.         That University College, All Souls, and Magdalen College do set up verses at his majesty’s departure, upon such places so as they may be seen as he passeth by. 

10.       That the fellows and scholars of the body of each house be called home and not permitted to go abroad till after his majesty be gone from the university, and that they may be at home by the first of August. 

            The vice-chancellor in charge of all this was Dr. George Abbot, the translator for whom the future promised so much. As acting head of Oxford he was to collect the fines, see that there was a full turnout in fancy dress, and make sure that no wicked students – most of them teen-aged, like college boys today – spoiled the solemn display. He had a month to prepare, and many of the Oxford translators who would otherwise have used the summer months for study of the Bible texts must have had to help him.

            For the king’s visit Oxford paved streets and swept them well. It newly painted all rails, posts, bars of windows, casements, and pumps, and newly tricked all arms. On August 27 the king came riding horseback, with the queen on his left hand. Prince Henry before them. Because they had come by easy stages, stopping nights at great houses, they were fresh enough to look regal. The vice-chancellor, George Abbot, translator, made his speech on his knee with good grace and a clear voice.

            The party went on to St. John’s College. At Carfax Dr. John Perin, Greek reader and a translator, made his oration “in good familiar Greek.” The king heard him willingly and the queen gladly, because she said she had never heard Greek. Dry as such a program may seem to us today, to the scholars, and even to the royal group, such speeches were alive and of intense concern, partly because they all looked with respect on heaven and hell. Who was good enough to regard the future with peace of mind?

            The party progressed to Christ Church, and on the second day, August 28, from ten in the morning until one they watched a tiresome light play. But the sermons, lectures, disputes, and speeches of the translators and the rest went on and on in accord with the schedule. The Latin verses by the students, gone over by the deans, were all up in place. Here and there the gracious king, twiddling his fingers as was his wont, gave a few words of praise, often in Latin. Vice-chancellor Abbot sent Dr. Aglionby around with the king, whose alert vigor amazed all. There is no suggestion that he drank too much. This was a fair of learning on a high plane, with even the youthful scholars less noisy and rowdy than was their habit, and the doctors of divinity arrayed in scarlet gowns, faced down to the feet with velvet, in the hot August weather.

            That summer appeared the first catalogue of the new Oxford library to which the year before King James had, by patent, given the name of its founder. Sir Thomas Bodley. It listed among the thousands of books in its 655 pages, Biblia Latina pulcherrima, two volumes, a present from Dr. George Ryves, Warden of New College and an overseer of the translation, and other books that were gifts from the King James learned men. Today the Bodleian has hundreds of papers, as well as books, by and about the translators.

            Though his life belied it, King James seemed sincere enough in posing as a lover of books. When he received his degree at Oxford, he went into the Bodleian, where chains bound all the books to the shelves. Looking around with a longing mien, he said, “I would wish, if ever it be my lot to be carried captive, to be shut up in this prison, to be bound with these chains, and to spend my life with these fellow captives which stand here chained.” James truly admired the Bodleian.

            Today it may be asked whether the learned men of Oxford admired the king. Now he was the guest of some who had been his guests at Hampton Court; Dr. John Rainolds was one, on a program of sermons and lectures in Latin and English. Although Rainolds’ lecture* (*A “sermon” was delivered within the church service; a “lecture” outside it, even though in the church building. New England later kept up the custom of lecture day in the meeting house.) has not been preserved, it seems safe to assume that he was more polite to his king than James, at the conference, had been to him.

            In fact Rainolds the Puritan was finding it possible to conform to some of the most difficult of the church claims. In a letter dated June 3, 1605, two months before the king’s visit, he maintained that the bishops and clergy since Henry VIII’s split with the Roman Church had been rightly ordained, and even in some cases confirmed by the Pope. Many chief doctors of the Roman Church had taught, he said, “Out of St. Augustine, grounding on the Scripture that heretical bishops may lawfully ordain.” Therefore in this letter, still among the Corpus Christi papers, Rainolds joined Bancroft and the king in arguing that the Church of England had wholly correct descent from St. Peter, and its clergy were in the direct, sacred line from the first Christian bishops.

            Rainolds made no mention at this time of the divine right of kings, but years before, in another letter, he had written about divinity. “Sith that divinity, the knowledge of God, is the water of life, the vessel must be cleansed that shall have God’s holy spirit not only a guest but also a continual dweller within. God forbid that you should think divinity consists of words, as a wood doth of trees. Divinity without godliness doth but condemn consciences against the day of vengeance, and provide the wrath of the mighty Lord, and make more inexcusable before the seat of judgment. . . . True divinity cannot be learned unless we frame our hearts and minds wholly to it.” He had then urged study of the word of God in the Hebrew and Greek, “not out of the books of translation,” and had approved strongly of painful travail in Calvin’s works. Now, still for Calvin, he was also for the translation that was James’s best claim to divine guidance.

            And indeed the Bible men were for the king, the master of their task. Though the King James version as it came from their hands and minds contained much against kings, preachers could and did conclude that it stood for divine right of the crown. Among the translators, Lancelot Andrewes, whom the king heard preach and greatly approved, said: “The duties of a king are first to acknowledge his power to be from God. . . . Another duty of the people is to bear with the infirmities of this mild king, and to be as meek toward him in covering his uncomeliness, if any be.” Was James thus mild and meek? Or was Andrewes just holding up before him a standard?

            In another sermon the gentle Andrewes uttered what we may now see as a warning, though surely it was not so meant or understood. Of kings he said: “If religion make them not, heresy will not unmake them.” Yet the struggles of James and the House of Commons over taxes and other matters going on around the learned men as they worked, could only confirm their religious convictions and make them the more eager to finish their special task. Let other writers – as for instance Pericles in Shakespeare – raise political issues: 

Kings are earth’s gods; in vice their law’s their will,

And if Jove stray, who dares say, Jove doth ill?

            A touchy king might well dislike such questions, and for the progress of the Bible work it was little enough to assure a royal patron of his virtue and safety. In the long run a bright, pure Bible could help all men to stand equal before the mercy seat of heaven.

            Another rebel in attendance during the royal visit was Dr. Thomas Holland, the translator who had conformed in outward things though he remained inwardly against the bishops. As a feature of the royal entertainment. Dr. Holland took part in an argument on the theological question. Do the saints and angels know the thoughts of the heart? Though an appropriate choice for men of many minds, all on their good behavior, the virtue of the question was that no one could answer it. It was therefore a perfect subject for a heated debate, a drill in what passed for logic, in the manner of the schoolmen of the Middle Ages. According to custom. Dr. John Aglionby, a translator, upheld one side and three other translators— Drs. Holland, Giles Thomson, and John Harding – argued in opposition. The moderator was to be Thomas Bilson, Bishop of Winchester, another translator, if he could come; if not, then the vice-chancellor – George Abbot, a translator too – would take his place.

            Although some may have enjoyed their roles in the celebration, for Dr. Rainolds, prime mover in a more important project, the days of the royal visit must have been an ordeal. He had long been less than robust. Coughing more than he liked, he suffered from what he and the doctors thought was gout. Rainolds aroused himself to lecture before the king, being present at all the stodgy pomps, wearing the heavy emblems of his learning, and then went back to his Corpus Christi duties and his study, where he took extreme pains in poring over the Bible sources and choosing English phrases. Normally the translators met in his quarters once a week to discuss the Bible work now put aside.

            When the king left, his party and the divines, plump and lean, with all sorts of other people crowded the highways. Men, women, and children rode in a jingling traffic of gay colors. Sedate translators returned to their livings. In the stream many were walking, and there were carts for luggage and varied goods. Traffic converged on Oxford too, turning out and waiting as advance riders warned that the royal progress was coming. On the face of England there had been few changes since the time of Chaucer’s pilgrims. The real changes would come when readers of the new Bible learned to overturn what James thought and urged, and to read into his Bible what he most strongly opposed.

Back To Top Back To The Main King James Page Back To Home Page

Back To Previous Page Forward To Next Page