Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.
-Psalm 138:2, KJV

Erasmus, King James, and His Translators (Part 2 of 3)

By David H. Sorenson

This is from chapter 10 of the book Touch Not The Unclean Thing: The Text Issue and Separation, ISBN 0-9711384-0-0, Copyright ©2001 David H. Sorenson, used with permission. Available from Northstar Baptist Ministries, 1820 West Morgan Street, Deluth, MN 55811-1878 and from Amazon.com. Dr. Sorenson is the author of the Understanding the Bible commentary.

[Part 1: Erasmus] [Part 2: King James] [Part 3: The KJ Translators]

King James I of England

The charge then is advanced by adversaries of the King James Version that King James I of England was a bawdy fellow and even a homosexual. However, these charges as well collapse upon further investigation.

James Stuart of Scotland became King James VI of Scotland and eventually went on to become King James I of England. In 1604, shortly after becoming king of all of England, King James, as titular head of the Church of England, "authorized" a new version of the Bible. This of course has come to be known ever since as the King James Version. Thus, those unsympathetic to the King James Version have been quick to point out alleged character flaws associated with James Stuart. At the outset, it should be noted that we are dealing with the King James Version and not the "Saint James Version." James Stuart was a man and certainly had idiosyncrasies and flaws as do all men. He at times did not conduct himself with all the social graces one might expect from a king. And, he like all men had his foibles. But as will be documented below, in the main, James was a godly man who loved the Lord and tried to set an example for his family and his nation.

James's Bitter Enemies

King James I of England reigned at a time when vicious winds of political strife were rampant. England was in the throes of casting out the last vestiges and influences of the Roman Catholic Church. There also were bitter internal politics of longstanding adversarial parties. King James therefore had bitter enemies, both religious as well as political. Some of these dedicated themselves to tarnishing the reputat-ion of James Stuart in any fashion possible.

Several of his bitter enemies were quick to point out his personal quirks and faux pas of social graces. However, the most serious alle-gation brought forth (after he was dead) was that he was a homosexual. This allegation was picked up and published in the Moody Monthly in its July/August 1985 edition. [10] These charges have never been proved. As will be noted below, they originated from an embittered political enemy of James who vowed vengeance against him. His charges are analogous to the tactics of the modern political operatives in attacking their foes. Other more recent publications also have insinuated that King James was less than a godly person. [11] However, before refuting these charges, let us present a brief overview of the man James Stuart. Understanding something about him personally will in itself go a long way to negate such politically motivated allegations.

James the Bible Student

James Stuart grew up in Scotland of royal descent. Through the political intrigue of that era, he became an orphan, brought up by tutors. As a lad, he was personally tutored by Peter Young who had studied at Geneva under Theodore Beza, John Calvin's successor. Therefore, from an early age Young trained the youthful James in Calvinistic theology. [12] The young prince thus developed a love of theology and the things of God. Not surprisingly, he also developed a deep aversion to the Roman Catholic Church. He was described as having a "keen intelligence, and a very powerful memory, for he knows a great part of the Bible by heart. He cites not only chapters, but even the verses in a perfectly mar-vellous way" (25). He is recorded as attending sermons "almost daily, on Sunday both morning and afternoon, (and) on Wednesday and Friday in the morning" (72).

James the Married Man

After becoming King James VI of Scotland, James married Princess Anne of Denmark on Nov. 23, 1589. Though their marriage would later become distant, his courtship and early marriage were those of romance. He was deeply in love with his young bride (85, 91). (Strange affections are these for a homosexual.) Lest there be any doubt of his infatuation with his wife, he wrote poems and sonnets describing her. In the poem below written by James about Anne, he imagines that three goddesses joined hands at her birth to bestow their graces upon her.

How oft you see me have an heavie hart,
Remember then sweete doctour, on your art,
That blessed houre when first was brought to light
Our earthlie Juno and our gratious Queene.
Three Goddesses how soone they hade her seene
Contended who protect her shoulde by right,
But being as Goddesses of equal might
And as of female sexe like stiffe in will
It was agreed by sacred Phoebus skill
To joyne there powers to blesse that blessed wight.
Then, happie Monarch sprung of Ferguse race [i.e., James]
That talkes with wise Minerve when pleaseth thee
And when thou list some Princlie sports to see
Thy chaste Diana rides with thee in chase.
Then when to bed thou gladlie does repaire
Clasps in thine arms thy Cytherea faire
[James's term for his bride] [13]
(emphasis mine).

The question thus begs, is this the poem of a homosexual? Another historian wrote, "He remained infatuated with his bride, whose praises he sang in sonnets and other verse. Her beauty, he wrote, has caused his love." [14]

James the Godly Father

The marriage union of James and Anne in time produced Prince Henry and Prince Charles. The latter would later succeed him upon the throne of England. When little Prince Henry (who died a premature death) was only four years of age, his father, King James, wrote a book to him entitled Basilikon Doron. The title is Greek and simply means "a king's gift." The intent was to be a gift of advice and instruction for his son. After the death of Prince Henry, James's advice was thence directed to Prince Charles. Let us therefore consider some excerpts from James's own pen to his sons.

"But the principal blessing [is] in your marrying of a godly and virtuous wife . . . being flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone. . . . Marriage is the greatest earthly felicity. . . . Without the blessing of God you cannot look for a happy marriage." [15]

"Keep your body clean and unpolluted while you give it to your wife whom to only it belongs for how can you justly crave to be joined with a Virgin if your body be polluted" (44)?

"Marriage is one of the greatest actions that a man does all his time. . . . When you are married, keep inviolably your promise made to God in your marriage" (45).

"Especially eschew to be effeminate" (46).

"Therefore first of all things, learn to know and love that God whom to ye have a double obligation" (47).

"The whole scripture is dictated by God's spirit" (47).

"As ye are a good Christian, so ye may be a good king, . . . establishing good laws among your people: the other, by your behavior in your own person with your servants" (48).

"There are some horrible crimes that ye are bound in conscience never to forgive: such as witchcraft, willful murder, incest, and sodomy" (48, emphasis mine).

"Abstain from the filthy vice of adultery; remember only what solemn promise ye made to God at your marriage" (54).

"Holiness being the first and most requisite quality of a Christian (as proceeding from true fear and knowledge of God)" (55).

In these quotations from James to his son, notice the emphasis upon moral purity, fidelity, and personal holiness. His loyalty to God is apparent. Notice also how that he described sodomy as a horrible crime. Is this consonant with one living a homosexual lifestyle?

In the Basilikon Doron, he also wrote this poem to his son, the heir apparent, regarding ruling as a king.

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 ye would enjoy a happy reign
Observe the statutes of your heavenly King,
And from his law, make all your Laws to spring,
Since his Lieutenant here ye should remain.
Reward the just, be steadfast and true, and plain
Repress the proud, maintaining aye the right,
Walk always so, as ever in his sight,
Who guards the godly, plaguing the profane
And so ye shall in princely virtues shine
Resembling right your mighty king divine. [16]

On other occasions, James wrote his correspondence gracing it with godly comments. Listed below are examples of such.

"I never with God's grace shall do anything in private which I may not without shame proclaim upon the tops of houses." [17]

"I must needs say with our Savior" (28).

Referring to the death of his wife, he wrote, "God hath called  her to his mercy" (29).

Writing to the Earl of Somerset, he wished that "God moves your heart to take the right course" (29).

The devout character of King James should be evident from his personal and familial writings.

Sir Henry Wotton was a contemporary of King James. In com-menting upon James's reign in Scotland, Wotton makes this comment about James's moral character. "An admirable quality is his chastity which he has preserved without blemish, unlike his predecessors who disturbed the kingdom by leaving many bastards." [18]

James the Theologian

The clergy of the Church of England, however, were the most profuse in their praise of their new king. After ascending the throne of England in 1603, Wilson writes, "They cast a halo of holiness about him and discovered his celestial proximity to the Deity. Astounded by his knowledge and grasp of theology, they declared that he spoke through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and that God had bestowed upon him far more than upon ordinary mortals the power to interpret Scripture." [19] There certainly is hyperbole and overstatement here. However, the point is that the clergy of the Church of England were profoundly impressed with the godly character of their new king. Wilson goes on to comment that there was no more "familiar sight at court than that of the King at dinner discussing theology with three or four of his churchmen, bishops, deans and royal chaplains." [20]

The godly interests of James Stuart are also evident in that he even made his own personal translations of the Book of Psalms as well as of the Book of Revelation. This had nothing to do with the King James Version, but it indicates the depth of education as well as the spiritual interests of this unusual ruler.

James's Political Enemies

The charge that King James was a homosexual emanated from an old political enemy of the king, Sir Anthony Weldon, Clerk of the Green Cloth in the royal court. Moreover, his family for generations had provided officers for the royal household. However, Weldon was expel-led from the court by James in about 1625 for political reasons. Weldon subsequently "swore he would have his day of vengeance." [21] Curiously, Weldon never confronted the king but waited twenty-five years later to hint that James had effeminate interest in men. Moreover, he also waited until James's son, Charles I, had been executed in 1649. As we will note in the next section, Weldon not only came to hate James, but also had a racial hatred of the Scottish race from which James sprang.

Another enemy of James was one Guy Fawkes. Under the direction of Jesuit operatives, Fawkes even tried to bomb James and the entire English parliament with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder. There should be no question that James had both political and religious enemies.

It was Weldon who, after the death of James and Charles, wrote about the Scottish race: "Fornication they hold but a pastime, wherein man's ability is approved. . . . At adultery, they shake their heads. . . . Murder they wink at; and blasphemy they laugh at." He also wrote, "Their flesh naturally abhors cleanness. Their breath commly [sic] stinks of pottage; their linen of p...; their hands of pigs t.... . . . To be chained in marriage with one of them, were to be tied to a dead carcass, and cast into a stinking ditch. . . . I do wonder that . . . King James should be born in so stinking a town as Edinburgh in lousy Scotland" (218).

The bigotry and hatred of Weldon are self-evident. Lest there be any doubt about his objectivity, here is how Weldon described James's person: "His tongue [was] too large for his mouth, which ever made him speak full in the mouth, and made him drink very uncomely, as if eating his drink, which came out into the cup of each side of his mouth. . . . That [weakness in his legs] made him ever leaning on other men's shoulders. . . . He would never change his clothes until worn out to very rags. . . . (He was) the wisest fool in Christendom" (219)

It should be apparent that Sir Weldon was no impartial observer. Though King James was never known for his social graces and was somewhat gangling in his appearance, it is evident that Weldon had a visceral hatred of him. Yet, Sir Anthony Weldon is the primary source of the allegation that James was a homosexual.

James's Enemies Discredited

Maurice Lee, Jr., a historian published by the University of Illinois Press, says, "Historians can and should ignore the venomous caricature of the king's person and behavior drawn by Anthony Weldon." [22] Another historian, Christopher Durston, writes regarding Weldon's book: "This poisonous piece of literary revenge was to do profound and lasting damage to James's reputation, as it became the prime source for many subsequent historical assessments whose authors failed to make sufficient allowance for its obvious bias." [23]

There were several others who hinted that James was a homo-sexual. However, upon examination, in each case, they turn out to be avowed political enemies of James and likely fed upon each other's gossip. Much could and has been written on this matter. However, Ste-phen Coston quotes a historian who lived much closer to these charges as "despicable and libelous, . . . full of lies, mistakes, and nonsense." [24]

James in Summary

It should be noted that no one in the seventeenth century, not even his bitter enemies, ever openly accused James of buggery (the British term for homosexuality). Rather, they circulated hints through gossip. Even after he was dead and his son had been executed, the enemies of the Stuart dynasty did not directly make that charge. The reason is apparent. Those close enough to have known him knew better. When this gossip is traced to its source, a handful of disgruntled courtiers and political enemies are at the core, long after his death.

To the contrary, there are numerous contemporaries of James who paint the opposite picture. However, to make a judgment based upon gossip (howbeit historical) emanating from bitter enemies is no case at all. Proving a negative is difficult. Because someone alleges another to have failed morally does not establish the fact. Though vengeful enemies did spread gossip about James, there has never been any hard evidence by either contemporary or by modern historians to prove him a homosexual.

Rather, all the evidence points in the opposite direction. He was a married man who had children. He has a voluminous record of others attesting to his moral character.  His own writings reveal a man with a godly predisposition. Moreover, he explicitly warned his sons against the evils of homosexuality. The proven facts are that James Stuart was a devout man who loved the Lord and His Word.

Did James have foibles and idiosyncrasies? Indeed he did. Was he gifted with social graces? No. However, there have been few monarchs in the annals of history who were more versed in Scripture, devout in their worship, knowledgeable of biblical theology, and morally upright than James I of England. There likely is not coincidence that God prov-identially allowed the most famous English version of the Bible to have been authorized at his hand. [25]

 


[10] Karen Ann Wojan, "The Real King James" and Leslie Keylock, "The Bible That Bears His Name," Moody Monthly, July/August 1985, 87-89.

[11] John C. Mincy, "The Making of the King James Version," in From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man, ed. J. B. Williams (Greenville, S.C.: Ambassador-Emerald International, 1999), 130.

[12] David Wilson, King James VI & I (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956), 24.

[13] Ibid., 94.

[14] Stephen Coston, King James Unjustly Accused? (St. Petersburg, Fla.: Konigswort, 1996), 41.

[15] Ibid., 43.

[16] Wilson, King James VI & I, 134.

[17] Coston, King James Unjustly Accused, 28.

[18] Wilson, King James VI & I, 137.

[19] Ibid., 170.

[20] Ibid., 197.

[21] Coston, King James Unjustly Accused, xxx.

[22] Maurice Lee Jr., Great Britain's Solomon: James VI & I In his Three Kingdoms (Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 309-310.

[23] Christopher Durston, James I (London: Routledge, 1993), 2.

[24] Coston, King James Unjustly Accused, 233.

[25] It is interesting to note that the translator of the Spanish Bible, Cassiodoro de Reina, was also accused of being a homosexual. Accordingly, he was forced to flee from England to Germany where he finished his translation work. The Reina Spanish Bible (based upon the Received Text) was first published in Basel, Switzerland, in 1569. This translation was later revised by Valera in 1602 and came to be known as the Reina Valera Version.

Some ten years after fleeing England, English courts exonerated him of the charge of homosexuality. In the early 1970s, researchers were going through records of the King of Spain in Simancas, Spain, for the years 1563 and 1564. There they found an entry for a sum of money to be paid to a Spanish spy (operating in England) named Francisco de Abrio. This payment was for Abrio's part in accusing Reina of being a homosexual. Although it is now obvious that the charge against Reina was false, the stigma is still attached to his name.

It would appear that the enemies of Cassiodoro de Reina and James Stuart used the same tactic to discredit their foe. What is ironic is that both of these men were instru-mental (though in differing ways) in the translation of the Received Text into their vernacular languages. Gordon Kinder, Cassiodoro de Reina, Spanish Reformer of the Sixteenth Century (London: Tamesis Books, 1975)

 

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