Basilikon Doron

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Title page of the Basilikon Doron.

The Basilikon Doron is a treatise on government written by King James VI of Scotland (who would later become James I of England), in 1599. Basilikon Doron (Βασιλικὸν Δῶρον) in the Greek language means royal gift. It was written in the form of a private letter to the King's eldest son, Henry, Duke of Rothesay, born 1594. After Henry’s death in 1612, James gave it to his second son, Charles, born 1600, later King Charles I. Seven copies of it were printed in Edinburgh in 1599, and it was republished in London in 1603, when it sold in the thousands.

This document is separated into three books, serving as general guidelines to follow to be an efficient monarch. The first describes a king’s duty towards God as a Christian. The second focuses on the roles and responsibilities in office and the third concerns proper behavior in the daily lifestyle.

As the first part is concerned with being a good Christian, James instructed his son to love and respect God as well as to fear Him. Furthermore, it is essential to carefully study the Scripture (the Bible) and especially specific books in both the Old and New Testaments. Lastly, he must pray often and always be thankful for what God has given him.

In the second book, James encouraged his son to be a good king, as opposed to a tyrant, by establishing and executing laws as well as governing with justice and equality. To boost the economy, it is important to invite foreign merchants into the country and base the currency on gold and silver. According to James, a good monarch must be well acquainted with his subjects and therefore it would be wise to visit all kingdoms every three years. During war, he should choose old but good captains to lead an army composed of young and agile soldiers. In the court and household, he should carefully select loyal gentlemen and servants to surround him. When the time came to choose a wife, it would be best if she were of the same religion and had a generous estate. However, she must not meddle with government politics, but perform her domestic duties. As for the inheritance, to ensure stability the kingdom should be left to the eldest son, and not divided among all the children. Lastly, it is most important to James that his son would know well his own craft, which is to properly govern over his subjects. To do this, he must study the laws of his kingdom and actively participate in the Council. Furthermore, he must be acquainted with mathematics, for military purposes, and world history, for foreign policy.

The final portion of the Basilikon Doron focuses on the daily life of a monarch. For instance, James advised his son to eat meat to be strong for traveling and during wartime. He must also beware not to drink and sleep excessively. Furthermore, his wardrobe should always be clean and proper, and he must never allow his hair and nails to grow long. In his writing and speech, he should use honest and plain language.

All of these guidelines composed an underlying code of conduct to be followed by all monarchs and heads of state to rule and govern efficiently. James assembled these directions as a result of his own experience and upbringing. He, therefore, offered the Basilikon Doron to his son with the hope of rendering him a capable ruler, and perhaps, to pass it down to future generations.

The Basilikon Doron repeats the argument for the divine right of kings, as set out in The True Law of Free Monarchies, which was also written by James. It too warns against "Papists" and derides Puritans. It advocates removing the Apocrypha from the Bible. The published Basilikon Doron may well have been intended to portray the king in a favorable light. James Sempill assisted James in composing it. Robert Waldegrave, who was bound to secrecy, printed seven copies at the king's behest. Henry Taylor said that he printed it on Waldegrave's press. Richard Royston, and later William Dugard, printed further copies.

The Basilikon Doron criticises both Roman Catholics and Puritans. This is in keeping with the king’s philosophy of following a "middle path", as reflected in the preface to the 1611 King James Bible.

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Further reading[edit]

  • Craigie, James, ed. (1950), The Basilikon Doron of King James VI, Edinburgh & London: William Blackwood & sons.
  • Doelman, James (1994), "'A king of thine own heart': the English Reception of King James VI and I's Basilikon Doron", Seventeenth Century, 9 (1): 1–9.
  • James VI/I (1996), Fischlin, Daniel; Fortier, Mark (eds.), The True Law of Free Monarchies and Basilikon Doron, Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies.
  • Sommerville, John (1994), "Basilikon Doron", Political Writings, Cambridge University Press, pp. 1–61

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