Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: James I
Editor: Hardin Aasand
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Basilikon Doron (Selections)

James I, Basilikon Doron (selections)

The Basilikon Doron is a richly important document for the role it plays in defining the Jacobean court and its use of domestic metaphor for describing regal power and responsibility. In addition, this treatise is a useful reminder of how James I viewed his relationship with his family and his subjects, both of whom are directed to view James I as their royal father. Written in 1599 and intended as an informative and instructive handbook for James's son, Prince Henry, who was born in 1594, Basilikon Doronis a political reinforcement of the dramatic issues that Leontes raises in the The Winter's Tale: the legitimacy of his fatherhood and the replication of his image in his son Mamillius. The same sense of political and iconic replication is on display in James's initial private document to his son. In addition, James I's pedantic qualities are prominent in this text as he attempts to shape his son in his own royal image, intending the Jacobean image of kingship to extend generationally to embrace his progeny.

The treatise is divided into three sets of guidelines: the king's responsibility as a good Christian to emulate God and his goodness; the king's responsibility to avoid becoming tyrannical by governing his subjects both judiciously and wisely, taking the time to study both his subjects, their needs, and the best way to provide prudent government; the king's responsibility to behave moderately in "things indifferent," those behaviors that are daily displays of monarchical prerogative.

The excerpts provided below present the opening sonnet and preamble to his son, followed by James's advice in book two on how to conduct oneself in the office, especially in its fulfillment through his matrimonial state. Both sections are useful touchstones for The Winter's Talein providing the discursive context for issues that Shakespeare dramatizes in Leontes's immoderate conduct towards his family and his fear of domestic illegitimacy caused by the presumed adultery of Hermione.

1James I. Basilikon Doron or His Majesties Instrvctions To His Dearest Sonne, Henry the Prince. Edinburgh, 1599.



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, 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.

To henry my dearest son, and natural successor.

WHOM-to can so rightly appertain this book of instructions to a prince in all the points of his calling, as well general, as a Christian towards God; as particular, as a king towards his people? Whom-to, I say, can it so justly appertain, as unto you my dearest son? Since I the author thereof, as your natural father, must be careful for your godly and virtuous education, as my eldest son, and the first fruits of God's blessing towards me in thy posterity; and as a king must timously provide for your training up in all the points of a king's office since ye are my natural and lawful successor therein, that being rightly informed hereby of the weight of your burthen, ye may in time begin to consider, that being born to be a king, ye are rather born to onus, than honos, not excelling all your people so far in rank and honor, as in daily care and hazardous painstaking, for the dutiful administration of that great office, that God hath laid upon your shoulders. Laying so a just symmetry and proportion betwixt the height of your honorable place and the heavy weight of your great charge, and consequently, in case of failing, which God forbid, of the sadness of your fall, according to the proportion of that height. I have therefore for the greater ease to your memory, and that ye may, at the first cast up any part that ye have to do with, divided this treatise in three parts: the first teacheth you your duty towards God as a Christian; the next, your duty in your office as a king; and the third informeth you how to behave yourself in indifferent things, which of themselves are neither right nor among, but according as they are rightly or wrong used, and yet will serve according to your behavior therein, to augment or impair your fame and authority at the hands of your people. Receive and welcome this book then as a faithful preceptor and counselor unto you, which, because my affairs will not permit me ever to be present with you, I ordain to be a resident faithful admonisher of you. And because the hour of death is uncertain to me, as unto all flesh, I leave it as my testament and latter will unto you. Charging you in the presence of GOD, and by the fatherly authority I have over you, that ye keep it ever with you, as carefully, as Alexander did the Iliads of Homer. Ye will find it a just and impartial counselor, neither flattering you in any vice, not importuning you at unmeet times. It will not come uncalled, neither speak unspeered at; and yet conferring with it when ye are at quiet, ye shall say with Scipio that ye are nunquam minus solus, quam cum solus. To conclude then, I charge you, as ever ye thinks to deserve my fatherly blessing, to follow and put in practice, as far as lyeth in you, the precepts hereafter following. And if ye follow the contrary course, I take the Great GOD to record that this book shall one day be a witness betwixt me and you; and shall procure to be ratified in Heaven, the curse that in that case here I give unto you. For I protest before that Great GOD, I had rather not be a father and childless, than be a Father of wicked children. But hoping, yea, even promising unto myself, that GOD, who in his great blessing sent you unto me, shall in the same blessing, as he hath given me a son, so make him a good and a godly son; not repenting him of his mercy showed unto me, I end, with my earnest prayer to GOD, to work effectually unto you, the fruits of that blessing, which here from my heart I bestow upon you.

Your loving Father

I. R. [Jacobus Rex]

5IV. FromBook II Of the King's Duty in His Office

But the principal blessing that ye can get of good company will stand in your marrying of a godly and virtuous wife, for she must be nearer unto you than any other company, being flesh of your flesh, and bone of your bone, as Adam said of Hevah. And because I know not but God may call me, before ye be ready for marriage, I will shortly set down to you here my advice therein.

First of all consider, that marriage is the greatest earthly felicity or misery that can come to a man, according as it pleaseth God to bless or curse the same. Since then without the blessing of God, ye cannot look for a happy success in marriage, ye must be careful both in your preparation for it and in the choice and usage of your wife, to procure the same. By your preparation, I mean, that ye must keep your body clean and unpolluted, till ye give it to your wife, whom-to only it belongeth. For how can ye justly crave to be joined with a pure virgin, if your body be polluted? Why should the one half be clean, and the other defiled? And although I know fornication is thought but a light and venial sin by the most part of the world, yet remember well what I said to a you in my first book anent conscience, and count every sin and breach of God's law, not according as the vain world esteemeth of it, but as God the judge and maker of the law accounteth of the same. Here God commanding by the mouth of Paul to abstain from fornication, declaring that the fornicator shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven; and by the mouth of John, reckoning our fornication amongst other grievous sins, that debar the committers amongst dogs and swine from entry in that spiritual and heavenly Jerusalem. And consider, if a man shall once take upon him, to count that light which God calleth heavy, and venial that which God calleth grievous; beginning first to measure any one sin by the rule of his lust and appetites and not of his conscience; what shall let him to do so with the next, that his affections shall stir him to, the like reason serving for all, and so to go forward till he place his whole corrupted affections in God's room? And then what shall come of him, but as a man given over to his own filthy affections, shall perish into them? And because we are all of that nature, that sibbest examples touch us nearest, consider the difference of success that God granted in the marriages of the king my grandfather, and me your own father: the reward of his incontinency (proceeding from his evil education) being the sudden death at one time of two pleasant young princes; and a daughter only born to succeed to him, whom he had never the hap, so much as once to see or bless before his death; leaving a double curse behind him to the land, both a woman of sex, and a new born babe of age to reign over them. And as for the blessing God hath bestowed on me in granting me both a greater continence and the fruits following there-upon, yourself and sib folks to you are (praise be to God) sufficient witnesses; which I hope the same God of his infinite mercy shall continue and increase, without repentance to me and my posterity. Be not ashamed then, to keep clean your body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit, notwithstanding all vain allurements to the contrary, discerning truly and wisely of every virtue and vice, according to the true qualities thereof, and not according to the vain conceits of men.

As for your choice in marriage, respect chiefly the three causes wherefore marriage was first ordained by God; and then join three accessories, so far as they may be obtained, not derogating to the principles.

The three causes it was ordained for are for staying of lust, for procreation of children, and that man should by his wife get a helper like himself. Defer not then to marry till your age, for it is ordained for quenching the lust of your youth. Especially a king must tymouslie marry for the weal of his people. Neither marry ye, for any accessory cause or worldly respects, a woman unable, either through age, nature, or accident, for procreation of children, for in a king that were a double fault, as well against his own weal, as against the weal of his people. Neither also marry one of known evil conditions or vicious education; for the woman is ordained to be a helper and not a hinderer to man.

The three accessories, which as I have said ought also to be respected, without derogating to the principal causes, are beauty, riches, and friendship by alliance, which are all blessings of God. For beauty increaseth your love to your wife, contenting you the better with her, without caring for others; and riches and great alliance do both make her the abler to be a helper unto you. But if over great respect being had to these accessories, the principal causes be overseen (which is over oft practiced in the world) as of themselves they are a blessing being well used; so the abuse of them will turn them in a curse. For what can all these worldly respects avail when a man shall find himself coupled with a devil, to be one flesh with him, and the half marrow in his bed? Then (though too late) shall he find that beauty without bounty, wealth without wisdom, and great friendship without grace and honesty are but faire shewes and the deceitful masques of infinite miseries.

10But have ye respect, my Son, to these three special causes in your marriage, which flow from the first institution thereof, & coetera omnia adjicientur vobis. And therefore I would rathest have you to marry one that were fully of your own religion; her rank and other qualities being agreeable to your estate. For although that to my great regret, the number of any princes of power and account, professing our religion be but very small; and that therefore this advice seems to be the more strait and difficile; yet ye have deeply to weigh and consider upon these doubts, how ye and your wife can be of one flesh and keep unity betwixt you, being members of two opposite churches. Disagreement in religion bringeth ever with it disagreement in manners; and the dissention betwixt your preachers and hers will breed and foster a dissention among your subjects, taking their example from your family; besides the peril of the evil education of your children. Neither pride you that ye will be able to frame and make her as ye please; that deceived Solomon the wisest king that ever was, the grace of perseverance not being a flower that groweth in our garden.

Remember also that marriage is one of the greatest actions that a man doth in all his time, especially in taking of his first wife; and if he marry first basely beneath his rank, he will ever be the less accounted of thereafter. And lastly, remember to choose your Wife as I advised you to choose your servants: that she be of a whole and clean race, not subject to the hereditary sicknesses, either of the soul or the body. For if a man will be careful to breed horses and dogs of good kinds, how much more careful should he be, for the breed of his own loins? So shall ye in your marriage have respect to your conscience, honor, and natural weal in your successors.

When ye are married, keep inviolably your promise made to God in your marriage, which standeth all in doing of one thing,and abstaining from another: to treat her in all things as your wife, and the half of yourself; and to make your body (which then is no more yours, but properly hers) common with none other. I trust I need not to insist here to dissuade you from the filthy vice of adultery; remember only what solemn promise ye make to God at your marriage, and since it is only by the force of that promise that your children succeed to you, which otherwayes they could not do, equitie and reason would, ye should keep your part thereof. God is ever a severe avenger of all perjuries; and it is no oath made in jest that giveth power to children to succeed to great kingdoms. Have the king my grandfather's example before your eyes, who by his adultery bred the wrack of his lawful daughter and heir in begetting that bastard Moray, Protestant] who unnaturally rebelled and procured the ruin of his own sovereign and sister. And what good her posterity hath gotten sensyne of some of that unlawful generation, Bothwell his treacherous attempts can bear witness. Keep precisely then your promise made at marriage, as ye would wish to be partaker of the blessing therein.

And for your behavior to your wife, the Scripture can best give you counsel therein: Treat her as your own flesh, command her as her lord, cherish her as your helper, rule her as your pupil, and please her in all things reasonable; but teach her not to be curious in things that belong her not. Ye are the head, she is your body. It is your office to command, and hers to obey, but yet with such a sweet harmony as she should be as ready to obey, as ye to command; as willing to follow, as ye to go before; your love being wholly knit unto her, and an her affections lovingly bent to follow your will.

And to conclude, keep specially three rules with your wife: first, suffer her never to meddle with the politick government of the commonweal, but hold her at the oeconomicke rule of the house; and yet all to be subject to your direction; keep carefully good and chaste company about her, for women are the frailest sex; and be never both angry at once but when ye see her in passion, ye should with reason danton yours. For both when ye are settled, ye are meetest to judge of her errors; and when she is come to herself, she may be best made to apprehend her offence and reverence your rebuke.