5th April 2011 

Before beginning a blog series about the King James Bible, it seems a good place to start is with the question: Who exactly was King James?

by Dr Farah Karim-Cooper

James was born in 1566 to Mary, Queen of Scots, and her second husband, Henry Stuart. Mary’s rule over Scotland was not secure, mostly due to her Roman Catholic beliefs, and within a year of his birth, James’s father had been assassinated and his mother incarcerated and forced to abdicate. At 13 months old then, James became King of Scotland and this has now been seen by historians as a scheme to ensure the security of Protestantism there. So, from the outset, James was raised with religious tension around him.

In time, because he was related to Elizabeth I (they were first cousins, twice removed) and because she was unmarried and childless when she died, he became King of England and Scotland in 1603. In religious terms, England was in quite an uncertain state at that time. Retrospectively, it’s easy to look back and see the Protestant Reformation as a definitive event, but it took a long time for all of the implications of it to sink deeply into the country’s imagination and practice. Although James had come from Protestant Scotland and England had been Protestant under Elizabeth, his diplomatic negotiations with Roman Catholic Spain caused considerable anxiety.

These fears were exacerbated by his support for bishops. James saw them as allies of the monarch in a hierarchy that placed him at the head of the Church; at the same time, opponents saw bishops as a vestige of Catholicism. The events, factors and motivations that led James to commission a new English translation of the Bible therefore played out against this theological backdrop.