By David Teems
Categories: Bible Study, Biography/Memoir, Inspirational People
James Stuart, the orphan son of Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley, was crowned in the cradle and grew to become an absolutist king. Well-versed in the Scriptures from an early age, he never missed an opportunity to preach, publish, and defend the Scriptures. He became "the only English king to ascend the throne as a published author," according to David Teems in his book, "Majestie" (125).
In a 1610 speech to the English Parliament, James proclaims, "Kings are not only God's lieutenants upon earth,... but even by God himself they are called gods.... They [monarchs] exercise a manner or resemblance of divine power on earth ... power to create or destroy, make or unmake ... to give life or send death, to judge all and to be accountable to none" (130).
And it is this man, King James, whose Bible we still read today.
In "Majestie," a witty biography of courtship and conspiracy, love and loss, Teems explores the life of the 17th-century king. While James was groomed to reign, he suffered a bleak childhood, learning life lessons from those around him, often to their dismay. James loved the hunt, or the chase, yet he couldn't stand the sight of blood. He was a peacemaker. Maybe this is why, in efforts to unify Scotland and England, he stopped at the border and sprawled on the ground, half his body in one country, half in the other. He also merged the countries' flags into the now-familiar Union Jack (named for himself) and created signets of braided rose from England and thistle from Scotland. His motto, notes Teems, was "blessed are the peacemakers" (149).
In true James fashion, when tensions rose in the Anglican Church, he pacified them by spearheading "the most important literary undertaking in Western history – the translation of the Bible into a beautiful, lyrical, and accessible English." After all, as Teems writes, James "was a king when words were power, and he knew how to make them do his bidding" (129).
For a book subtitled "The King Behind the King James Bible," the Good Book doesn’t get its fair share of the spotlight. To get to the details of the Bible's translation, readers endure a royally long courtship, of sorts, with His Majestie in addition to taking in the liturgy, literature, and witchcraft of England's Golden Age. But once the stage is set, Teems doesn't disappoint. All the king's men, the Translators, were gathered. Companies, rules, and operations were established. The Translators' task was "to make English godly" (217). In the end, by 1611, the King James Bible becomes the only bible with a king behind it, and "it was glorious. It reeked of majestie..." (240).
"Majestie" pulses with insight and humor, delivering a truly readable account of James's kingcraft, his disposition to serve God, and the majestic legacy of his Bible.
Writer's note: Check out the audiobook of "Majestie." Narrator Roger Mueller superbly tells author David Teems's grand tale of King James. While the Old English and Latin riddled throughout the text may make many readers pause, Mueller doesn't miss a beat. But consider having the book handy, especially for those who can't keep royal lineage straight, as there is a helpful chronology and family tree in the appendices.