Basilicon Doron



In 1598, King James VI & I wrote Basilicon Doron  - the Kingly Gift - as a testament to instruct his young son, Prince Henry, in manners, morals and the ways of kingship.  Prince Henry would not live to take the throne.  He died in 1612.  When he wrote Basilicon Doron, King James had no intention of publishing it for the public.  He bound his printer, Robert Waldegrave, to secrecy, and ordered an edition of only seven copies for his own private use.

Of the seven copies of the original private edition of 1599, only two are known to survive - one in the National Library of Scotland and the other in the Grenville collection in the British Museum.  The Basilicon Doron manuscript you are about to read is from the Grenville copy.

Despite the attempts at secrecy, intelligence of Basilicon Doron and its contents got abroad.  Consequently, there was much demand from the King's new English subjects for Basilicon Doron.  In order to stem the tide of forgeries, several English editions of Basilicon Doron were published as well as translations in Welsh, Latin, French, Swedish, and German.

Basilicon Doron comprises three short books.  The following is the first book.  The scripture references found in brackets [] also come from Basilicon Doron.  In the original edition they are found in the margins, next to the applicable text.  


The dedication, the Argument and the Epistle of the Booke






As Hee can not bee thought worthie to rule & command others, that cannot rule and dantone his owne proper affections & unreasonable appetites; so can he not be thought worthy to governe a Christian people, knowing & fearing God, that in his own person and hart feareth not, and loveth not the Divine Majestie.  Neither can aniething in his governement succeed wel with him (devise and labour as he list) as comming from a filthie spring, if his person be unsanctified: for (as DAVID saith) [Psalm. 127.1] In vaine watchest thou the Citie, or buyldest thou the house, if the Lord by his blessing grant not successe therunto; & as PAUL saith [I. Cor. 3.6], CEPHAS may plant, & APOLLO may water, but it is God only that may give the increase.  Therefore (my Sonne) first of al things, learne to know and love that God, to whom  ye have a double obligation; first, for that he made you a man; and next, for that he made you a little God to sit on his Throne, & rule over other men.  Remember, that as in dignity he hath erected you above others, so ought ye in thankfulnesse towardes him go as farre beyond all others.  A moate in anothers eye, is a beame into youres: a blemishe in another, is a leprouse byle into you: and a venial sinne (as the Papists call it) in another, is a greate crime into you.  Thinke not therefore, that the highnes of your dignity diminisheth your faults (much les giveth you a licence to sin) but by the contrarie, your faulte shal be aggravated according to the height of your dignitie, any sin that ye commit not being a single sinne procuring but the fal of one; but being an exemplare sinne, and therefore draweth with it the whole multitude to be guyltie of the same.  Remember then, that this glistering worldlie glorie of Kings is given them by God, to teach them to preass so to glister and shine before their people in all works of sanctification and righteousness, that their persons as bright lampes of godliness and vertue, may (going in and out before their people) give light to all their steps.  Remember also, that by the right knowledge, and fear of God which is the beginning of wisedome (as Salomon saith) [Prov. 9.10] ye shall know all the things necessarie for the discharge of your duety, both as a Christian & as a King, seeing in him (as in a mirrour) the course of al earthlie things, whereof he is the spring & onely moover.

Now, the onely way to bring you to this knowldege, is diligently to read his word, & earnestly to pray for the right understanding thereof: [Joh. 5.39] Search the scriptures (saith Christ) for they wil bear testimony of me: And [2 Tim. 3.16.17] the whole Scriptures (saith PAUL) are profitable to teach, to improove, to correct, & to instruct in righteousness, that the man of God may be absolute, being made perfit unto al good works.  I joyne to this, the careful hearing of the doctrine with attendance and reverence: For faith commeth by hearing (saith PAUL) But above al, beware ye thraw not the word to your appetite, (as over-many doe) making it like a bell to sound as ye please to interpret: but by the contrarie, frame all your affections to follow precisely the rules there set downe.

The whole Scripture contayneth but two things: a command, and a prohibition; to doe such thinges, and abstaine from the contrarie.  Obey in both; neither thinke it ynough to abstaine from evill and doe no good: nor thinke not that if yee doe many good thinges it may serve you for a cloake to mixe evill turnes there-with.  And as in thir two poyntes the whole Scripture consisteth, so, in two degrees standeth the whole service of GOD by man: Interior, or up-warde; Exterior, or downward: the first, by prayer in faith towards God; the next, by works flowing therefrom before the worlde, which is nothing else but the exercise of Religion towardes God, and of equitie towards your neighbor.

As for the particular pointes of Religion, I neede not to delate them; I am no hypocrite, follow your Fathers foote-steppes and your owne education therein. I thanke God, I was never ashamed to give accounte of my profession, how-so-ever the malitious lying tongues of some have traduced me: & my conscience had not resolved that al my Religion was grounded upon the plaine words of the Scripture, I had never outwardly avowed it, for pleasure or awe of the vaine pride of some sedicious 'Preachours.

And as for the poyntes of equitie towards your neighboour (because that will fall in properlie upon the second parte concerning a Kinges office) I leave it to the owne roome.

For the first part then of mans service to His God (which is Religion) that is, The worship of God according to his revealed will, It is wholie grounded upon the Scripture (as I have alreadie saide) quickened by Faith, and conserved by Conscience.  For the Scripture, I have alreadie spoken of it in general: but that ye may the more readely make choise of any part thereof for your instruction or comforte, remember onely this methode.

The whole Scripture is dited by Gods Spirit, thereby (as by his lively word) to instruct and rule the whole Church militant, till the end of the worlde.  It is composed of two parts, the Olde and New Testament.  The ground of the former is the Law, which sheweth our sinne and conteyneth justice.  The grounde of the other is Christ, who pardoning sinne contayneth Grace.  The summe of the Lawe is the ten Commandes, more largelie dilated in the Lawe, interpreated by the Prophets: and by the histories are the examples showen of obedience or disobedience thereto, and what praemium or poena was accordingly given by God.  But because no man was able to keepe the Lawe, nor anie parte thereof, it pleased God of his infinite wisedome and goodness, to incarnate his onelie Sonne in our nature, for satisfaction of his justice in his suffering for us: that since we coulde not bee saved by doing, wee might (at least) be saved by beleeving.  The grounde therefore of the Lawe of Grace, is contayned in the foure histories of the birth, life, death, and resurrection Christ. [S. Mat. S. Mar. S. Luk. S. Joh.]

The Larger interpretation of this Law, is contained in the Epistles of the Apostles: and the practice in the faithfull or unfaithful, together with their rewarde or punishment according thereto, is contayned in the Acts of the Apostles.

Would yee then know your sin by the Law? reade the bookes of MOYSES contayning it: would yee have a commentarie thereupon? reade the Prophets: would ye see, how good-men are rewarded, and wicked punished? look the histories of GENESIS, EXODUS, JOSHUA, the JUDGES, JOB and ESTER, but especialie the bookes of the KINGS, and CHRONICLES, wherewith ye ought to be familiarlie acquaynted: for there will ye see your selfe (as in a mirrour) either among the Catalogues of the good or evill Kings.

Would ye know the life and death of Christ? looke the Evangelists.  Would ye be more particularlie trayned up in his schoole? meditat upon the Epistles of the Apostles: and would ye be aquaynted with the practizes of that doctrine in the persons of the Primitive Church? Cast up the Apostles Acts.  As to the Apocriphe bookes, I omit them because I am no Papist (as I said before) & indeed some of them are as like the dietement of the Spirite of God, as an Egge is to an Oyster.

But when ye read the Scripture, read it with a sanctified & chast eare: admire reverently such obscure places as yee understand not, blaming onlie your owne incapacitie; read with delite the playne places; and studie carefullie to understand those that are somewhate difficile: preasse to be a good textuare, for the Scripture is ever the best interpreter of it selfe.  But preasse not curiouslie to seek out farther nor is contayned therein; for that were misnurtured presumption, to strive to farther upon Gods secreats nor he hath will ye be: for what he thought needfull for us to know, that hee hath revealed there.  And delite most in reading such partes of Scripture as may best serve for your instruction in your calling, rejecting foolish curiosities upon numbers & genealogies, which are but vain & profit not (as PAUL saith) [Titus. 3.9] [1]

Now, as to Faith which is the intertayner & quickner of Religion (as I have else said) It is a sure persuasion and apprehension of the promises of God, applying them to your soule: and therefore may it justlie be called, The golden chaine that linketh the faithful soule to Christ: And because it groweth not in our garden, but is the free gifte of God (as PAUL sayth) [Phillip. 1.29.] It must be nourished by praier, which is no thing else but A frendly talking with god.

Use oft to pray when ye ar quietest, especially in your bed: for publik praier serveth more for example (for the most part) then for any particuler comfort to the supplicant.  In your praier, be nether over strange with God (like the ignorant common sort, that prayeth nothing but out of bookes) nor yet over-homely with him (like som of our vain proud puritanes, that thinke they rule him upon their fingers.)  The former way will breede an uncouth coldness in you towards him: the other wil breed in you a contempt of him: but in your praier to God, speak with al reverence, for if a subject wil not speak but reverently to a king, much les should any flesh presume to crak with God as with his companion.

Crave in your prayer, not onelie thinges spiritual but corporall, whiles things of greater, and whiles of lesse consequence, that yee may laye up in store his grant of these things for confirmation of your faith: and to be an arles-pennie unto you of his love.  Praie, as ye finde your heart moveth you pro renata: but see that yee sute no unlawfull thinges, as revenge, luste, or such like: for that prayer can not come of faith, and prayer without faith is sinne (as Paul saith) [Rom. 14.23.] When ye obteyne your prayer, thank him joyfully therefore; if otherwaise, beare patientlie, preassing to win him with importunitie as the Widdow did Christ [Mat. 15.22]: and if notwithstanding thereof yee bee not heard, assure your selfe God fore-seeth that which ye aske is not for your weal: and learne in time so to enterprete all the adversitites that God shall sende unto you, so shall ye in the middest of them not only be armed with patience, but joyfully lift up your eyes from the present trouble, to the happie end that God will turne it to: and when ye finde it once so fall out by proofe, arme your selfe with the experience thereof against the next trouble, assuring your selfe (although ye cannot in time of the showre see through the cloud, yet) in the ende, ye will finde God sent it for your weill, as ye found in the former.

And as for consience (which I called the conserver of Religion) It is nothing els but the light of knowledge that God hath planted in man; which choppeth him with a feeling that hee hath done wrong, when ever he committeth any sinne: & surely, althou this conscience be a greate torture to the wicked, yet it is as a great comfort to the goodlie, if wee will consider it rightlie.  For have we not a greate advantage that have within our selves while wee live here, a count booke and Inventarie of all the crymes that wee will be accused of, either at the houre of our death, or at the greate daye of judgement; which when wee please (yea if wee forget) it will choppe, and remember us to looke upon, that while wee have leasure and are here, we may remember to amende, and so at the daye of our tryall, compeere with new & white garments washen in the blood of the Lambe (as Saint JOHN sayeth) [Rev. 7.14]  Above all then (my Sonne) labour, to keepe sounde this conscience which manie prattle of, but over-fewe feele: especiallye be carefull to keepe it free from two diseases, which it useth oft to bee infected with, to witte, Leaprosie, and Superstition: the former is the mother of Atheisme: the other of Heresies.  By a Leaprouse conscience, I meane; a cauterized conscience (as PAUL calleth it) [I. Tim. 4.2.] being become senselesse of sinne, through sleeping in a carelesse securitie, as King DAVIDS was, after his murther and adulterie, aye while he was wakened by the prophet NATHANS similitude [2 Sam. 12.1].  And for superstition, the word it selfe is plaine ynough, being vocabulum artis.

As for a Preservative against this Leaprosie, remember ever once in the foure and twentie houres, either in the night, or when yee are at greatest quiet, to call your selfe to accounte of all your laste dayes actiones, either wherein ye have committed thinges ye should not, or omitted the thinges ye should doe, either in your Christiane or kinglie calling: & in that account, let not your selfe be smotthed over with that flattering, (which is over kindlie a sicknes to al mankinde) but censure your selfe as sharplie as if yee were your owne enemie: For if yee judge your selfe, ye shall not be judged (as PAUL sayth:) [I. Cor. 11.31] and syne according to your censure, reforme your actions as far as ye may; eschewing ever wilfully & willingly to contrare your conscience: for a small sinne wilfullie committed, with a deliberate resolution to breake the bridle of conscience therein, is far greevouser before God, then a greater sinne committed in a suddaine passion, when conscience is a sleepe.  Remember therefore in al your actions of the great account that yee are one daie to make: in all the dayes of your life ever learning to die, and living every daye as it were youre last;

Omnem crede diem tibi diluxiffe fupremum.

And therefore I would not have you to praye with the Papistes, to be preserved from suddaine death, but that God would give you grace to live, as yee may everie houre of your life be ready for death: so shall yee atteyne to the vertue of true Fortitiude, never being affraide for the horror of death, come when hee list: and especiallie, beware to offend your conscience with use of swearing or lying (suppose but in the mowes): for oathes are but an use, and a sinne clothed with no delite nor gaine, and therefore the more inexcusable before God: and lying commeth also much of a vyle use by bannishing shame: therefore beware even to denie the trueth, which is a sort of lye that may best be eschewewd by a person of your rank: for if any thing be speered at you that yee think not meete to reveale, if yee saie, that question is not pertinent for them to speere, who dare examine you further? & using this answere whiles both in true & false things that will be speered at you, these misnurtured people will never be the wiser thereof.

And for keeping your conscience sound from that siknes of Superstition, which is called Morbus animi, yee muste neither laye the safetie of your conscience upon the credit of your owne conceits, nor yet of other mens humours, how great Doctors of Divinity that ever they be: but ye must only ground it upon the express Scripture: for conscience not grounded upon sure knowledge, is either an ignorant fantasie, or an arrogante glaikerie.  Beware therefore in this case with two extreamities: the' one, to beleeve (with the Papistes) The Churches authoritie, better nor your own knowledge: th' other, to leane (with the Anabaptists) to your own conceites & dreamed revelations.

But learne wisely to discerne betwixt poyntes of salvation and indifferent thinges, betwixt substance and ceremonies; & betwixt the expresse commandemente and will of God in his word, & the invention or ordinance of man; since al that is necessarie for salvation is contayned in the Scripture: for in anything that is expresly commanded or prohibited in the booke of God, ye cannot be over precise even in the least thing, counting every sin (not according to the light estimation and common use of it in the world) but as the book of God counteth of it: but as for all other things not contayned in the scripture, spare not to use or alter them as the necessitie of the time shall require.  And when any of the spiritual office-bearers in the Church, speaketh unto you any thing that is wel warranted by the worde, reverence and obeye them as the Heraulds of the most high God: but (if passing that bounds) they would urge you to embrace anye of their fantasies in place of Gods word, or would colour their particulars with a pretended zeale, acknowledge them for vaine people passing the boundes of their calling; and (according to your office) gravely and with aurthoritie redact them in ordour againe.

To conclude then, both this purpose of Conscience, and the first part of this booke; Keep God sparinglie in your mouth, but aboundantlie in your hart.  Be precise in effect, but sociall in shew.  Kyth more by your deeds nor by your wordes the love of vertue and hatred of vice: and delite more to be godlie and vertuous in deed, nor to be thought and called so; expecting more for your praise and rewarde in heaven nor heere: and apply to all your outward actions Christes commande, to give almes secretly: so shall ye on the one parte be inwardly garnished with true Christian humilitie, not outwardly (with the proud Pharisie) glorying in your godlinesse: but saying (as Christ commandeth us all) when we have done all that we can, Invtiles fervi fumus [Luke 17.10.]: and on the other parte, yee shall eschew outwardly before the world, the suspicioun of filthie proude hypocrisie and deceitfull dissimulation.

Finis: The First Booke of Basilicon Doron


Copyright 2006 Waterford History