Review: James I: The Fool as King

James I: The Fool as King
James I: The Fool as King by Otto Scott

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bordering on the caustic, Scott offers a different look at King James of Authorized Version fame.

I watched a documentary on the making of the KJV while I read this book. It said nothing negative about James, probably out of a desire to uphold the greatness of the Scripture version. This book was the opposite. Scott criticizes James' character at every turn, describing him as an incompetent, self-absorbed, Messianic, dissipated homosexual of which the court was mostly embarrassed. The Scripture version he authorized gets maybe 2 pages, of the 408 (which may or may not accurately reflect the importance he gave it).

There is a lot of political detail - which nobles were in favor, how they fell out of favor, the international pressures toward Catholicism from Spain and toward the Reform from the lowlands. His academic work is strongest here.

I learned most about how James navigated between Catholicism and the Reformers. He was repulsed by the Vatican's claim to be above his rule, and by the Reformers' claim to call the king to account. In short, he continued the idea that the king is head of the church, not bishops, presbyteries or popes. He wanted to be king and pope all in one, and would brook no opposition.

A key thesis of Scott's is that it was James' character that was flawed, not his intelligence. This is probably right. But in his desire to show James as fool, Scott seldom does his intelligence justice, even. His assertions that James was homosexual and had multiple relationships while on the throne are shaky. I don't rule out the possibility, but it's hard to prove. He was certainly more debauched (at least far less pious) than most people who think of the "King James Bible" would ever imagine.

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