Basilicon Doron
by King James I


In 1598, King James VI & I wrote Basilicon Doron (sometimes spelled Basilikon 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 it, King James had no intention of publishing Basilicon Doron 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 manuscript you are about to read is from the Grenville copy. Basilicon Doron also found in James' "The Workes of the Most High and Mightie Prince, Iames (James)" on page 137.

Despite the attempts at secrecy, intelligence of the book and its contents got abroad. And so there ensued 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. [1]

Some notes: Basilicon Doron is actually composed of three short books. The following is the first book. The scripture references found in brackets [] also come from Basilicon Doron and are found in the margins next to the applicable text.

This "First Booke" of Basilicon Doron contains excellent Christian advice from the King. He boils it down to--read the scriptures, obey them, and pray. The spelling back then was different from ours but if you sound out the word, you'll be able to figure most of them out in short order. For more information on spelling and typography go our to summary of James Workes.

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The Dedication, the Argument and the Epistle of the Booke.

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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, whom to 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 therefra 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]

continue this First Booke of Basilicon Doron


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[1] Basilicon Doron, King James, 1599. Printed by The Scolar Press Limited, 1969.

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