338 Book of Books

We follow James north to Scotland, a visit with consequences. And on the way south, hear about the culture wars – and the Book of Sports. Then we celebrate, a little late one of the greatest achievements of James Reign. One bible to bind them all.

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The Book of Sports

You might be interested to read the text of the book of Sports – gives you a flavour of the time, and of the pastimes of ordinary parishioners



Honestly Walter’s final gamble, the final countdown didn’t off to much of a flyer. After all the drama of the send off, they got nowhere very fast and were blown ashore at Cork. Now don’t get me wrong – I have no intention of diss’ing Cork, which I know is a wonderful place full of fun, laughter and small furry animals, but if you are heading for South America, making landfall at Cork isn’t the route you’d find inscribed on the most secret pilot rutters and guarded with the captain’s life. It’d be more Captain’s log stardate 1617 oh bloody hell wandered around for 2 months and ended up at Cork. Also, then one of his Captains, John Bailey, jumped ship and headed home, because he missed his wife which is kind of nice – and, without wanting to spoil the plot, was a pretty good career decision as it happens.

Finally they got away but you know there is a rule of life I would like to share with you from my own personal experience. This is that when the wheels come off, it is pretty much impossible to put them back on. Especially when your crew is infested with disease. When they finally did get going, 42 of the crewmen promptly celebrated by dying, which was a bit of a downer, and even Walter was so sick he could eat no solids for 3 weeks. Finally they tipped up at the Orinoco delta, and in line with their mission not to hurt or even look at any Spaniards they overran a Spanish settlement, killed the Governor, and Walter’s eldest son Wat was killed. Wat’s death broke poor Walter, robbed the great explorer of his initiative and leadership. Deserted by more of his captains they all limped home, not even being able to stir themselves to wait off the Azores for the Spanish fleet. They dragged themselves into Plymouth.

Where the full fury of a king scorned met them. All they brought home was some looted baccy, and famously James I though smoking a filthy habit. The Spanish were spitting blood, and James ordered Ralegh’s arrest along with a proclamation in June anointing Ralegh’s head with outrage for his evil attacks on his best mates the Spanish. Although his arrest had been ordered, those so ordered to carry it out were pretty reluctant to lay hands on a national hero and symbol of the country’s triumphant youth, so Ralegh was left to recuperate and write an apologia for his actions; which James refused to read. Which was just as well really, since its basic thrust was well, if you didn’t want me to kill Spaniards you shouldn’t have sent me. It never does to tell kings the truth, unless you happen to be Cornet Joyce arresting Charles I and therefore have suitable authority. In August 1618, Ralegh came home – to the Tower of London.

James it must be said was not in two minds about anything to do with Ralegh now. But you know, you have to go through the process and all that so James put his finest legal minds on it – Francis Bacon and Edward Coke and 4 other commissioners. Who concluded that since Ralegh was legally a dead man walking anyway, they should just remove the walking bit; in October 1618 Ralegh was taken to make his case before the commissioners. By 28th October sentence of death had been pronounced; he was given two concessions – that he would be beheaded rather hung drawn and all that, and that he could make a speech from the scaffold. That night he and Bess met for the last time.

Ralegh was to be executed in the Old Palace Yard, just south of Westminster Abbey. The day was cunningly chosen to be on the day of the Lord Mayor’s pageant, to distract the crowds. The crowds, however, were not so easily distracted and the place was packed, Ralegh had to be shoved through the crowds t get to the gallows. The Dean of Westminster had been rather put out by how cheerful Ralegh was at breakfast, as he smoked his beloved pipe – Ralegh knew how to die well. He’d written a final poem before he came out into the Palace Yard, which I shall read for you here

Even such is time, which takes in trust

    Our youth, our joys, and all we have,

And pays us nought but age and dust;

    Which in the dark and silent grave,

When we have wandered all our ways,

Shuts up the story of our days!

And from which grave, and earth, and dust,

The Lord shall raise me up, I trust

Ralegh spoke on the scaffold for 25 minutes, refuting the accusations against him in some detail. He did the traditional thing of agreeing that he deserved to die and all that, and offered up a prayer before saying to the crowd, roguishly I would have said,

I have a long journey to go therefore I must leave you

He insisted on seeing the axe first; and said famously

This is sharp medicine but it is a sure cure for all diseases

Which is a good point, well made, he knelt, his shirt was torn to reveal his neck, he then in effect told the executioner to get on with it, two strokes and it was done. The reign of Elizabeth was finally at an end.

The fall out was quite interesting; the Spanish ambassador, not Gondamar for a while, wrote home with admiration for the way he’d died, and related that there’d been a great commotion and much upset; Ralegh was buried as close as possible to where he’d been killed at St Margarets Church to avoid any processions, demonstrations of grief and popular acclaim and all that sort of thing – popular acclaim is so vulgar. And then James had Francis Bacon produce a tract justifying the death – James, more than any preceding monarch, understood the importance of owning the message in print; obviously Elizabeth was a master at visual messaging, James used the new media. You couldn’t imagine Edward I giving a tinker’s curse about managing the message. Once again, public opinion was beginning to matter. Edward I would probably have been right to so not bother – afterall it didn’t work. His biographer notes that Ralegh was remembered as a national hero, despite dying without more than a few beans to rub together and never having achieved the high political influence he craved; his name was an inspiration in the civil wars against royal oppression. Ralegh captured the imagination – It’s Ralegh’s carelessness with cloaks and puddles we remember, Ralegh the explorer, Ralegh and his derring do – whereas I had to work hard, I suspect, to make everyone realise that Robert Cecil was a talented and successful national leader and administrator. To which I suspect you might have thought, whatevs. Anyway that’s Walter – sorry I didn’t really do him justice. Bess Ralegh meanwhile, managed to recover many of the assets of the expedition, and lived to the ripe old age of 82, dying in 1647, in pretty good comfort. I think there is a story there, in Bess Ralegh, no body’s fool.

Now then I think we should turn away from the tragic story of Walt, and go instead to the northern parts, to Scotland, in the company of our King. When he ascended to the crown of England, the Scottish people were much concerned that they would become just a province to their ancient lines of Kings. Of this Jimmy sought to soothe them; talking about their most perfect religion, and that anyway he’d come back every three years, and so they would not become strangers.

In this he might have been sincere at the time, but did not manage to live up to his promises. I fear ‘twas ever thus with even the best of our political leaders, the best laid plans and all that. Still, none the less, James was able to be smug, which is never an attractive characteristic, but let’s put that to one side, smug that he was able to rule Scotland with great ease from a distance – by the stroke of the pen, as he put it. Interestingly in 1626 the Earl of Mar would put a slightly different spin on this, when talking to James’ son Charles on the occasion of his accession to the throne. The Earl of Mar remarked that

A hundred times your worthy father has sent down directions which we have stayed; and he has given thanks for it when we have informed him of the truth.

From which he might take the view that the main skill of a leader is in choosing the right people around him, and the right skill of the led is to know which orders to follow, and which to quietly file. James’ Scottish privy Council, led by the earl of Dunbar and then Earl of Dunfermline had ignored the potty ideas and only gone ahead with the art of the possible. So to a degree the distance had done both parties some good. Still credit must also go to James. As you remember the potential for conflict was ever present; the more radical protestants, led by the likes of Andrew Melville, were very much against the idea of the king having authority over the kirk – Melville talked of two kingdoms, God’s kingdom and the king’s kingdom, and the king was the lesser. And indeed – if a king stepped out of line religiously speaking, then it was perfectly legit for his people to remove him, as a tyrant. Bishops then, as an instrument as it was seen of royal power were not popular to the likes of Melville. Melville eventually was banished for his pains, but the debate was still a live one and needed careful handling.

Well, James deserves some credit, because he proceeded to push Bishops back into the structure of the church by not pushing things too hard and fast, taking it slow, playing the long game; and it worked – by 1611, the Bishops were all appointed, and fully involved in secular affairs as well as church business, just as they always had been – sitting on the Privy Council for example, which probably brought Melville out in spots, as he carried out his assignment assessments as professor Theology in Sedan, France, for a small fee of x % of naff all per assessment. I am reflecting some family outrage at the pitiful fees given PhD students for marking assessments, which surely doesn’t figure as politics.

Now look, you are probably wondering, possibly impatiently, why I am noodling on about Scottish bishops, rather than moving on to the British Civil Wars for which you are all waiting impatiently. Well, I might remind you that everything kicks off with something called the Bishops Wars, so you know, ha! Touche, that sort of thing, I am preparing the ground.

Anyway in 1617, James decided that he must go north to his homeland once more; Scotland was always close to his heart, and he worried that his relationships with the great lords was growing out of date, and he hardly knew anyone well anymore. And James knew that in Scotland, far more than in England, the regional power of the nobility was paramount, and his royal role as arbiter between factions had always been critical to the effective running of the Scottish kingdom. Now the prospect of the king leaving court had his English courtiers running around in a right old panic; on one occasion Buckingham and other courtiers ambushed the king in his bedchamber and tried to talk him out of it; please don’t go king you might be killed, there might be infighting back here, you might never come back; on being told not to be ridiculous boobies, thy went for the full theatrical effect and knelt around his bed, pleading for him not to go. Did they have no pride?

But James had plans, and so, like the Tiger who came to Tea he went, after raising a bag of cash to make sure he could enjoy the journey. The Scottish Privy Council had made extravagant and detailed preparations, and it was something of a triumph, though it cost a king’s ransom. James did what he did best, met his lords, hunted, hung out with all at court, spread the love, pressed the flesh. And he presided over a synod of the Kirk, and it is this that we have come to see, you and I. Because James seems to have a change of heart with his previous softly softly approach. It’s important to remember that the Scots considered their kirk infinitely superior to that of England, as being closer to the model proposed by Calvin; passions were high, and you’ve already heard that if there’s anyone that could make the English look like Catholic loving backsliders who secretly loved the pope, then it was the Scots. But now James proposed 5 changes to the synod. These were that only Bishops were to carry out confirmations; there would be private baptisms and communion for the sick. Then the five greatest pre-reformation festivals were re-established – Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension and Whitsunday. So now we know where Cromwell got the idea of cancelling Christmas from. Only kidding. As you all know of course, Cromwell didn’t cancel Christmas. Even more contentiously, everyone must receive communion while kneeling. That doesn’t sound that explosive compared to say, thermo nuclear war, but it was the theological equivalent in Scotland, because it implied acceptance of transubstantiation.

Well, the synod were shocked, there was widespread chin wobbling. I mean they didn’t like to diss the opinions of their Stewart kings obviously, but for many of them the compromise, the lover of the middle way had just become the closet Catholic as far as radical presbyterians were concerned; he’d be suggesting tea with the Pope before you could say Mitre. They sought to fight him off these Five acts, but James forced them through; and he forced the Bishops to push them through at a General Assembly at Perth in 1618 when he’d gone back to England. And so the Articles of Perth were born, and would return to haunt the Stewarts, remember the name Five Articles of Perth. Now the Bishops knew they were handling dynamite and were suitably careful with the material, and tried to diffuse the situation by not enforcing the Five Acts rigorously. But James would get increasingly impatient with them; and in 1621 forced them through a parliament, which was once more unusually fiercely fought by the MPs. The problem was that James was rather liking the English church with its bishops, and you know, being Governor of the church suited him down to the ground. Religious divergence between England and Scotland was growing, which is something of a drawback when you have three kingdoms and you want them all be pretty much the same. From north of the border it looked as though their king was going native; and then James was about to embark on a foreign policy that would annoy the English almost as much as the Scots with it’s Spain friendly flavour.

For the first time then, the kirk was in the grip of real lay resistance, not just resistance by a group of radical ministers led by Melville. The middle ground of ministers, normally relaxed about royal authority, began to shift in their attitude – because it was now James rather than Melville who was appearing to take an extreme viewpoint. Many congregations now voted with their feet; nonconformism grew strongly as congregations left the kirk and established their own conventicles, which was very strange for a church which prided itself on its national uniformity – very strange and very wrong. Culture wars ladies and gents, culture wars.



James left the land of his fathers and travelled south and came to a place called Lancashire in August 1617. Now to be honest the good folk of Lancashire didn’t normally get kings and queens travelling around over their hallowed earth – all those summer progresses of Elizabeth and others tended to stay in the south. So the good citizens of Myerscough decided to make the most of it, and participated in the political process according to the 17th century idiom, and petitioned the passing king, father of his people. Now religiously speaking, Lancashire was an unusual place of polar opposites; it had a strong remaining catholic presence, but also a strong puritan streak, and the JPs seem to have been of the latter, Puritan persuasion and d’you know what? They were sick of all the messing about that happened on Sundays which was afterall the Lord’s day, and if the Lord had wanted everyone bull baiting or dancing or playing bowls, surely he’d have put it into at least one of the commandments. So the previous August, 1616, the exasperated JPs had issued a series of orders at the Lancaster assize courts designed to compel Sunday observance. One of the things they were specific about was that there be

No piping, dancing, bowling, bear or bull baiting or any other profanation upon any sabbath day in any parte of the day; or upon any festival day in time of devine service

Well, that’s a bum rap and make no mistake. Hence, in 1617, the petition to the king by the people of Lancashire objecting to said ruling. Afterall. With one day off a week the good people didn’t get much opportunity for a bit of a hooley. If that’s the right word for bowling.

They were fortunate to hit a nerve. Just as James was proving to be less enthusiastic about strict Calvinism in Scotland, so he was increasingly suspicion of puritans. It was pretty clear in his mind that the Pope was the enemy abroad; but the puritans with their two kingdoms stuff and their insistence that the church did not go far enough, they were the enemy within. James was probably unduly suspicious of the danger they presented – the vast majority of puritans were not separatists, the Mayflower bunch would be unusual in that respect. But…but…every so often there was a separatist who put the wind up James. There was one, for example called John Traske – a Somerset man and priest, who from 1614 began to develop a secret ‘Judaical’ religious community, with theories that looked increasingly nutty to James’ eye, and certainly to the church of England. It has to be said that one of most important things to remember if you also form a secret separatist community is don’t write a ranty tract about it to the king. At first Traske rather tickled James; oddly enough, the fact that he wouldn’t eat Black Pudding struck the royal funny bone; one courtier wrote home that the news

Made his majestie exceeding merry on Sunday at dinner and were almost the sole subject of his discourse

Well, the hilarity didn’t last long; not only was Traske a separatist, but his ideas seemed to be spreading. Traske was therefore dealt with in the early modern manner – he was sentenced to be degraded, fined, whipped, pilloried, branded, to have his ears nailed to the pillory, and to be gaoled at the king’s pleasure. Which he was until 1620. And then, it has to be said kept cheerfully treading the path of heresy. The point about Traske for James was, apart his outrage at an anti black puddingist, separatism from the national church meant separating from the royal supremacy. And that would never do. And Puritans to James’ mind were all potential separatists.

So back to Lancashire and the petition. On the one hand James was rather sympathetic to the sports thing, in again a rather empathetic way. Afteral most people only got Sunday off work – when else were they meant to live a little? Maybe it’s this that had encouraged James to re-introduce the pre reformation festivals into Scotland – as far as he was concerned, banning all this fun was counter productive, and likely to drive recusants back into the arms of the Catholic church, who were noted for fresh air and fun, a bit like Blackpool. But what really got James’ goat was the fact that those JPs had decided it was in their gift to change the laws of the land, and that was arrogating royal powers. So, James had the local bishop issue a declaration which James would re-issue the following year to everyone – it was known as the Book of Sports. James’ son would re-issue it in 1633 in a slightly revised format, in a rather more combustible situation. I have published the Book of Sports on the website, should you care to look, it’s not very long.

The Book of Sports explicitly picked on ‘puritans and precise people’. He ordered that ordinary people be left to carry on their lawful recreations according to the canons on the church. And while he was on it, he ordered that puritans should be made by the Bishop to leave the country. The document is embued with the spirit of obedience and conformity to the laws of the land. If you are interested in the acceptable and unacceptable sports and recreations on a Sunday – after the church service, obviously – here is the guts of the Book of Sports, starting with activities from which they should not be banned

‘…such as dancing, either men or women; archery for men, leaping, vaulting, or any other such harmless recreation, nor from having of May-games, Whitsun-ales, and Morris-dances; and the setting up of May-poles and other sports therewith used: so as the same be had in due and convenient time, without impediment or neglect of divine service: and that women shall have leave to carry rushes to the church for the decorating of it, according to their old custom; but withal we do here account still as prohibited all unlawful games to be used upon Sundays only, as bear and bull-baitings, interludes, and at all times in the meaner sort of people by law prohibited, bowling.’

An interlude, incidentally, was a sort of bit of drama or mimicry, designed to be mocking or funny in a break in a stage show. Obviously too much potential for ribald fun. And obviously bowling was the work of the devil. Still is, to be honest.

Now the Book of Sports caused controversy, in Jacobean England. It rather encouraged the ‘stop the Puritans from taking over’ brigade, and emboldened them to take them on. So, there is a village called Lea Marston where local puritans had been trying to have something of a crackdown. After the Book of Sports appeared, the opposition planned a comeback. So there we were, us Godly people in the church preparing to do our thing, a bunch of parishioners came in wearing the most ungodly garb – fools motley and coats. Then halfway through the service they rushed out of the service – in the middle of the service would you believe it – and from outside came a dreadful, and most ungodly racket – of guns being shot into the air, and cries of ‘come out ye Puritans, come out.’ Obviously we proceeded in a dignified and Godly manner, left the church in due course and not before, only to find they’d all rushed off the local alehouse anyway, where they ‘tabred and danced the whole time.’

Shocking, I’m sure you’ll agree, and my sympathy is entirely with the Godly. Culture wars again. Puritans complained furiously to anyone who would listen – JPs, bishops, churchwardens, Overseers of the Poor, so much so that George Abbot the ABC persuaded the king not to insist that the book of Sports was read out in every church; and by and large most Bishops didn’t try to enforce it. And in James’ England anyway, as we have heard, the various wings of the church – from Puritans at one end and Arminians at the other, were nicely balanced in authority, neither having the upper hand. And so James achieved a workable balance, though to describe it as harmony would be pushing it. None the less he had the confidence, intelligence and good political sense to know when to push and when to hold back. With such skills, maybe the tensions could have been forever managed, and the separatists kept to the margins, like the Plymouth settlers. But should a monarch come to the throne without those skills, there could be trouble. Nudge, Nudge, wink and I say again, wink.



OK I set myself one more thing to do in this episode, which is to set right a deep, deep wrong- I forgot to follow up on one of the lasting achievements of Jacobean England – the Authorised version of the Bible, or the KJV, King James Version. Since my childhood was peppered with quotes from said text, this is remiss of me – though I’m still not sure of the relevance of Esau’s hairyness. Anyway, I remember that we got as far as talking about the Hampton Court conference way back in 1604, and that a puritan, a chap called John Reynolds, made a plea to James that he should consider commissioning a new English version of the bible. This was brave of Reynolds as it happens, because to be honest James had given the puritans a bit of a hammering, as James was wont to do. However, Reynolds was an impressive scholar – a moderate puritan, with a keen understanding and some respect for Catholicism, a man described as a ‘living library’. So a reasonable man to make a pitch. But the main reason he came away with a win, to offset the pain a little, was that he struck a nerve. James also wanted such a thing.

I profess I could never yet see a bible translated well into English…

He said, at which point William Tyndale was gesticulating furiously from the pearly gates and demanding to be sent back for just one day to give this bloke a piece of his mind.

Still there was quite a secular reason why James wanted a new bible. The most popular bible was not Coverdale’s or the one Henry VIII had placed in every church, it was the Geneva Bible. The Geneva bible had been produced, in Geneva as it ‘appens, but by a group of English puritans during the Marian persecution, and it relied heavily on Tyndale’s translations. It would remain very popular among puritans -and being produced by 1560, it was the bible William Shakespeare had by his elbow very probably, and that John Knox brandished at Mary QoS and at a lot of other people. One feels John Knox was something of a professional brandisher. After the KJV came out, many of a puritanical persuasion would still use the Geneva version – Olly Crom for example, when he wasn’t cancelling Christmas, John Donne. The main reason though for its popularity was its availability – unlike the Great Bible it was mechanically produced and available for use rather than being chained in the church as was the official bible of the Church of England.

That wasn’t why James disliked it though, what he didn’t like about the Geneva Bible was all the annotations the puritan translators had added in the margins – way, way too gobby as far as James was concerned, practically advocating revolution as far as he could see  – i.e. packed full of that hideous principle he’d had crammed down his throat by his tutor George Buchanan – that if a king was not up to snuff religion wise, he was a tyrant, and his people could send him back to God, reply paid, and get a new one.

Untrue, seditious and savouring too much of dangerous and treacherous conceits

James fulminated. He liked to point to the marginal note of Exodus 1, 17[1] for example which commended the Hebrew midwives for their civil disobedience. Then there was the translation itself which had made some poor choices if you happened to be a believer in the divine right of kings, who firmly believed that if a people were unlucky enough to get a tyrant as a king, all they could do was grin and bear it. And oi, you – not so much of your grinning while we’re about it. So for example what was the word tyrant doing there at all? It appears over 400 times in the Geneva Bible apparently, though fair do’s, it’s a big book, well book of books. So – it was a yes to a new bible from James, let it be so.

James established six companies of scholars – two in Oxford, two in Cambridge and two in Westminster. This was a good time for scholarship in Greek, Hebrew as well as Latin, so there were scholars to spare – 54 of them were commissioned to do the work. Those scholars were chosen for their skill, not some kind of political or religious affiliation; James might be suspicious of the puritan, but 25% of the translators were puritan. He might be careful not to let Arminians get too much of a voice, but men like Launcelot Andrewes, the leader of one of the Westminster companies were very much of that persuasion. Launcelot, by the way, is said to have mastered 15 languages which is impressive, since I personally am still working on number 1, and only got to the Asterix and Oblelix level on the back up. Anyway, also he was something of a preacher to boot, combining his scholarship with his language skills, with his ability to communicate and inspire – King James apparently slept sometimes with his written sermons under his pillow – a new angle on pillow talk it has to be said.

The bible was split up into sections, and companies met to work on their section using a variety of the bibles. The most expert in that particular language read while the others listening, consulting their own bibles, and if they disagreed with a turn of phrase, spoke up. This work proceeded for years, in a spirit of reverence as well as scholarship – this is after all God’s book we are talking about here.

There was an important principle behind their translations that had passed me by, mea culpa. Which is that these men, although scholars, were very aware that they were dealing with a largely illiterate audience. Yes of course the bible would be read by those who could read, I mean obviously, but as we discussed a couple of episodes ago that only meant about a quarter of the population – unless you were quite high up the food chain, you wouldn’t be able to read. But you’d still hear the word of God – but it would be likely read to you – by the minister, or by one of your family that could read, your parent, a preacher at open air rallies and so on. The more quotable it was, the more the Word could and would be spread. So this was a bible which was, as far as humanly possible, translated to be spoken. As Melvyn writes, it would be spoken on the battlefield, in the hospital, in church, at open air rallies. And might I add in the pub, at the dinner table, which is where I received most of my KJV, in the parlour. That by the way was Melvyn at whose Book of Books I was pointed. I do love Melvyn, he’s a dyed in the wool Anglican and the church will lose a powerful advocate when he’s gone, and the Old Lady really needs some passion. And as for Tyndale – well when Melvyn goes to the pearly gates I could be wrong, but he’ll be looking out for him first I would guess. Anyway, also someone said they’d done a podcast on the making of the KJV, a member of our parish – I went to look for it, couldn’t find it and then, Goldish like it slipped from my mind, So please, if you are listening make yourself known to me – I’m always keen to promote the podcasts of parishioners.

Anyway, where were we? Oh yes – the word of God, that’s the one, silly me. Lancelot Andrews and the Westminster company worked away in the Jerusalem Chamber of what had been the Abbot’s house at Westminster abbey, and that’s a thought in itself, a room steeped in history and momentus events. Built in the 14th century, it saw work on not just the Authorized Version but the Revised Version in 1870, the New English Bible in 1961 and the Revised English Bible in 1989. In the winter of 1643 the Westminster Assembly of Divines met there and the coffins of many famous people have lain there before their funerals – including a nice line in 18th century dramatists like Joseph Addison and William Congreve, plus a polymath by the name of Isaac Newton.

Interestingly, James would maybe have worked in IT had he been around today, because he was something of a fan of a good detailed user specification, and James and Salisbury, who was still alive at that point of course, produced a list of rules for the translators. As part of those rules, they tried to ensure that the language used was slightly archaic even for 1609 – verily, and it ‘came to pass’ are examples Melvyn gives. By so doing, they gave the bible a ready made feeling of antiquity, and thereby authority, other worldliness if you like. And if so, that does seem a clever tactic. I don’t want you to think I’m some old fogey, anything other than young, thrusting and dynamic, but there was something that got lost when the KJV stopped being used in church, don’t you think, even though the language was so out of date. There was something reassuring about the old words, and deeply connective if that isn’t too ugly a word; it was obvious to you that you were treading in the same tracks as countless generations before you, and to a young fogey like me that mattered. Just to give you an idea of my personal old fartiness credentials, when I were a lad, the version of the lord’s prayer I was taught had the words ‘and forgive them that trespass against us’. Of course for ages people have been using, you know proper English – those who rather than them that and no-one’s trespassing any more, they are sinning instead. Which is probably because the bloody government is trying to criminalise trespass, but hey that’s politics isn’t it, so I ban myself. Anyway, my point is that some people like the weight that comes with tradition.

In 1609, the companies’ work was done, and a general committee of revision met to work through it all. Then it was presented to the king, then off to the printers.  By 1611 it was printed; in point of fact it was never actually officially authorised, though it was ‘appointed by the king to read in churches’. Official authorisation would have required parliament, and James was not keen on parliament.

Printing didn’t go that well as it happens, there were typos. In one of the printings, there was a commandment that said ‘Though shalt commit adultery’. Annoyingly, the church, the pesky kill joys, pointed out the error, but the version was forever known as the Wicked Bible. There were a few other objections to the new version, in addition to the fact that it commanded people to have sex outside the established mores of the day, which was, shall we say eccentric. Some thought liberties were taken with some words – but then hey that surely is the nature of translation, it is true sense you are looking for; some declared they would rather be, as one writer put it, ‘rent in pieces by wild horses’ than use it, to which I imagine James thought – well OK, that’s a deal then. The path of true genius is never smooth. It took a while for it to be accepted; it took a while for James to order that a copy should be placed in each church. But time, and the quality of the work did its job.

In terms of language then; much of the KJV derives still from Tyndale – about 82% apparently, not much less than in the Geneva bible.  Also might be worth noting that the real winner here was Old English – which apparently lies behind 90% of the words used. There is something of a debate about who had the most impact on the words and phrases that have become embedded in the English language – Shakespeare and the Bible, and the clever money has it that while Shakespeare added more new words, the KJV has it for catchphrases and expressions; and I guess you can see why. Philistines like me try to avoid getting too much Shakespeare, whereas the bible was once upon a time everywhere you went in England – and indeed, wherever the English went to, particularly America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa. In talking about the bible I am always rather conscious that the real artists I suppose are the original writers of the Hebrew and Greek, but none the less it was the rendering into English that made it memorable to us, and expressions like ‘fall flat on you face’ or Under the sun, or pride goes before a fall I assume could have been rendered far less memorably. As far as expressions and idiomatic phrases goes, then, the KJV has it.

The KJV became ubiquitous – the most common book in households by far, and the magic of its language not only inspired, but formed an important step in beginning to standardise English at least in its writing, ad anyone who’s seen 16th century texts knows that the spelling would most definitely get you a detention in even the most liberal school in the country. But now there was a standard text that a large and constantly growing number of people would love, cherish and share, and a shared language of expressions to foster the coherence of the church.

[1] Bragg, M Book of Books,


4 thoughts on “338 Book of Books

  1. Ah, no wonder I missed the quiz question about the book of sport(s). I took the quiz before you mentioned it.

    Very nice coverage of the guy killed for being too Elizabethan. I don’t think you can describe any execution that will put me in deeper floods than those of Jane Grey and Thomas Cranmer, but execution description appears to be a highly developed skill in you. What that may mean is too much for me. I hope this doesn’t make you feel challenged to evoke even deeper floods for an event in the 1640s …

    The KJV is indeed influential. That was the version I received when I was confirmed, well over 350 years after it was first issued. I don’t know about a podcast on the KJV, but there’s a lovely book about it, called God’s Secretaries, and the RSC staged a brilliant play about it, written by David Edgar, called Written on the Heart.

    Another particularly brilliant episode, by the way, covering a lot of ground in a way that’s both clear and fascinating. Many thanks.

    1. Yes I’m with you on Jane Grey and Cranmer. Though I often reflect on the myriad of executions of ordinary folks we never get to hear about in detail, which presumably in their way were equally tragic. Probably a good thing we don’t! And, thank you!

  2. Very interesting episode, there are a lot of similarities with the Dutch (protestant) Statenvertaling (their KJB, but as there was no king… it got named after the General Estates). Although I would argue that the Statenvertaling had a much bigger influence upon South Africa than the KJB. Those defiant Afrikaners (the Ukrainians of their age) used that book as a cultural instrument and were able to retain their own culture, used it to integrate newcomers (Huguenots like the ancestors of Charlize Theron for instance, but also German and other immigrants). The book was often used in schools, especially after the British took over the Cape Colony. You got the Great Trek, where they moved to the South African interior, which led to their republics getting physically and culturally isolated (they were mostly farmers, not a lot of intellectuals or printers). It’s only in 1933 that they switched to their own, Afrikaans translation.

    1. That’s very interesting; I wonder if anyone has done something which talks about the various influential bibles; I assume the Vulgate for example must have been nassively influential over it’s life, way more than the KJB. Someone did comment that English was a rubbish language for translating the original Greek and Hebrew – but I couldn’t get him to elaborate.

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