Was "Godly" King James I a Liar, a Compromiser, or Both?

by Rick Norris

While king in Scotland, Benjamin Brook noted that James had declared in the general assembly at Edinburg with his hands lifted to heaven "that he praised God that he was born to be the king of the purest kirk [church] in the world." "As for our neighbor kirk of England," said he, "their service is an evil-said mass in English." James also said "that the Book of Common Prayer was the English mass book, and that the surplice, copes, and ceremonies were outward badges of popery" (Lives of the Puritans, Vol. 1, p. 60).

W. H. Stowell also pointed out that James "had made strong declarations in Scotland of his adherence to the Presbyterian discipline in which he had been educated, publicly avowing his gratitude that he belonged to the purest church in the world, and his purpose to maintain its principles as long as he lived" (History of the Puritans in England, p. 222). Can the evidence be any clearer that King James either lied in Scotland or else later compromised his own professed beliefs in order to promote the very false teachings of the state church in England that he had claimed were retained from Roman Catholicism?

King James was known as a "great dissembler." "To dissemble" is "to conceal or disguise the actual nature of somethings," "to make a false show of," or "to conceal one's true nature, intentions, etc.; act hypocritically."

W. H. Stowell noted that James was "a great dissembler, a greater liar" and that he was "unscrupulous in breaking his promises" (History of the Puritans, pp. 230, 246). Ashley observed: "James was a congenital, if perhaps unconscious liar: he did not regard truthfulness as a necessary royal attribute" (Stuarts in Love, p. 103). Sir Walter Scott pointed out that James "had been early imbued with the principle that the power of dissembling was essential to the art of reigning" (Scotland, Vol. 2, p. 138).

W. M. Hetherington wrote: "The policy of principle he knew not, because he was himself unprincipled; but the policy of falsehood, cunning, and sycophancy, he well understood and practiced" (History of the Church of Scotland, p. 203). Hetherington also noted that James "had repeatedly broken his most solemn pledges, and brought his word into such suspicion, that the more earnestly he protested, the less he was believed" (Ibid., p. 175). John Spottiswood acknowledged that reformer Andrew Melville said that James "perverted the laws both of God and man" (History of the Church of Scotland, p. 309).

P. Hume Brown observed that in Scotland "the ministers perfectly understood that James was ready to change his faith the moment he should find it expedient" (History of Scotland, Vol. 2, p. 192). It seems that many godly pastors and believers in the Church of Scotland regarded King James as a compromiser and as unworthy of trust. How does all this evidence line up with the unproven claim that James had a godly character? Rufus Cole noted that the flattering picture of James in the dedication of the KJV to him was "hardly in keeping with his true character" (Human History, Vol. 1, p. 214).