James I

(notes by Peter Keating)

Publication history

First published in A School History of England (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1911) by C.R.L. Fletcher and Rudyard Kipling, and also, in the same year, in the textually-identical non-school edition called A History of England. The poem was unchanged in subsequent editions of the book. It is set within chapter VIII, “The Early Stuarts and the Great Civil War, 1603-1660.” An entry in the left hand margin serves as a title for the poem. It reads: ‘James I, 1603-25; his character.’ For some reason – presumably a mistake – the poem is not included in the introductory lists of the the book’s contents. It was reprinted in I.V. (Inclusive Verse) 1919; D.V. (Definitive Verse) 1940; Sussex Edition, vol. 34; Burwash Edition, vol. 27.

ORG, Verse 1 (1969), No 983 (m), says that it sometimes carries the alternative title “King James I.” The punctuation of the poem changes slightly between I.V., D.V., and the Sussex. The version printed here is from the D.V. Three changes were made to this version for the Sussex: (1) the full stop after the title was deleted (2) the subtitled dates were expanded to (1603-1625), (3) the full stop was removed from the end of line 7.

Most of the poems in A School History serve to create an appropriate atmosphere, celebrate a particular historical event or mood, and/or inculcate a general moral. “James I.”is alone in being a detailed portrait of an individual, with each of its skilfully-balanced, tightly-controlled (often epigrammatic) lines, aiming to convey very specific details of James’s life, historical significance, and, above all, as the original title indicates, his ‘character.’

[P. K.]