The conference was held to answer a letter signed by many Puritans. It was called the Millenary Petition, since it had 1000 signatures. The King could not ignore them since these signatures represented about 10% of the clergy in the entire country.
James had only been king for less than a year, and this was the first major conference to set a course for the future of the country and the Church.
Catholics were encouraged when James became king in March 1603. His mother had been a Catholic, and they believed that he would turn the tide against the Protestant and Puritan forces that were gaining ground in the English Reformation -- which had only begun about 70 years prior.
There were also rumors that James's wife, Anne of Denmark, had secretly converted to Catholicism not long before, and this might be an indication that the king himself was supportive of their cause.
The Protestants thought that since James had been raised a Protestant he would not change the course the country was heading, a course that was established by the late Queen Elizabeth.
The more fundamentalist Puritans wanted less Catholic influence in the Church.
When James finally met with these representatives for three days, there was a great deal of arguing. It would seem that nothing was really accomplished.
King James neither satisfied anyone's demands, nor did he create any new causes for arguments.
It would seem that he was charting a middle course, a Via Media, through all of these competing religious interests.
This might have satisfied some, but it would have terrible consequences, like the Catholic-led Gunpowder Plot in November 1605, less than two years later.
However, there was one decision that was made at the Hampton Court Conference that would have a profound impact for the future not only of England but of the world.
It was decided that a new English language version of the Bible would be made. King James did not like the Geneva Bible, which was most widely in use at the time and he commissioned a new translation, one that he would supervise.
This new translation of the Bible into English would take several years of work, and finally be published in 1611. It would be known as the King James Bible. It is hard to estimate the profound effect this Bible had, and continues to have, on the world.
|King James Bible|
What would Shakespeare have thought of this conference?
Like any Englishman of the time, he would have been very curious to see where the king was taking the country as far as religion was concerned.
After all, religion at the time was not just any issue of the day. It was THE issue of the day.
Shakespeare, like any Englishman, would know that the results of this conference could shape the future not just for a few years, but for decades.
He was also now a King's Man, working in the court itself, and for the entertainment of the King personally.
He may have felt some sense of responsibility to address this Conference in his plays.
On a personal level, Shakespeare, like many Englishmen, was very confused, anxious and not at all certain where the country was headed, as the Conference came to a close on 16 January 1604, without much having been accomplished.
This anxiety, and the new direction the country was taking under King James seem to have found its way into Shakespeare's next several plays. The problem play Measure for Measure shows the corrupting influence of government on faith, and Macbeth is a nightmarish apocalyptic vision of evil.
The great irony of course is that, despite the religious and political turmoil of at the time, the King James Bible, finally published in 1611, and Shakespeare's First Folio, published in 1623, would go on to become two of the most influential books in the history of the world.
So, at this moment in history, 410 years ago today, the creation of the King James Bible and the First Folio began.
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