My Only Light

One of the things that James VI of Scotland liked about becoming James I of England—apart from the money—was that as head of the Church of England he would never be bossed about by a Scotch Calvinist minister again.  Moreover, unlike his predecessor Elizabeth I, who never cared much for that aspect of her job, James, who considered himself a poet and philosopher in his own right, really enjoyed running the Church.  He liked to dine with bishops, and so it is not surprising that under him the newly Protestant Church of England acquired a kind of chic among court and upper-class circles she had not hitherto enjoyed.  She also began to develop a character of her own quite different from her Catholic and Protestant rivals.  A brief golden age of liturgical, musical, and literary invention ensued, which lasted until the infuriated Puritans trashed it all in the civil wars under James’s son Charles I, going so far as to chop the heads off Charles himself and his archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud.

George Herbert, born 1593, and one of the glories of that brief Anglican spring, was a boy of ten when James succeeded to the throne.  The Herberts were a family of Welsh aristocrats who had done extremely well out of service to the Welsh Tudors, and become rich from the spoils of Henry VIII’s grand theft of ecclesiastical property.  Belonging to such a family, George Herbert, like his...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here