James the Sext or James the First?

The first Bible printed in Scotland, A Geneva Bible often known as the 'Bassandyne Bible'. Euing Du-i.4

In 1579, the Geneva Bible (so-called because it was first produced in Switzerland) was the first bible printed in Scotland. As it was printed by Thomas Bassandyne (d. 1577), the Bible (shown here) became known as the Bassandyne Bible. While the preface and dedication ‘To the heich and michtie Prince Iames the Sext King of Scottis’ is in Scots, the main text is in English. Since the Bible was the most popular book in Scotland – and often the only book found in poorer households – the English text had a very damaging impact on the Scots language. Literacy was largely driven by a desire to read the Bible, so schooling gradually became associated with English rather than Scots.

King James VI & I's speech to Parliament following the 'Gunpowder plot', 1605. Bf72-e.5

But the Scots language also faced another threat: in 1603 Scotland’s King also became King of England. James VI & I (1566-1625) moved south along with his court. Over the following century Scottish court poets gradually stopped writing in Scots as English began to be seen as the higher status language. An example of the switch to English can be seen here in James’s Speech following the ‘Gunpowder plot’ – the failed attempt to blow up King and parliament which is now remembered each year on the 5th of November as ‘Guy Fawkes night’. The speech is printed in English – now the settled choice as State language. Scottish printers would also subsequently print State documents, Royal proclamations and speeches in English.