James liked to have a theory of his activities. His earliest published poems, collected as his Essays of a prentise (1584), were printed with Ane schort treatise, containing some reulis and cautelis to be observit and eschewitt in Scots poesie. Thus it was perfectly in character that after more than thirty years of reigning over Scotland, he should have written two short works about the role of kingship: The trew law of free monarchies (1598), addressed to all his subjects; and the more esoteric Basilicon Doron (1599), a treatise addressed to his elder son, Prince Henry, and entrusted to just seven courtiers (an expanded edition for general circulation was published in March 1603).
The English were quite sensitive to signs that James was likely to oppress them; an episode in his earliest weeks in England when he despatched a criminal without trial was the occasion of much criticism. It thus seems quite significant that their response to these two works appears to have been rather favourable. The Form of Apology and Satisfaction, the statement produced by malcontent MPs at the end of his first parliamentary session, is famous for pronouncing that ‘the prerogatives of princes may easily and do daily grow; the privileges of the subject are for the most part at an everlasting stand’. But the Apology complimented James on ‘your Majesty's most wise, religious, just, virtuous and gracious heart, whereof not rumour but your Majesty's own writings had given us a strong and undoubted assurance’.