The Grammarphobia Blog

A Jamesian mystery

Q: Why is the reign of King James I of England referred to as Jacobean instead of Jamesian? Answer me that one! We don’t use the term “Jacobean” to refer to The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, do we?

A: You can blame Latin for your confusion. In New Latin (the Latin used since about 1500), the name “James” was Jacobaeus. In Late Latin (the Latin from the 3d to 7th centuries), it was Iacobus.

Hence the reign of James I and his times came to be referred to as Jacobean, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.).

King James himself, however, wasn’t responsible for this. No one used the term “Jacobean” to refer to his period until the mid-19th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

James I reigned from 1603 to 1625, succeeding Elizabeth I, who ruled from 1558 to 1603. In 1933, the English poet John Betjeman coined the term “Jacobethan” to refer to the combined Elizabethan and Jacobean periods.

A Jacobite, by the way, refers to someone who supported the return of the Stuart Kings to the English and Scottish thrones in the 17th and 18th centuries. The term comes from James II and other Jacobite Stuarts.

I’ve probably given you more history than you wanted. So, I’ll quit now before adding another turn of the screw.

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