First and foremost, the letters between King James and his three male "favorites" are fascinating. Even the little, unintended cultural insights are interesting, for instance, that "gossip" meant godfather, that "Steenie" is short for Stephen, or that the king of Spain had given James an elephant as a gift.
With the author's help in establishing the king's difficult passage into manhood, and his piety as a Christian primitivist, as well as his love of literature--ditto for the gripping biographical sketches of the king's "sweet hearts"-- one cannot read some of the more beautiful passages without being profoundly touched. There is the time James wrote to George Villiers, Marquess of Buckingham, that "for protest to God I rode this afternoon a great way in the park without speaking to anybody and the tears trickling down my cheeks, as now they do that I can scarcely see to write. But alas, what shall I do at our parting?" Or on another occasion, "I had rather live banished in any part of the earth with you than live a sorrowful widow's life without you."
Other times the content is more "saucy," to use Villiers's term. A good example is his own letter to the king: "All the way hither I entertained myself your unworthy servant with this dispute, whether you loved me now ... better than at the time which I shall never forget at Farnham, where the bed's head could not be found between the master and his dog. ... --Your majesty's most humble slave and dog, Steenie"
The letters come from the manuscript collections of the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and so on, where Bergeron saw and transcribed from holographs, correcting occasional mistakes or intentional glosses from previous historians who have from time to time cited or published versions of these letters, or mentioned them in an embarrassed footnote. The letters have not been otherwise previously collected in such a topical form.
Bergeron does careful work as a scholar; that this does not translate into equal achievement as a writer is okay. Perhaps more seriously, though, are a few puzzling lapses, such as his use of a secondary source for an important speech by King James to the Privy Council in 1617, and the fact that the abbreviated footnote does not have a corresponding bibliographic entry, but again, I'm willing to overlook minor distraction for the strengths the book demonstrates. After reading it, I only want to read more by Bergeron.
Oh, by the way, I suppose that no one needs to point out the obvious implications for fundamentalist Christians: those who (1) use the King James Bible only, and allow no other biblical translation, and then (2) use the same Bible to theologically bludgeon homosexuals. This further reminds me that if there are any fellow Mormons out there, you will want to know that the letters refer to Apostle Boyd K. Packer's seventh-great-grandfather John Packer, who was the "patronage secretary" of King James's lover, Duke Buckingham--according to corroborative data in Donna Smith Packer's book, "On Footings from the Past: The Packers in England" (self-published by the Boyd K. Packer family, 1988, 488 pp.). Although Donna doesn't mention that Buckingham was in love with the king, but she does mentions that John Packer was forty years old when he married. What's my point? Well, maybe just that it's a small world. Enjoy the Bergeron book.