King James I of England farted"". This story of intrigue at the court of the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, deserves a worthier beginning than that. For what follows turns out to be an engaging and instructive excursion through the serpentine practices of politics and religion--often one and the same thing--along with a love story (complete with potions and elixirs) which takes its participants from riches to rags. The James of Stanley Stewart's version is not the drooling, stooped monarch, enfeebled by his pleasures. That aspect is partly there, but more prominent is the literary, aphoristic James, concerned about the new translation of the Bible, turning out his treatise on witchcraft, contending with the ""Papists"" on the one hand, the Puritans on the other, and as worried as any householder about where the money will come from. Meanwhile at center stage, Frances Howard Devereux, Lady Essex, is conspiring to nullify her marriage for the love of Robert Cart, the King's favorite, later to be Lord Somerset. The fall of the lovers from favor to disgrace and banishment is told with detachment and more than makes up for the torpor of the story's beginnings. Frances and Robert might well have been executed for their crimes--as were the accessories they implicated--but James saw to it that, for these two narcissists, living together badly would be the best revenge. . . . An intelligent, witty rendition.