After the death of Queen Elizabeth I, the last of the Tudors, on March 24th 1603 the crown went to James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England and thus started the Stuart era in English history and led to the union between England and Scotland. James had been born on 19th June 1566, only thirteen months later on 24th July 1567 he would become King of Scots. After the death of Elizabeth in 1603 he was invited to become King of England, in doing so uniting the Crowns of Scotland and England. His rule lasted until his death on 27th March 1625 and was marked by disputes with Parliament which were to increase under his successor, Charles I.
James’ personality and appearance
James’ physical characteristics were never impressive, his physicians Sir Theodore Mayerne commented that his ‘legs were slender, scarcely strong enough to carry his body’, leading to him being ‘very clumsy in his riding and his hunting, and frequently met with accidents’. Neither was he physically attractive, Sir Anthony Weldon commented that he possessed ‘eyes large…His beard was very thin, his tongue too large for his mouth’.
James’ was an intellectual man, but he was also arrogant. This showed itself in his belief in the ‘divine right of kings’ in his disputes with parliament despite the political realities meaning this position was becoming less realistic. Further James was often reported to make obscene remarks to his subjects. In many ways he was the opposite of his predecessor, Elizabeth I. While she projected absolutism in her majesty while avoiding exercising it, James exercised absolute power without projecting its imagery.
James’ scholarly learning is shown in the volume of his written works, encompassing poems, works of politics, theology, and translations. Perhaps his most important works are Daemonologie (1597) on witchcraft and the supernatural. In 1590 James had personally interrogated the ‘Berwick Witches’ who he accused of attempting to kill him using the supernatural. In 1598 James’ wrote a work of politics arguing his absolute right to rule in The True Lawe of Free Monarchies and in 1599 in a letter to his son wrote on the art of being a king in Basilikon Doron. In opposition to the tobacco coming in from the New World James wrote A Counterblaste to Tobacco in 1604 which identified health problems associated with the drug.
James’ relationship with his ‘favourites’ has led some to suggest that he was a homosexual. He would publically kiss his favourite male advisors and ministers, and addressed the Duke of Buckingham as ‘sweet child and wife’. However he was married to Anne of Denmark in 1589 and fathered three sons and four daughters with her (three of which survived to become adults). Despite this he complained of Anne’s interests lying in clothing and jewellery, and in general saw women as shallow. If James’ marriage was purely to fulfil the rose of kingship in producing heirs and securing political alliances is unclear.
James was obsessed with hunting, with much of his calendar orientated around it. Even politics was affected, a good hunt would mean access to him for his favourites, a bad would result in him retiring to his room. He died at his hunting lodge in Theobalds, Essex.
Early Life & Childhood King of Scots
James was born to Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry Darnley in Edinburgh Castle on 19th June 1566. Mary’s marriage to Henry Darnley was designed to strengthen her successors claim to the English throne as Darnley was the great-great-grandson of Henry VII. On 10th February 1567 James’ father, Darnley, was killed when the house, Kirk o’ Field, he was recovering from smallpox in was blown up by gunpowder. It was largely suspected that the 4th Earl of Bothwell, James Hepburn, was responsible. The marriage of his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, to Bothwell just two months later provoked a rebellion by Protestant lords in June who arrested Mary, holding her in Loch Leven Castle. When Mary was forced to abdicate on 24th July, James became King of Scots, and Mary’s illegitimate half-brother James Stewart became regent as well being entrusted with James’ upbringing. Mary was never to see her son again, she was held in Loch Leven Castle until her escape on 2nd May 1568 whereupon she escaped to England after a brief failed attempt to regain the throne. James seems to have developed little emotional attachment to his mother, and there is a lack of evidence for grief when she was put to death by Queen Elizabeth when he was a young man as he only gave a formal protest to Elizabeth.
The Scottish lords ensured that James had a good education, having many tutors including humanist George Buchanan, and was, unlike his mother, brought up as a Protestant. James was taught Latin and French to fluency and was also competent in Italian. Nevertheless his childhood was not stable as the various factions in the Scottish nobility fought to impose their rule on Scotland. This often involved the kidnapping of James by the rival nobles. Between 1570 and 1572 four regents ruled in James’ name, with the James Morton, Earl of Morton ruling until 1581 when he is overthrown. Shortly after in 1582 in the Ruthven Raid James is abducted and held for ten months by William Ruthven, the Earl of Gowrie.
Personal Rule in Scotland
In 1585 James was able to take power for himself, ruling over the various factions of the Scottish nobility and restoring a level of stability that had long being lacking in Scotland. With the internal situation normalised, in 1586 James extended this to foreign policy by concluding a treaty of alliance with Queen Elizabeth I known as the Treaty of Berwick. During his mother’s reign Scotland had hosted French troops and was seen as a threat by the English, often leading to invasions.
Shortly afterwards on 8th February 1587 James’ mother Mary was executed by Elizabeth, making him the strongest candidate for the English throne after the death of Elizabeth – the 1586 treaty had acknowledged James’ right to the throne. This however was not guaranteed, as Henry VIII had excluded his sisters’ (James’ great-grandmother) descendants from the throne. Further Elizabeth never named a successor despite pressure from her advisors and parliament. As it become obvious that Elizabeth was dying in 1603 her chief advisors, Robert Cecil, began corresponding with James over the succession. Within three days of Elizabeth’s death on 24th March 1603 a messenger rode four-hundred miles from London to Edinburgh to deliver the news. On April 5th James began the journey to London, having to stop in York to request funds from the Privy Council to continue his journey.
Coronation and Disputes with Parliament
James was crowned King of England on 25th July 1603, aged 37. Despite being King of both Scotland and England, James would not return after being crowned King of England to Scotland for thirteen years. While initially popular in England due to his gender (England’s half century of female monarchy had not convinced all of its merits), his ability to make decisions quickly unlike Elizabeth and his established line of succession with healthy male sons, James quickly came into conflict with Parliament and became unpopular for his style of rule. The first major dispute was in 1604 – Parliament rejected union of England and Scotland, preferring the monarch to be King of both while each maintaining their independence. After the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 James and Parliament again stood on a better footing – James commented that if he had died, he would have done so with the “most honourable and best company and in that most honourable and fittest place for a king to be in”. The parliamentary session in 1606 allowed James three direct taxes. However things had started to become sour again by 4th July 1607 when a union of England and Scotland was again rejected by Parliament.
Many of James’ problems with parliament perhaps could have been avoided if he had not spent so lavishly. Sir Dudley Carleton, a courtier from Elizabeth’s reign, commented that he gave away more in gifts in one year than Elizabeth had done in her entire reign.
While King of Scots James had often pushed his will through the Scottish parliament and expected to be able to do the same in England. However the power of the English parliament had grown during Elizabeth’s reign – it had offered her ill-taken advise on many occasions, and had been reluctant to grant tax revenues to her, but she had never challenged it. In showing his authority, James explained his divine power to parliament – the response was that parliament was unwilling to grant tax revenues.
In 1610 James attempted to solve the issues with Parliament in what was to be a ‘Great Contract’. In return for receiving a regular income from Parliament James would give up feudal rights. However this failed, and by 1614 the so called ‘Addled Parliament’ which lasted only eight-weeks was passing no legislation due to the deadlock between King and Parliament. The parliament was dissolved on 7th June and James therefore ruled without parliament for much of his reign by raising funds from other sources – the sale of monopolies, sale of peerages including the new rank of baronet created in 1611, sales of which began in 1616 and numbered over 200, and using courts to impose customs duties.
Parliament stood up to James’ right to arrest MPs who criticised his foreign policy in 1621, leading to the arrest of two prominent MPs: Sir Edward Coke and John Pym, and the dissolution of parliament on 8th February 1622.
James’ continued with the chief minister of Elizabeth, Robert Cecil, until his death in 1612. However his replacement proved unpopular; Robert Carr had been James’ pageboy in Scotland, was only 25 upon taking the position, and became corrupt and poorly skilled for the position. Both Carr and his wife were found guilty of the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury in 1615. James would become unpopular for his choices of ministers based on personality – those who flattered him – rather than from talent. His replacement for Carr was George Villiers who became Earl of Buckingham in January 1617 and Duke of Buckingham in May 1623, who James appears to have held a strong affection for. Buckingham, despite being more qualified than Carr, proved just as unpopular.
While King of Scots James distrusted the Presbyterian religion and asserted that he should be able to appoint bishops and control the Church. In England the Elizabethan Settlement had left the Church in the control of the state thus James did not face the same issues as in Scotland. In June 1617 James imposes Anglican practices on the Scottish Church in the Five Articles of Perth.
Despite attempting to be tolerant of both Catholics and Puritans, James faced opposition of some Catholics for the heavy fines for those who did not attend Anglican services, a small group of whom attempted to kill him and many Parliamentarians during the 1605 opening of Parliament in what became known as the Gunpowder Plot. While the plot was led by Robert Catesby, the central figure remembered is Guy Fawkes due to his capture with barrels of gunpowder in the House of Lords vaults on 5th November – the event which led to the British holiday of Bonfire Night. The conspirators were executed on 31st January 1606.
One of the most remembered aspects of James’ reign was his commissioning of a new literary translation of the Bible which became known as the King James Bible. The Bible took 54 Anglicans to translate and was published in 1611.
James’ foreign policy was designed to avoid costly wars where possible. He married his daughter Elizabeth to the strongest German Protestant prince, Frederick of the Palatinate on 14th February 1613, and attempted to marry his son Charles to the daughter of the Catholic King of Spain. The latter was deeply unpopular domestically, especially due to Spain forcing Britain to execute Sir Walter Ralegh on 29th October 1618 for his irritation of the Spanish in the New World, on a treason charge dating from 1603. In 1621 Parliament criticised James’ attempt to marry Charles to the daughter of the King of Spain and instead calls for war with Spain and argues James has no authority in arresting members of the House who criticise his foreign policy, leading James to tear the page from the House of Commons journal containing the criticism and arresting the MPs Edward Coke and John Pym.
During the final years of his life leading up to his death on 27th March 1625 power effectively rested in his son Charles and his chief advisor, Buckingham. After a failed attempted including travelling together to Spain to complete the marriage proceedings, they joined the anti-Spanish feeling in Britain after they departed on 30th August 1623. This led to the Declaration of war on 10th March 1624.
Despite a request for assistance from his son-in-law Frederick V, James does not bring England into the Thirty Years’ War beginning in Europe in 1619. Britain only enters in 1624 on 10th March in the declaration of war against Spain, coming after Parliament voted in February to assist Frederick V in recovering Palatinate.
James’ reign saw an increase in colonisation of Ireland. After the ‘Flight of the Earls’ on 14th September 1607 where Irish rebel leads, the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell fled Ulster the area many Scottish Protestants began to settle there.
Death and Achievements
James died on 27th March 1625 after suffering a stroke, leaving the crown to his son, Charles I, who had already taken effective control during James’ final years due to James becoming senile and becoming physically debilitated by a chronic kidney inflammation. James’ life can be seen as one of contrast – while under his rule some of the greatest events and achievements in British history took place, his own aims for his reign were unfulfilled while the power of monarchy to rule absolutely was being increasingly challenged by parliament. On the positive side his reign united the Crowns of England and Scotland creating the nation largely as it is today, and under him the arts which had begun to flourish under Elizabeth continued – William Shakespeare wrote many plays in this period until his death on 23rd April 1616, and the King James Bible is still one of the most used versions. On the other hand however James’ desire for an end to religious conflict was not seen as both Puritans and Catholics continued to become evermore frustrated, the latter attempting to kill the king in the Gunpowder Plot. Further James’ ambitions to avoid costly wars while initially successful in the 1604 end of the war with Spain did not last, just over a year before his death England was once against at war with Spain. His disputes with parliament would set the tone for the reign of his successor and second son, Charles I, and lead to a fundamental change in the relations between monarch and people.
Can't find what you were looking for? Try searching our site: