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James I: The First Stuart King of England


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Prof Kate Williams studies the legacy of the Stuarts through the eyes of an aristocratic Welsh clan. After Elizabeth I's death in 1603, James VI of Scotland claimed the throne.


The Early Stuarts and the English Civil War

James I
Elizabeth was followed to the throne by James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England. James believed in the absolute power of the monarchy, and he had a rocky relationship with an increasingly vociferous and demanding Parliament. It would be a mistake to think of Parliament as a democratic institution, or the voice of the common citizen. Parliament was a forum for the interests of the nobility and the merchant classes (not unlike today, some would say).

The Gunpowder Plot
James was a firm protestant, and in 1604 he expelled all Catholic priests from the island. This was one of the factors which led to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. A group of Catholic plotters planned to blow up Parliament when it opened on November 5. However, an anonymous letter betrayed the plot and one of the plotters, Guy Fawkes, was captured in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament with enough gunpowder to blow the place sky high. Most of the plotters were captured and executed. (See our in-depth examination of the Gunpowder Plot here).

The Rise of the Puritans
During James' reign radical Protestant groups called Puritans began to gain a sizeable following. Puritans wanted to "purify" the church by paring down church ritual, educating the clergy, and limiting the powers of bishops. King James resisted this last. The powers of the church and king were too closely linked. "No bishop, no king," he said. The Puritans also favoured thrift, education, and individual initiative, therefore they found great support among the new middle class of merchants, the powers in the Commons.

James' attitude toward Parliament was clear. He commented in 1614 that he was surprised his ancestors "should have permitted such an institution to come into existence . It is sedition in subjects to dispute what a king may do in the height of his power".

The King James Bible
In 1611 the King James Version of the Holy Bible was issued, the result of seven years of labour by the best translators and theological minds of the day. It remained the authoritative, though not necessarily the most accurate, version of the Bible for centuries.

Charles I (1625-49) continued his father's acrimonious relationship with Parliament, squabbling over the right to levy taxes. Parliament responded with the Petition of Right in 1628. It was the most dramatic assertion of the traditional rights of the English people since the Magna Carta. Its basic premise was that no taxes of any kind could be allowed without the permission of Parliament.

Charles finally had enough, and in 1629 he dissolved Parliament and ruled without it for eleven years. Some of the ways he raised money during this period were of dubious legality by the standards of the time.

Between 1630-43 large numbers of people emigrated from England as Archbishop Laud tried to impose uniformity on the church. Up to 60,000 people left, 1/3 of them to the new American colonies. Several areas lost a large part of their populations, and laws were enacted to curb the outflow.

Ship Money
In 1634 Charles attempted to levy "ship-money", a tax that previously applied only to ports, on the whole country. This raised tremendous animosity throughout the realm. Finally, Charles, desperate for money, summoned the so-called Short Parliament in 1640. Parliament refused to vote Charles more money until its grievances were answered, and the king dismissed it after only three weeks. Then a rebellion broke out in Scotland and Charles was forced to call a new Parliament, dubbed the Long Parliament, which officially sat until 1660.

Civil War
Parliament made increasing demands, which the king refused to meet. Neither side was willing to budge. Finally in 1642 fighting broke out. The English Civil War (1642-1646) polarized society largely along class lines. Parliament drew most of its support from the middle classes, while the king was supported by the nobility, the clergy, and the peasantry. Parliamentary troops were known as Roundheads because of their severe hairstyle. The king's army were known as Cavaliers, from the French for "knight", or "horseman".

The war began as a series of indecisive skirmishes notable for not much beyond the emergence of a Parliamentary general from East Anglia named Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell whipped his irregular volunteer troops into the disciplined New Model Army.

Meanwhile, Charles established the royalist headquarters in Oxford, called his own Parliament, and issued his own money. He also allied himself with Irish Catholics, which alienated some of his supporters.

To the poor, the turmoil over religion around the Civil War meant little. They were bound by tradition and they supported the king, as they always had. Charles encouraged poor relief, unemployment measures, price controls, and protection for small farmers. For most people, life during the Civil War went on as before. Few were involved or even knew about the fighting. In 1644 a farmer at Marston Moor was told to clear out because the armies of Parliament and the king were preparing to fight. "What?" he exclaimed, "Has them two fallen out, then?"

Marston Moor
The turning point of the war was probably that same Battle of Marston Moor (1644). Charles' troops under his nephew Prince Rupert were soundly beaten by Cromwell, giving Parliament control of the north of England. Above the border, Lord Montrose captured much of Scotland for Charles, but was beaten at Philiphaugh and Scot support was lost for good.

The Parliamentary cause became increasingly entangled with extreme radical Protestantism. In 1645 Archbishop Laud was executed, and in the same year, the Battle of Naseby spelled the end of the royalist hopes. Hostilities dragged on for another year, and the Battle of Stow-on-the-Wold (1646) was the last armed conflict of the war.

The death of a king
Charles rather foolishly stuck to his absolutist beliefs and refused every proposal made by Parliament and the army for reform. He preferred to try to play them against each other through intrigue and deception. He signed a secret treaty which got the Scots to rise in revolt, but that threat was snuffed out at Prestonpans (1648).

Finally, the radical core of Parliament had enough. They believed that only the execution of the king could prevent the kingdom from descending into anarchy. Charles was tried for treason in 1649, before a Parliament whose authority he refused to acknowledge. He was executed outside Inigo Jones' Banqueting Hall at Whitehall on January 30.


King James I and VI

England's first Stuart monarch, James I & VI, the son of that ill-matched pair, Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, was born at Edinburgh Castle after a difficult and protracted labour on 19th June 1566. Elizabeth I stood as godmother by proxy at his Catholic baptism when he was given the names James Charles. The domestic situation he was born into was a fractious one. By the time of James' birth, his parent's relationship was already failing. The Queen of Scots deeply regretted her impulsive second marriage and loathed her self-seeking, foolish and arrogant spouse. James I and VI as a child

Desperate to be rid of Darnley, but not prepared to hazard the legitimacy of her child by annulment of the marriage, Mary entered into a plot with James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, to kill her husband. Darnley was found dead on the grounds of a house in Kirk o' Field, Edinburgh on 10th February 1567, having escaped the initial blast of gunpowder that had been used to blow up the building, he and his servant were found to have been strangled in the grounds.

Mary later outraged her subjects and incited rebellion when she hastened to marry Bothwell, believed by many to be the murderer of her husband. She was deposed in favour of the infant James and imprisoned at Lochleven Castle. On her escape, she fled to England, where Elizabeth I deemed it wise to keep her cousin in lifelong captivity. James became King of Scots at thirteen months old, he was never again to see his mother and can have had no memory of her.

James I and VI

James VI, King of Scots

James inherited nothing of his mother's legendary Stewart charm. He had a strict Scots Calvinist upbringing and was given a rigorous programme of education by his tutors, displaying a marked precocity and intelligence from an early age. His care was entrusted to the Earl and Countess of Mar, "to be conserved, nursed, and upbrought" in security of Stirling Castle. He was crowned King of Scots at the age of thirteen months at the Church of the Holy Rude, Stirling, by Adam Bothwell, Bishop of Orkney, on 29 July 1567.

During the troubled years of James' minority, four successive regents ruled Scotland. His first regent was his mother's bastard half-brother, James Stewart, Earl of Moray, later to be assassinated by James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh, a supporter of Mary. As Moray was passing in a cavalcade in the main street below, Hamilton fatally wounded him with a carbine shot from a window of his uncle Archbishop Hamilton's house. At the age of five, James had witnessed the bleeding body of his second regent, his paternal grandfather, Matthew Stuart, Earl of Lennox, carried past him. Lennox had been shot in a skirmish when the queen's party attacked Stirling. Brought up by his mother's enemies, James was taught to regard Mary as an adulteress, a Jezebel and a murderess, who was responsible for the death of his father. He grew to be a timid child, deeply afraid of violence, who craved affection.

James first exhibited homo-sexual tendencies at the age of fifteen, when he embarked on a relationship with his relative Esme Stuart. The young French nobleman had been sent by the Guise family, his mother's relatives, to solicit James support for his mother's cause. The lonely and vulnerable teenager fell in love with him and created him Duke of Lennox. This unseemly situation and Esme Stuart's influence was brought to an end in 1582 when James was forced to banish Stuart. The young and impressionable James was said to be heartbroken over the affair.

The king reached his majority and begun to rule Scotland alone in 1583. With succession to the English throne paramount in his mind, he concluded a league with Elizabeth I in 1586 and accepted a pension from her.

Accounts are conflicting as to James actual reaction to the execution of his mother in 1587, some reports state that on hearing the news, he retired sadly to bed without supper, others claim he rejoiced that he was now sole monarch of Scotland. Officially, he offered nominal protests for the sake of his reputation but secretly assured the English Queen that the unfortunate event of his mother's execution need not affect Scotland's long term relations with England.

James I and VI

James contracted a marriage with the fourteen year old Anne of Denmark, the tall, fair haired daughter of Frederick II, in 1589, the marriage was carried out by proxy at Kronberg Castle in Oslo, Norway. Anne sailed for Scotland but was forced by storms to land on the coast of Norway. On hearing the crossing had been abandoned, James sailed from Leith with a large retinue to bring Anne to Scotland personally. The pair were formally married at the Bishop's Palace in Oslo on 23 November and, after stays at Elsinore and Copenhagen and a meeting with his new in-laws, James returned to Scotland with his bride on 1 May 1590. James was at first infatuated with Anne and in the early years of their marriage treated her with patience and affection. Anne of Denmark James's visit to Denmark, a country familiar with witch-hunts, may have inspired his interest in the study of witchcraft. Following his return to Scotland, he attended the North Berwick witch trials, the first major persecution of witches in Scotland under the Witchcraft Act of 1563. Several people were convicted of using witchcraft to send storms against James's ship. James was to become obsessed with the threat posed by witches and in 1597 wrote the Daemonologie, a tract that opposed the practice of witchcraft and which provided background material for Shakespeare's 'Macbeth.'

Despite his homosexual tendencies, James fathered several children with Anne, three of whom survived to adulthood. Henry Frederick, later Prince of Wales, was born in 1594, he was followed by a daughter, Elizabeth, later the Winter Queen of Bohemia in 1596, then Margaret in 1598, who died at fourteen months old. A second son, Charles, later Duke of York (and Charles I), was born at Dunfermline in 1600, Charles was at first a sickly child and it was not thought likely that he would survive. Then came Robert, born in 1601, Mary in 1605 and lastly Sophia in 1607, all of these last three children failed to survive to adulthood, Robert died at four months old, Mary at two years and Sophia at a day old. Mary and Sophia are buried at Westminster Abbey. The infant mortality rate was high in the seventeenth century, a fact of life that not even royalty could elude.

James I of England

From 1601, in the last years of Elizabeth I's life, English politicians, notably Elizabeth's chief minister Sir Robert Cecil, maintained a secret correspondence with James to prepare in advance for his smooth succession to the English throne. When Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, James peacefully ascended the throne of England at the age of 37 by right of his descent from Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of King Henry VII. James left Edinburgh for London on 5th April and progressed slowly southwards. The English lords, his new subjects, entertained him with lavish hospitality along the route and James was amazed by the wealth of his new kingdom, announcing that he was 'swapping a stony couch for a deep feather bed'. He stayed at Cecil's house, Theobalds, in Hertfordshire, resulting in his arrival in London after Queen Elizabeth's funeral. The English people's first impressions of their new sovereign were not good. The new King's coarse and often vulgar sense of humour was not well received at the refined English court.

James later did his best to vindicate the memory of his mother and shortly after his accession to the English throne had her body removed from Peterborough to Westminster Abbey where he provided it with a magnificent white marble tomb. He defended her reputation, turned on his tutor Buchanan for his libels on his mother and termed her treacherous illegitimate half-brother, James, Earl of Moray, as that "bastard that who unnaturally rebelled and procured the ruin of his own sovereign and sister." However, James true feelings toward the mother he had never seen since babyhood remain an enigma.

religious policies seem to have evoked the opposition of both Catholics and Protestants alike. Two years after he ascended the throne the Gunpowder Plot was exposed. Guy Fawkes and several Catholic conspirators had planned to blow up the Protestant King and the Houses of Parliament, their plan very nearly reached fulfilment, Fawkes was arrested in a cellar under the Houses of Parliament in possession of touchpaper and matches and his horde of gunpowder uncovered. He was imprisoned and tortured in the Tower of London, many of the conspirators later suffered the horrific traitor's death of being hung, drawn and quartered.

Contemporary Description of James

'He was of middle stature, More corpulent through his clothes than in his body, yet fat enough, his clothes ever being large and easy, the doublets quilted for stiletto proof, his breeches in great pleats and full stuffed: He was naturally of a timorous disposition, which was the reason of his quilted doublets: His eyes large, ever rolling after any stranger came in his presence, insomuch, as many for shame have left the room, as being out of countenance: His beard very thin: his tongue too large for his mouth, and made him drink very uncomely, as if eating his drink, which came out of the cup of each side of his mouth. his skin was as soft as taffeta sarsnet, which felt so, because he never washed his hands, only rubbed his finger ends slightly with the wet end of a napkin. His legs very weak, having had (as was thought) some foul play in his youth, or rather before he was born, that he was not able to stand at seven years of age, this weakness made him ever leaning on other men's shoulders, his walk was ever circular, his fingers in that walk ever fiddling about his codpiece. He was very temperate in his exercises, and in his diet, and not intemperate in his drinking.'

He was very constant in all things (his favourites excepted) in which he loved change. He ever desired to prefer men in great places, that when he turned them out again, they should have no friend to bandy with them: and besides they were so hated by being raised from a mean estate, to over-top all men, that everyone held it a petty recreation to have them often turned out.' - Sir Anthony Weldon

ossessed of a high opinion of his own intelligence and a firm believer in the Divine Right of Kings, James' relationship with Parliament was inevitably fractious. Parliament objected to the manner in which he showered his successive favourites with money and titles. The King's reputation suffered further when his Protestant daughter Elizabeth and her husband Frederick of the Palatine were driven from Bavaria, and James failed to come to her aid.

Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales

King James I, was the author of several books on varied subjects, the Divine Right of Kings being his favourite topic, but he also wrote about witchcraft, one of his pet subjects (widely believed in at the time) and a pamphlet on the perils of tobacco smoking.

Charles, Duke of York

The Queen, Anne of Denmark, proved to be frivolous and frequently in debt. Largely neglected by her husband, she devoted herself to court entertainments and masques and loved expensive clothing. James' eldest son, the handsome and athletic Prince Henry was popular in England but unfortunately died before his father in 1612 at the age of eighteen. His younger brother Charles, Duke of York, became the new heir to the throne.

late 1617, Queen Anne was in failing health and began to suffer bouts of illness, James visited Anne only three times during her last illness, though her younger son Prince Charles often slept in the adjoining bedroom at Hampton Court Palace and was at her bedside during her last hours, when she had lost her sight. Queen Anne died aged 44 on 2 March 1619, of a dangerous form of dropsy. An inquest discovered Anne to be "much wasted within, especially her liver". James did not attend his wife's funeral, claiming illness, his symptoms, according to Sir Theodore de Mayerne, included "fainting, sighing, dread, incredible sadness. " Anne was buried in the south aisle of the Henry VII Chapel, Westminster Abbey, on 13 May 1619.

James' last favourite George Villiers, an effeminately beautiful young man whom he created Duke of Buckingham, was particularly unpopular. James left his son, Charles I, to reap the consequences of his disputes with the House of Commons and the growing ill-feeling between the monarch and Parliament. Despite his formidable learning, he was referred to as the "wisest fool in Christendom."

by nature, James prevented both England and Scotland from becoming involved in any European wars. He liked to be seen as the British Solomon. The great Henry IV of France once quipped that James saw himself as Solomon as he was indeed the "son of David" - a scathing reference to his mother's liaison with the Italian musician, David Rizzio.

The Death of James

In early 1625, James was plagued by severe attacks of arthritis, gout and fainting fits, and drifted into senility over the last year of his life. He died at Theobalds of a tertian ague, probably caused by kidney failure or a stroke, on 27th March 1625 at the age of fifty-nine. A theory has been put forward that James may have suffered from porphyria, a disease of which his descendant, George III, exhibited obvious symptoms. James' physician kept detailed notes on his royal patient, which describe his urine as being 'purple as Alicante wine' - a sure sign of porphyria.

's first Stuart King was buried at Westminster Abbey. In 1867 a search was made by Dean Stanley within the royal tombs for the final resting place of James I, which had gone unrecorded, he was found to share the tomb of the first Tudor King, Henry VII and his consort Elizabeth of York. James was succeeded on the thrones of England and Scotland by his second son, Charles I.

The Ancestry of James I and VI

The family of James I and Anne of Denmark

Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales

(1) Henry Frederick Stuart, Prince of Wales Died from typhoid fever at the age of 18 in 1612 Buried at Westminster Abbey.

(2) Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia married Frederick V, Elector Palatine

(i) Henry Frederick, Prince of the Palatinate (1 January 1614 - 7 January 1629)

(ii) Charles I Louis, Elector Palatine (22 December 1617 - 28 August 1680)

(iii) Elisabeth of the Palatinate, Abbess of Herford (26 December 1618 - 11 February 1680)

(iv) Rupert of the Rhine, Duke of Bavaria, 1st Duke of Cumberland (1619 - 1682)

(v) Louise Hollandine of the Palatinate (18 April 1622 - 11 February 1709)

(vi) Prince Maurice of the Palatinate (17 December 1620 - September 1652)

(vii) Edward of Simmern, Count Palatine, 5 October 1625 - 10 March 1663

(vii) Henriette Marie, Princess Palatine (17 July 1626 - 18 September 1651

(viii) Sophia of Hanover 14 October 1630 - 8 June 1714 - from whom the

(3) Margaret Stuart, Princess of Scotland (Margaret Stuart 24 December 1598 - March 1600)

Margaret died at the age of 2 and was buried at Holyrood Abbey,

Charles, Duke of York

CHARLES I (19 November 1600 - 30 January 1649) married Henrietta Maria of France

(i) Charles James, Duke of Cornwall b. & d. 13 March, 1629.

(ii) CHARLES II 29 May, 1630- 6 February, 1685

(iii) Mary, Princess Royal 4 November, 1631-24 December, 1660

(iv) JAMES II & VII 14 October, 1633- 16 September, 1701

(v) Elizabeth 29 December, 1625-8 September, 1650

(vi) Anne 17 March, 1637 8 December, 1640

(viii) Henry, Duke of Gloucester 8 July-1640-18 September, 1660

(ix) Henriette Anne 16 June,1644-30 June, 1670

(5) Robert Stuart, Duke of Kintyre (18 January 1602 - 27 May 1602)

Robert died at the age of 4 months and was buried at Dunfermline Palace, Fife, Scotland

(6) Mary Stuart of England, Scotland and Ireland (8 April 1605 - 16 September 1607)

Mary died of pneumonia at 17 months old and was buried at Westminster Abbey

(7) Sophia Stuart of England, Scotland and Ireland (22 June - 23 June 1606)


Who was the King James of the King James Version of the Bible?

When Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, Scotland and England united under King James VI of Scotland who then became King James I of England, the first of the Stuart line.

James, born a Catholic but raised a Protestant, ascended to the Scottish throne in 1567 at the age of one when his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, was imprisoned and forced to abdicate.

The idea of researching and writing a new translation of the Bible was broached at a religious conference in Aberdour, Fife. The Scottish Reformation was finished before the English Reformation. Puritans and Scottish Presbyterians wanted a new Bible that would not carry the same structure of the Bishops' Bible and the Anglican Church.

The other translations available were the Tyndale version and the Geneva Bible. King James argued that ekklesia in Matthew 16:18 which referred to Christ building His "congregation" in the Tyndale translation, should be translated "church." And James didn't like the Geneva Bible's translation of Matthew 2:20 which seemed to brand all kings as tyrants.

In 1604, at the Hampton Court Conference, James authorized theologians to start a new translation for all English-speaking parishes. Forty-seven scholars were convened, worked for seven years, and produced The King James Authorized Version of the Bible in 1611. (The first English translation of the Bible, the Tyndale, was produced just 85 years earlier).

Its dedication read: "To the most High and Mighty Prince James, by the grace of God, King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, &c."

Though his translation of the Bible remains his most famous legacy, James also approved the flag for Great Britain, sponsored William Shakespeare as a playwright, expanded trade with India, and was the namesake for the first permanent colony in the New World (Jamestown).

Not all was positive in his reign, however. James was widely unpopular and made many enemies in Parliament. He may have been bisexual. He opposed the Pope's power and wrote against Catholicism's influence in politics. That, combined with his holding fast to the idea that kings were only responsible to God (the divine right of kings), led to an assassination attempt. In 1605 a group of Catholics attempted to kill James, his wife, his son, and Parliament. The Gunpowder Plot, now remembered as Guy Fawkes Day, failed.


Your guide to King James VI and I, the first Stuart monarch of England

How did James VI of Scotland come to rule as King James I of England? Who were his personal favourites? And what was his role in the witch hunts at the turn of the 17th century? Historian and author Tracy Borman presents a comprehensive guide…

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Published: June 10, 2021 at 11:07 am

What was James VI’s childhood like?

Born on 19 June 1566, the self-styled ‘cradle king’, James VI, became the nominal ruler of Scotland at the age of just 13 months, following the enforced abdication of his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary had subsequently fled to England, where she remained Elizabeth I’s captive for almost 20 years, until her execution in 1587.

The lonely and dangerously volatile childhood that James endured may account for the fearful, almost neurotic nature that became manifest in his adult life. When he was only a few months old, his father, Lord Darnley, had been murdered, and as a youth James narrowly escaped various plots and assassination attempts. During his minority, there was a rapid succession of regents: first, his half-uncle James Stewart, Earl of Moray, an illegitimate son of James V, who had been Mary, Queen of Scots’ chief adviser before he turned against her. Moray was assassinated in January 1570 and was succeeded as regent by the young king’s paternal grandfather, Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox. But just a year later, Lennox was fatally wounded after a clash with Mary’s supporters. His successor, the Earl of Mar, fared little better and died after a year in post, probably as a result of poisoning. The final regent was James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, who served in the role until James was proclaimed an adult ruler in October 1579, at the age of 14.

James was a fragile and sickly child, and until the age of six he was unable to stand up or walk without assistance. As a young man, he had to be tied onto his horse in order to indulge his passion for hunting, and he would continue to walk while leaning on the shoulder of an attendant for much of his adult life. But James’ mental abilities compensated for his physical incapacity. He received an exceptional (if harsh) education at the hands of Scotland’s leading scholars, and later remarked that they had taught him to speak Latin “’ere I could speak Scottish”. By the age of 17, he had already acquired an extensive library that included works of classics, history, theology, political theory, geography and mathematics, as well as books on hunting and other sports. Although the King of Scots was hailed as “the bright star of the North”, his critics pointed to his lack of common sense and sneered that he was the “wisest fool in Christendom”.

James VI and I: key dates and facts

Born: 19 June 1566, Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Died: 27 March 1625, Hertfordshire, England

Parents: Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, who was the queen’s second husband

Known for: He was king of Scotland (as James VI) from 1567 to 1625 and the first Stuart king of England, from 1603 to 1625, acceding to the throne upon the death of Elizabeth I. He styled himself as “king of Great Britain”

What religion was James VI?

James was a product of the strict Scottish Reformation. From an early age he was trained by scholars of the Protestant faith, and grew up with a strong aversion to Catholicism. But the fact that he was the son of a celebrated Catholic martyr gave those of the ‘old faith’ cause to believe that he would show greater tolerance towards them. Indeed, before becoming king of England, he had offered reassurance that he would not persecute any Catholics who were “quiet and … obedient”.

Unfortunately for them, he soon went against his word. While his Tudor predecessor, Elizabeth I, had turned a blind eye to private Catholic practices, James insisted upon a much stricter observance of the reformed faith, declaring: “Who can’t pray with me, can’t love me.” Early in his reign, he and his councillors began drafting new legislation for the persecution of Catholics. The Jesuit priest, John Gerard, expressed the bitter disappointment that spread among the Catholic community: “A flash of lightning, giving for the time a pale light unto those that sit in darkness, doth afterwards leave them in more desolation.”

Don’t miss Tracy Borman’s History Masterclass on Tudor royal women

The series of talks will focus on some of the most celebrated women of the Tudor period: from the six wives of Henry VIII to the iconic Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I, and the tragic Mary, Queen of Scots

How were Elizabeth I and James VI related, and how did he come to the English throne?

Both Elizabeth and James were direct descendants of the first Tudor monarch, Henry VII – Elizabeth was his granddaughter and James his great-great grandson. But James’ claim was fundamentally weakened by the fact that since 1351, ‘foreigners’ had been forbidden from inheriting English lands – which, technically, James would be too if he inherited the crown and its estates. Moreover, Henry VIII’s will of 1547 had debarred his Scottish relatives from the throne. Added to this was the fact that Elizabeth I had passed a statute in 1585 whereby any claimants who conspired against her (as did James’s mother, Mary, Queen of Scots) would forfeit all their legal rights to the English succession.

All of this strengthened the claim of James’s cousin, Arbella Stuart, another descendant of Henry VII but English-born. In the event, James’ track record as a proven monarch worked in his favour, as did his sex – despite Elizabeth I’s success, the English still viewed queens regnant as an undesirable anomaly. It also helped James’ case that Arbella was regarded as a volatile and unstable young woman, described by one contemporary as “half mad”, and had alienated Elizabeth with her “haughtiness”.

Even though in Elizabeth’s last years it became obvious that there could only be one successor, almost to her last breath she refused to name James as her heir. She knew all too well that as soon as she did so, her subjects would entirely neglect her as “the sun now ready to set” and rush to worship the “rising sun”, James.

James VI and I and witch hunts: what role did the king play?

The regent Moray had ensured that his half-nephew was surrounded by men hostile to the erstwhile Queen of Scots. As he grew to maturity, the young king’s distrust of his mother deepened into a more general antipathy towards women, which found expression in witch hunting. In 1597, James VI became the only monarch in history to publish a treatise on the subject. Daemonologie, a international bestseller of its day, warned of “the fearful abounding at this time, in this country, of these detestable slaves of the Devil”. The book sparked a surge in the number of witchcraft cases brought before the Scottish courts and half of those arrested (the vast majority of them women) were put to the flames.

By contrast, in England the number of witchcraft trials and executions had declined significantly during Elizabeth I’s reign, and by the time James inherited the throne in March 1603, there was a growing scepticism about the existence of witches. The new king was determined to change all of that. Barely a year after his accession, he ordered that the Elizabethan statute on witchcraft be replaced by a much harsher version. The Witchcraft Act of 1604 declared that anyone found practising “Witchcraft, Enchantment, Charm or Sorcery… shall suffer pains of death”.

Eager to curry favour, the likes of William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe immediately began penning plays aimed at stoking the English population’s fear of witches. The best known of these was Macbeth, which Shakespeare made shorter than his usual dramatic works because he knew the king had little patience for the theatre.

What was the nature of James’s personal relationships and favourites?

Although James fathered seven children with his consort Anne of Denmark, their marriage was one of politics, not passion, and they lived separate lives at court. “He was ever best, when furthest from the queen,” remarked Sir Anthony Weldon, one of the earliest historians of James’s reign, who concluded that this was the reason for the king’s regular ‘removes’ from court.

James had long been rumoured to be a closeted homosexual man, and throughout his reign – both in Scotland and in England – he surrounded himself with a succession of beautiful young men. Each of these was rapidly promoted to exalted positions at court, and then just as rapidly dropped when a younger, more beautiful man came along.

For most of James’s early reign as king of England, his closest companion was a young Scotsman named Robert Carr, whom he created Earl of Somerset. But in 1614, Carr was supplanted by the man who would come to dominate James and his entire court for the rest of the reign. The second son of a country gentleman and his beautiful (but penniless) wife Mary, George Villiers enjoyed a meteoric rise to fortune after first meeting the king at Apethorpe Hall in Northamptonshire during his summer visit. Then aged 22, he was described as “the handsomest-bodied man in all of England his limbs so well compacted, and his conversation so pleasing, and of so sweet a disposition”. King James, 26 years his senior, was instantly captivated. Soon after their first meeting, he appointed Villiers his cupbearer [a person who serves wine in a royal household], which gave the new favourite frequent access to the royal presence. Further promotions followed in rapid succession, culminating in the dukedom of Buckingham in 1623.

By the end of James’s reign, Buckingham’s power and ambition knew no bounds, and it was even rumoured that he had hastened the king’s death in order to pave the way for his successor, Prince Charles, with whom his influence was just as great.

Who succeeded James VI and I?

In contrast to his predecessor’s reign, there was no succession crisis in James’s later years. By the time he was crowned king of England, he already had two sons: Henry (born 1594) and Charles (born 1600). Handsome, charismatic, and accomplished, Prince Henry enjoyed far greater popularity than his father, and James’s subjects on both sides of the border looked forward to the day when he would rule over them. But in 1612, at the age of 18, Prince Henry contracted typhoid fever and died, plunging the nation into mourning.

Henry’s younger brother Charles, who was just shy of his 12th birthday when he became heir to the throne, had been largely overlooked until then. A weak and sickly child, he had been slow to develop and was painfully shy. Although he overcame most of his physical infirmities when he reached adulthood, he retained a stammer for the rest of his life.

Charles had grown in confidence by the time he succeeded his father in March 1625. In fact, he was so convinced of the Divine Right of Kings that he soon proved unwilling to accept any limits to his authority – with disastrous results.

Tracy Borman is the author of Witches: James I and the English Witch Hunts, as well as The King’s Witch, a fictional trilogy based on James’s reign


James and Parliament

At the start of the reign of James I, he received a tolerably good welcome from Parliament. James seemed to offer Parliament a fresh start after the unpredictable behaviour of Elizabeth in her last few years. However, James was to quarrel with Parliament over a number of issues and this positive early relationship soon faltered. The major issues that caused James and Parliament to fall out were royal finances, royal favourites and the belief by James that he could never be wrong.

The first Parliament of Stuart England lasted from 1604 to 1611. The major issues it dealt with were royal finances – monopolies as an example – and the raising of money for James without the consent of Parliament.

In 1614 the Adled Parliament sat. This parliament dealt with religious issues (primarily the spread of Catholicism) and royal finances. However, it only sat for eight weeks before being dissolved by James as it wanted to discuss the whole thorny issue of the raising of money by the Crown without Parliamentary consent – a topic James was not prepared for them to discuss.

The next Parliament under James was in 1621. The Thirty Years War had started in 1618 – so foreign policy matters were of primary concern. Parliament also wanted the right to discuss its own powers and rights – something that James was not prepared to allow. As with the Adled Parliament, the life of this Parliament was cut short in December 1621.

Parliament also sat in 1624. The two major issues it dealt with were raising money for war with Spain and the imprisonment of Lionel Cranfield, the finance minister for the Crown.


The Stuarts – King James I of England- key events.

Elizabeth I died on 24 March 1603 in Richmond. She had been on the throne for nearly forty-five years. Whilst the queen had prevaricated about naming her heir, Sir Robert Cecil could see that her health was deteriorating and began making the necessary arrangements with King James VI of Scotland the son of Mary Queen of Scots. He was the great-grandson of Margaret Tudor.

When Elizabeth died Philadelphia, Lady Scrope took the sapphire ring given by King James from Elizabeth’s finger and threw it out of a window down to where her brother Sir Robert Carey sat waiting. Sir Robert headed off up the Great North Road to Edinburgh. The journey of some 330 miles was completed late on the 26th March (an impressive turn of speed). The blue ring was James’ confirmation that he was now King of England as well of Scotland.

James saw himself as King by Divine Right. He was also delighted to gain Elizabeth I’s wealth but he mishandled his finances because of his own extravagance. It is sometimes said that Elizabeth handled her finances better because she was single whereas James had a family – his wife Anne of Denmark who was raised a Protestant but converted to Catholicism (possibly) their eldest son Prince Henry born in 1594, their daughter Elizabeth and their young son Charles. In total the couple had nine children but only the three listed here survived to adulthood. It may be surmised a growing family with sons was one of the attractions of James as king so far as the English were concerned. It should also be added that the finances weren’t entirely James’ fault for another reason as this was a period of inflation and a time when subsidies returned lower yields.

Another of James’ difficulties was the balancing act between religious beliefs with in the country and on the wider European stage.

5 April 1603 – James left Edinburgh.

Mid-April – arrived in York and sent a letter asking for money from the Privy Council

When James arrived in Newark he attempted to have a cut purse hanged without realising that English common law did not permit the monarch to dish up summary justice. He also knighted 906 men in the first four months of his reign – more than Elizabeth in her entire reign. During this time James was also presented with the Millenary Petition. The Puritan ministers who presented it claimed that there were more than 1000 signatories – hence its name. The petition requested that the king put a stop to some practices that Puritans found objectionable. This included wearing surplices, confirmation, the necessity of a ring for marriage and the making of the sign of the cross during baptism.

11th May 1603 James entered London.

19 July 1603 Sir Walter Raleigh arrested. The key event of 1603 was the so-called the Main Plot which evolved into a secondary Bye Plot that came to light in 1604 (I’ve blogged about them before). Essentially with the Main Plot there was some question as to whether James was the best person to be king Henry VII had other descendants who were English. The one we think of at this time is usually Arbella Stuart who was implicated in the Main Plot which saw Sir Walter Raleigh sent to the Tower. The plan was to depose James and put Arbella in his place. The Bye Plot was much more straight forward. It simply involved kidnapping James and forcing him to suspend the laws against Catholics.

17 Nov 1603 Sir Walter Raleigh put on trial. Raleigh would be condemned on the evidence of Lord Cobham who was never called to testify despite Raleigh’s repeated demands that his should be examined.

14 Jan 1604 The Hampton Court Conference convened as a result, in part, of the Millenary Petition. James ordered that everyone should adhere to the Book of Common Prayer. This did not please the Puritans or the Catholics especially as recusancy fines were being levied with more rigour than previously.

19 March 1604 James’ first Parliament sat. James admonished the Puritans but it was clear that religion was going to be a bone of contention.

5 April 1604 James demanded that as “an absolute king” he should have conference with the Commons and his judiciary. It didn’t go down very well.

Mid April 1604 James demanded the Union of England with Scotland. No one apart from James thought it was a good idea. He will try again in 1606 and 1607.

19 August 1604 War with Spain formally concludes. England has been at war with the Spanish since 1585. The Somerset House Conference draws up the Treaty of London which is seen as favourable to Spain as it prevents continued English support of the Dutch.

Winter 1604 Thomas Percy sub-leased a house beside the Palace of Westminster. A certain Guy Fawkes and other members of a conspiracy began to dig a tunnel…

5th November 1605 The Gunpowder Plot foiled.

1606 The Bates Case . John Bates refused to pay the new duty that James levied on currants. The Court of the Exchequer said that Bates had to pay the duty as the king was regulating imports rather than raising revenue for himself – they couldn’t prove any different. This meant that the Crown suddenly found a way of raising taxes without having to call Parliament so long as it was in the name of regulating foreign trade. The case is also called the Case of Impositions. The imposition of these taxes would come back to haunt James when he called Parliament in 1614.

22 June 1606 Oath of Allegiance required of all subjects. It was made up of seven parts. The first bit required loyalty to James.

June 1607 Founding of Jamestown in America by Captain Smith.

Sept 1607 Start of the Plantation of Ulster when leading Irish earls flee the country fearing arrest. The event is sometimes called “The Flight of the Earls.” The Crown confiscates their land and begins to hand it to Protestants including troublemakers from the Scottish/English Borders.

1608 – The Book of Bounty issued. It was a device to reduce royal expenditure. This should be viewed alongside Robert Cecil’s revision to the rate of taxation. He’s revised the rates once in 1604 and did so again in 1608. The revisions of 1608 fetched an additional £70,000 into the royal coffers.

22 June 1610 Arbella Stuart enters into a secret marriage with William Seymour (2nd duke of Somerset) – who had his own claim to the throne due to the face that he is the grandson of Lady Katherine Grey. Elizabeth I had refused to recognise her cousin’s marriage to Edward Seymour but their son (another Edward) was recognised by the courtesy title Lord Beauchamp though none the less was permitted to succeed to his father’s title upon Edward Seymour senior’s death. The marriage of Arbella and Seymour seemed to unite two possible claims to the throne. Not surprisingly all involved ended up in the Tower. Arbella would escape her prison but recaptured on her way to the Continent and die in the Tower in 1615. There will be more about Arbella!

1610 – Parliament refuse to proceed with the Great Contract which James has proposed. If they had agreed it would have resulted in a tax being levied to clear James’ debts. Parliament offered James £200,000 per year. James demanded another £200,000. In addition to the financial considerations there was a concern that James might not call Parliament again if he got all the money he wanted in one hit. James was unwilling to sell off any of his prerogative rights so came no where close to meeting Parliament half-way.

14 May 1610 Henry IV of France assassinated

1611 King James Bible issued.

October 1612 Prince Henry, James’ eldest and most promising son, taken ill.

6 November 1612 Prince Henry dies. He was eighteen. It prompted a succession crisis that lasted until 1614. Prince Charles, a sickly child, now became heir apparent. It became essential that Princess Elizabeth should marry. This resulted ultimately in a bill being laid before parliament to permit Elector Frederick and his wife Elizabeth to inherit in the event of Charles’ death.

14 Feb 1613 Princess Elizabeth married Frederick V of the Palatinate.

April 1613 Thomas Overbury sent to Tower but then released. He would shortly be murdered. Th king’s former favourite Robert Carr and his wife Frances Howard would be found guilty of his murder. The ensuing scandal would continue throughout the next two years. Lady Anne Clifford writes about it her her diary. There will definitely be more about the Overbury case in the coming year.

1614 The Earl of Suffolk appointed treasurer.

4 May 1614 James told Parliament that they had to vote him subsidies when they next sat. If they wouldn’t James would refuse to call Parliament into session.

December 1614 The Cockayne Project announced. James allowed Alderman Sir William Cockayne to launch a project designed to boost the earnings of those involved in the manufacture of undyed cloth setting up a dyeing industry to do the job at home. The government was promised £40,000 p.a. from increased customs through the importing of dyestuffs. James gave control to Cockayne and the new company was given permission to export in 1615. It was clear by 1616 that Cockayne had not the resources to buy the cloth from the clothing districts and hold it until it could be marketed. Matters became worse when the Dutch banned the import of cloth. Merchants went bankrupt, weavers rioted, cloth exports slumped and the industry stagnated. By 1617 James abandoned Cockayne and the Merchant Adventurers regained control.

June 1614 The so-called Addled Parliament sat. This was properly James’ second Parliament which had been called with the express purpose of raising funds for the king. Parliament didn’t politely offer the king taxes. They hadn’t been very impressed with the king’s courtiers undertaking to get their cronies elected to to the king’s bidding. Instead, they told him that his policies were unacceptable and also said that he would receive no money from them whilst he was enforcing so-called “impositions” – these were taxes raised without the consent of Parliament. Parliament believed that James had overstepped his legal rights and James believed that Parliament had no right to refuse his demands. It didn’t pass any bills and was dissolved very quickly.

During this time there were two factions at court seeking the king’s ear following the death of Robert Cecil in 1612. The most prominent was led by Henry Howard. The Howard family held key posts. Thomas Howard the Earl of Suffolk was the father of Francis Howard who married Robert Carr (the Earl of Essex). It was during this time that his daughter and son-in-law found themselves on trial for the murder of Thomas Overbury through the medium of poisoned tarts. The Howard family wanted James to put Parliament in its place, peace with Spain and Recusancy fines reduced. Their opposition was comprised of people who simply didn’t like the Howards and would have said that day was night if the Howards said otherwise. They were Protestant whilst the Howards were seen as Catholic in their sympathy.

1615 James I begins to sell peerages to make some money.

23 April 1616 – William Shakespeare dies.

1616 James sells the Dutch the towns of Brill and Flushing which had been given to Elizabeth to help finance the wars agains the Spanish and for support of the Dutch. Sir Walter Raleigh is released from the Tower and the following year goes in search of El Dorado, involving a voyage up the Orinoco. No gold was forthcoming. James returned Raleigh to prison and invoked the 1603 death sentence.

1617 James enters negotiations for the marriage of Prince Charles to the Spanish Infanta. He demands a dowry of £600,000.

1618 – This was the year when the Thirty Years War started with the invasion of Bohemia and the Palatinate Crisis. James’ daughter Elizabeth would be involved in this as her husband had become the King of Bohemia when he had been offered the crown the year before. They were driven out by Counter-reforming Catholics. History knows Elizabeth as The Winter Queen because she was Queen of Bohemia for only a year.

29 October 1618 Sir Walter Raleigh executed.

August 1620 – The Pilgrim Fathers set sail.

8 Nov 1620 The Battle of White Mountain fought near Prague. The battle was won by the Hapsburgs and meant that Catholicism gained an early upper hand in the Thirty Years War.

1621 James’ third Parliament called.

6 January 1621 Elizabeth, the Winter Queen, gives birth to a son Maurice near Berlin. From there she would go into exile in The Hague.

3 Dec 1621 Parliament petitions the King

1622 Directions to Preachers restrict the contents of sermons.

1623 Forced Loan

March 1623 Prince Charles makes a trip incognito to Madrid complete with a large hat and false beard. It was a cause of some embarrassment in Madrid.

August 1623 The Spanish want Frederick to marry his eldest son, James’ grandson, to the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor. The plan was that he would then convert to Catholicism and be raised in Vienna. Charles realised that the Spanish Match wasn’t going to happen but James was reluctant to break off negotiations.

1624 The so-called Happy Parliament called. James had previously sworn never to call another parliament. However the course of the Thirty years War made him reconsider. The so-called Spanish match had become more important as it seemed that the Hapsburgs and Spain would dominate Europe and be victorious agains the Protestant countries but it became clear that the Spanish were not serious in their negotiations with the English or that they were demanding too much. Charles and his friend the duke of Buckingham persuaded James that what needed to happen was that the English should go to war on behalf of the Palatinate. James refused to go to war without a huge subsidy being voted him.

Nov 1624 Marriage treaty signed between Prince Charles and Henrietta Maria of France.

27 March 1625 – King James I of England/ James VI of Scotland died. King Charles I proclaimed king.

Ackroyd, Peter. (2014) The History of England Volume III: Civil War London:MacMillan


6. He Was A Baby King

James officially became King James VI of Scotland on July 29, 1567. He was 13 months old. Since one-year-olds don’t generally know that much about politics, a council appointed the Earl of Moray to act as his regent. His job seemed pretty simple—hold down the fort until James was old enough to rule. Too bad his time as regent ended up being an utter disaster.

Reign (2013–2017), CBS Television Studios

James VI and I

James VI and I (19 June 1566 – 27 March 1625) was King of Scotland as James VI, and King of England and King of Ireland as James I. He was the first monarch to be called the king of Great Britain. He ruled in Scotland as James VI from 24 July 1567 until his death and he ruled in England and Scotland from 24 March 1603 until his death.

His reign was important because it was the first time England and Scotland had the same monarch. He was the first monarch of England from the House of Stuart. The previous English monarch had been Elizabeth I. She had died without any children, so the English agreed to have a Scottish monarch because James was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, thus the closest relative Elizabeth had. By being king of both, he created a personal union.

James fought often with the Parliament of England. In addition, he did not use the kingdom’s money well. While James was ruling, the Scottish and English governments were quite stable. After James died, his son Charles tried to rule in the same way as James, but caused the English Civil War. At the end of the war in 1649, Charles was executed.

James was very well educated and good at learning. He helped people in England and in Scotland to study things such as science, literature, and art. James wrote Daemonologie in 1597, The True Law of Free Monarchies in 1598, Basilikon Doron in 1599, and A Counterblaste to Tobacco in 1604. He sponsored the Authorized King James Version of the Bible.

James was a target of the Gunpowder Plot. A group of Catholics planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament on 5 November 1605 during a ceremony while James was in the building. The plot was stopped when a member of the group, Guy Fawkes, was found in a basement with barrels of gunpowder. The event is remembered every year on 5 November, also known as Bonfire Night,where many people decide to celebrate and light bonfires and fireworks.

James believed in witchcraft. When he read The Discoverie of Witchcraft, he ordered all copies of the book to be burnt. [1] The king had an importance with the first English settlers.

The first permanent English established settlement in North America was made under the charter granted by James to Sir Thomas Gates and other in 1606.


The English Civil War

The escalating conflict between the king and Parliament resulted in what is known as the English Civil War (1642–1651). It was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians (“Roundheads”) and Royalists (“Cavaliers”) over, principally, the manner of its government. The first (1642–1646) and second (1648–1649) wars pitted the supporters of Charles against the supporters of the Long Parliament, while the third (1649–1651) saw fighting between supporters of King Charles II and supporters of the Rump Parliament. The war ended with the Parliamentarian victory at the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651.

The overall outcome of the war was threefold: the trial and execution of Charles I the exile of his son, Charles II and the replacement of English monarchy with, at first, the Commonwealth of England (1649–1653), and then the Protectorate (1653–1659) under Oliver Cromwell’s personal rule. The monopoly of the Church of England on Christian worship in England ended with the victors consolidating the established Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. Constitutionally, the wars established the precedent that an English monarch cannot govern without Parliament’s consent, although the idea of Parliament as the ruling power of England was legally established as part of the Glorious Revolution in 1688.


It was in January 1603 that Queen Elizabeth had first developed a bad cold and been advised by Dr Dee, her astrologer, to move from Whitehall to Richmond – the warmest of her palaces – on what would prove to be ‘a filthy rainy and windy day’. Once there, it seems, she refused all medicine and, as the Earl of Northumberland informed King James in Scotland, her physicians were soon concluding ‘that if this continue she must needs fall into a distemper, not a frenzy but rather into dullness and lethargy’. The death on 25 February of her cousin and close confidante the Countess of Nottingham had only served to compound her illness with grief, and while all Scotland stirred in happy anticipation of her demise, the queen merely reclined on floor cushions, refusing Robert Cecil’s instructions that she take to her bed. ‘Little man,’ she had told him, ‘the word must is not to be used to princes’. She was 69, plagued with fever, worn by worldly cares and frustrations, and dying – so that even she was forced at last to accede to her secretary’s pleas. Then, in the bedraggled early hours of 24 March, as the queen’s laboured breathing slackened further, Father Weston – a Catholic priest imprisoned at that time in the Tower – noted how ‘a strange silence descended on the whole City of London … not a bell rang out, not a bugle sounded’. Her council was in attendance and, at Cecil’s frantic request that she provide a sign of acceptance of James as her successor, she was said to have complied at last.

At Richmond Palace, on the eve of Lady Day, Elizabeth I had therefore finally put paid to her successor’s interminable agonising and on that same morning of her death Sir Robert Carey, who had once conveyed her pallid excuses for the demise of Mary Queen of Scots to King James, was now dispatched north with altogether more welcome tidings. Leaving at mid-morning and bearing at his breast a sapphire ring that was the prearranged proof of the queen’s demise, Carey had covered 162 miles before he slept that night at Doncaster. Next day, further relays of horses, all carefully prepared in advance, guaranteed that he covered another 136 miles along the ill-kept track known as the Great North Road linking the capitals of the two kingdoms. After a further night at Widdrington in Northumberland, which was his own home, the saddle-weary rider set out on the last leg of his journey, hoping to be with James by supper time, but receiving ‘a great fall by the way’ which resulted in both his delay and ‘a great blow on the head’ from one of his horse’s hoofs ‘that made me shed much blood’. Nevertheless, ‘be-blooded and bruised’, he was in Edinburgh that evening and though the ‘king was newly gone to bed’, the messenger was hurriedly conveyed to the royal bedchamber. There, said Carey, ‘I kneeled by him, and saluted him by his title of England, Scotland, France and Ireland’, in response to which ‘he gave me his hand to kiss and bade me welcome’.

James had dwelt upon the potential difficulties of the succession for so long, however, that he could scarcely credit the ease with which it appeared to be taking place and wasted no time in consolidating his position. To the very last, of course, Elizabeth had made no official acknowledgement of the King of Scotland as her heir, and until he had taken physical possession of his new realm, his fear of invasion or insurrection remained tangible. The day after Carey’s arrival, therefore, the Abbot of Holyrood was urgently dispatched to take possession of Berwick – the gateway to the south – and within a week, as his English councillors pressed him to make haste, plans for James’s transfer to London were complete. Summoning those nobles who could be contacted in the time available, he placed the government in the hands of his Scottish council and confirmed the custody of his children to those already entrusted with them. Likewise, his heir, Prince Henry, was offered words of wisdom upon his new status as successor to the throne of England. ‘Let not this news make you proud or insolent,’ James informed the boy, ‘for a king’s son and heir was ye before, and no more are ye yet. The augmentation that is hereby like to fall unto you is but in cares and heavy burdens be therefore merry but not insolent.’ Queen Anne, meanwhile, being pregnant, was to follow the king when convenient, though this would not be long, for she miscarried soon afterwards in the wake of a violent quarrel with the Earl of Mar’s mother, once again involving the custody of her eldest son – whereupon James finally relented and allowed the boy to be handed over to her at Holyrood House prior to their joining him in London.

Before his own departure, however, James had certain other snippets of business to attend to. On Sunday 3 April, for instance, he attended the High Kirk of St Giles in Edinburgh to deliver ‘a most learned, but more loving oration’, in which he exhorted his subjects to continue in ‘obedience to him, and agreement amongst themselves’. There was a public promise, too, that he would return to Scotland every three years – though he would ultimately do so only once, in 1617 – and a further suggestion that his subjects should take heart upon his departure, since he had already settled ‘both kirk and kingdom’. All that remained thereafter was a plea to the council for money, since he had barely sufficient funds to get him past the Border, and a series of meetings with both English officials on the one hand and a mounting flood of suitors already seeking lavish rewards and promises. In the first category, came Sir Thomas Lake, Cecil’s secretary, who was sent north to report the king’s first thoughts as he became acquainted with English affairs, and the Dean of Canterbury, who was hastily dispatched to ascertain James’s plans for the Church of England. To the second belonged a teeming, self-seeking throng. ‘There is much posting that way,’ wrote John Chamberlain, an eagle-eyed contemporary reporter of public and private gossip, ‘and many run thither of their own errand, as if it were nothing else but come first served, or that preferment were a goal to be got by footmanship’.

In the event, James’s progress south might well have dazzled many a more phlegmatic mind than his, since it was one unbroken tale of rejoicing, praise and adulation. Entering Berwick on 6 April in the company of a throng of Border chieftains, he was greeted by the loudest salute of cannon fire in any soldier’s memory and presented with a purse of gold by the town’s Recorder. His arrival, after all, represented nothing less than the end of an era on the Anglo-Scottish border. In effect, a frontier which had been the source of bitter and continual dispute over five centuries had been finally transformed by nothing more than an accident of birth, and no outcome of James’s kingship before or after would be of such long-term significance. That a King of Scotland, attended by the Wardens of the Marches from both sides of the border, should enter Berwick peacefully amid cries of approval was almost inconceivable – and yet it was now a reality for the onlookers whose forebears’ lives had been so disrupted and dominated by reprisal raids and outright warfare.

Nor did a sudden rainstorm the following day dampen the king’s spirits. The sun before the rain, he declared, represented his happy departure, the rain the grief of Scotland, and the subsequent fair weather the joy of England at his approach. Such, in fact, was his keenness to press forward into his new kingdom that his stop in Northumberland at Sir Robert Carey’s Widdrington Castle was deliberately cut short. For he departed, we are told, ‘upon the spur, scarce any of his train being able to keep him company’, and rode nearly forty miles in less than four hours. Pausing to slay two fat deer along the way – ‘the game being so fair before him, he could not forbear’ - he rested over Sunday at Newcastle, and heard a sermon by Tobie Mathew, Bishop of Durham, with whom he joked and jested in high humour. Indeed, the urbane, serene world of the Anglican episcopacy, which so happily combined theological soundness with a proper deference for royal authority could not have been more agreeable to James. Received at the bishop’s palace by a hundred gentlemen in tawny liveries, he was treated at dinner to a fine diet of delicious food and Mathew’s own unique brand of learning, humanity and worldly wisdom, which would bring the bishop considerable rewards three years later when he found himself Archbishop of York and Lord President of the Council of the North. Even before the king left next morning, moreover, Mathew’s bishopric had already recovered much alienated property, including Durham House in the Strand, which had been granted previously to Sir Walter Raleigh.

By the time that James entered York on 14 April, however, he had already found much else about his new kingdom to impress him. Above all, he was struck by the apparent richness of a land he was visiting for the first time and knew only by reputation. The abundance of the countryside, the splendour of the great mansions, the extensive parklands through which he travelled, even the quaintness of the villages scattered along his route all proclaimed the contrast with Scotland. Everything, indeed, seemed to lift James into a heady state of expectation after the rigours of his rule in Scotland. According to the eminent lawyer and Master of Requests Sir Roger Wilbraham, the king travelled onwards ‘all his way to London entertained with great solemnity and state, all men rejoicing that his lot and their lot had fallen in so good a ground. He was met with great troops of horse and waited on by the sheriff and gentlemen of each shire, in their limits joyfully received in every city and town presented with orations and gifts entertained royally all the way by noblemen and gentlemen at their houses …’. But the same observer’s concerns about what might be awaiting England’s new king in the longer term were more revealing still. ‘I pray unfeignedly,’ wrote Wilbraham, ‘that his most gracious disposition and heroic mind be not depraved with ill-counsel, and that neither the wealth and peace of England make him forget God, nor the painted flattery of the court cause him to forget himself.’

Extracted from James I: Scotland’s King of England by John Matusiak


Watch the video: The Bloody Reign of The Stuarts. Game of Kings. Timeline (January 2022).