James I and VI (England and Scotland) (1566–1625)
James I and VI (England and Scotland) (1566–1625)
JAMES I AND VI (ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND) (1566–1625), king of England (as James I, 1603–1625) and Scotland (as James VI, 1567–1625). Born in June 1566, James was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley. Rumors abounded from his birth that he was in fact the son of Mary's lover, her Italian secretary David Riccio. Although these were probably unfounded, Mary's marriage to Darnley was certainly an unhappy one: in February 1567 she was involved in the assassination of the feckless Darnley by Scottish lords, led by James Hepburn, earl of Bothwell, at Kirk O'Fields near Edinburgh. Bothwell then divorced his own wife and married Mary. The Protestant Scottish lords were outraged by their behavior, and Mary was deposed. On 19 July 1567 her thirteen-month-old son was crowned James VI of Scotland.
James's minority was dominated by his various noble regents, two of whom were killed in the political violence that characterized Scottish politics during this period, and by his tutors, the strict Calvinist George Buchanan and the more sympathetic Peter Young. In August 1582 James was lured into Ruthven castle and held captive for more than a year by the Protestant earls of Gowrie and Angus. This led to the downfall of James's friend and regent, the pro-French Esmé Stewart, duke of Lennox, and made an indelible mark on the young king. In June 1583 James escaped from his captors and began to assert his authority as king. Chief among his targets was the Scottish Kirk, or assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which the king never forgave for rejoicing in the fall of his friend Lennox. The struggle for control of the Scottish church was a defining feature of James's rule in Scotland, and he continually strove to enforce the so-called Black Acts of 1584, which asserted royal authority over the church. James was only moderately successful; he did not succeed, for example, in appointing any new bishops (the counterweight to the authority of the Kirk) in Scotland between 1585 and 1600. In 1592 the Golden Acts recognized the Kirk's authority in religious matters but retained the king's right to summon it when and where he wished. James also struggled to overcome a factious nobility, notably Francis Stewart, earl of Bothwell (nephew of the third husband of Mary, Queen of Scots) and George Gordon, earl of Huntly. Nevertheless, by 1600 James had established royal control over the Scottish nobility, and his relations with the Scottish Parliament were generally good.
James's international and dynastic standing was increased in October 1589 by his marriage to Anne of Denmark (1574–1619). James traveled to Denmark to collect his bride and only returned to Scotland the following April. Anne bore him three sons and four daughters: Henry, Elizabeth, Margaret, Charles, Robert, Mary, and Sophia. James had made only token gestures against the execution of his mother by Elizabeth I of England in 1587, and was careful to maintain his position as the obvious successor to the English throne. When Elizabeth died in March 1603, James was named as her successor and arrived in London the following month.
Almost immediately, however, James came into conflict with his new subjects. Two issues in particular stood out: first, the English disliked the Scottish courtiers who accompanied their new king, and second, James's wish for political union between England and Scotland was opposed by the English Parliament. On 20 October 1604 he assumed the "name and style of King of Great Britain" but by November had confided to his ministers that full union of the kingdom should be left to "the maturity of time." James's major achievement of the first year of his reign was the ending of the long and costly war with Spain in August 1603.
As king of England James enjoyed both successes and failures. Perhaps his most successful area of policy was toward the church. James ensured that the English episcopacy and clergy were well-educated and administered a broad, national church, although tensions with the persecuted Catholic minority surfaced in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. This conciliatory tone was also apparent in his relations with the Scottish church after 1603. Less successful was his management of English political society, particularly Parliament. When he acceded to the English throne James considered himself an experienced ruler who knew how to manage his subjects' concerns, but he failed to appreciate the differences between his realms. He was unable to tackle the principal problem facing his English realm, that of the inadequacy of the fiscal system and the spiraling costs of England's involvement in European affairs. James thus clashed with his Parliaments: the so-called Great Contract of 1610 (an attempt to replace the crown's ancient fiscal rights with an annual income tax) failed, and the king closed Parliament in anger in 1610, 1614, and1621. James also clashed with the Parliament over the management of his household, his extravagant spending, and the influence of his favorites, most notably George Villiers, duke of Buckingham.
James died of a stroke on 27 March 1625. He left a considerable literary legacy including political works and poetry. His first book of poetry was published in 1584; in 1599 he set out his theory of kingship in Basilikon Doron; in 1611 he oversaw the translation of the King James Version of the Bible. His historical legacy is mixed. For centuries the hostile contemporary portrait by Sir Anthony Weldon (in The Court and Character of King James, 1650) of a lazy, unhygienic, and homosexual king devoted to his favorites to the detriment of his kingdoms held sway. More recent historians have stressed that James must be judged first as a largely successful king of Scotland who rescued that realm from political and religious turmoil and, second, as a king of three kingdoms (England, Scotland, and Ireland) who struggled manfully with the unique problems of multiple monarchy. They argue that James strove to avoid entanglement in the developing Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) in Europe and thus saved the lives and purses of his subjects. Although in some areas, such as the settling of Protestants in Ulster and his failure to reach accord with the English Parliament, James contributed to the problems that would beset his son, Charles I, there was nothing in James's reign that made the English Civil War (1642–1649) inevitable.
Barroll, Leeds. Anne of Denmark, Queen of England: A Cultural Biography. Philadelphia, 2001.
Cogswell, Thomas. The Blessed Revolution: English Politics and the Coming of War, 1621–1624. Cambridge, U.K., 1989.
Croft, Pauline. King James. Basingstoke, U.K., 2003. Most accessible recent account of James's reign, stressing his role as monarch of three kingdoms.
Fincham, Kenneth. Prelate as Pastor: The Episcopate of James I. Oxford, 1990.
Fischlin, Daniel, Mark Fortier, and Kevin Sharpe. Essays on Royal Subjects: The Writings of James VI and I. Detroit, 2002.
Galloway, Bruce R. The Union of Scotland and England, 1603–1608. Edinburgh, 1986.
Goodare, Julian, and Michael Lynch, eds. The Reign of James VI. East Linton, U.K., 2000.
Lockyer, Roger. Buckingham: The Life and Political Career of George Villiers, First Duke of Buckingham, 1592–1628. London, 1981.
Peck, Linda Levy, ed. The Mental World of the Jacobean Court. Cambridge, U.K., 1991.
Sommerville, Johann P., ed. King James VI and I: Political Writings. Cambridge, U.K., 1994.
Wormald, Jenny. "Gunpowder, Treason and Scots." Journal of British Studie s 24 (1985): 141–168.
——. "James VI and I: Two Kings or One?" History 68 (1983): 187–209. Seminal article, the first to tackle the problem of James ruling simultaneously over more than one kingdom and the beginning of the reinterpretation of James's reign.