BORN: June 19, 1566 • Edinburgh, Scotland
DIED: March 27, 1625 • Hatfield, England
The first king of a united England and Scotland, James I brought relative peace and stability to a realm that had known tremendous turmoil during the reigns of his predecessors, the Tudor monarchs. Intense religious conflicts and hostilities with rival European kingdoms had troubled England since the reign of Henry VIII (1491–1547; see entry), who was crowned in 1509. After James took the English throne in 1603, he ended England's prolonged war with Spain and strengthened the official position of the Church of England. While this policy supported moderate Protestantism, it frustrated Catholics and led to a plan to blow up the houses of Parliament (England's legislative body), and overthrow the English government. Exposed at the last moment, the plot nearly succeeded.
"Look not to find the softness of a down pillow in a crown, but remember that it is a thorny piece of stuff and full of continual cares."
James also spent more than his treasury could afford, and he alienated the English Parliament because he insisted that his lawful powers as king were more extensive than Parliament would accept. This conflict heightened the demand among many English statesmen for constitutional reform, which intensified after James's death and contributed to civil war in the 1640s. Many historians have judged James an ineffective king. But others have pointed out that James had shown good ability as a ruler in Scotland, and that the complexity of the problems he faced in England had much to do with his failures there.
An unhappy childhood
James Stuart, the only son of the Scottish queen Mary Stuart (1542–1587; see entry) and her second husband, Henry Stewart (Lord Darnley; 1545–1567), was the undisputed heir to the Scottish throne. He also inherited a strong claim to the throne of England. His mother was a great-granddaughter of King Henry VII (1457–1509) of England. Mary Stuart's grandmother, Margaret Tudor (1489–1541) was Henry VIII's sister. Margaret had married King James IV (1473–1513) of Scotland; their son, James V (1512–1542), became Mary Stuart's father. After James IV died, Margaret married a second time. Her daughter by this marriage became Henry Stewart's mother. Thus, both of James's parents were related to the ruling Tudor family in England.
James's childhood was marked by traumatic events that profoundly influenced him and shaped his attitudes toward kingship. He encountered grave danger before he was even born. His mother, a Catholic, had returned to rule Scotland after having grown up in France. Facing resistance from Protestant lords who objected to a Catholic monarch, Mary kept a precarious hold on power by compromising with the lords, but many continued to disapprove of her. After she married Lord Darnley, her actions caused some further criticism. Mary was not happy with her second husband, and rumors circulated that she had fallen in love with her secretary, David Rizzio (1533–1566). Some even said that Rizzio was the real father of the child she was expecting. One evening during Mary's pregnancy, a band of Scottish Protestant rebels broke into the queen's private rooms and murdered Rizzio. The rebels threatened the queen herself when she attempted to save her secretary. Addressing the English Parliament many years later in 1605, James said that his fearful nature could be traced to this incident when he was still in his mother's womb.
Mary Stuart's reign in Scotland came to an end before the infant James reached his first birthday. James's father was murdered on February 10, 1567, and suspicion fell on James Hepburn (Earl of Bothwell; c. 1536–1578), whom the queen married three months later. Convinced that the queen had been involved in the murder, the outraged lords rose against her and forced her to give her crown to her infant son. Soon afterward she fled to England, where she lived in exile for the rest of her life. James, crowned King James VI of Scotland on July 29, 1567, at age thirteen months, never saw his mother again.
Because the infant king could not rule on his own, a regent was appointed to rule until the boy came of age. The first regent was assassinated in 1570. The second regent held power for only one year before he was killed in a civil rebellion. Young James witnessed his death. The third regent, who died of natural causes, also held power for only about one year. The fourth regent lasted for ten years, but he was then executed for his part in the death of James's father. James grew up without any consistent emotional support, and historians believe that this harsh environment contributed to his deep need for love and friendship throughout his adult life.
James coped with his unhappiness by devoting himself to learning. Fluent in French, he studied Latin and Greek and demonstrated good intellectual ability. Indeed, he became known as one of the most learned monarchs ever to take the English throne. But lessons were not always pleasant for the young king. His tutor, George Buchanan (1506–1582), would beat James when the boy challenged him.
Though he was not athletic, James loved to hunt on horseback. He spent almost half of his time at this activity, which helped him to feel strong. In fact, he believed that he could strengthen his weak legs by dipping them into the bellies of freshly killed deer. According to Adam Nicolson in God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, the young king once killed every deer in the royal hunting ground at Falkland in Fife.
Religion and politics
Beginning in 1581 James ruled Scotland without the help of a regent. Though the Scottish Parliament had established an official Protestant Church of Scotland in 1560, religious conflict continued throughout James's rule, as some Catholics resisted the new religion. James had been baptized a Catholic, but he had been crowned in a Protestant ceremony that included an oath to maintain the official religion of Scotland. Though James did not want to alienate Catholics, he realized that he needed the cooperation of the Protestant lords if he was to survive.
James relied to a great extent on the support and advice of close friends. Among these was his older male cousin, Esmé Stuart (1542–1583), who had arrived in Scotland from France in 1579 when James was thirteen. James was strongly attracted to this Catholic cousin, and some believed them to have been lovers. According to a contemporary account quoted by Alan Stewart in The Cradle King: The Life of James VI & I, the First Monarch of a United Great Britain, the king "is in such love with [Esmé], as in the open sight of the people, oftentimes he will clasp him about the neck with his arms and kiss him." The Protestant lords disapproved of Esmé Stuart and resented the influence he had on the king. In 1582 a group led by William Ruthven (Earl of Gowrie; c. 1541–1584) took James captive and banished Esmé, who returned to France. They held the king for almost one year at Ruthven Castle before he was able to escape with another of his close courtiers, or royal attendants, James Stuart. To help eliminate future Protestant threats, James convinced Parliament to pass the Black Acts in 1584, which declared him head of the Scottish church. This move alienated him from the church leaders, who feared he might push the church toward the type of Protestantism practiced in England.
In 1586 James and Elizabeth I (1533–1603; see entry) agreed, through the Treaty of Berwick, that Scotland and England would become allies. Since England was a Protestant country, this event pleased the Scottish Protestant lords. This alliance also strengthened James's claim to the English succession, since Elizabeth had no children. One year later, his mother, who had been implicated in a conspiracy to assassinate Elizabeth and make herself queen of England, was executed for treason. This event placed James, Elizabeth's closest relative, next in line for the English throne.
Following a Catholic uprising in 1588, James was forced to improve his relationship with the leaders of the Scottish church. He agreed in 1592 to the repeal of the Black Acts. But his insistence on granting a pardon to some of the Catholic rebels resulted in another Protestant conspiracy against him in 1600, led by John Ruthven, son of the conspirator who had captured James in 1582. The plot failed and the rebels were executed.
In 1589 James married a Protestant princess, Anne of Denmark (1574–1619). Though close friends early in their marriage, they eventually drifted apart and agreed to live separately. They had seven children. Their second son, Charles (1600–1649), succeeded James as king of England in 1625.
As king of Scotland James strengthened law and order in the country and minimized the influence of rebellious Catholic lords. He also concerned himself with abolishing witchcraft. When a severe storm threatened the ship on which James and his new bride were returning to Scotland after their marriage in Norway, authorities accused several people of using witchcraft to create the storm and thereby kill the king. Many of the accused were executed. James, who attended the witch trials at Berwick, was inspired to write Daemonologie, an article on witchcraft that he hoped would convince skeptics that witches were really at work in Scotland.
Becomes king of England
During the final years of Elizabeth's life, her secretary of state, Robert Cecil (1563–1612), had secretly written to James to instruct him on how to rule England. But when James succeeded to the English throne after Elizabeth's death in 1603, he made it clear that he had his own ideas about being king. He believed in the divine right of kings, a doctrine which stated that a monarch ruled due to the will of God, not the will of the people or any government body. The English Parliament, however, expected the king to share power with its members—a circumstance for which James was unprepared.
James was crowned king of England at Westminster Abbey in London on July 25, 1603. This event created a "personal union" between England and Scotland, which meant that the two countries shared a ruler but remained technically separate states. The new king faced several immediate challenges, including a budget crisis. Prices had risen by almost 50 percent during Elizabeth's reign; she left a government in significant debt and plagued by growing corruption. James was not able to correct these financial woes. He spent large sums, giving generous amounts to his friends and increasing the budget deficit each year. Five years after taking the throne, James had increased the royal debt by 600 percent.
The King James Bible
Many scholars consider the King James Version of the Bible to be the greatest work of prose (non-poetry) ever written in the English language. Church leaders, recognizing the numerous errors in the many versions of the Bible, wanted to create an official text that would conform to church teachings. In particular, they wanted to replace the Geneva Bible, a text that had been created in Switzerland by English Protestants there who had fled England after Mary I (1516–1558; see entry) took power and attempted to restore Catholicism in England. The Geneva Bible had been influenced by Puritan doctrines that mainstream English Protestants considered too extreme.
No single person compiled the King James Bible. The completed translation was the work of fifty-four scholars on six separate committees. They were not paid for their work, which took several years. The finished book was an oversized volume intended to be used in churches, not in private homes.
The rich, lyrical, yet direct style of the King James Bible profoundly affected the development of the English language. The poet John Milton (1608–1674) read from the King James Bible every day; in his works, including Paradise Lost, he used many phrases and images from its pages. American writers, too, were influenced by the style of the King James Version. For example, Herman Melville's (1819–1891) masterpiece, Moby Dick, is filled with religious symbolism and word patterns that reflected biblical prose. Poet Walt Whitman (1819–1892) wrote innovative poetry, such as Leaves of Grass and Song of Myself, that showed the influence of the psalms. In the twentieth century civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) delivered impassioned and influential speeches that reflected the dramatic and poetic language of the King James Bible. As Adam Nicolson wrote in God's Secretaries, "Nothing in our culture can match its breadth, depth, and universality … [except] the great tragedies of Shakespeare."
As in Scotland, James also faced religious conflicts in England. At the insistence of the Puritans (a group of Protestants who follow strict religious standards) who wanted more extensive reforms in the English Protestant church, he met with reformers at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604. James rejected most of their demands, but he did agree to authorize an official translation of the Bible into English. This work, first published in 1611, became known as the King James Bible. Admired for its elegant poetic language, it had a deep and lasting influence not only in the church but also on English literature as a whole.
In 1604 James signed the Treaty of London, ending England's twenty-year war with Catholic Spain. James also took care to support religious tolerance, but Catholic extremists felt he was not doing enough to ensure their rights and they engaged in several conspiracies to remove him from power. Walter Raleigh (1552–1618; see entry) was implicated in one of these plots, though many believed his political enemies had falsely accused him. Raleigh was imprisoned for several years, and he was eventually executed for treason.
The Gunpowder Plot
The most serious attempt on James's life occurred in 1605, when a group of Catholic conspirators led by Robert Catesby (1573–1605) plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament during the annual opening ceremony, when James would be present. They hoped to kill the king and his entire government, and place his oldest daughter, whom they would persuade to become a Catholic, on the throne. After the explosion they hoped to inspire a huge rebellion. This conspiracy became known as the Gunpowder Plot.
The conspirators planned to tunnel under the Parliament buildings and put gunpowder in place there. But their task was made easier when they were able to obtain the lease for a cellar directly under the House of Lords. They filled this room with thirty-six barrels containing approximately 2.5 tons of gunpowder—enough to blow up Parliament as well as many of the nearby buildings, including the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey. It would have killed everyone within 100 meters of the blast.
The king's chief minister, Robert Cecil, discovered the plot after a Catholic member of Parliament had received a warning not to attend the session and had shown this message to Cecil. Guy Fawkes (1570–1606), an English soldier with training in explosives, was arrested at the scene. The king signed a warrant authorizing Fawkes to be interrogated under torture. Two days later Fawkes confessed, naming his fellow conspirators. Though many had fled to the surrounding countryside, they were found and all were either killed during capture or executed. The incident traumatized England, and it was a further setback for the cause of equal rights for Catholics.
Conflicts with Parliament
Meanwhile James continued to act in ways that angered Parliament. Frustrated that Parliament had not voted him sufficient funds, he imposed customs duties (taxes on goods entering England from foreign countries) without Parliament's consent. In 1610 Cecil presented a plan to the king and Parliament that would increase the royal income. This Great Contract, as it was known, would grant the crown an annual sum if the crown agreed to give up some royal rights, including the right to seize goods and services for its own use. Nothing came of this plan, though, because of disagreement among members of Parliament. Angry at this outcome, James dissolved Parliament in 1611.
To cope with the increasing debt, James began selling titles for cash. A person could become an earl, for example, if he paid £20,000 to the government. But these measures did little to improve finances, and in 1614 a new Parliament was called to session in order to impose new taxes. It achieved nothing, however, and James dissolved it shortly afterward. He ruled without a Parliament for the next seven years.
In 1618 war between Catholics and Protestants broke out in Europe. James had no wish to involve his kingdom in this conflict. But his daughter, Elizabeth, was married to Frederick V (1596–1632), a German prince, and most of the fighting was taking place in Germany. His son, Charles, joined the man who was now James's favorite courtier, George Villiers (1592–1628), in urging James to aid the Protestant cause. Parliament criticized Villiers, whom many suspected was the king's lover, for having too powerful an influence on James. Parliament also complained about the king's policy of selling titles and impeached his lord chancellor, Francis Bacon (1561–1626; see entry) for corruption. James dissolved Parliament again in 1624.
In March 1625, while on a hunting trip, James became ill. Modern historians believe that he probably suffered a stroke. He was unable to speak and grew extremely weak. He died on March 27 and was buried at Westminster Abbey.
Though James was not a popular king, he did achieve some significant goals. He ended England's long and costly war with Spain and stabilized relations with foreign powers. This peace contributed to the growth of English trade. James also worked to ease religious tensions. He left his successor, his son Charles I, with a government that, despite financial problems and calls for constitutional reform, was relatively stable.
For More Information
Fraser, Antonia. King James. New York: Knopf, 1975.
Hogge, Alice. God's Secret Agents: Queen Elizabeth's Forbidden Priests and the Hatching of the Gunpowder Plot. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.
Nicolson, Adam. God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.
Stewart, Alan. The Cradle King; The Life of James VI & I, the First Monarch of a United Great Britain. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2003.
Butler, John. "James I of England." Luminarium. http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/james/jamesbio.htm (accessed on July 11, 2006).
The Gunpowder Plot. House of Commons Information Office, 2004. http://www.parliament.uk/factsheets (accessed on July 11, 2006).
"What if the Gunpowder Plot Had Succeeded?" BBC: Church and State: Monarchs and Leaders. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/state/monarchs_leaders/gunpowder_hutton_01.shtml (accessed on July 11, 2006).
James I (1566-1625) reigned as king of England from 1603 to 1625. As James VI, he was king of Scotland from 1567 to 1625.
The son of Mary Stuart, reigning queen of Scotland, and (presumably) her husband, Lord Darnley, James I was born in Edinburgh Castle on June 19, 1566. His mother's subsequent indiscretions forced her to renounce her title in her son's favor in 1567.
The infant king was placed in the trust of the Earl of Mar, a zealous Protestant, who was a firm believer in the value of education and discipline. The King's tutors, George Buchanan and Peter Young, were stern taskmasters, but James proved an apt pupil. By the age of 8 he was fluent in French, Latin, and reasonably conversant in English. But he received no instruction in the "courtly arts." James's sense of humor never outgrew the primitive, his language was coarse and vulgar, and his manner was most distinctly unregal.
In 1571 the regent, Lennox (James's paternal grandfather), was killed by the Marians, and he was then succeeded by the harsh Earl of Morton. In 1578 James was kidnaped by two of the Marians, Atholl and Argyle, only to be rescued within the month.
The two Catholic superpowers, France and Spain, both sought to influence developments in Scotland. From France came James's cousin, the corrupt Esmé Stuart, ostensibly to win James to the side of the house of Guise and the Catholic faith. The young king was completely smitten by this adventurer, and he gave him lands, income, and the title of Earl and then Duke of Lennox.
The new duke soon encompassed the downfall and execution of the regent, Morton. His influence over the King seemed paramount, and James's Protestant subjects vented their fears for the King's moral and religious state. In fact, the influence of Lennox and his equally corrupt accomplices seems to have been greatest in the field of politics—James completely turned from the basically democratic ideas espoused by his early tutors and began to think in terms of absolute monarchy.
In 1582 James was taken into custody at Ruthven Castle, and Lennox was driven from the country. Within a year the King had escaped from his new captors, but he succeeded merely in placing himself under the tutelage of Lennox's most aggressive companion, the Earl of Arran, who soon took over the actual running of the state.
Egged on by Arran, James attacked the Presbyterian Church, and in 1584 he forced himself to be recognized as head of the Church. James's ambition to be king of England was matched by his need for English money; despite the attack on his favorite, Arran, the alliance with England was maintained. When his mother let herself be drawn into outright treason, James did little to prevent her execution in 1587.
James then turned his attention to dynastic (and romantic) matters, and he began his courtship of Anne of Denmark. The King, newly come of age, sailed after his bride, to the joy of his subjects. He married her in Norway, where severe weather had compelled her to remain. Six months later the royal couple returned to Scotland.
By 1592 the feuds between Lord Bothwell and the Catholic lords had reduced James to a virtual fugitive, pursued by one side and then the other. By 1593 Bothwell had made James his captive—to the praise of the Presbyterians and Elizabeth, who both feared the influence of the Catholic Earl of Huntly. Bothwell, however, had overplayed his hand—James talked his way to freedom, and with the aid of the middle classes he proceeded against the man who had not merely held him a prisoner but had also sought his life through witchcraft and the black arts.
Bothwell, now desperate, allied himself with Huntly, Errol, and Angus. The result was the destruction of the Catholic earls as well as Bothwell. By the end of 1594 the position of the monarchy seemed exceptionally secure.
James's sense of security was heightened by another event of 1594—the birth of a son and heir, Henry Frederick. Entrusted to the care of the Dowager Countess of Mar, the young prince symbolized James's coming of age.
During the next 4 years James continued to consolidate his position. His finances were restored by the efforts of the "Octavians," and when the Catholic earls returned to Scotland they seemed a much chastened lot. Their return led to an excess of emotion on the part of the most zealous of the Presbyterians, and this in turn allowed the King to proceed against them and to further advance the episcopal form of ecclesiastical polity. His ideas on church-state relations, on the attitude of subjects toward their king, and on the nature of divine right appeared in print in 1598 in The Trew Law of Free Monarchies. Within 2 years James had further refined his ideas in his most important work, Basilikon Doron (written for the edification of the young Henry).
King of England
James also accepted the advice offered by Robert Cecil, Elizabeth's most astute minister, to abandon his harebrained plots with Catholics and Protestants alike and to adopt a respectful and calm tone toward the aging queen. On Mar. 24, 1603, only 8 hours after Elizabeth's death, James was proclaimed king in London.
In a sense, the events of the first 2 years of James's reign in England serve to "set the stage" for the growing conflicts that marked the remainder of his 22 years on the throne. James had decisions to make in the areas of foreign policy, domestic religion, finance, and, in the broadest sense, in the field of governmental theory. In each of these areas, and in the matter of his northern kingdom and his royal favorites, he came into conflict with the English Parliament— especially with the House of Commons. James's great failure as an English king stemmed from his inability at first to perceive wherein the English assembly differed from the Scottish Parliament, and from his unwillingness to accept the differences when at last he became aware of them.
Especially in matters of secular domestic policies, James's first year on the English throne led to his asserting what he considered to be his "rightful" role in the government and in the constitution. Thus, in the first session of his first Parliament (1604), the King's speeches about his prerogative and the privileges that he had granted Parliament led that body to draft the "Apology of the Commons," in which the Commons equated their rights with those of all Englishmen. The Commons had suddenly assumed a new role. During James's first Parliament, which lasted until 1610, the opposition to him was sporadic and relatively uncoordinated. It tended to center on the figure of James's heir, Henry, who was given his own household at the age of 9.
Affairs of Church and State
The harsh treatment to which he had been subjected by some of his ministers of the Presbyterian Church as a youth, and the disruptive, highly antimonarchical bias of the Church, led James to support an episcopal church—a church that moreover acknowledged him as its head. Indeed, James's instincts seemed to incline him toward a very highly ritualized form of worship, and he seemed at first disposed to move toward a more lenient position regarding Roman Catholicism. Whatever his real feelings on this issue might have been, the discovery of a Catholic conspiracy led by Guy Fawkes to blow up the royal family—and Parliament as well—robbed him of any initiative in dealing with the Catholics as a group. He was forced to bow to the harsh measures adopted by Parliament; his subsequent efforts to relieve the disabilities imposed on Catholics only made Parliament suspect his motives.
Suspicion clouded James's relations with Parliament over several other issues as well. His attempts to unite England and Scotland as one kingdom were thwarted; his meddling in the dealings of his common-law courts led him to quarrel with his own chief justice, Sir Edward Coke, and to espouse a more extreme view of his own prerogative; his arbitrary raising of customs duties further outraged the Commons; finally, his untoward fondness for a succession of worthless favorites (Scottish and English alike) annoyed Parliament, irked Prince Henry, and irritated Queen Anne.
Always impecunious, and without a trace of thrift, James maintained finances that were a source of embarrassment and of weakness. By 1610, amidst mutual recriminations and with the financial crisis unabated, James's first Parliament came to an end.
With Parliament in abeyance, government rested in the hands of James's favorite of the moment, Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, and Carr's pro-Spanish in-laws, the Howards. Carr's implication in a scandalous murder trial, the death of Henry Howard, leader of the Spanish faction, and the emergence of a new favorite, George Villiers, seemed to under-cut the Spanish party, but this eclipse was only temporary; the more the King seemed to incline toward Spain, the more he alienated his more substantial subjects. This mutual mistrust found expression in the "Addled Parliament" of 1614. For 2 months neither Commons nor King would concede a point to the other, and finally, despite his growing need for money, James dissolved his unruly legislature.
In his desperation, James now turned for help to Don Diego Sarmiento, the Spanish ambassador. His poverty really afforded him no choice, but his subjects saw this as further proof of duplicity. James began to consider a Spanish bride for Prince Charles, who had succeeded his late brother as Prince of Wales—a most unpopular project, but one which endured for more than a decade. Sarmiento encouraged the King but demanded substantial concessions that would have been impossible for James to meet.
The year 1616 saw the new favorite, Villiers (raised to the peerage as Baron, Viscount, Earl, Marquis, and finally, Duke of Buckingham), secure his position at court and become the focus of royal government. By 1618 he had destroyed the Howard family, and his power seemed to be complete. Buckingham's rise and his arrogance led to a quarrel with Prince Charles. James reconciled the two young men, and they soon became the best of friends.
By 1618, too, James's health was failing. He was badly crippled by gout and by attacks of kidney stones, and he clearly was no longer as alert mentally as he had been. It was precisely at this unfortunate moment that he was called upon to meet the greatest challenge of his reign: the outbreak of the Thirty Years War.
James's potential reasons for action were immediate, urgent, personal, and obvious—the conflict revolved around his son-in-law, daughter, and grandchildren. On a broader level, the very existence of the reformed faith was in danger. Despite the virtually unanimous urging of his subjects, favorite, and son for an aggressive foreign policy, James vacillated, hesitated, and ultimately to his disgrace appeared to abandon his own family and to attempt an alliance with their enemies. That James sought to use Spanish friendship to aid his son-in-law's cause was neither apparent nor sensible to his subjects. When, in 1620, Spain invaded the Palatinate itself, even James was roused to anger.
Royal anger, to be effective, needed money, and money could only come from a Parliament. Reluctantly, against the advice of Buckingham (who had become pro-Spanish), James summoned Parliament in 1621. At first, despite James's habitual sermonizing to the Commons, things seemed to go well. Money was voted, and while the King refused to allow Parliament to discuss matters of foreign policy, he made no overt move to keep them from overhauling domestic affairs. By the end of the first session, Commons and King were closer together than they had been for years.
Spanish blandishments dissipated this goodwill, and when, during November and December 1620, the Commons refused to vote supplies blindly but insisted on presenting their views on foreign policy, the King was furious. He denied virtually all of Parliament's privileges, and when the Commons responded with a mild protestation, he dissolved Parliament.
Final Years and Death
The gulf between James and his subjects, indeed between the Crown and the nation, was now total. Morally as well as financially, James was bankrupt. He was also wholly dependent upon the goodwill of Spain, or so he thought.
As James grew senile, he lost control not only over his country but over his son and his favorite as well. Charles and Buckingham exposed themselves, their King, and their country to ridicule by their hasty and futile pursuit of the Spanish Infanta.
James's last Parliament was no more peaceful than his first had been. Again King and Commons clashed over prerogative and privilege, but now the Commons was joined by the Lords, and the King's harsh strictures were explained away by his own chief minister and his heir. In the end, the King, and not Parliament, gave way, and England's long flirtation with Spain was at an end.
James's end came soon after; always in poor health, he died on March 27, 1625. He left behind an empty treasury, a malcontented Parliament, and a son who would succeed him peaceably—for a while.
The best modern biography of James is David Harris Willson, King James VI and I (1956), which provides a lucid and balanced picture of the age as well as an insightful study of the King. David Mathew, James I (1967), is episodic and far less satisfactory. James's early life is recounted in Caroline Bingham, The Making of a King: The Early Years of James VI and I (1968). Other biographical works include Thomas Finlayson Henderson, James I and VI (1904), and William Lloyd McElwee, The Wisest Fool in Christendom: The Reign of King James I and VI (1958). James figures prominently in Godfrey Davies, The Early Stuarts (1937; corrected repr. 1952), and G. P. V. Akrigg, Jacobean Pageant (1962). Documents dealing with James's view of the monarchy and with his clashes with the courts and Parliament are in J. P. Kenyon, The Stuart Constitution, 1603-1688: Documents and Commentary (1966). Wallace Notestein, The English People on the Eve of Colonization (1954), is a readable and scholarly study of the period.
Bergeron, David Moore, Royal family, royal lovers: King James of England and Scotland, Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1991.
Bingham, Caroline, James I of England, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1981.
Durston, Christopher, James I, London; New York: Routledge, 1993.
Fraser, Antonia, King James, VI of Scotland, I of England, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1994.
Houston, S. J., James I, London; New York: Longman, 1995.
Lee, Maurice, Great Britain's Solomon: James VI and I in his three kingdoms, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.
McElwee, William Lloyd, The wisest fool in Christendom; the reign of King James I and V, Westport, Conn., Greenwood Press 1974, 1958. □
James was the third son of Robert III (1390–1406) and was born in July 1394. By the age of 8, he was the sole surviving male and heir to the throne. An elder brother Robert was dead; another brother, David, duke of Rothesay, who had run the kingdom as lieutenant-general for the ailing Robert III between 1399 and 1402, was arrested in the latter year and incarcerated in Falkland castle at the instance of his uncle and greatest rival, the chamberlain, Robert Stewart, duke of Albany. Rothesay's death in a matter of weeks provoked fears as to Albany's ambitions; and by the winter of 1405–6 the country was racked by civil war, with the rump of Robert III loyalists supporting the young Prince James against a formidable Albany/Douglas faction. Early in 1406 events came to a head when James fled for safety to the Bass Rock, took ship for France, only to be captured at sea (22 March) and delivered to Henry IV of England. Less than a fortnight later Robert III died (4 April), and James became king at the age of 12, uncrowned and in English hands for the next 18 years.
These were the formative years of James I's life, instilling in him an admiration for English royal government, the most centralized in western Europe, and in particular for the aggressive Henry V, in whose armies James served in the French campaigns of 1420–1. Already suspicious of the Albany Stewarts, James had his fears of Albany ambitions further fuelled by the release of Duke Robert's son and heir Murdac (Albany) from English captivity in 1416. The king had to wait a further eight years for his own release, and then it was to return to a Scotland in which Duke Murdac had succeeded his father as governor.
James re-entered Scotland in April 1424, in his 30th year, bringing with him an English wife, Joan Beaufort, and a desire to emulate Henry V of England in a country which had no tradition of the masterful rule he sought to introduce. Having taken part in English wars in France, on occasion against his Scottish subjects, he can hardly have been popular; and he was saddled with a ransom (euphemistically described as ‘expenses’) of £40,000 sterling, which necessitated the raising of taxation in Parliament and the sending south of noble hostages as security.
Despite this inauspicious start, James possessed virtues which earned him praise in his own day. Abbot Bower describes his many accomplishments, including prowess in sports, music, and literary pursuits: the king was the author of the autobiographical love poem ‘The Kingis Quair’. He was, untypically for the Stewarts, a faithful husband, and Queen Joan responded loyally by producing twin sons and a string of daughters, whose marriages abroad greatly enhanced the prestige of the dynasty in the next reign. James's zeal for law and order was real enough, even if it had an obvious fiscal motive and despite the fact that he was very selective in its application—for example, James Douglas of Balvenie, a blatant extortioner of burgh customs before 1424, was not punished but employed as a trusted counsellor of the king.
In his efforts to increase the authority, resources, and security of the crown, James launched pre-emptive strikes against members of his nobility. The Albany Stewarts were all but annihilated in 1425, though the charges brought against them are obscure, and contemporaries muttered about the king's acquisitiveness. At Inverness in 1428 the story was the same; Highlanders arriving for a ‘parliament’ were arrested while the king composed Latin poetry. The earl of Douglas was suddenly arrested in 1431, the earl of March in 1434. Furthermore, the king had abandoned efforts to redeem the hostages in England, instead investing the ransom money collected in building projects like his unfortified palace at Linlithgow and the Charterhouse at Perth, and in artillery and luxuries for the court.
James's failure at the siege of Roxburgh (August 1436) was followed by Sir Robert Graham's abortive attempt to arrest him during a general council, and his murder at Perth (20–1 February 1437) as part of a coup (which ultimately failed) by Walter Stewart, earl of Atholl, using Graham and former Albany Stewart retainers to do the deed. Ultimately the king was the victim of his own methods; Atholl, seeing his influence in Strathearn threatened by the king, responded with his own pre-emptive strike. If James I was a mixture of Bower's lawgiver and Graham's tyrant, perhaps his martyrdom can be understood in terms of his efforts to impose strong monarchical government on a country which initially rejected it. But he had set the agenda for his successor.
Balfour-Melville, E. W. M. , James I, King of Scots (1936);
Brown, M. , James I (Edinburgh, 1994);
Donaldson, G. , Scottish Kings (1967);
Nicholson, R. , Scotland: The Later Middle Ages (Edinburgh, 1974).
James I (1394-1437) was king of Scotland from 1406 to 1437. Although he was an English captive for more than half his years as king, his reign was one of the most vigorous in medieval Scottish history.
When James I was born, his father, Robert III, already rather elderly and feeble, had been reigning for 4 years but was strongly under the influence of his brother, the Earl of Fife (later Duke of Albany). James's life falls into three convenient periods: his boyhood in Scotland during the troubled reign of Robert III, the years of his captivity, and his personal rule. The young James was not brought up as heir apparent, for he had an older brother, David, Duke of Rothesay. But Rothesay, whose scandalous living had brought him many enemies, was bested in a power struggle with his uncle Albany and died shortly (and mysteriously) after being imprisoned in 1402. This thrust James into the midst of the factiousness and intrigue that characterize this period of ambitious nobles and weak monarchs in Scottish history.
In 1406 King Robert sent James to Scotland's ally the king of France, probably so that the boy would be out of Albany's reach; but the ship was intercepted off the English coast, and James soon found himself a prisoner of the king of England, Henry IV. The news of the prince's capture is said to have caused the death of Robert III within a few weeks, and Albany, as regent for the new prisoner-king, was in no hurry to arrange for the release of his nephew. In fact, James spent over 18 years in captivity in comfortable conditions and everywhere recognized as king of Scotland, but a prisoner nonetheless. During these years James was moved about frequently, from the Tower of London to Windsor and elsewhere in England. Henry V took him to the siege of Melun in France in 1420 (in the hope, unsuccessful, that James's presence would detach some Scottish mercenary captains from the French army).
The unexpected death of Henry V and the troubled minority situation that ensued in the English government gave James an opportunity to intensify the negotiations for his release, which had became a real possibility in Scotland since the death of Albany in 1420. James was finally released in 1424, following a treaty that provided for a large ransom, suspension of Scottish military aid to France, and an English wife for James (Joan Beaufort, daughter of the Earl of Somerset and great-granddaughter of Edward III).
After being solemnly crowned at Scone in May 1424, James initiated vigorous steps to try to tighten up the government of the country and to strengthen the monarchy. Strongly worded acts of Parliament provided for more stringent enforcement of law and maintenance of order, and a strong effort was made to restore the royal finances. At the same time, many important government offices were taken away from the great nobility and given to men James could trust. Apparently these measures aroused opposition, for several of the leading nobles were executed in 1425. Another means of controlling the nobility was by sending certain of their numbers to England to serve as the required hostages until the King's ransom was wholly paid (which it never was).
James's assertion of the powers of the central government was generally popular with other elements of the kingdom, if not with the nobility; and his reign is noteworthy for advances in the structure of Parliament and for reform in the law courts. His efforts both to concentrate governmental powers in the royal courts and to improve the financial position of the throne led also to laws limiting clerical appeals to the papacy and restricting payments from the Scottish Church to the papacy.
Despite James's marriage to an English noblewoman and the promise to suspend aid to France, the King's foreign policy remained basically pro-French and anti-English, especially in the latter years of the reign. In 1428 an engagement had been arranged between James's 2-year-old daughter Margaret and the 5-year-old dauphin Louis (the future Louis XI), son of Charles VII of France. The marriage took place in 1436, and in the same year war was resumed with England.
Though the last years of James's reign are somewhat obscure, it is clear that his efforts to secure effective royal government aroused bitter hostility among some of the nobility (a feeling highly aggravated by James's acquisitiveness in seizing the lands of inimical nobles). A conspiracy was formed to put the Earl of Atholl (the surviving son of Robert II's second marriage) on the throne, and James was murdered by Sir Robert Graham and others on Feb. 20, 1437. The conspirators' hopes were not fulfilled; they were hunted down and executed, and the crown passed to James II, the 6-year-old son of James I and Queen Joan.
James remains a notable Scottish hero, renowned alike for his efforts at good government and for the romantic aspects of his life. He is almost certainly the author of the King's Quair (that is, the King's Book), celebrating his love for Joan (or Jane) Beaufort in some 200 Chaucerian stanzas. The ascription of three other poems to him is dubious. He was fond of good living (some of his ransom money was diverted to buy jewels for the royal person) and was described by Aeneas Sylvius (the future Pope Pius II) as Quadratus, or foursquare.
The standard life of James is E. W. M. Balfour-Melville, James I: King of Scots, 1406-1437 (1936). Historical background for the period is in William Croft Dickinson, A New History of Scotland, vol. 1 (1961; 2d rev. ed. 1965). □