James I, King of England

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

JAMES I, KING OF ENGLAND

Reigned March 24, 1603 to March 27, 1625, of the royal house of Stuart, son of mary stuart, queen of scots, and her second husband, Henry, Lord Darnley; b. Edinburgh Castle, June 19, 1556; d. Theobalds, England. As a result of his Catholic mother's enforced abdication and imprisonment in England, he was crowned James VI of Scotland while still a child, on July 29, 1567. During his minority James was a pawn trapped in the power struggle among the Scottish nobility. He was raised a Presbyterian, and his education was particularly entrusted to George Buchanan, the noted Scottish humanist. James proved to be a precocious scholar and rapidly developed a command of Latin, French, and English. In constant personal danger, James was forced to thread a difficult course among various rival groups. He maintained a precarious balance between English, French, Catholic, and Presbyterian factions. James protested to Queen eliza beth i when his mother was sentenced to death, but the execution of Mary in 1587 caused him no personal loss, for he then became the logical heir to the throne of England. On Aug. 20, 1589, James married Anne, second daughter of Frederick II of Denmark. She later proved an embarrassment to James because of her conversion to Catholicism.

Upon the death of Elizabeth, James was proclaimed King of England. Here he found himself caught in a struggle between Anglican, Puritan, and Catholic factions.

James became a firm supporter of the Church of England and fought off all attempts by the Puritans to purge it of popish practices. He also tended to take a more tolerant attitude toward Catholicism. He felt sympathy toward the Catholic laity, but remained hostile toward the clergy, especially the Jesuits. This sympathy, plus his correspondence with the papacy, led English Catholics to believe that he would grant toleration. His failure to act resulted in a conspiracy to blow up Parliament. The Gunpowder Plot was discovered in November 1605. James retaliated with harsh action against the Catholic clergy and complicated his position with his English subjects and with the papacy by his advocacy of divine right kingship. This involved him in a pamphlet war with Cardinal Robert bellarmine and developed in Parliament a suspicion of all his motives and actions that lasted throughout his reign. The divine right theory led him into conflict with his chief justice, the great advocate of the common law, Sir Edward Coke. His conflicts with Parliament were accentuated by his inability to judge men. James allowed himself to be guided by incompetent and self-seeking favorites,

such as Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.

On the whole James pursued a policy of peace and sought the friendship of Spain, which only antagonized his Protestant subjects. In his later years James gave himself up to personal comforts and an excessive fondness for his favorite Buckingham.

Bibliography: j. p. kenyon, Stuart England (Hammondsworth, Eng. 1985). c. russell, Parliaments and English Politics, 16211629 (Oxford 1979). b. coward, The Stuart Age (London 1980). d. hirst, Authority and Conflict: England 16031658 (London 1986). m. lee, Great Britain's Solomon: James I and VI in His Three Kingdoms (Urbana Ill. 1990). d. n. bergerson, Royal Family, Royal Lovers: King James of England and Scotland (Columbia Mo. 1991).

[a. m. schleich]