James VI of Scotland and I of England (Charles James) (19 June 1566–27 March 1625) was a King who ruled over England, Scotland and Ireland, and was the first Sovereign to reign in the three realms simultaneously. He ruled in Scotland as James VI from 24 July 1567 until his death, and in England and Ireland as James I from 24 March 1603 until his death. James I was the first English monarch of the Stuart dynasty, succeeding the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I, who died unmarried and childless.
James was a popular and successful monarch in Scotland, but the same was not true in England. He was unable to deal with a hostile English Parliament; the refusal on the part of the House of Commons to impose sufficiently high taxes crippled the royal finances. His taste for political absolutism, his mismanagement of the kingdom's funds and his cultivation of unpopular favourites established the foundation for the English Civil War, during which James's son and successor, Charles I, would be tried and executed. During James's own life, however, the government of the Kingdom was relatively stable.
Along with Alfred the Great, James is considered to have been one of the most intellectual and learned individuals ever to sit on the English or Scottish Throne. Under him, much of the cultural flourishing of Elizabethan England continued; individuals such as Sir Francis Bacon (afterwards Viscount St Albans) and William Shakespeare flourished during the reign. James himself was a talented scholar, writing works such as Daemonologie (1597), The True Law of Free Monarchies (1598), Basilikon Doron (1599) and A Counterblast to Tobacco (1604).
James was the eldest son of Mary I, Queen of Scots and of her second husband, Henry Stuart, Duke of Albany (more commonly known as Lord Darnley). His legitimacy may have been questionable, as Mary also loved James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. James's mother was an insecure ruler, as both she and her husband, being Roman Catholics, faced a rebellion of Protestant noblemen. Their marriage, furthermore, was a particularly difficult one. Whilst Mary was pregnant with James, the Duke of Albany secretly allied himself with the rebels and murdered the Queen's private secretary, David Rizzio.
James was born on 19 June 1566 at Edinburgh Castle, and automatically became Duke of Rothesay and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland , for he was the eldest son of the monarch and thus the heir-apparent. He received the name Charles James, the first name in honour of his godfather Charles IX of France, thus becoming the first future British monarch to have more than one forename. James's father was murdered on 10 February 1567 at Kirk o' Field , most likely to avenge the slaying of Rizzio. Mary's marriage to James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, who was widely suspected of murdering the Duke of Albany, on 15 May of the same year made her even more unpopular. In June 1567, the Protestant rebels arrested Mary and imprisoned her in Loch Leven Castle. Mary was forced to abdicate the Throne on 24 July, which consequently went to James, then only thirteen months old.
James was formally crowned king at the Kirk of the Holy Rude, Stirling on 29 July 1567. In deference to the religious beliefs of most of the Scots ruling class, he was brought up as a member of the Scottish Protestant Kirk and educated by men with Presbyterian sympathies, though his mother was a Roman Catholic. During James VI's early reign, power was held by a series of regents, the first of whom was James Stuart, 1st Earl of Moray, his mother's illegitimate half-brother. James's mother Mary escaped from prison in 1568, leading to a brief period of violence. Lord Moray defeated Mary's troops at the Battle of Langside, forcing Mary to flee to England, where she was imprisoned by the English Queen, Elizabeth I.
James's first regent, Lord Moray, was assassinated by one of Mary's supporters in 1570. He was succeeded by James's paternal grandfather, Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, who suffered a similar death in 1571. Next came James VI's guardian, John Erskine, 1st Earl of Mar , who died in 1572. The last of the regents was James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, who, during the two previous regencies, had been the most powerful Scottish nobleman—more powerful than the regents themselves. Historian and poet George Buchanan was responsible for James' education.
Lord Morton was successful in finally crushing the families who continued to support the claim of James's mother, Mary. His fall was brought about not by Mary's supporters, but by the King's closest courtiers, who impressed upon the young monarch the extent of the royal powers, thereby encouraging him to take control himself. The courtiers accused Lord Morton of participating in the murder of the King's father, Henry Stuart, Duke of Albany. Lord Morton was consequently tried, convicted and then executed in 1581; power (at least theoretically) was thenceforth held by the King himself, rather than by a regent.
Nevertheless, James VI did not rule by himself, instead relying on the advice of his closest courtiers. One of the most important noblemen at the time was James VI's cousin, Esmé Stuart, Seigneur d'Aubigny , who had come from France in 1579, and who had been made Earl of Lennox. Another powerful courtier at the time was James Stuart , who was created Earl of Arran as a reward for his testimony against Lord Morton. As Lord Lennox was a Catholic, and Lord Arran leaned towards Episcopalianism, the Presbyterian Scottish Lords found the government distasteful. In the Raid of Ruthven (1582), some Presbyterian nobles, led by William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie , captured James and held him captive for almost a year at Ruthven Castle, now known as Huntingtower Castle, in Perthshire. Lord Arran was also detained, and Lord Lennox was banished to France. The King and Lord Arran escaped in 1583; Lord Gowrie was executed, and the rebels forced to flee to England. The Scottish Parliament, subservient to the King, passed the Black Acts, putting the Church of Scotland directly under royal control. These Acts were extremely unpopular; his clergy opposed and denounced him, attempting to keep his influence under control, lest he grow so powerful as to be bold enough to disestablish Presbyterianism.
In 1586, James VI and Elizabeth I became allies under the Treaty of Berwick. James sought to remain in the favour of the unmarried Queen of England, as he was a potential successor to her Crown; his mother was the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor (Elizabeth I's aunt). Margaret Tudor's brother, Henry VIII, had feared that the English Crown would go to a Scottish individual; thus, in his will, he excluded Margaret and her descendants from the line of succession. Although technically excluded by the will—which, under an Act of Parliament, had the force of law insofar as succession was concerned—both Mary and James were serious claimants to the English Crown, as they were Elizabeth I's closest relatives.
Also in 1586, Mary was implicated in the Babington Plot, a scheme which sought to put the former Scottish Queen on the Throne after murdering Elizabeth I. Elizabeth had previously spared Mary's life after the Ridolfi Plot, but could no longer tolerate the danger posed. Consequently, Mary was executed for her crimes in 1587; but for the will of Henry VIII, James would have been the Heir Presumptive to the English Crown.
Following her execution, Mary's Scottish supporters became weak; James managed to significantly reduce the influence of the Roman Catholic nobles in Scotland. He further endeared himself to Protestants by marrying Anne of Denmark—a Princess from a Protestant country and daughter of Frederick II of Denmark—by proxy in 1589. Another marriage, this time with both parties personally present, occurred on 21 January 1590 at Krondborg during James's visit to Denmark. Soon following his return via Leith on 1 May, he attended the North Berwick Witch Trial , in which several people were convicted of having used witchcraft to create a storm in an attempt to sink the ship on which James and Anne had been travelling. This made him very concerned about the threat that witches and witchcraft were posing to himself and the country. He wrote the aforementioned treatise on demonology. As a result, hundreds of females were put to death for witchcraft; their bodies were found in what used to be called Nor Loch (now Princes Street Gardens).
At first, James and his new queen were close, but they gradually drifted apart. The couple produced eight children, three of whom survived infancy and one was stillborn. They decided to live apart after the death of their daughter Sophia.
James faced a Roman Catholic uprising in 1588; he was forced to reconcile with the Church of Scotland, and at length agreed to the repeal of the Black Acts in 1592. James, fearing that dealing too harshly with the Catholic rebels might anger many English Catholics, agreed to pardon some of his opponents, thereby angering the Protestant Church. He faced in 1600 a conspiracy formed by John Ruthven, 3rd Earl of Gowrie (son of the Earl of Gowrie executed in 1584); upon the failure of the plot, Lord Gowrie and his associates were killed, and even Protestant nobles came to be repressed by the King.
Upon the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, the Crown should have passed (under the will of Henry VIII) to the Lady Anne Stanley . Nevertheless, James was the only serious claimant to the English Crown; all the others, including the Lady Anne, were not powerful enough to defend their claims. Thus, an Accession Council met and proclaimed James King of England. He and his wife were crowned on 25 July at Westminster Abbey. Scotland and England were not, however, united into one country; it was only in 1707 that the Act of Union brought about the merger of these two nations into Great Britain.
Early reign in England
James's chief advisor was Robert Cecil, 1st Baron Cecil of Essendon (the younger son of Elizabeth I's favoured minister, Lord Burghley), who became Earl of Salisbury in 1605. James was an extravagant spender; only the skill of the Earl of Salisbury could avert financial disaster. He also created numerous peerage dignities to reward his courtiers. In total, sixty-two individuals were raised to the English Peerage by James—his predecessor, Elizabeth I, had only created eight new peers during a reign which lasted for almost fifty years. Furthermore, James embroiled himself in numerous conflicts with Parliament. Before his succession to the throne, he had written The True Law of Free Monarchies, where he argued that the divine right of kings was sanctioned by the apostolic succession, and, being accustomed to a timid Scottish Parliament, he did not like working with the more assertive English Parliament.
One of James's first acts was to end England's involvement in the Eighty Years' War, with the signing of the Treaty of London in 1604. He was almost immediately faced by religious conflicts in England; upon his arrival, he was presented with a petition requesting the tolerance of Puritans. In 1604, at the Hampton Court Conference, James was found to be unwilling to agree to the demands of the Puritans. He did, however, agree to fulfil one request by authorising an official translation of the Bible, which came to be known as the King James Version. Also in 1604 he broadened Elizabeth's Witchcraft Act to bring the penalty of death without benefit of clergy to any one who invoked evil spirits or communed with familiar spirits.
James also incurred the wrath of Roman Catholics, to whom he refused to grant equal rights, leading to plots to remove James from power, such as the Bye Plot and the Main Plot. In 1605, a group of Catholic extremists led by a man named Guy Fawkes developed a plan, known as the Gunpowder Plot, to cause an explosion in the chamber of the House of Lords, where the King and members of both Houses of Parliament would be gathered for the State Opening. The conspirators sought to replace James with his daughter, Elizabeth, whom, they hoped, could be forced to convert to Catholicism. One of the conspirators, however, leaked the information regarding the plot, which was consequently foiled. Terrified, James refused to leave his residence for many days. Guy Fawkes was put to death, and there is now an annual "Guy Fawkes day" in the United Kingdom to remember the failed Plot.
Conflict with Parliament
Parliament met in a state of anti-Catholic paranoia after the failed Gunpowder Plot. It voted four subsidies to the King, who still remained unsatisfied with his revenues. James imposed customs duties without parliamentary consent, although no monarch had taken so bold a step since the reign of Richard II. The legality of such an action was challenged in 1606 by the merchant John Bates; the Court of Exchequer, however, ruled in the King's favour. The decision of the court was denounced by Parliament. Relations between James I and Parliament were also soured by the latter's refusal to pass the King's plan to allow free trade between England and Scotland.
In the last session of Parliament (which began in 1610), Lord Salisbury proposed the Great Contract , which would have led to the Crown giving up feudal dues in return for an annual parliamentary subsidy. The plan, however, failed because of factionalism in Parliament. Frustrated by the members of the House of Commons and by the collapse of the Great Contract, James dissolved Parliament in 1611.
The Crown deep in debt, James blatantly sold honours and titles to raise funds. In 1611, he used letters patent to invent a completely new dignity—that of Baronet; one could become a Baronet upon the payment of £1,080. A Barony could be sold for about £5,000, a Viscountcy for about £10,000, and an Earldom for about £20,000.
Lord Salisbury died in 1612; another of the King's closest advisors, Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset, was forced to leave office after being disgraced by the Overbury Scandal. Following the loss of the aforementioned advisors, James began to involve himself in matters previously handled by his ministers. James's personal government was disastrous for his finances, and a new Parliament had to be called in 1614 in order to obtain the imposition of new taxes. This Parliament, the second of James's reign, was known as the Addled Parliament because it failed to pass any legislation or impose any taxes. James angrily dissolved Parliament shortly after he summoned it after it became clear that no progress could be made.
Following the dissolution of the Addled Parliament, James ruled without a Parliament for about seven years. Faced with financial difficulties due to the failure of Parliament to approve new taxes, James sought to enter into a profitable alliance with Spain by marrying his eldest son, Charles, Prince of Wales, off to the daughter of the King of Spain. The proposed alliance with a Roman Catholic kingdom was not well-received in Protestant England; James's unpopularity, furthermore, was augmented by the execution of Sir Walter Raleigh. In Scotland, James was despised for his insistence on the passage of the Five Articles of Perth , which were seen as attempts to introduce Roman Catholic and Anglican practices into Presbyterian Scotland.
From 1618 onwards, the religious conflict known as the Thirty Years' War convulsed Europe. James I was forced to become involved because his daughter, Elizabeth, was married to the Protestant Frederick V, Elector Palatine, one of the war's chief participants. During the conflict between Protestants and Catholics, James's attempt to ally himself with Catholic Spain fostered much distrust.
Queen Anne died on 4 March 1619 at Hampton Court Palace and was buried at Westminster Abbey. Rumours were later spread that James was little moved by the death due to his supposed affections for George Villiers. The two met in 1614 and James is said to have nicknamed the young man "Steenie" and bestowed honour upon honour to him, ending with the dukedom of Buckingham in 1623. George Villiers was the first non-royal duke to be created for over a century.
The third and penultimate Parliament of James's reign was summoned in 1621. The House of Commons agreed to grant James a small subsidy to signify their loyalty, but then, to the displeasure of the King, moved on to other matters. James's primary advisor, George Villiers, 1st Marquess of Buckingham (afterwards Duke of Buckingham), was attacked for his plan to have the Prince of Wales marry a Spanish Infanta. The practice of selling monopolies and other privileges was also deprecated. The House of Commons sought to impeach Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Albans, who was implicated in the sale of such privileges during his service as Lord Chancellor, on charges of corruption. The House of Lords convicted Lord St Albans, who was duly removed from office. Although the impeachment was the first in centuries, it occasioned no opposition from James, who believed that sacrificing Lord St Albans could help deflect his parliamentary opposition. In any event, James released Lord St Albans from prison and granted him a full pardon.
A new constitutional dispute arose shortly thereafter. James was eager to aid his son-in-law, the Elector-Palatine, and requested Parliament for a subsidy. The House of Commons, in turn, requested the King to abandon the alliance with Spain. When James declared that the lower House had overstepped its bounds by offering unsolicited advice, the House of Commons passed a protest claiming that it had the right to debate any matter relating to the welfare of the Kingdom. An angry James I ordered the protest torn out of the Commons Journal and dissolved Parliament.
In 1623, the Duke of Buckingham and the Prince of Wales travelled to Madrid in an attempt to secure a marriage between the latter and the daughter of the King of Spain. They were snubbed, however, by the Spanish courtiers, who demanded that the Prince of Wales convert to Roman Catholicism. They returned to England, and called for war with Spain. The Protestants backed them and James summoned Parliament, which granted some funding for the war. Parliament was prorogued, on the understanding that it would later return to grant more funds.
Parliament, however, never actually met when scheduled. The Prince of Wales had promised that, even if he would marry a Roman Catholic, he would not repeal political restrictions which applied to Roman Catholics. When, however, he agreed to marry the Catholic French Princess, Henrietta Maria, he reneged on his earlier promise and undertook to abolish the same religious qualifications. The Prince of Wales then ensured that Parliament did not actually meet, in order to avoid a confrontation over the diverging promises.
James lapsed into senility during the last year of his reign. Real power passed to Charles, Prince of Wales and to the Duke of Buckingham. James died in 1625 of ague, probably brought upon by kidney failure and stroke, and was buried in the Henry VII Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey. Charles, Prince of Wales succeeded him as Charles I. James had ruled in Scotland for almost sixty years; no English, Scottish or British monarch, with the exceptions of Victoria and George III, has surpassed his mark.
One area of James I's life that for many years remained clouded in controversy were allegations that James was in fact homosexual. When James inherited the English Throne in 1603, it was openly joked in London that Rex fuit Elizabeth: nunc est regina Jacobus (Elizabeth was King: now James is Queen).
Those who support this claim point out that the King often lavished favours on male courtiers. Page-boy-turned-Earl of Somerset Robert Carr and royal-cupbearer-turned-Duke of Buckingham George Villiers, are often mentioned as examples. His close association as a teenager with Esmé Stuart , Seigneur d'Aubigny, Earl of Lennox was criticised by Scottish church leaders, who wished, for religious reasons, to keep the young King and the French courtier apart. Lennox, facing threats of death, was forced to leave Scotland.
Historians have debated the impact of James' favouritism on England and whether the choices were unwise; in particular, there is much disagreement over whether Buckingham's influence was positive or negative. At the time James' involvement with Buckingham, and the influence it brought, came to the attention of the Privy Council, who discussed it at length. The King defended his relationship in typical short style
- Jesus had his John, and I have my George
Other historians, however, claim that allegations of the King's homosexuality are merely the products of rumours spread by Englishmen. Such historians point out that it was also claimed at the time that the King was a paedophile, that he drank excessively, and that he exuded foul odours. They also allege that these rumours may have been created by Englishmen who despised a Scottish monarch, or by those who lost their public offices to the King's Scottish advisors.
Almost immediately after James I's death, Charles I became embroiled in disputes with Parliament. The disputes escalated until the English Civil War began during the 1640s; the monarchy was overthrown, and a military dictatorship established. The Stuart dynasty, however, was later restored in 1660.
Style and arms
Formally, James was styled "James, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc." (The claim to the Throne of France, which had been maintained since the reign of Edward III, was merely nominal.) By a proclamation of 1604, James assumed the style "James, King of Great Brittaine, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc." for non-statutory use.
James's arms, whilst he was King of England and Scotland, were: Quarterly, I and IV Grandquarterly, Azure three fleurs-de-lis Or (for France) and Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England); II Or a lion rampant within a tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland); III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland). James also introduced the unicorn, a symbol of Scotland, as an heraldic supporter in his armorial achievement; the other supporter remained the English lion.