JAMES VI OF SCOTLAND - I OF ENGLAND
James VI of Scotland was the
only child of Mary, Queen of Scots. James' father was Lord Darnley (Henry Stewart) who had
been killed in a suspicious explosion, the rumor being that the explosion was caused by
Mary and Lord Bothwell, whom she would later marry. At thirteen months when Mary was
forced to abdicate in favor of James, he became the King of Scotland and never saw his
mother again, although at one point before her execution he did make some contact during
an ill-hatched plot to restore her to the throne. While Mary was in prison she tried to
send presents to James, but Elizabeth I would not let them be sent to Scotland.
He had been baptized as a Catholic because of his mother's faith but was brought up under
the influence of a reformed Protestant Scotland. He was educated by a variety of tutors
and was known for his great knowledge. James later wrote and published many poems
and translated French works. He wrote many books during his lifetime on such various
topics as tobacco, kingship and witchcraft. He instigated several religious
changes. He declared Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension and Whit Sunday as holy
days. Holy Communion could be given privately to the aged and sick and communion should be
taken kneeling. Children at eight years old were to be confirmed and Baptism could take
place at home, if necessary. These five changes were the Five Articles of Perth. The
Church of Scotland would not accept these changes but through means of bribery and
blackmail, James forced through the changes. He ordered the translation of ancient Greek
and Hebrew into English as the King James Version of the Bible.
During the 16th century Scotland was completely independent of England. It was hardly a
united country. In the north, the Highland clans, who spoke
Gaelic had little to do with the central government in Edinburgh. The clan system was
based on family ties and the people owed their allegiance to the clan chief, not the King.
The people who lived near the border were just as independent. In fact, they had more
loyalty to local nobles who led their raids against the English. Only in the central
Lowlands of Scotland was the King's government really in control. Even here, though, the
Parliament and the courts had very little power. The government was run by the great noble
families. The nobles could call men to battle not as their kinsmen like the Highlanders,
but as tenants. James learned to deal with the nobles successfully and this gave him a
reputation for strength and persuasiveness. He could not live up to this reputation,
however, when he later became King of England.
James enjoyed riding and hunting which may be due to the fact that his legs were not
strong and he sometimes needed help in walking. He had developed rickets in childhood and
was not given the proper treatment. Hunting remained a passion with him all his life.
The coronation of James was not exactly the splendid pageant one would expect. Only 7
lords showed up to see him crowned King of Scotland. The Earl of Moray, who was a strong
Protestant, was made Regent for James. However, his Regency did not last long as he was
assassinated in 1570. Three Regents followed, with James being the pawn in their struggle
for power, until James began his rule in 1585 at the age of 21. Scotland had suffered from
a succession of kings who had been crowned as children and the country was ruled by
regents for 100 of the years between 1406 and 1587. The second Regent was James'
grandfather, the Earl of Lennox (Darnley's father). Lennox was elderly and ineffectual and
was shot during a raid. The third was the Earl of Mar who held the office for less
than a year before he died, albeit of natural causes. The last Regent was the Earl of
Morton who had been a ringleader in the killing of Darnley and Rissio (Mary Queen of
Scot's trusted counselor and confidant). Morton is reported to have been a "crude,
uneducated thug" but his strength kept Scotland together. He kept in favor with
Elizabeth, defeated the Catholics who were trying to restore Mary and kept the Protestant
ministers from taking over the government. The Earls of Argyll and Atholl opposed Morton.
Morton's plan was to resign the regency and control the government from behind the scenes.
During this struggle for power, the young Earl of Mar who was a Morton supporter stormed
into Stirling Castle and captured the King. James was terrified. Mar had been his old
guardian's son and a playmate as a child. He learned that you could trust no one.
James loathed violence and was very insecure. In fact, he wore heavily padded clothing
most of his life as a method of protecting himself from being stabbed. After the raid at
Stirling, he found a friend and protector, Esme Stuart, whom he made Duke of Lennox. Esme
had spent most of his life in France and was educated and sophisticated. Morton had given
James a certain amount of power and as his confidence grew, Morton could no longer control
him. Morton was accused by James Stewart of being in on the plot to kill Darnley and James
did nothing to protect Morton who was executed.
It is believed that the relationship between Lennox and James was a homosexual one. It was
Lennox who put forth the idea to James of the divine right of Kings, that he was above the
people and the Church, whereas Knox and the Presbyterians thought that the King should
rule Scotland for God and be an ordinary member of the Kirk.
In "Trew Law of Free Monarchies" James wrote:
"Out of the law of God, the duty, and allegiance of the people
to their lawful King, their obedience, I say, ought to be to him,
as to God's Lieutenant in earth, obeying his commands in all things,
except directly against God, as the commands of Gods
Minister, acknowledging him a Judge set by
God over them, having power to judge them, but to be
judged only by God."
James used his power to appoint bishops as a way of controlling the Kirk. Lennox
encouraged the King to hunt and hold wild parties instead of governing the country. The
English ambassador, Robert Bowes, said "Lennox's
greatness is greatly increased, and the King so much affected to him that he delights only
in his company, and thereby Lennox carries the sway."
Needless to say, Lennox was very unpopular with the Kirk. James was kidnapped by the Earl
of Gowrie at Ruthven Castle where he had spent the night after hunting. James took this to
heart and apparently decided that it was time to stop the exotic living. Also, After Mary
was executed, James had to keep one crucial consideration in mind and that was the
succession to the throne of England. He became adept at playing a balancing game, playing
off one Scottish faction against the other while keeping on friendly terms with Elizabeth.
After ten months James escaped the Ruthven lords. Lennox had fled from Scotland and now
James Stewart who had denounced Morton and had been made Earl of Arran became powerful due
to his influence over James. This lasted only about two years. He had ruthlessly attacked
the Ruthven lords and confiscated their property for himself. He and James initiated the
Black Acts which abolished self-government in the Kirk and brought it back under the
control of the King. Many of the ministers fled to England where they spread rumors that
James was about to abandon the Protestant faith and also revived the old rumor that James
was the son of Rizzio and not Darnley. This threatened his succession chances. Elizabeth's
Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham, visited Scotland at this time and had given a
bad report to Elizabeth.
James now had a new favorite, Patrick, Master of Gray. Gray had been an agent of Mary's in
France. James sent Gray to England in 1584 where Mary's supporters were trying to persuade
Elizabeth to free Mary. It was Mary's claim that she should share the throne of Scotland
with James. James realized how weak her position was, although at one point he had
entertained this idea. Gray, thinking that Mary's case was hopeless, did not plead her
cause but merely discussed plans for an alliance between Scotland and England. James did
not want Mary put to death but he did not now want to risk his chances at the throne of
England to help his mother. He could have threatened to break off negotiations with regard
to the alliance and Elizabeth needing all the allies she could get because of the
impending Spanish Armada problem might have reconsidered. Even Scotsmen who had been
Mary's enemies felt that it would be a dishonor to their country to execute Mary. In the
long run, James was indecisive. He did make some mild protests to Elizabeth, stating:
"I desire you to consider
how my honour stands engaged, that is
her son and a King, to suffer my mother an
absolute Princess to be
put to an infamous death."
On the other hand, he said to the Earl of Leicester in December 1586:
"How fond and inconstant I
were if I should prefer
my mother to the title [of
King of England], let all men judge."
While he made protests to Elizabeth, mild though they were, his representatives gave the
impression to Elizabeth that Mary's death would make no different to the alliance
proceedings. Mary was beheaded on February 8, 1578.
The Scottish people saw Mary's execution as an insult to their Scottish pride, even her
enemies. In order to keep in favor with the people, James exiled Gray who seemed to be
responsible for the alliance. He also gave the people living on the border free rein to
raid. Because of the Spanish Armada, James was able to instill himself into the good
graces of Elizabeth again. He backed her, believing that if he backed the Spanish, they
would destroy him after they had destroyed England. Fortunately, England defeated the
Marriage to Anne of Denmark
James felt that it was time for him to be married. He decided on Anne of Denmark since
Denmark was a prosperous country and a Protestant country. Anne was to travel to
Scotland but bad weather forced a delay. James decided that he would go and fetch her
which probably was an unwise decision, leaving his country for such a long time. He was
gone for six months. James believed he was in love, although he had only seen a portrait
of Anne before meeting her. He wrote her love sonnets. This is part of one he wrote while
waiting for Anne to arrive:
"The fever hath infected every part
My bones are dried, their marrow melts away,
My sinnews feebles through my smoking smart,
And all my blood as in a pan doth play."
Some translation might be necessary. The poem undoubtedly depicts his yearning for her.
(Author's note: I have no idea what feebling through your smoking smart is but it sounds a
little painful to me.)
His idea of a grand passion did not last long. James was a very well educated man and Anne
was not the brightest. Besides, he probably was more interested in men than in women.
However, a Queen's purpose was to produce heirs to the throne, which Anne did. They had
several children (6 or 7) but only three of their children lived beyond infancy. Henry,
Elizabeth and Charles.
When James returned from Denmark, he found that some witches had been casting spells so
that he would be drowned at sea. Witch hunting was becoming quite common and the Kirk was
determined to stamp out the old pagan religions which were still being practiced in many
parts of Scotland. The Earl of Bothwell was the leader of the group of witches who were
casting spells on James. The Earl of Huntley eventually joined Bothwell and it did not
look good for James but by joining together they turned the Kirk and most of the
Protestant nobility against them. James won a victory in the Highlands and Bothwell and
Huntley left the country.
James survived such a crises by being a master of deceit. No one knew exactly where he
stood and thus he was able to play one against the other. The fighting was over for
the time being and James could turn to governing the country. However, James was not a
great manager of money. He was always short of cash. Elizabeth was supposed to pay him a
pension but did not always do so. He tried to improve his situation by appointing a group
of advisors, the Octavians. These were not great nobles as in the past. They were
men James could count on for their loyalty. As he said, they were men he could hang if he
Successor to Elizabeth
With only a few minor troubles to divert his attention, James now concentrated on making
sure that he succeeded Elizabeth. He became friendly with everyone who could help him. His
dealings could have caused trouble but Elizabeth's secretary Sir Robert Cecil decided to
support James' claim.
In 1603, at the age of 36, he achieved his ambition and became James I of England upon the
death of Elizabeth I.
James felt he had worked hard to become King of England and he planned to enjoy the
privileges. He moved to London and made that his permanent home. The Union of the
Crowns was the first break in Scotland's independence. The King no longer held court
in Scotland and many of the Scottish nobles left Scotland to join him in London.
Tradespeople suffered from this move and law and order began to break down in Scotland.
The people were pleased to see James as he traveled to London. Elizabeth had waited so
long to name a successor that most were afraid there would be fighting among claimants.
However, they now had James who was an experienced King and who had sons to follow him.
James was ignorant of English law and made mistakes before even getting to London, for
instance, ordering a thief to be hanged without trial. As always, he had a tendency to
claim more power for himself than he should. He also gave honors away freely and
recklessly. He knighted 300 people alone on his way to London. "Within four months,
he had knighted more people than Elizabeth did in the whole of her reign." This, of
course, led to corruption and jealousy among the Knights.
Arthur Wilson: Life and Reign of James I
"He, by multiplicity of them [honors] made them cheap and invalid in the
vulgar opinion; for nothing is more destructive to monarch than lessening
the nobility; upon their decline the commons rise, and anarchy increases."
He spent a fortune on clothes and bestowed gifts of money. As stated before, he was not
the best at managing his money. He felt that England was a rich country and the money was
his to spend. Prices were rising and in order to meet her obligations, Elizabeth had sold
off some of her holdings. James and his Queen were supposed to live from the rents
of his lands but he, too, sold some of the lands to pay his creditors.
James, however, brought peace to the two countries. The border fighting stopped and
although administered separately, the two countries were united under one crown.
James left the running of his Kingdon to the Privy Council which was headed by Robert
Cecil. Henry VIII and Elizabeth had started to set up a civil service council but for the
most part the country was still run by the King's friends. Art, literature and education
flourished even though James was lazy in governing. He was a great patron of the sciences
and arts. The Queen enjoyed masques which were expensive to produce. Masques were a
combination of singing, dancing and poetry and were not always genteel. Wine flowed
freely and some of the players ended up being, as we might say, falling down drunk.
Because of his belief that it was his divine right to rule, he felt that he could overrule
anything that Parliament enacted. This did not endear him to the legislators. Elizabeth
had always seen that some of her Privy Council were also members of the House of Commons.
James did not do this and, therefore, there was no one to transmit information and policy
to the King.
The Gunpowder Plot
This plot was again the result of religious convictions and fighting between Catholics and
Protestants. Because of the recent peace with Spain, the Catholics hoped that James would
relax attitudes and policies toward Catholics. James promised to lessen the laws and
abolish such things as fines for attending services. However, he did not realize the
outcry that this would bring. At this point in time people still remembered the Protestant
martyrs who had gone to the stake when Mary Tudor was on the throne. So James vacillated
and reinstated the old laws. This enraged a group of Catholic fanatics and they decided
that they would blow up the House of Lords. If it worked, the "King, Queen, Prince,
nobility, clergy, judges and the principal gentlemen of the realm," according to
Cecil, would have been killed. Apparently the plotters were planning on also capturing the
two younger children of James and Anne, Elizabeth and Charles, and declaring one or the
other of them as the successor to the throne.
The plotters, led by Robert Gatesby, tried to tunnel under Parliament from a house they
had rented. They never would have finished the tunnel in time but found a cellar that they
rented which was right under the House of Lords. There were so many people in on the plot
that it was a foregone conclusion that there would be leaks. The House of Lords was warned
about the plot. Guy Fawkes, who was one of the conspirators, was found in the cellar room.
Cecil might have known about the plot to start with but let it develop as a trap for the
Catholics. James turned against the Catholics after this. He was frightened of gunpowder
especially after what had happened to his father, Lord Darnley. Most of the plotters were
captured, tortured and executed. Once again, Catholics had to swear an oath of allegience
against the pope and had to go to Anglican churches. Priests found themselves in danger.
However, in areas where there were many Catholics, the new regulations were hard to
James became enamored of theological argument and spent most of his time studying theology
and hunting. He left more and more of the workings of the government to Cecil.
James found a new favorite. A young Scot named Robert Carr, Viscount Rochester and later
Earl of Someset. Carr, too, meddled in the workings of Parliament and urged James to
dissolve it when it could not come up with a workable plan to help with James' money
problems. James was very fond of Carr, perhaps substituting him for his oldest son, Henry,
Prince of Wales who had died at the age of 18 of typhoid. When Henry died, Charles became
the heir to the throne. Carr had a disastrous influence on James as had his other
favorites. He encouraged extravagance of the court and became involved in a couple of
scandals which reflected on the King.
Carr fell in love with Lady Frances Howard. Unfortunately she was already married to the
Earl of Essex. She applied for a divorce and James rigged the court so that it would be
granted. Carr had a good friend, Sir Thomas Overbury. Overbury saw Lady Frances as a
threat to his friendship and any power he had and opposed the marriage between Carr and
Frances. James was a little jealous of Overbury, offered him a post abroad and when he
refused, James put him in the Tower where he died. It was discovered later that Lady
Frances had had him poisoned. Carr and Lady Frances were brought to trial and found
guilty. This was the end of Carr's influence.
The Earl of Buckingham and then the Duke of Buckingham next held sway over James. He was
more dangerous than Carr had been because he was more intelligenet and played a larger
role in matters of state. The King was becoming less and less active in government and
Buckingham used his influence to make money for himself and his family. He flattered the
King outrageously. James to his council in 1617 said, "You may be sure that I love
the Earl of Buckingham mroe than anyone else, and more than you who are here
assembled." It is said that "James fell for Buckingham completely and the
relationship became very deep." Buckingham wrote to James saying,
"I naturally so love your person and adore all your other parts, which are
more than ever one man had, that were not only all your people but all the
world besides set together on one side and you alone on the other, I should
to obey and please you, displease, nay, despite them all."
Now, this does not say that James had a sexual relationship with Villiers, but it
certainly does suggest it.
Buckingham encouraged James to grant monopolies in trade. This brought in a fortune for
the person who had the monopoly and a lot of money for the Crown. However, it did increase
prices as there was no competition.
His money problems continued. Sir Walter Raleigh had been in the tower under a sentence of
death for a long time but had been to Guiana and felt there was gold there. James decided
he would send Raleigh on an expedition to find the gold but it was not to be. Raleigh
became ill and his second in command attacked the Spanish who had a colony there, even
though they had been instructed by James not to attack the Spanish. The expedition came
home without any gold. James had Raleigh beheaded under the original sentence, thereby
making Raleigh a martyr.
James in his dealing with other countries had tried to follow the policy of friendship
with both Catholic and Protestant countries. James wanted to link England with both sides.
He had married his daughter to Frederick of the Palantine and wanted to marry Charles to
the Spanish Infanta. The Catholics and Protestants in Bohemia became entangled in a fight
and the Protestants asked Frederick to be King of Bohemia. He asked James for advise, but
James as was his nature was indecisive. Frederick did accept the crown. This meant that he
was taking on Austria and Spain on his own and he did not have the army, the experience or
the power to do so. British support was vital to Frederick but the Spanish ambassador held
the carrot of a marriage between the Infanta and Charles out to James. So was he to
support his son-in-law or Spain? He believed in the sanctity of Kings, remember, and,
therefore, was upset with the overthrow of the King of Bohemia in favor of his son-in-law.
Frederick actually only lasted as King for a year and earned the nickname of the King of
one Winter. Parliament believed that the Spanish threat to England needed to be resisted
and James finally agreed. However, they appropriated too little money for James for an
expedition to fight on Frederick's side, and he accepted it, not asking for more. James
hesitated in sending troops and began peace talks with Spain as a mediator. Once again he
changed his mind and decided that he must be on Frederick's side. He asked Parliament for
more money but they refused, which, of course, enraged James. After charges on both sides,
James dissolved the Parliament and thus ended Frederick's chance of help from England.
Betrothal of Charles
James was becoming senile at this time. He has been suggested that he suffered from a
medical condition called "porphyria," apparently a disease which weakens the
mind. (Dr. Roy can tell us what it is.) He could not concentrate. Queen Anne had died and
since his daughter was abroad, he looked to the family of Buckingham for companionship.
Buckingham and the Spanish ambassador were working together. James decided that now
Charles should be betrothed to the Spanish Infanta hoping that the Spanish would help
restore Frederick to the Palantinate (a part of Germany).
To Spain for the Betrothal
The Spanish ambassador persuaded Charles to go to Spain in person. He did go and took
Buckingham with him. The Spanish thought that if Charles were there in person they could
talk him into terms that would be favorable to Spain. This was unrealistic because any
sort of terms that were too one-sided would not be approved by Parliament. The ambassador
thought unrealistically that if he could convert Charles to Catholicism then the whole
country would convert. Buckingham and Charles went to Madrid and were there for six
months. The Spanish dragged out the negotiations. Also, Charles, because of Spanish
custom, could not be with the Infanta alone. The Spanish in their demands wanted to
reverse the laws imposed on Catholics in England so that Catholics would no longer have to
swear allegiance. Charles agreed to their terms because he thought he could go back on his
word when he returned to England.
James was afraid that the Spanish would keep Charles as a hostage. He agreed to the terms
the Spanish had demanded and the marriage contract was signed. However, Charles did not
marry the Infanta. He and Buckingham kept arguing about the terms. Finally Buckingham's
bad manners and temper became more than the Spanish could bear. Charles and Buckingham
returned to London and the marriage never took place, although the contract had been
signed and the marriage could have taken place by proxy. The English people were happy
that they did not have a Spanish Queen and Charles and Buckingham became popular figures
with the people. They took over ruling in James' place.
Death of James
James died in 1625. The doctors at the time thought it was not life-threatening but James
would not heed their advice and drank large amounts of cold beer to dilute his fever. He
would not let them minister to him because of his fear of pain. There is some suggestion
that he was poisoned but no proof.
James certainly was not the worst King that England had. During his reign, the arts and
sciences and education flourished and his was a reign of tolerance. He was a generous man,
probably due to the fact that he had such a lonely childhood that he wanted people to like
Two quotes seem to sum up his reign:
Arthur Wilson's epitaph on James:
"Peace was maintained by him as in the time of Agustuus and peace begot
plenty, and plenty begot ease and wantonness."
The Venetian ambassador's comments on James in 1607:
"He is Sovereign in name and in appearance rather than in substance and
effect. This is the result of his deliberate choice, for he is capable of
governing, being a Prince of intelligence and culture above the common,
thanks to his applications to and pleasure in study when he was young,
though he has now abandoned that pursuit altogether."