James I of England

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: British History 1500-1750; Monarchs of Great Britain

King James VI and I
King of Scots, King of England, and King of Ireland
Reign 24 July 1567 - 27 March 1625 (Scotland)
24 March 1603 - 27 March 1625 (England and Ireland)
Born June 19, 1566
Edinburgh Castle
Died March 27, 1625 (aged 58)
Theobalds House
Buried Westminster Abbey
Predecessor Mary, Queen of Scots (Scotland)
Elizabeth I (England)
Successor Charles I
Consort Anne of Denmark
Issue Henry Frederick, Elizabeth of Bohemia, Margaret Stuart, Charles I, Robert Stuart
Royal House Stuart
Father Lord Darnley
Mother Mary, Queen of Scots

James VI and I (James Stuart) ( June 19, 1566 – March 27, 1625) was King of Scots, King of England, and King of Ireland. He was the first to style himself King of Great Britain. He ruled in Scotland as James VI from 24 July 1567 when he was only a year old. Regents ruled in his stead until early 1581 when James was aged 14. From the ' Union of the Crowns', he ruled in England and Ireland as James I, from 24 March 1603 aged 36, until his death aged 58. He was the first monarch of England from the House of Stuart, succeeding the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I, who died without issue.

James was a successful monarch in Scotland, but was burdened with great difficulties ruling England. He was involved in many conflicts with an active and hostile English Parliament. According to a long-established historical tradition originating with historians of the mid-seventeenth-century, James's taste for political absolutism, his inability to manage the kingdom's funds and his cultivation of unpopular favourites established the foundation for the English Civil War—which ended with the trial and execution of James's son and successor, Charles I. During James's own life, however, the governments of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland were relatively stable, and recent historians have treated James as a serious and thoughtful monarch. James exercised a degree of religious tolerance until the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, after which he reinforced strict penalties on Roman Catholics; but he later returned to a tolerant approach to religious conformity.

Under James, the "Golden Age" of Elizabethan literature and drama continued, with writers such William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Sir Francis Bacon contributing to a flourishing literary culture. James himself was a talented scholar, the author of works such as Daemonologie (1597), The True Law of Free Monarchies (1598), Basilikon Doron (1599) and A Counterblaste to Tobacco (1604). Sir Anthony Weldon recalled that James had been termed "the wisest fool in Christendom", an epithet associated with his character ever since.

Childhood as King James VI of Scotland


James was the only child of Mary I, Queen of Scots and her second husband, Henry Stuart, Duke of Albany, commonly known as Lord Darnley. James was a descendant of Henry VII through his great-grandmother Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII. Mary's rule over Scotland was insecure, for both she and her husband, being Roman Catholics, faced a rebellion of Protestant noblemen. Their marriage was a particularly difficult one. While Mary was pregnant with James, Lord Darnley 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 as the eldest son of the monarch and heir-apparent, automatically became Duke of Rothesay and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland. Elizabeth I of England, as godmother in absentia, sent a magnificent gold font as a christening gift.

James's father Henry was murdered on 10 February 1567 at the Hamiltons' house, Kirk o' Field, Edinburgh, perhaps in revenge for Rizzio's death. Mary's marriage on 15 May, also in 1567, to James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, who was widely suspected of murdering him, increased her unpopularity. In June 1567, Protestant rebels arrested Mary and imprisoned her in Loch Leven Castle; she never saw her son again. She was forced to abdicate on 24 July in favour of the infant James and to appoint her illigitemate half-brother, James Stewart, Earl of Moray, as regent.

British Royalty
House of Stuart
James VI & I
    Henry, Prince of Wales
    Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia
   Charles I
    Robert, Duke of Kintyre
Charles I
   Charles II
   James II & VII
    Henry, Duke of Gloucester
    Mary, Princess Royal
    Henrietta, Duchess of Orléans
Charles II
James II & VII
   Mary II
    James Francis Edward Stuart
    Charles Edward Stuart
    Henry Benedict Stuart
Mary II & William III
William III
    William, Duke of Gloucester


The care of James was entrusted to the Earl and Countess of Mar, "to be conserved, nursed, and upbrought" in the security of Stirling Castle. The boy was formally crowned at the age of thirteen months as King James VI of Scotland at the Church of the Holy Rude, Stirling, on 19 July 1567. The sermon was preached by the Geneva Calvinist John Knox. And, in accordance with the religious beliefs of most of the Scottish ruling class, James was brought up as a member of the Protestant National Church of Scotland, his education supervised by historian and poet George Buchanan, who subjected him to regular beatings but also instilled in him a lifelong passion for literature and learning.

In 1568, Mary escaped from prison, leading to a brief period of violence. The Earl of Moray defeated Mary's troops at the Battle of Langside, forcing her to flee to England, where she was subsequently imprisoned by Elizabeth. On 22 January 1570, Moray was assassinated by James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh, to be succeeded as regent by James's paternal grandfather, Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, who a year later was carried fatally wounded into Stirling Castle after a raid by Mary's supporters. The next regent, John Erskine, 1st Earl of Mar, died soon after banqueting at the estate of James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, where he "took a vehement sickness", dying on 28 October 1572 at Stirling. Morton, who now took Mar's office, proved in many ways the most effective of James's regents, but he made enemies by his rapacity. He fell from favour when the Frenchman Esmé Stewart, Sieur d'Aubigny, first cousin of James's father Lord Darnley, and future Earl of Lennox, arrived in Scotland and quickly established himself as the first of James's powerful favourites. On 2 June 1581, Morton was executed on belated charges of complicity in Lord Darnley's murder. On 8 August, James made Lennox a duke, the only one in Scotland. Now fifteen years old, the king was to remain under the influnce of Lennox for about one more year.

Personal rule in Scotland

Although a Protestant convert, Lennox was distrusted by Scottish Calvinists, who noticed the physical displays of affection between favourite and king and alleged that Lennox "went about to draw the King to carnal lust". In August 1582, in what became known as the Ruthven Raid, the Protestant earls of Gowrie and Angus lured James into Ruthven Castle, imprisoned him, and forced Lennox to leave Scotland. After James was freed in June 1583, he assumed increasing control of his monarchy. He pushed through the Black Acts to assert royal authority over the Kirk and between 1584 and 1603 established effective royal government and relative peace among the Scottish lords, ably assisted by John Maitland of Thirlestane, who led the government until 1592. One last Scottish attempt against the king's person occurred in August 1600, when James was apparently assaulted by Alexander Ruthven, the Earl of Gowrie's younger brother, at Gowrie House, the seat of the Ruthvens. Since Rithven was run through by James's page John Ramsay and the Earl of Gowrie was himself killed in the ensuing fracas, James's account of the circumstances, given the lack of witnesses and his history with the Ruthvens, was not universally believed.

In 1586, James signed the Treaty of Berwick with England; and the execution of his mother in 1587, which he denounced as a "preposterous and strange procedure", helped clear the way for his succession south of the border. During the Spanish Armada crisis of 1588, he assured Elizabeth of his support as "your natural son and compatriot of your country"; and as time passed and Elizabeth remained unmarried, the securing the English succession became a cornerstone of James's policy.


Anne of Denmark
Anne of Denmark

Throughout his youth, James was praised for his chastity, since he showed little interest in women; and after the loss of Lennox, he continued to prefer male company. A suitable marriage, however, was necessary to reinforce his monarchy, and the choice fell on the fourteen-year-old Anne of Denmark (born October 1574), younger daughter of the Protestant Frederick II. Shortly after a proxy marriage in August 1589, Anne sailed for Scotland but was forced by storms to Oslo. On hearing the news, James, in what Willson calls "the one romantic episode of his life", sailed from Leith with a three-hundred-strong retinue to fetch her personally. The couple were married formally at the Old Bishops' Palace in Oslo on 23 November and, after a stay in Copehagen, returned to Scotland in May 1590. By all accounts, James was at first infatuated with Anne, and in the early years of their marriage seems always to have showed her patience and affection. The couple produced three surviving children: Henry, Prince of Wales, who was to die of typhoid in 1612, aged 18; Elizabeth, later Queen of Bohemia; and Charles, the future King Charles I of England. Anne predeceased her husband in March 1619.


James's visit to Denmark, a country familiar with witchhunts, may have encouraged his interest in the study of witchcraft, which he considered a branch of theology. Soon after his return from Denmark, he attended the trial of the North Berwick Witches, in which several people were convicted of using witchcraft to send a storm against the ship that had carried James and Anne from Denmark. James became obsessed with the threat posed by witches and witchcraft and in 1597 wrote the Daemonologie, a tract in favour of the existence of witchcraft; but later, his views became less extreme, tending more towards scepticism on the matter.

The English Throne

Proclaimed King of England

From 1601, in the last years of Elizabeth I's life, certain English politicians, notably her chief minister Sir Robert Cecil, maintained a secret correspondence with James in order to prepare in advance for a smooth succession. Cecil advised James not to press the matter of the succession upon the queen but simply to treat her with kindness and respect. The approach proved effective: "I trust that you will not doubt," Elizabeth wrote to James, "but that your last letters are so acceptably taken as my thanks cannot be lacking for the same, but yield them you in grateful sort." In March 1603, with the queen clearly dying, Cecil sent James a draft proclamation of his accession to the English throne. Strategic fortresses were put on alert, and London placed under guard. Elizabeth died in the early hours of 24 March. Within eight hours, James was proclaimed king in London, the news received without protest or disturbance.

On 5 April 1603, James left Edinburgh for London, promising to return every three years, and progessed slowly from town to town, in order to arrive in the capital after Elizabeth's funeral. Local lords received James with lavish hospitality along the route; and James's new subjects flocked to see him, relieved above all that the succession had triggered neither unrest nor invasion. As James entered London, he was mobbed. The crowds of people, one observer reported, were so great that "they covered the beauty of the fields; and so greedy were they to behold the King that they injured and hurt one another." James's coronation took place on 11 July, with elaborate allegories provided by dramatic poets such as Thomas Dekker and Ben Jonson, though the festivities had to be restricted because of an outbreak of the plague. Nevertheless, all London turned out for the occasion: "The streets seemed paved with men," wrote Dekker. "Stalls instead of rich wares were set out with children, open casements filled up with women".

The kingdom to which James succeeded was, however, not without its problems. The oppressive system of monopolies and taxation, for example, had engendered a widespread sense of grievance, and the costs of the war in Ireland had become a heavy burden on the government.

Early reign in England

Despite the smoothness of the succession and the warmth of his welcome, James survived two conspiracies in the first year of his reign, the Bye Plot and Main Plot, which led to the arrest, among others, of Lord Cobham and Sir Walter Raleigh. Those hoping for governmental change from James were at first disappointed when he maintained Elizabeth's Privy Councillors in office, as secretly planned with Cecil, but James shortly added long-time supporter Henry Howard and his nephew Thomas Howard to the Privy Council, as well as five Scottish nobles. In the early years of James's reign, the day-to-day running of the government was tightly managed by the shrewd Robert Cecil, later earl of Salisbury, ably assisted by the experienced Thomas Egerton, whom James made Baron Ellesmere and Lord Chancellor, and by Thomas Sackville, soon earl of Dorset, who continued as Lord Treasurer. As a consequence, James was free to concentrate on the bigger issues, such as a scheme for a closer union between England and Scotland and foreign-policy issues, as well as to enjoy his leisure pursuits, particularly the hunt.

James was ambitious to build on the personal union of the crowns of Scotland and England to establish a complete and permanent union of the two realms under one monarch, one parliament and one law, a plan which met opposition in both countries. "Hath He not made us all in one island," James told the English parliament, "compassed with one sea and of itself by nature indivisible?" In April 1604, however, the Commons refused on legal grounds his request to be titled "King of Great Britain". A disappointed James retorted: "I am not ashamed of my project, neither have I deferred it (I be to deal plainly) out of a liking of the judges' reasons or uses". In October 1604, he assumed the title "King of Great Britain" by proclamation rather than statute, though Sir Francis Bacon told him he could not use the style in "any legal proceeding, instrument or assurance". The decision was a sign that where he lacked the consent of the Commons for his policies, James intended, unlike his predecessor, to resort to the royal prerogative.

In foreign policy, James achieved more success. Never having been at war with Spain, he devoted his efforts to bringing the long Armada war to an end, and in August 1604, thanks to skilled diplomacy on the part of Robert Cecil and Henry Howard, now earl of Northampton, a peace treaty was signed between the countries, which James celebrated by hosting a great banquet. Freedom of worship for Catholics in England continued, however, to be a major objective of Spanish policy, which caused constant dilemmas for James, distrusted abroad for repression of Catholics and at home for tolerance towards them.

King and Parliament

James's difficulties with his first parliament in 1604 ended the initial euphoria of his succession. On July 7, he prorogued the parliament, having achieved his aims neither for the full union nor for the obtaining of funds. "I will not thank where I feel no thanks due," he remarked in his closing speech. "...I am not of such a stock as to praise fools...You see how many things you did not well...I wish you would make use of your liberty with more modesty in time to come". The parliament of 1604 may be seen as shaping the attitudes of both sides for the rest of the reign, though the difficulties owed more to mutual incomprehension than conscious enmity. On the eve of the state opening of the next parliamentary session on 5 November 1605, a soldier from the Netherlands called Guy Fawkes was discovered in the cellars of the parliament buildings guarding a pile of faggots, not far from about twenty barrels of gunpowder with which he intended to blow up Parliament House the following day and cause the destruction, as James put it, "not only...of my person, nor of my wife and posterity also, but of the whole body of the State in general". A Catholic conspiracy led by a disaffected gentleman called Robert Catesby, the Gunpowder Plot, as it quickly became known, had in fact been discovered in advance of Fawkes's arrest and deliberately allowed to mature in order to catch the culprits red-handed and the plotters unawares.

James's difficulties with the Commons and his waning public popularity notwithstanding, the sensational discovery of the Gunpowder Plot aroused a potent wave of national relief at the delivery of the king and his sons and inspired in the ensuing parliament a mood of loyalty and goodwill which Salisbury astutely exploited to extract higher subsidies for the king than any but one granted in Elizabeth's reign. In his speech to both houses on 9 November, James expounded on two emerging preoccupations of his monarchy: the divine right of kings and the Catholic question. He insisted that the plot had been the work of a few Catholics and not of the English Catholics as a whole. And he reminded the assembly to rejoice at his survival, since kings were gods and he owed his escape to a miracle.


The Gunpowder Plot, the third Catholic conspiracy against his person in three years, forced James to reconsider his tolerant policy towards English Catholics; and for a while he sanctioned stricter measures to control them. In May 1606, Parliament passed an act which could require any citizen to take an Oath of Allegiance, entailing a denial the pope's authority over the king. James believed that the Oath was merely concerned with civil obedience, a secular transaction between king and subject; but it provoked opposition in Rome and in Catholic countries, where any denial of papal authority was deemed heretical. In early 1606, the Venetian ambassador reported James as saying: "I do not know upon what they found this cursed doctrine that they are permitted to plot against the lives of princes". The Oath did not make James a persecutor of Catholics; he insisted no blood be spilled and that subversive Jesuits and seminary priests should simply be asked to leave the country. He regarded persecution, he wrote to Cecil, "as one of the infallible notes of a false church". In practice, James proved lenient towards Catholic laymen who took the Oath of Allegiance, and he tolerated Catholicism and crypto-Catholicism even at court.

Theory of monarchy

In 1597–8, James had written two works, The Trew Law of Free Monarchies and Basilikon Doron (Royal Gift), in which he established an ideological base for monarchy. In the Trew Law, he sets out the divine right of kings, explaining that for Biblical reasons kings are higher beings than other men, though "the highest bench is the sliddriest to sit upon". The document proposes an absolutist theory of monarchy, by which a king may impose new laws by royal prerogative but must also pay heed to tradition and to God, who would "stirre up such scourges as pleaseth him, for punishment of wicked kings". Basilikon Doron, written as a book of instruction for the four-year-old Prince Henry, provides a more practical guide to kingship. Despite banalities and sanctimonious advice, the work is well-written, perhaps the best example of James's prose. James's advice concerning parliaments, which he understood as merely the king's "head court", foreshadows his difficulties with the English Commons: "Hold no Parliaments," he tells Henry, "but for the necesitie of new Lawes, which would be but seldome". In the Trew Law James states that the king owns his realm as a feudal lord owns his fief, because:

"[Kings arose] before any estates or ranks of men, before any parliaments were holden, or laws made, and by them was the land distributed, which at first was wholly theirs. And so it follows of necessity that kings were the authors and makers of the laws, and not the laws of the kings."

James I
James I

Great Contract

As James's reign progressed, his governemnt faced growing financial pressures. Some of those resulted from creeping inflation and the decreasing purchasing power of the royal income, but James's profligacy and financial incompetence substantially contributed to the mounting debt. Salisbury took over the reins as Lord Treasurer himself in 1608 and, with the backing of the Privy Council, introduced a programme of economic reforms which steadily drove down the deficit. In an attempt to convince James to curb his extravagance, he wrote a series of frank tracts on the matter, and he tried to induce the king to grant limited pensions to his courtiers, rather than showering them with random gifts. A believer in the necessity of parliamentary contribution to government, Salisbury proposed to the Commons, in February 1610, an ambitious financial scheme, known as the Great Contract, whereby Parliament would grant a lump sum of £600,000 to pay off the king's debts in return for ten royal concessions, plus an annual grant of £200,000. Though the Commons agreed to the annual grant, the negotiations over the lump sum became so protracted and difficult that James eventually lost patience and dismissed the parliament on 31 December 1610. "Your greatest error," he told Salisbury, "hath been that ye ever expected to draw honey out of gall". Salisbury, however, made it clear that without parliamentary subsidies, he could do little more to manage the Crown's financial crisis.

Rise of the favourites

Salisbury died in 1612, and was little mourned by those who jostled to take his place at the head of government. Northampton, who took over the day-to-day running of government business, spoke of "the death of the little man for which so many rejoice and few do as much as seem to be sorry." Until Salisbury's death, however, the Elizabethan administrative system over which he had presided had continued to function with reasonable efficiency; from this time forward, however, James's government entered a period of decline and disrepute. Salisbury's passing at last gave James an opportunity to govern in person, and he decided to act as his own chief Minister of State, employing his handsome Scottish favourite, Robert Carr, Viscount Rochester, to carry out the duties of Principal Secretary, though without that title. The experiment was soon undermined by James's continued preference for living in the country and an inability to attend closely to official business which left the government prey to factionalism.

The Howard party, consisting of Northampton, Suffolk, Suffolk's son-in-law Lord Knollys, and Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham, along with Sir Thomas Lake, were soon in control of much of the government. And the powerful Carr, unfitted for the role thrust upon him and often dependent on his close friend Sir Thomas Overbury for assistance with government papers, before long fell into the camp of the Howard faction himself, when he began an affair with the married Frances Howard, Countess of Essex, daughter of the earl of Suffolk. This powerful group won James's support for an annulment of Frances Howard's marriage to Robert Devereux, earl of Essex, so that she could marry Carr. With James's assistance, the marriage was duly annulled on 25 September 1613 on the grounds of her husband's impotence, despite his opposition to the charge. On 26 December that year, in the court event of the season, Frances Howard and Robert Carr, now the earl of Somerset, were married. The Howard family's rise to total power seemed complete.

In summer 1615, it emerged that Sir Thomas Overbury, who on 14 September 1613 had died in the Tower of London, where he had been placed at the king's request in advance of Frances Howard's annulment case, had been poisoned. At the time of his marriage to Frances Howard, Carr had still enjoyed the king's favouritism, but during 1615, their relationship became tempestuous when James began replacing Carr in his affections with a new, attractive young favourite called George Villiers, with whom he appeared infatuated. Frances Howard, who admitted a part in Overbury's murder, and Carr, who did not,were both found guilty, sentenced to death, and placed in the Tower. Four others accused were executed, but the Somersets were pardoned and eventually released. The implication of the king in such an unseemly case stimulated much public conjecture and literary creativity and irreparably tarnished his court with an image of corruption and depravity.

The Howard faction now fell rapidly from power. In 1618, Frances Howard's mother, Catherine Knyvet, and her father, Suffolk, were prosecuted for corruption and found guilty of using their social and political ascendancy to extort bribes on a massive scale. Suffolk's fall was followed by that of Secretary of State Sir Thomas Lake, whose wife and daughter were involved in a sordid trial involving accusations of incest and impotence. The removal of the Howards left George Villiers, now earl of Buckingham, unchallenged as the supreme figure in the government.

A new Parliament had to be called in 1614 to obtain approval for new taxes. This Parliament was known as the Addled Parliament because it failed to pass any legislation or impose any taxes. James dissolved Parliament after it refused to carry out his wishes. He then ruled without Parliament for seven years. Faced with financial difficulties he sought to enter into a profitable alliance with Spain by marrying his eldest surviving son, Charles, Prince of Wales, to the daughter of the King of Spain. The proposed alliance with a Roman Catholic kingdom was not well received in Protestant England. The execution of Sir Walter Raleigh also increased James' unpopularity.

Religious challenges

Upon James I’s arrival in London, he was almost immediately faced by religious conflicts in England. He was presented with the Millenary Petition, a document which it is claimed contained one thousand signatures by Puritans requesting further Anglican Church reform. He accepted the invitation to a conference in Hampton Court, which was subsequently delayed due to the Plague. In 1604, at the Hampton Court Conference, James was unwilling to agree to most of their demands. He did, however, agree to fulfil a request which was to have far-reaching effect by authorizing an official translation of the Bible, which came to be known as the King James Bible (published in 1611).

During this year, James 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. That same year, he ended England's involvement in the twenty year conflict known as the Anglo-Spanish War by signing the Treaty of London.

In 1612, the Baptist leader Thomas Helwys presented the King with a copy of his book, "A Short Declaration on the Mystery of Iniquity", possibly the first ever English text defending the principle of religious liberty. He died in prison for his pains. Also in 1612, two other Protestant dissenters, Bartholomew Legate and Edward Wightman, were burnt at the stake for heresy. "Both men emerge as the victims of a complex series of events: the king's desire to be seen as orthodox in the light of the Vorstius affair; the in-fighting for control of the ecclesiastical establishment on the elevation of George Abbot to the archbishopric of Canterbury; and the campaign of the emerging anti-Calvinist group around Bishop Richard Neile against puritans".

Later years

Continuing problems with Parliament

The third and penultimate Parliament of James' 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 personal matters directly involving the King. 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 Bacon, who was duly removed from office. Although the impeachment was the first in centuries, James did not oppose it, believing that sacrificing Bacon could help deflect parliamentary opposition. In the end, James released Bacon from prison and granted him a full pardon.

Thirty Years' War

From 1618 onwards, the religious conflict known as the Thirty Years' War engulfed Europe. James 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. He was also put under pressure to join the religious war because England, at the time, was one of the major Protestant nations.

A new constitutional dispute arose as a result. 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 that the King 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. James ordered the protest torn out of the Commons Journal, and dissolved Parliament.

Relationship with Spain

In 1623, the Duke of Buckingham and Charles, the Prince of Wales, travelled to Madrid in an attempt to secure a marriage between the latter and the Infanta. However, they were snubbed by the Spanish courtiers, who demanded that Charles convert to Roman Catholicism. They returned to England humiliated, and called for war with Spain. When James's Spanish marriage plot failed, a humiliated Prince Charles and George Villiers urged James and his parliament to go to war. Financially, James could not afford to go to war with Spain. England would eventually join the war after James had died.

The Church in Scotland

In Scotland, James's attempt to move the Church, whose form of worship tended to be based on free-form Calvinism, in a more structured High Church direction with the introduction of the Five Articles of Perth, met with widespread popular resistance. Always the practical politician in Scottish matters, the king, while insisting on the form of the law, did little to ensure its observance.

Personal relationships

Portrait by Nicholas Hilliard, 1603–1609.
Portrait by Nicholas Hilliard, 1603–1609.

Throughout his life James had close relationships with his male courtiers, beginning with his older relative Esmé Stewart, 1st Duke of Lennox. James adopted a severe stance towards sodomy using English law. His book on kingship, Basilikon Doron, lists sodomy among those “horrible crimes which ye are bound in conscience never to forgive”. He also singled out sodomy in a letter to Lord Burleigh giving directives that Judges were to interpret the law broadly and not issue any pardons saying that "no more colour may be left to judges to work upon their wits in that point." Jeremy Bentham, in an unpublished manuscript, denounced James as a hypocrite after his crackdown: "[James I], if he be the author of that first article of the works which bear his name, and which indeed were owned by him, reckons this practise among the few offences which no Sovereign ever ought to pardon. This must needs seem rather extraordinary to those who have a notion that a pardon in this case is what he himself, had he been a subject, might have stood in need of." Other nobles with whom James was physically close, though not necessarily sexual, included Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset, and George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham.


James lapsed into senility during the last year of his reign. Real power passed to Charles and to the Duke of Buckingham, although James kept enough power to ensure that a new war with Spain did not occur while he was King. James died at Theobalds House in 1625 of 'tertian 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 (though 13 of these were as a child-king with the rule of Scotland committed to regents); the only English, Scottish or British monarchs to have surpassed this mark have been Victoria and George III.


James I wore the insignia of the Order of the Garter for the above portrait by Daniel Mytens (1621).
James I wore the insignia of the Order of the Garter for the above portrait by Daniel Mytens (1621).


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, culminating in Charles I's execution for treason. The following Parliamentary period lasted for eleven years, 1649-1660. The Stuart dynasty was restored in 1660 with Charles I's son, Charles II coming to the throne. Some historians, particularly Whig historians, blame James for the Civil War. However, the general view now is that Charles I was more responsible for the state of affairs in 1640 than his predecessor.

Religious and Literary

James I’s religious tolerance, compared with that of his predecessors, permitted the continued existence of Catholicism in England and Scotland, the continuation of Calvinism in Scotland and the growth of Puritanism in England, while encouraging liturgical formality and "High Church" practices.

On the other hand, James’ paranoia over witchcraft eventually contributed, during the Parliamentary period, to the appointment of Matthew Hopkins, known as the Witch-finder General, and the execution of many people, mostly women, often for no greater crime than being widowed and owning a cat.

William Shakespeare continued to write under James I as he had in the reign of Elizabeth. It is not surprising that one of his most popular plays, Macbeth, shows a would-be monarch beset by witches. Shakespeare’s witches, however, fulfil a prophetic role; it is personal ambition that causes the ensuing chaos, not spells and incantations.

The king also designed the British flag in 1603 by combining England's red cross of St. George with Scotland's white cross of St. Andrew. It is possible that the term Union Jack may have originated from "Jacobus" which is Latin for James. Technically, the term Union Jack is incorrect as "Jack" is a nautical term, thus the term is only appropriate at sea. The correct name of the flag is the Union Flag. Charles II issued a proclamation that the Flag only be flown as a Jack, a small flag off the bowsprit, on British vessels.


In the Virginia Colony in the New World, the Jamestown Settlement, established in 1607, and the James River were named in honour of James I. In 1611, Sir Thomas Dale named his new promising "Citie of Henricus" (sic) in honour of his son, Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, who died in 1612. Although Henricus was wiped out in the Indian Massacre of 1622, its naming survives as Henrico County, Virginia in modern times.

Popular culture

King James was played by Dudley Sutton in the 1992 film Orlando and by Jonathan Pryce in the 2005 film The New World. Jim Cummings voiced James in Disney's direct-to-video film Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World, which (quite un-historically) portrayed James as a pompous idiot. In Actus Fidei, a play by Steven Breese that premiered in 2007 at Christopher Newport University, James is portrayed as flamboyant autocrat.

Criticism and revisionism

Lacey Baldwin Smith in "This Realm of England” talks about James’s paternalism and political absolutism, including the breaking of traditional ties between the monarchy and old families, in order to decrease the political power of Catholicism. Despite his unpopularity with both Catholics and Puritans, Lacey Baldwin Smith indicates that it was his currying favour with those whom he felt could politically help him that earned the title of “The wisest fool in Christendom.” Traditionally, historians such as Samuel Rawson Gardiner and D. H. Wilson viewed James I as a poor king. This interpretation was almost solely depended on the writings of Sir Anthony Weldon. Weldon, dismissed by James for his writings against Scotland, wrote 'The Court and Character of King James'. This book influenced early 20th century historians who overlooked Weldon's bias.

Miriam Allen deFord, in her study, The Overbury Affair, writes “This slobbering, lolling King, …. a glutton and a spendthrift … came to England as a man comes to a banquet; he left government to others and occupied himself with processional visits, routs, and masques. And freed from the firm hand of Elizabeth, the courtiers ran riot, and provided under James’s influence one of the most corrupt and dissolute courts in English history.” (5)

Recent historical revisionism has argued to the contrary. Historians Gordon Donaldson and Jenny Wormald have argued for a revision of opinion towards James in the light of his successful rule in Scotland. A changed view of him has emerged since the 1970s. Also the historian Barry Coward has said 'of all the political problems in James I's reign, he dealt with religious non-conformity most successfully.'

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 English 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. In Scotland, his arms were: Quarterly, I and IV Grandquarterly, Or a lion rampant within a tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland); II Azure three fleurs-de-lis Or (for France) and Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England); III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland), with one of the unicorns of Scotland being replaced as a heraldic supporter by a lion.


James VI and I's ancestors in three generations
James VI and I Father:
Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley
Paternal Grandfather:
Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox
Paternal Great-grandfather:
John Stewart, 3rd Earl of Lennox
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Elizabeth Stewart, Countess of Lennox
Paternal Grandmother:
Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Margaret Tudor
Mary I, Queen of Scots
Maternal Grandfather:
James V of Scotland
Maternal Great-grandfather:
James IV of Scotland
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Margaret Tudor
Maternal Grandmother:
Mary of Guise
Maternal Great-grandfather:
Claude, Duke of Guise
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Antoinette de Bourbon


James' wife, Anne of Denmark, gave birth to nine of his children.

Name Birth Death Notes
Henry, Prince of Wales 19 February 1594 6 November 1612 died of typhoid fever aged 18
Unnamed child July 1595 July 1595  
Elizabeth Stuart 19 August 1596 13 February 1662 married 1613, Frederick V, Elector Palatine; had issue; died aged 65
Margaret Stuart 24 December 1598 March 1600 died in infancy in second year
Charles I 19 November 1600 30 January 1649 married 1625, Henrietta Maria; had issue; executed aged 48
Robert, Duke of Kintyre 18 February 1602 27 May 1602 died in his fifth month
Unnamed son May 1603 May 1603  
Mary Stuart 8 April 1605 16 December 1607 died in infancy in third year
Sophia Stuart 22 June 1606 28 June 1606 died a few days after birth

See also Descendants of James I of England.

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