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King James VI & I 

The King Whose Court We Portray 


James VI and I was a monarch who ruled over England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1603 to 1625. He was the first king of the Stuart dynasty, succeeding the last Tudor monarch, Queen Elizabeth I. James is remembered for many things, including his intellectual curiosity, his contributions to the arts and literature, and his struggles with the English Parliament.

James was born on June 19, 1566, in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. When James was just one year old, his father was assassinated, and his mother was forced to abdicate the throne. He thus accended the Scottish Throne as James VI in 1567. His childhood was constantly disturbed by the struggles of the nobles who vied for control of him. Given a demanding academic education by his tutor George Buchanan (who tried to teach him to hate his mother) and advised by four successive regents, he grew up to be a shrewd, wary intellectual who managed to reconcile the warring factions among his nobility with such success that he has been described as 'the most effective ruler Scotland ever had'.

Other opinions were more mixed; David Hume wrote that 'many virtues ... it must be owned, he was possessed of, but no one of them pure, or free from the contagion of the neighbouring vices,' whilst Henri IV of France called James 'the wisest fool in Christendom'.

James was educated by Scottish Presbyterian scholars who instilled in him a love of learning and an appreciation for theology. James was known for his keen intellect and his ability to debate complex theological and philosophical issues. He was also an avid writer and produced several books during his lifetime.

James was a firm believer in the Divine Right of Kings and in the right of his bishops to run the Scottish Church; his response to Calvinist protests was 'No Bishop, No King'. His great ambition was to succeed Elizabeth I on the throne of England, and so he made only a formal protest when she signed his mother's death warrant in 1587.

Two years later, he married Anne of Denmark. Happy together at first they had three sons and four daughters, but gradually drifted apart.

On 24 March 1603 James achieved his lifelong ambition when Queen Elizabeth I died and he was invited to succeed Elizabeth I as King of England. He was the first monarch to rule over both England and Scotland, and he hoped to unite the two countries under one crown. He moved south immediately, and would have liked his two kingdoms to be completely united. However, Scotland retained its own Parliament, established Church and legal and educational systems.

James enjoyed the pomp and circumstance of the English court, and returned to Scotland only once, in 1617. He liked to boast that he now ruled his northern kingdom with a stroke of his pen, but in his later years he lost something of his grasp of the Scottish situation. James faced several challenges during his reign, including religious conflicts between Protestants and Catholics, tensions with Parliament, and economic troubles.

One of the most significant events during James's reign was the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. A group of Catholic conspirators attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament, with the aim of killing James and his ministers. The plot was discovered, and the conspirators were arrested and executed.


James also had a complicated relationship with the English Parliament. He believed in the divine right of kings, which held that monarchs were chosen by God to rule and were not subject to the laws or authority of their subjects. The English Parliament, on the other hand, believed that the king was subject to the law and that they had the right to challenge the monarch's authority. This tension between James and Parliament would continue throughout his reign and would be a source of conflict for his son, Charles I.

Despite these challenges, James I made significant contributions to the arts and literature. He was a patron of William Shakespeare, and several of Shakespeare's plays were performed at the royal court during James's reign. James himself was an accomplished writer and produced several books on topics such as theology, witchcraft, and political theory.

When he forced through the 1618 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland his Five Articles of Perth, measures intended to bring the worship and government of the Church of Scotland into line with the Church of England, he met with strong opposition. Realising that he had made an error of judgement, he did not enforce the Articles, and did not try again to introduce ecclesiastical innovations.

James VI/I died on March 27, 1625, and was succeeded by his son, Charles I. Although James's reign was marked by conflict and controversy, he is remembered as a monarch who was committed to learning and intellectual pursuits. His contributions to the arts and literature continue to be celebrated to this day.

James was one of the most long-standing monarchs of Scotland, king for 58 years from the age of one. Of the Scottish monarchs before the Anglo-Scottish union of 1707, only William the Lion (1165–1214) comes close in longevity.

But he is notable not just for the length of his reign, but for the amount that he managed to achieve within it.

Of these achievements, perhaps the two most significant of all were his careful management of his peaceful succession to the English throne in 1603 and his sponsorship of the publication of the King James Bible. In doing so, he brought the ‘auld enemies’, the kingdoms of Scotland and England, together under the kingship of one monarch. This dynastic or regnal union became known as the ‘Union of the Crowns’, which included that of Ireland too. In 1604, James proclaimed himself King of Great Britain. So James’s reign produced the first Anglo-Scottish union (though this was not full political union) which helped to form the background to the formal union of 1707.

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