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Friday, 4 September 2015

James VI (of Scotland) and I (of England)


King James was born on June 19, 1566. He 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).

James's mother was an insecure ruler, as both she and her husband, being Roman Catholics, faced a rebellion of Protestant noblemen. James's father was murdered on February 10, 1567 at Kirk o' Field.

James' mother remarried James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, who was widely suspected of murdering the Duke of Albany, on May 15, 1567. Her new husband made the Queen even more unpopular.

In June 1567, the Protestant rebels arrested Mary and imprisoned her in Loch Leven Castle. Mary was forced to abdicate the Scottish throne, in favor of James, who was then only thirteen months old.

As a boy King James was sickly and had a weakness of the legs. He later became a bold horseback rider, even though for many years he had to be tied into the saddle.

Portrait of James as a boy, after Arnold Bronckorst, 1574
King James I became a lifelong heavy drinker because his wet nurse was an alcoholic and he received such copious quantities through her milk.


As Queen Elizabeth I was the last of Henry VIII's descendants, James was seen as the most likely heir to the English throne through his great-grandmother Margaret Tudor, who was Henry VIII's oldest sister. In March 1603, with the Queen clearly dying, her chief minister Sir Robert Cecil sent James a draft proclamation of his accession to the English throne.

Elizabeth died in the early hours of March 24, 1603 and James was proclaimed king in London later the same day.

On April 5, 1603 James left Edinburgh for London, promising to return every three years (a promise he did not keep).  Local lords received him with lavish hospitality along the route and James was amazed by the wealth of his new land and subjects. When he entered London just over a month later, he was mobbed by a crowd of spectators.

His English coronation took place on July 25, 1603, with elaborate allegories provided by dramatic poets such as Thomas Dekker and Ben Jonson.

James had been 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, mismanagement of the kingdom's funds and cultivation of unpopular favorites established the foundation for the English Civil War.


James 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.

James and Anne participated in an official wedding ceremony on January 21, 1590 at Krondborg during James's visit to Denmark. 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.

Anne of Denmark, c. 1605, by John de Critz.

Queen Anne died on March 4, 1619 at Hampton Court Palace and was buried at Westminster Abbey.

James grew up with practically no human society and his affections tended to focus on his own sex.
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).

Rumors were spread after the death of Queen Anne that James was little moved by her loss 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 honor upon honor 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.

Upon the restoration of Apethorpe Palace in England, it was discovered that the bedrooms of King James and Duke George Villers were connected through a secret passageway.

The King defended his relationship with Villiers with the pithy statement: “Jesus had his John, and I have my George.”

King James had uncouth table manners caused by his tongue being too large for his mouth so he slobbered his food all over the table.

He generally took only one bath a year as water was thought to carry diseases.

Whenever he wore a hole in his trousers the king didn't throw them out or even took them off, he simply slipped another pair on top.

King James wore double-quilled waistcoats for fear of being stabbed and preferred old worn shoes to new ones.

Portrait after John de Critz, c. 1606
King James was a passenger in the first ever submarine. It was designed by Dutchman Cornelius Van Drebbel and had a wooden frame covered with greased leather to make it watertight. The submarine was fitted with oars and Van Drebbel managed to row 15 feet below the surface of the River Thames.


King James was a talented scholar, writing works such as The True Law of Free Monarchies (1598), Basilikon Doron (1599) and A Counterblast to Tobacco (1604).

In A Counterblast Against Tobacco, James wrote, “Smoking is a custom loathsome to the eye. Hateful to the nose. Harmful to the brain. Dangerous to the lungs.”

James introduced a swear box to St James's Palace, and all the money was given to the poor.

James often neglected the business of government for leisure pastimes, such as the hunt.

The English king introduced the sport of golf to Blackheath in London from Scotland in about 1608.

In 1618 James published The Book of Sports giving a list of authorized leisure activities that were permitted on Sundays and other holy days.

A toast proposed in 1844 in honor of the then Prince of Wales suggested that James was a "keen curler who knew how to keep his own side of the rink and sweep."

James I advised his son to take up the game of bowls.

James kept 11 lions, 2 leopards, 3 eagles, 2 owls, 2 mountain cats and a jackal in the Tower of London.

James I  ended his days going to Newmarket to indulge himself in his two passions, horses and young men.


Despite being the son of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, King James was a Protestant though not as radical as some of his Protestant subjects in Scotland and England.

King James VI of Scotland had an interest in the devil and witchcraft. Having personally investigated a trial of alleged witches in North Berwick 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 his queen had been travelling, he wrote in 1597 a book on the subject entitled Daemonologue. Because of the interest this raised, many females were tried and put to death for witchcraft.

In 1603, the newly crowned James I of England was presented with the Millenary Petition that represented the views of 1,000 Puritan ministers. His English Puritan subjects wanted the English church to become more like the Scottish Presbyterian Church which governed itself without interference from the king. They asked the new monarch to relieve them of such ceremonial rites as the sign of the cross at baptism, bowing at the name of Jesus and the wearing of white surplices by the clergy when conducting worship. Meanwhile the Catholics were hoping for greater tolerance from the new king.

James convoked the Hampton Court Conference in 1604 at which he found himself caught between the Puritans' pleas for church reform and Catholics' demands for greater tolerance. The King gave way to his Puritan advisers and introduced penal laws against Catholics. He also authorized a new English translation of the Bible. However he disappointed the Puritans when he supported the bishops of the Church of England, who were against the more radical reforms.

Roman Catholic disappointment with King James led to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 where the Catholic Guy Fawkes was discovered hiding in a cellar beneath the Houses of Parliament in close proximity to 20 or more barrels of gunpowder, a length of slow match and a lantern.


After about the age of fifty, James suffered increasingly from arthritis, gout and kidney stones. He also lost his teeth, and drank heavily.

Portrait by Daniel Mytens, 1621

James died on March 27, 1625 during a violent attack of dysentery, which had followed a bout of tertian ague (malaria) and a stroke. He was buried in the Henry VII Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, the vault was lost for many years until his coffin was found in the 19th century in the vault of King Henry VII.

For all his flaws, James I largely retained the affection of his people, who had enjoyed uninterrupted peace and comparatively low taxation during the Jacobean era.

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