Scotland's History Articles James VI, King of Scots 1567 - 1625, King of England and Ireland 1603 - 1625

James VI, King of Scots 1567 - 1625, King of England and Ireland 1603 - 1625

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With the forced abdication of his mother, Mary Stuart, in 1567 James became King of Scots at the age of one. Another troubled period of regency government ensued.

A roll call of regents ensued as one after the other the incumbents were killed or died under potentially sinister circumstances. The one constant of James' childhood was his tutor, the esteemed scholar George Buchanan.

Buchanan's aim was to turn James into a god-fearing, Protestant King who accepted the limitations of monarchy. He was also encouraged to despise his own mother for her treachery and unashamed Roman Catholicism. Buchanan was only partially success in these aims - and James certainly disagreed with him about the limitations of monarchy.

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Questions over James' dedication to the Protestant cause led to a group of nobles led by William Ruthven (1st Earl of Gowrie) kidnapping James and holding him hostage. The saga, later referred to as the 'Ruthven Raid' lasted a year. On his escape in 1583, James acted decisively. Ruthven was executed and James brought the Church of Scotland under his firm control.

The key chapter of his reign involved two women - his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I of England. Throughout his reign James was keen to be seen to be supportive of the English queen. With Elizabeth ageing and still childless James realised that he had the strongest claim to succeed her. As the great-grandson of Margaret Tudor, James was the closest relative to Elizabeth. Importantly, he was also Protestant.

The only problem was the question of what to do with Mary Stuart - James' mother. Since 1568 Mary had been a captive of Elizabeth in England. During her years of captivity Mary had been the focus of several Catholic plots to release her and place on the throne of England. Mary was wise enough to avoid being implicated in these plots. In 1585, however, she succumbed. By replying to the conspirators of the Babbington Plot Mary had signed her death warrant.

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Mary was tried and sentenced to death in 1587. Now the question was how James would react to Elizabeth's intention to execute his mother? If he acted to protect her he would surely forfeit the right to succeed Elizabeth. If he did nothing how would the Scots nobles react? James followed his ambitions. Although he protested and asked Elizabeth to exile Mary, it was no more than a token gesture. Mary was executed.

With Elizabeth still alive and well James turned his attention back to Scottish matters. In 1589 James married Anne of Denmark and produced three children, Henry, Elizabeth and Charles. James spent his time trying to pacify the 'barbarian' Gaels in the Highlands and Islands and rooting out witches from his kingdom. He also wrote two books that clearly demonstrated his style of kingship. In 'The Trew Law of Free Monarchies and the 'Basilicon Doron', James eschewed the belief that the rights of kings were granted by God alone and as such they were above other men. His education at the hands of George Buchanan had been in vain.

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Eventually in 1603 Elizabeth died and James was offered the throne. The succession passed smoothly and James VI of Scotland became James I of England and Ireland. Although promising to return to Scotland every couple of years, in truth James became a stranger to the country and only returned once to the country of his birth.

James' vision of himself as king of a united Britain occupied his early years. James even went as far as designing a new flag for this new nation. However, his first experience with the English Parliament was less than satisfactory and his designs to be the official 'King of Great Britain' were dashed. Regardless James proclaimed himself King of Great Britain.

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In 1605 James faced his first major challenge. A band of English Catholic disgruntled with James' perceived lack of tolerance for Catholicism planned to destroy the seat of English government. The conspiracy, which would become known as the 'Gunpowder Plot', was uncovered and the plotters executed.

As well as being a Catholic-led attempt to destroy the Protestant government, the plotters had a secondary goal. After James' coronation there were many people in London who resented what they saw as a Scottish invasion of English affairs. The plotters also had the addresses of prominent Scots in London and intended to launch attacks on these people as well.

News of the plot sent shockwaves through the country and James enjoyed a greater degree of sympathy from the general public as a result. James' already troubled relationship with the English Parliament was, however, beginning to disintegrate.

James, a firm believer in the Divine Right of monarchs, found his Parliament to be argumentative and uncooperative. By a similar measure, the English parliament thought their new king far too lavish and too obstinate. The issue of money was to lead to greater division - James wanted more but Parliament refused to grant it without James agreeing to grant concessions.

In 1610, Lord Salisbury offered a deal that attempted to ease these tensions. The 'Great Contract' promised to pay off the king's debts and provide him with a yearly income in return for James giving up some of his income-raising rights. The potential solution only succeeded in offending both parties. Negotiations stalled and in anger James dismissed his parliament.

The next Parliament in 1614 faired no better and, again, stalled over the question of money. To the ire of the nobility James decided to dispense with the idea of parliaments and brought in his own courtiers to find ways of raising money for the crown.

The outbreak of war on the continent, however, jeopardised James' independence. In 1620 the Rhineland territories of his son-in-law, Frederick, Elector of Palatine, had been invaded by the Spanish. James needed money to raise forces to help him - and for those kinds of sums he needed a Parliament. In 1621 James called another Parliament. Angered at the seven year period since the last sitting, Parliament granted some money to James but they also came prepared with a list of grievances that they wanted James to rectify.

The demands included the marriage of James' son, Charles, to a Protestant princess, further anti-Catholic legislation and a bill of Parliamentary rights that they expected James to sign. James, typically, saw this as an infringement on his Royal powers. Yet another Parliament ended on bad terms.

The final years of James' reign saw the king in poor health. A series of illness made the king a marginal figure at court. His son, Charles, became increasingly dominant, pushing for a war against Spain and undermining James' hope for a lasting peace with the country.

In 1625, after period of debilitating sickness James died of a stroke. The general grief and sorrow in response to news of the king's death was a measure of his popularity. His legacy as a king is somewhat more mixed.

After taking the throne of England James boasted that he ruled Scotland with the stroke of a pen. James's relationship with the country of his birth seems to have cooled the moment he succeeded Elizabeth I as ruler of England. This distance from Scotland caused James some significant problems. In particular, his efforts to bring the Scottish Church more in line with English models provoked anger and upset that would go on to dog the reign of his son, Charles I.

James's views of monarchy brought him into direct conflict with the English Parliament and established a precedent that his son Charles would carry on during his reign with disastrous results. James' efforts at maintaining balance in religious affairs again met with a mixed response.

James did manage the difficult task of resisting some of the more extreme anti-Catholic demands from some quarters of his kingdom. In his dealings and treaties with Catholic nations, James came under pressure from monarchs on the continent to ease conditions placed on English Catholics. While on the domestic front anti-Catholic feelings were running high - especially after the Gunpowder Plot. Notably, James also commissioned a new version of the Bible. The King James Bible has since been widely praised for the quality and beauty of its translation and interpretation.

The true legacies of James' reign were the establishment of the Stuarts as an English royal dynasty and his groundwork in the creation of a new political entity - Great Britain.

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