James VI


James VI

King James VI was crowned at Stirling in July 1567 and in accordance with what had almost become a Stewart tradition he was an infant at just 1 year old. Inevitably his minority saw yet another battle for control of the regency between noble Scottish families. James' father was dead, murdered by persons unknown and his mother was in captivity in England and so it cannot have been an easy childhood.

There was peace with England but the religious war continued. James had declared himself a supporter of the Reformation and denounced Catholicism but Spain plotted to convert or remove him. At one point his mother wrote about the possibility of joint regency but while James was polite he refused to engage in her plotting. He wanted to be recognised as successor to the English throne and so could not risk a strong association with Mary. When she was executed in 1587 James came under pressure to attack the English in retaliation, he had reached the age of 21 by this time and assumed power but he had no plans to invade England.

James married Anne of Denmark in 1589 and they had a number of children. Over the next few years James was attacked by some Northern nobles who supported Catholicism and Bothwell (his mother Mary's second husband) joined them, even attempting to kidnap the king. They were unsuccessful and by 1597 the country was securely Protestant; James had the religious situation under control or so it seemed.

Andrew Melville appeared on the scene and insisted that the General Assembly of the church were the only ones who should be able to rule in God's name. He was effectively saying that James should not be able to hold sway over them, and even that he should be in some way answerable to them. While James had finally authorised the Presbyterian system in 1592, having already dealt with the political threats of Catholicism and ultra-Protestantism, he wasn't about to allow any religious assertion to infringe on his power. In fact the king increased his hold over the church deciding when and where the General Assembly could meet and proposing a plan whereby he could appoint ministers who would sit in parliament. James dealt with the situation in Scotland quite skilfully though the argument between church and absolute monarchy was far from over.

In 1603 Elizabeth I died and James was named king of England by an Accession Council. He and his wife were crowned at Westminster Abbey and he was now stuck with the prospect of resolving the religious argument in England and refilling the empty coffers Elizabeth had left behind. With the Union of the Crowns in 1603 James was the first monarch to use the title King of Great Britain and the Union Jack flag was created to celebrate. He kept up with events in Scotland and even although he only returned once in 1617 it would be wrong to assume he no longer cared about his northern kingdom.

James was an intelligent man and wrote widely on a number of subjects, notably the divine right of kings, the disgusting nature of tobacco and witchcraft. He was politically skilled and managed to deal with a very difficult religious situation. Having said that, he did believe in witches, and after the Gunpowder Plot on the 5th of November 1605 he became increasingly paranoid. He disliked the English parliament and the two frequently fell out over finance and foreign policy. James was quick to dissolve parliament if they disagreed with him. Despite this he avoided any serious rebellion; he also made peace with Spain and commissioned what became known as the King James Bible.

It was 1625 when James died and his son Charles took the throne. James had become lazy and fat by his old age and the keen intelligence of his early political manoeuvrings was gone by the time he passed on. The Puritan movement had grown and the parliament was sick of absolutist monarchy; both were to cause Charles a lot of problems.

Still it must be remembered that the reign of James provided a relative period of peace and stability and so it seems fitting he died in his bed, at peace with his subjects and foreign powers and with an adult male heir.