Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Who Are All These Kings?: James I

James I was King of England in the early part of the 17th century. He was already King James VI of Scotland, and was the first to be acknowledged as king of both countries.

James was born at Edinburgh Castle in 1566, the only son of Mary Queen of Scots and Henry, Lord Darnley, although rumour held that his real father was Mary`s secretary David Rizzio, stabbed to death before James was born.

When his mother was forced to abdicate in 1567, not long after Darnley had been murdered and Mary had married Bothwell, James became King of Scotland, at the age of thirteen months. At first, his uncle, the Earl of Moray, was Regent, until he was shot. His successor Lennox died in a brawl; Mar was poisoned; and Morton executed in 1581.

James decided in 1583, having been held captive by Lord Gowrie for nearly a year, that he would no longer be the puppet of political factions, and began to exercise his own authority. By 1586 he had reached an informal agreement with Elizabeth I of England whereby he would become her successor. Not wishing to endanger that position, he remained silent when his mother was executed at Fotheringhay in 1587 and neutral when the Spanish Armada attacked England in 1588.

In 1589, at Oslo, he married Anne of Denmark, the daughter of Frederick II of Denmark and Norway, by whom he had a number of children.

Elizabeth died in 1603 and James VI became also James I of England, being crowned at Westminster Abbey.

Initially he had plans to unite England and Scotland and create a new Great Britain. But although the Scottish Parliament passed an Act of Union, their English equivalent would have nothing to do with such a plan.

James was accepted with reasonable equanimity as the new king, who after all had been a king for a good many years and had acquired a positive reputation. However, his accent marked him out as being, if not actually foreign, then at least a little outlandish. He was also pompous and had a great deal of paranoia about his personal safety.

One of the most famous of dissident acts in English history occurred in 1605, when Robert Catesby`s Gunpowder Plot sought to blow up Parliament, along with the king and the Royal family, and bring back a Catholic church and king. The man most closely connected in the public mind with this is Guy Fawkes, who in truth was a follower, not one of the leaders.

James was in no way a religious fanatic, and sought to impose moderation, especially on the English puritans. It was James who introduced the Authorised Edition of the Bible, commonly known as the King James Bible, in 1611.

From a distance he sought, largely successfully, to put down rebellions in the further flung parts of Scotland. In 1608 he forced the leading clansmen of the Hebrides into submission and the uprising by the McDonalds was put down in 1614. He began the plantation of English and Scottish settlers into Ulster in 1611.

It was in James` reign that serious colonisation of America began. John Smith established the colony at Jamestown in Virginia in 1607, and a colony in Bermuda began in 1609, while the Pilgrim Fathers settled in New England from 1620.

Endeavouring to establish a strong Protestant alliance across Europe, he married his daughter Elizabeth to the Elector Palatin Frederick in 1613, although other plans were not so successful.

But from around this point premature senility began to set in, and he gradually became more incompetent. Henri IV of France coined the phrase "the wisest fool in Christendom", and this was particularly apt.

He had instituted the King James Bible; had written books against smoking and witchcraft, and had the intellect to see through the young boy at Leicester who was maliciously accusing old women of being witches; he introduced horse racing and golf into England; and took a keen interest in scientific development, being the first monarch to travel underwater (in the River Thames) in 1620, in a primitive submarine invented by Cornelius Drebbel.

But he arrested and imprisoned Sir Francis Bacon on dubious charges of trial and corruption; and had Sir Walter Raleigh, whom James feared was conspiring against him, executed in 1618.

James` obvious homosexuality, first shown in 1581 in his relationship with Esme Stuart and later with Robert Carr, came to the fore when he met George Villiers of Brooksby in Leicestershire in 1614. James said that George reminded him of the beauty of St. Stephen, and began calling him Steenie. George quickly became Duke of Buckingham and wielded enormous power over the king. This continued to be resented well into the next reign, and Buckingham was assassinated by John Felton in Portsmouth in 1628.

Although James held lofty views about kingship, he tended to drink too much; to caress his young male favourites in public; and to behave in a generally coarse and bawdy manner. He was also prone to dribbling, and never washed his hands.

James` Queen, Anne of Denmark, died in 1619 at Hampton Court, and was buried at Westminster Abbey.

James and Anne had nine children, although only three lived into adulthood.

Henry was born in 1594 at Stirling Castle, and was expected to succeed as king, but he died in 1612 of typhoid at St. James`s Palace and was buried at Westminster Abbey.

A stillborn child was born in 1595.

Elizabeth was born in 1596 at Dunfermline Palace. She married the Elector Palatine Frederick in 1613 at Whitehall Palace, and after being driven with her husband from Bohemia in 1620 became known as the Winter Queen. She died in 1662 at Leicester House and was buried at Westminster Abbey.

Margaret was born in 1598 at Dalkeith Palace, and died in 1600 at Linlithgow Palace. She was buried at Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh.

Charles was born in 1600 at Dunfermline Palace, and succeeded his father as Charles I.

Robert was born in 1602 at Dunfermline Palace, and died there a few weeks later. He was buried at Dunfermline Abbey.

A stillborn son was born in 1603 at Stirling Castle.

Mary was born in 1605 at Greenwich Palace. She died in 1607 at Stanwell Park, and was buried at Westminster Abbey.

Sophia was born in 1606 at Greenwich Palace, and died the next day. She was buried at Westminster Abbey.

James died in 1625 at Theobald`s Park, after a stroke, and was buried at Westminster Abbey. He was succeeded by his son Charles I.