James 6

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James VI / Kings and Queens

  • Name  : James VI
  • Born  : 1566
  • Died  : 1625
  • Category  : Kings and Queens
  • Finest Moment : Crowned King of England (1603)

Born 19 June 1566, at Edinburgh Castle. James was the son of Queen Mary and Lord Darnley, but soon after his birth she was forced to abdicate by Lord James Stewart, whom Mary had made the Earl of Moray. James was eight months old when his father was killed in suspicious circumstances at the explosion of his house at Kirk o'Fields. By 'suspicious' we mean he found strangled in the garden. Not a great start to a future monarch, but adversity and circumstance made him a surprisingly clever and able ruler, though not a particularly nice person.

Mary never saw him following her third marriage, to Bothwell, their defeat by the rebel Scottish lords, and her abdication. James became king of Scotland on 24 July 1567 when he was one year old. Moray became Regent in his name, while George Buchanan became his tutor when he was four. His mother's name was libelled, and her gifts of toys for her son never reached him. Though he received a good education, he was raised virtually friendless, an environment which may account at least in part for some of his less savoury personality features. Four successive regents ruled in his stead; Moray, Lennox, Mar and Morton. He was 12 when the first palace coup took place, only the first of a series of attempts to seize power by holding the boy King. After nine years of this any survivor would by necessity be either dead or old before his time. James was the latter. When he was 13 his handsome cousin from France paid him a visit. James became infatuated with Esme Stewart, who was a Roman Catholic intent on seeing Mary back in power.

Meanwhile, plot and counter plot. The Ruthven family, extreme Protestants, kidnapped James and compelled Stewart to return to France, where he died two years later, in 1583. James escaped and mourned the loss of his (probably) late lover Stewart in passionate poems. He then continued to play off the two religions against each other, thereby controlling both for his own ends. His own master plan by the way, was to become King of Scotland and England. To this end, he was smart enough to see that it would be better to get on with Elizabeth I, rather than cosy up to her enemies. Even when she had Mary parted from her head, in 1587, he issued a formal complaint only.

As to the unsavoury part of his character, he was prejudiced against his Gaelic subjects, striving to exterminate them and settle their islands with English-speaking lowlanders. This policy was carried out more successfully in Northern Ireland, with ultimately long-lasting and deleterious results. He once had some Negroes dance naked in the snow, as a spectacle for his brother-in-law the King of Denmark. The dancers died, as James must have expected. He was into torture, especially women accused of witchcraft; these he liked to supervise personally. He took great pains to draw up the torture regime for Guy Fawkes. Much of this sick material he published in a book on demonology, in 1597. Shakespeare plundered it for material used in his play Macbeth.

But on to his more public life. In 1589 he married Anne, the daughter of Frederick II of Denmark. They had a son, Prince Henry, in 1594. Finally, in 1603 he had his wish, when Elizabeth I died and he succeeded to the throne as James I (of England). He was 37. Though his full ambition was to rule a greater Britain, he alienated the English from the start. He was not in touch with the mass of his English subjects, and worse, he brought to court his collection of handsome and lace-handkerchief-waving boys, the chief of whom was Robert Carr. 'The King leaneth upon his arm, pinches his cheek, smooths his ruffled garment, and, when he looketh at Carr, directeth discourse to divers others.' So went a contemporary description.

But alternative life styles apart, one good thing that can be attached to James is that he was not fond of making war. The bad thing was when his son and heir Henry died, making Prince Charles (later Charles I) heir. As he was already under the bad influence of the Duke of Buckingham (who had taken the place of Carr when that lad had fallen from grace), the ageing James was gradually sidelined, the last 18 months of his reign being effectively decided by Buckingham and Charles. He died on 27 March 1625, at Theobalds in Hertfordshire, his favourite country residence.

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