In 1603, James VI professed his record of successful rule over Scotland in support of his claim to the English throne, asserting himself as, 'an experienced king needing no lessons'. Until recently historians have not concurred, and James has undeniably and somewhat unjustly received a bad press. James is infamous for dribbling, caressing male favourites, recalcitrance about his divine right in the face of Parliament, and most importantly the root of the Civil Wars. As will be shown, the latter points are seriously distorted, and the root of much of this lies farther back in history than the Whig historians' vehemence towards James. Sir Anthony Weldon in a scathing attack labelled James I as 'The Wisest Fool in Christendom' which perhaps began the negative slant of historians towards James. There is something of truth in the observation of an eighteenth century bishop that 'Queen Elizabeth had a Camden, and King Charles I a Clarendon, poor King James I has had none I think but paltry scribblers.' King James was a successful ruler of Scotland while Elizabeth sat on the English throne, and when he took her place brought his experience and skills to England where, for all his shortfalls, he achieved much in the State and in the Church. James handed an English state to his son Charles in 1625 far more stable in many ways than the condition he had received it from his Tudor forebear.

A French envoy for Mary Queen of Scots wrote of James VI in 1584 outlining the character and abilities of the young King. There is much in M. de Fontenay's assessment of James to illustrate his qualities that had already become apparent. However, de Fontenay's third and final point was that James was 'too idle', 'too little concerned with business', asserting that the king was too hedonistic. Ultimately, de Fontenay's report on James proved insightful; the envoy identified his predilection for liberality with money, his love of favourites ('indiscreet and wilful and takes no account of the wishes of his subjects') and his laziness and indifference to affairs. It is perhaps an ominous sign for James' reign as King of England that de Fontenay concluded 'such things are inexcusable at his age, yet I fear they may become habitual'.

Many of James' characteristics can be traced to the bleak events of his childhood. James, the only child of Mary, Queen of Scots, was immediately immersed in a world of violence and intrigue. His father, Lord Darnley, was murdered in 1567. Neither Mary's complicity in the murder, or the identity of Darnley's assassin have been clearly established, though it seems somewhat coincidental that the chief suspect, the Earl of Bothwell, with whom Mary had fallen in love, married James' mother several months later. This outraged the Protestant faction of the Scottish nobility and Bothwell was exiled and Mary imprisoned. In July 1567, at just thirteen months, James was taken from Stirling Castle to the church of the Holy Rood and crowned in place of his mother, whose abdication had been forcefully extracted before she escaped imprisonment and fled to England.

James' own marriage to Anne of Denmark soon became loveless, and beginning with the Duke of Lennox in the 1580s, James turned to a series of young men as an outlet for his affections. James' relationship with the Duke of Buckingham, the last of his favourites, was in fact more cordial than that with his own son and heir, Charles - signing letters to the Duke 'your darling Dad' or 'Steeny'. Whether James was in fact engaged in homosexuality with his succession of favourites is uncertain, but the important point is that contemporaries in both kingdoms were scandalised by such conduct from their king. The King would caress them in public and heap honours and rewards upon his 'minions', much to the distaste of rivals for position and favour in the patronage network at court.

James' manners, uncorrected as a child, and in stark contrast to those of his heir Charles, were coarse. James was incredibly proud when it came to intellectual matters - historians have asserted that in 1603 James was probably the most learned monarch in Europe. The positive side to this was the king's passion for learning. He had a genuine interest in philosophy and theology, writing a number of texts, notably The Trew Law of Free Monarchies (1598), a justification of the doctrine of the divine right of kingship, and Basilikon Doron (1599), which established James' views on religious matters. Further, in 1604 he chaired the theological disputation between Anglicans and Puritans at Hampton Court. James had been given a rigorous Renaissance education since the age of three. His tutors, the aged humanist scholar George Buchanan, and Peter Young, were important in forming aspects of the king's character and outlook. James wrote against Calvinist resistance theorists Buchanan and John Knox in Basilikon Doron, calling these advocates of resistance to royal authority 'infamous invectives' and had their books collected

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.