Faction and Favourites

The King's affection was one of the greatest prizes of the Jacobean court; the favourite of the moment would be a powerful figure, could take vast profits and prestige from royal favours, and even at times influence policy. However, James was careful to ensure his favourites did not monopolise patronage. George Villiers (later Duke of Buckingham) became very close to achieving this during James' later years. At times noblemen such as the duke of Lennox or the earls of Dunbar and Pembroke would share royal favour. Favourites were a political tool for the aristocratic court factions to drive a wedge between one another and the king. As Robert Carr had been planted at court to dislodge Cecil's cultivation of the Earl of Montgomery (the current favourite) in 1607, he himself became the victim of the vicissitudes of court faction when the Protestant faction decided to break Carr's and the Howards' position in 1614-15. In response to the projected Spanish match (which raised alarm as it would mean a Catholic queen in the next reign), the Protestant interest at court conspired to dislodge Carr from James' favour and install their own client, George Villiers. Carr would find the length to which the factions were prepared to go were boundless; in 1615 the Protestant faction fabricated evidence that Sir Thomas Overbury had been murdered by the Howards. Carr, as the husband of Lady Frances, was implicated and imprisoned in the Tower. In response the Howards attempted to dislodge Buckingham several years later by promoting William Monson at court. This time James quickly saw through the ploy and ordered Monson to 'forbear the court'.

Men flocked to Whitehall for a number of reasons - the allure of the 'fountain of wealth', the prospect of offices and favours from the ad of the king, and the strong clientage network of government that joined the provincial to the central. James was proven to be adept at man management from his time as King of Scotland, and when he took the throne in England he was equally careful to balance the factions and limit the power of favourites. Under Elizabeth I the Cecils had ascended to a position of power in the administration that excluded other courtiers. In 1601 the Earl of Essex had attempted to break this Cecilian grasp with a failed palace coup; the Cecils as Elizabeth's reign drew to a close only consolidated and extended their position in the aftermath of Essex. James approached the situation in the early part of his reign by attempting to heal the fissures at court on the one hand, and on the other break the potentially dangerous monopoly the Cecils were enjoying. Therefore the new King quickly restored the 'treacherous rebels' of 1601 to court along with Scottish peers and the Catholic Howards. Court faction, in spite of James' efforts to control and balance it, could act as a burden to effective government such as causing schism in the Addled Parliament of 1614.

The Duke Buckingham was altogether on another plain as a crown favourite; the colossal degree of patronage and power Buckingham accrued under James I makes him unique among the Jacobean favourites. As the keystone of the patronage network was personal access to the monarch Buckingham was almost immediately transformed into an influential figure in the patronage network. Under Charles I, Buckingham would develop this extensive stranglehold over patronage to something near a monopoly, an important factor in why the duke was such a loathsome figure to a large section of the political nation and an immediate scapegoat for the failures and catastrophes of royal policy and war (see below).

Under James however Buckingham only ever rose to the centre of one of the patronage networks. The King was not as pliant as many historians would have us believe - on a number of occasions both Prince Charles and Buckingham failed to persuade James to appoint their candidate for positions in the Church and administration. Buckingham was shaken by the Howards' attempt to dislodge him in 1618 and in retaliation drew on the political tools and weapons at his disposal to purge them from government. Lord Treasurer Suffolk was tried before Star Chamber [9] for corruption, which sparked a domino-effect collapse of the Howards in government and at Court. Only the Earl of Nottingham escaped Buckingham's wrath.

[9. Star Chamber: A prerogative court much abused under Charles I and to the grievance of the political nation. Star Chamber, along with the Court of High Commission, was abolished by the Long Parliament in 1641. Infamous judgements of Star Chamber such as Rex versus Hampden (i.e. over Ship Money) were reversed by Parliamentary statute.]

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