The Ealry Stuarts

James VI was placed on the periphery of European affairs as king of Scotland - a nation of little interest to European politics other than that of France, which saw the Scots as valuable allies against England. When James ascended to the English throne he stepped up to lead the most powerful Protestant state in Europe. If he was so inclined, the new king could attempt to assume leadership of Protestantism in Europe - at his accession, James inherited a protracted war with Spain, and an alliance with the Protestant Dutch who were struggling to gain independence from Spain. Through his wife, James had good connections with Denmark, an important Protestant power in northern Europe. The princes of German Protestant states were individually too weak to lead European Protestantism, and an extension of England's contribution to the explosive confessional-political environment in Europe would have been welcomed.

However James was a pacific king who loathed violence and avoided armed conflict wherever he could. He certainly did not entertain any ideas of leading a Protestant 'crusade'. What James wanted was to become something of the 'mediator of Europe', a peace-maker. This necessitated good relations with all the major European powers, something that was rather ambitious for a king of England. To James' subjects such an approach to foreign affairs was inconceivable. This would become a significant constraint in his relationship with pro-Protestant parliaments. There was also a political dimension - the English monarchy by the reign of James I was experiencing major structural weaknesses that meant it suffered considerable financial problems. To pursue an active policy would be expensive, and thus require the financial support of Parliament - in the form of a subsidy. However, the Stuarts were to learn that Parliament increasingly wanted to have a voice in foreign policy, even though it was the part of the royal prerogative. During the 1620s discordance over foreign policy grew between the crown and parliaments, and it spilled over into domestic politics.

When James took the English throne in 1603, he inherited a war with Spain that had lasted for some 15 years. Both states sought peace, which was finally agreed in the 1604 Treaty of London. With a war that had little military achievement over, trade could resume; English merchants could once again trade in Spain and the Spanish Netherlands. James was intent on securing his position in England, so the successive years were quiet in English foreign affairs. The King declined a suggestion he lead a European Protestant alliance in 1603, the only English involvement on the Continent being limited support for the Dutch Revolt.

The Julich-Cleves dispute (1609) led to domestic pressure for James to lend support to the Protestant Union against the Catholic League. When the pro-Protestant Bourbon king Henri IV was assassinated in 1610, this pressure was stepped up. Henri's successor, Louis XIII, was still in his minority and England was the only state stable and powerful enough to lead the anti-Habsburg coalition. Eventually in 1612, England signed an alliance with the Protestant Union and James agreed the marriage of his daughter to the leader of the Union, Frederick of the Palatinate. Until 1613, James' Protestant foreign policy appeased those among the political nation who demanded intervention in European politico-confessional affairs. However, there was a dramatic change of direction after 1613.

James wanted to secure a prestigious match for his heir, and this meant a Bourbon or a Habsburg princess. Distrustful of the French, James chose to court Spain. It is also important to remember James' desire to engage a role as the mediator of Europe, and with extensive connections in the Protestant world already established, he now looked to build links with the Catholic powers. Concurrently Philip III's concern that James might assume leadership of a Protestant coalition, dispatched the ambassador Count Gondomar to win the King's attention from the Dutch and Germans. At Court the pro-Spanish and largely Catholic or nominal Anglicans Howard family had taken control of the major offices in 1614. The Council became divided as the Howards encouraged the King to pursue the Spanish match, while the Earl of Soutampton's faction advocated a purely Protestant foreign policy.

The Addled Parliament of 1614 gave further impetus to the Spanish match - with the failure to secure parliamentary financial contribution, James looked to the alluring Spanish dowry (around £600,000). A representative was sent to Madrid to negotiate. James was intent on avoiding antagonising the Spanish. Unknown to James, Philip III had no intention of marrying the Infanta to Charles Stuart.

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