James VI and I

Today is the birthday of the only child born to Mary, Queen of Scots, James in 1566.

He was only a baby when he was announced as King of the Scots upon the forced abdication of his mother.  So, like his mother, he never really knew any other life than that of being a ruling monarch.

He was born in Edinburgh Castle, though spent much of his childhood a little north at Stirling Castle, under the governorship of the Earl of Mar.  After his first birthday in 1567, he was separated from his mother and would never see her again.  She had been accused of conspiring to kill her husband and was incarcerated by the Scottish parliament.  She would later escape to england, where her cousin Elizabeth would imprison her and eventually execute her, but that is a different thread.

Within the first five years of his reign, James had seen four regents representing him as ruler, each dying conveniently quickly after being appointed.  The first was assassinated, the second killed in battle and the third after apparent food poisoning!  The fourth did last a little longer, coming to power in 1572 and eventually being executed in 1581.

James was raised as a protestant, as opposed to his mother’s strong Catholic faith.  This made him a favourite to succeed his protestant aunt, south of the border to the english throne.  He made overtures to Elizabeth in the aim of gaining that throne, signing some letters as her ‘natural son’.

She did not name him as her successor though it is known that her counsellors were in contact with him from about 1601 until her death in 1603.  He was announced as the new King in London on the same day that she died, 24th March.  How much of that correspondence the Queen was aware of is unknown, though she must have sanctioned some of it, at least towards her end.

He was married to Anne of Denmark before his accession to the english throne, actually travelling to Denmark to collect his bride, when the rough seas prevented her coming to him.

It appeared a happy marriage, at least in the beginning.  Three of their seven children lived to adulthood, including a second son named Charles, who would become his famous successor.

James showed favour to many males at his court, in the later years, more so than his wife, which raises questions of his orientation, at least looking at it in modern terms.  He was not known to have had mistresses, showing little interest in women apart from his wife. Many biographers argue over whether his male favourites were actually his lovers.

James had a great interest in literary matters, and is well known for his thesis on the divine right of kings, which would cause many problems in coming years for his son Charles !

Once he had been declared as King of England, James headed south for his coronation.  He had promised regular visits to Scotland but this did not happen.  He was accepted warmly by the majority of the court, and his young family, already with two sons to follow him, seemed like it brought a golden future.

Only two years later, James would be faced with the biggest threat to his life, with the gunpowder plot.  Everyone immediately thinks of Guy Fawkes when talking of the gunpowder plot, but he was actually just a lackey brought in to help with the movement of the gunpowder itself, others were more involved in the arranging of the assassination.  All of the people arrested were executed, leading to a widespread relief among the masses for the saving of their King and family.

It was discovered that the plot was enacted by Catholics and resulted in strict laws against Catholics being brought into being.

He attempted to create a full joining of the two nations of England and Scotland, but this was not popular in either nation.  He also had trouble with the Scottish Kirk (church) when he tried to bring it into line with the English church, of which he was now seen as the head.  He only visited Scotland once more during his reign, in 1617, while attempting to do this.

Queen Anne died soon after in 1619 and the King followed her in 1625 after at least a year of illness.  It is thought that he suffered a stroke shortly before his death, though he had been suffereing from a number of issues before that.

His eldest son, Henry, had pre-deceased him, in 1612, so his second son Charles followed him to the throne.  And then began a most turbulent time for the English monarchy.

James believed he had a God given right to rule, which did not always gel with the thoughts of people around him.  He believed himself to be a greater person than those he ruled over, but these thoughts were probably instilled in him from a young age, so can he really be blamed for them?  He would not remember a time when he was not revered as the King, or given everything he desired.  Why would he not start to believe he was better than all around him if it was constantly proven to him that he was on a pedestal?

His possible homosexuality is an interesting aspect of his behaviour.  He did not seem to think that he needed to hide his love for his ‘favourites’ at a time when gay love was forbidden by law and the church.  It cannot of course be proved that he had sexual relations with the Duke of Lennox, Robert Carr or George Villiers, who are his known favourites, but in those days, it would have been dangerous for members of the court to even suggest it, never mind report on it.

Queen Anne did have many pregnancies, all through the time of his favourites.  She had seven children, though four died young, and at least two miscarriages or stillbirths during their thirty year marriage, so the King obviously carried on with his marital duties alongside his favourite duties !

 

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