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James I

(1566—1625) king of Scotland, England, and Ireland

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King of England, James VI of Scotland, b. 19 June 1566, s. of Henry, Lord Darnley, and Mary, queen of Scots; acc. Scotland 24 July 1567; England 24 Mar. 1603; m. Anne, da. of Frederick II of Denmark, 20 Aug. 1589; issue: Henry, Elizabeth, Margaret, Charles, Robert, Mary, Sophia; d. 27 Mar. 1625; bur. Westminster abbey.

James spent his first thirty-seven years in Scotland, the remaining twenty-two in England. His claim to the English throne was that both his parents were descendants of Margaret Tudor, elder sister of Henry VIII. Nevertheless, there were other claimants and, until the last moment, James could not be certain of his accession.

James's early years were difficult. While he was still in the womb, his mother's secretary, David Rizzio, was stabbed to death in front of her; rumour hinted that he was James's real father. James was less than a year old when his father was murdered at Kirk o'Field, probably with the complicity of his mother. Losing control of the situation after her precipitate marriage to Bothwell, Mary was forced to abdicate in favour of James in July 1567 and escaped to captivity in England in May 1568, never seeing her son again. During his childhood there were four regents: the first, Moray, was shot; Lennox died in a brawl; Mar was believed poisoned, and Morton was executed in 1581. In 1582 James was kidnapped by Lord Gowrie and held captive for ten months. In 1587 his mother was executed at Fotheringhay. James's first ambition was therefore to survive, the second to restore some authority to the Scottish monarchy, the third to harvest his English succession.

Even the first ambition was not easy. James had a rough passage back from Denmark in 1590 with his new bride, and discovered that more than three hundred North Berwick witches had been at work; he turned the episode to advantage in a small treatise on Daemonologie. Equally terrifying was the earl of Bothwell, nephew of Mary's third husband, who besieged the king in Holyrood House in 1591 and at Falkland Palace in 1592. In 1600, according to the king's own testimony, which many doubted, he was lured by the Gowrie brothers to Perth, locked in a turret and told to prepare to die. It must have been with some relief that James travelled south in 1603, where his new subjects attempted to blow him up two years later.

The restoration of royal authority in Scotland was achieved slowly. After Bothwell had been driven into exile in 1594, James gained a measure of control over the nobility. More opposition to the crown came from the kirk, whose extreme claims to domination James could never accept; they encourage the ignorant to cry down their betters, he wrote in Basilikon Doron. General assemblies in 1597 were warned to confine themselves to ecclesiastical matters, and in 1600 James succeeded in reintroducing bishops into the church.

At first James was uncertain how to attain his third objective, the throne of England. He toyed with the idea of papal support and was interested in Spanish proposals to free and restore his mother. But that could hardly be done without restoring her to effective power, which James did not relish. In 1586 he opted for reliance upon Elizabeth, accepting a pension of £4,000; consequently, when his mother was executed in 1587 his protests to Elizabeth were decent but muted. In Elizabeth's later years, James safeguarded his interests by opening up in 1601 a correspondence with her chief minister, Sir Robert Cecil.


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