James VI & I of Scotland


(“the wisest fool in Christendom” so-called by Henry the Fourth of France.)

James VI and I

At Stirling Castle, between the hours of  9 o’clock and 10 o’clock in the morning of June 19, 1566, Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her son James.
With James in her arms she presented him to Darnley with these words: “My Lord, here I protest to God, and as I shall answer to Him at the great day of judgment, this is your son, and no other man’s son; and I am desirous that all here, both ladies and others, bear witness, for he is so much your own son that I fear it may be the worse for him hereafter.”
To William Standon,  one of her soldiers, she said “this is the prince whom I hope shall first unite the two kingdoms of England and Scotland.”  A wish that came true.
With this speech she had obviously given up her hope to succeed to the throne of her great grandfather, Henry VII.
As soon as James was born, Melville (the Queen’s secretary) was dispatched to England to inform Elizabeth of the birth.  Melville was also instructed to ask Elizabeth to become Godmother.  Melville arrived at Greenwich just as Elizabeth was giving a ball.  When Cecil, Elizabeth’s Secretary of State, and Melville gave the news of the birth to Elizabeth, she ” ‘was filled with sudden melancholy … Interrupting the dance, she sank dejectedly into an armchair, and said to the ladies who surrounded her, that the Queen of Scots was mother of a fair son, while she was but a barren stock.’ ”
She did accept the invitation to become James Godmother but did not attend the baptism in the royal chapel at Stirling Castle.  Instead sent the Countess of Argyle to represent her at the ceremony.  Also in attendance at the baptism were the representatives of the French king and the Duke of Savoy who were the Godfathers.  Notably absent from this auspicious occasion was Darnley even although he was present in the castle at the time.
In June of 1567, the Protestant lords rebelled.  They had become increasingly unhappy with Mary (James’ mother) after her marriage to Bothwell. They arrested and imprisoned Mary in Lochleven Castle where she was forced to abdicate the throne of Scotland.  James, was only a year old when he became James VI, King of Scotland.
Because of his young age a regent was appointed to act as head of state.  In fact, during his minority a succession of regents were chosen to rule in his stead.  The first regent was Mary’s half brother, James Stuart, Earl of Moray,  Upon the Earl’s death in  1570, Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox, who was James grandfather, became the second regent.  His regency didn’t last very long, as he died in 1571.  The third regent was James’s guardian, John Erskine, the first Earl of Mar whose regency also didn’t last long, he died in 1572.  The fourth and last of the regents was the very powerful James Douglas, Earl of Morton.
In spite of his mother’s Catholic faith, James was brought up in the Protestant religion. He was educated by men who had empathy for the Presbyterian church. His marriage to Anne of Denmark (a protestant country) no doubt pleased his Protestant subjects.
James was considered to be an intellectual and did write several books.
An interesting book on witchcraft came about after his return from Krondborg where his marriage to Anne took place. This book was the result of his attendance at the North Berwick Witch Trial.  Apparently, several people were accused of using the black arts to create a storm hoping that it would sink the ship carrying James and Anne back to Scotland. He became quite troubled about this threat from witchcraft and wrote his book on demonology. As a result, hundreds of women were put to death for supposedly being witches.
“A custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black, stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the the pit that is bottomless.”  James wrote these words in his publication “A Counterblaste to Tobacco (1604).”  Without a doubt, James did not like smoking and made it quite plain what he thought about the “loathsome” habit!
Another interesting writing was The True Law of Free Monarchies in which he states that “the sovereign succeeds to his kingdom by right from God.”  He believed that subjects owe absolute obedience, and that his rights as sovereign could not be attacked nor limited. Though he believed in the divine right of kings his Parliament most definitely did not.
He authorized a translation of the bible which is now known as the King James Version.
James married Anne Oldenburg of Denmark on 23 November, 1589. Anne was the daughter of Frederick II, King of Denmark and Sophia von Mecklenburg-Gustrow. It is said that Anne and James were at first quite close but after several years of marriage they drifted apart.  They had quite a large family, eight children in all, of which only three survived.  In fact, after the death of their daugher Sophia, Anne and James lived apart.  Anne, eventually converted to Catholicism.
On 25 July, 1603, in Westminster Abbey, James and Anne were crowned.  The two kingdoms were now united under one crown.  However, they were in fact, two separate kingdoms each with their own legislatures and own administrative bodies.  Being under one crown, they could not go to war with each other, they could not take opposing sides in foreign wars.  Nor could they make any hostile agreements.
James misunderstood the differing powers of the two parliaments and conflicts arose especially in the areas of taxation and religion.  There were also diametrically opposite opinions on Spain. England adamantly believed Spain to be its enemy and, therefore, a country to be defeated.  On the other hand, James believed in resolving differences with Spain.
A list of troubles for James included:

The anger of Roman Catholics, resulting in plots to remove the King.  One such plot was the Gunpowder Plot another was the Bye Plot.
A Catholic uprising in 1588, and a conspiracy in 1600 led by John Ruthven, Earl of Gowrie.
His plan for free trade between Scotland and England was denied.
His selling of honors and titles to shore up the debt-ridden treasury.
His dissolution of the second Parliament called the Addled Parliament whose purpose was to obtain new taxes.  Ultimately, this Parliament failed to pass any legislation and failed to impose taxes.  After the dissolution he ruled for seven years without a parliament.
Arranging the marriage of his eldest son to the daughter of the King of Spain hoping for an alliance with Spain. The marriage greatly angered the populace.
His execution of the well-liked, and admired Sir Walter Raleigh further hurt his popularity.
The Five Articles of Perth did not endear him either as they were interpreted as being too Catholic and Anglican-like therefore a threat to Scottish Presbyterians. (The Five Articles of Perth:  (1) kneeling during communion, (2) private baptism, (3) private communion for the sick or infirm, (4) confirmation by a Bishop and (5) the observance of Holy Days.)

R. S. Raitt and J.S. Parrott wrote:
“The reign of James the First of England and Sixth of Scotland, ‘the wisest fool in Christendom’…, was a complete failure, and a time of gathering storm which burst upon the country in the reign of his son.  His ideas of kingship and prerogative turned Parliament against him, and began the long duel between king and people which resulted in the execution of Charles the First.  Parliament defended its privileges; secured the right to discuss all affairs of state; overthrew monopolies; and by the impeachment of Bacon and others made good the principle that ministers of the king ought to be held responsible for their acts.  James’ hatred of extreme parties caused him to persecute the Puritans and Roman Catholics, and set them against him.  His foreign policy was also a failure.  In his desire for peace and a Spanish alliance he sacrificed Raleigh, and refused to help his Protestant son-in-law in Germany, greatly to the indignation of the English people.  Finally, however, he declared war with Spain, and married his son to a French Roman Catholic princess.  He left his people angry and defiant, and only a very tactful conciliatory successor could have avoided conflict.” (Fingerposts, 1909)
It is said that his wife Anne was the one who brought art and culture to the court of King James.
James had his court favorites, and considering he was an intelligent person, he strangely relied on these people for advice on government issues even though their qualifications were questionable.  These favorites apparently had lots of personal charm but not much in the way of talent or intelligence.
In 1584, James was visited by Fontenay, his mother Mary’s french emmissary (Labanoff, vi, 80).  Fontenay had the following to say regarding the young James’ character and traits:
“I have been well received by the king, who has treated me better in reality than in appearance.  He give me much credit, but does not show me much kindness.  Since the day of my arrival he has ordered me to live in his house along with the earls and lords, and that I shall have access to him in his cabinet just as the others have… .
To tell you truly what I think of him – I consider him the first prince in the world for his age. … . He apprehends and conceives quickly, he judges ripely and with reason, and he retains much and for a long time.  In questioning he is quick and piercing, and solid in his answers. … He is learned in many languages, sciences, and affairs of state. more so than probably anyone in his realm. In a word he has a miraculous wit, and moreover is full of noble glory and a good opinion of himself.
Having been brought up in the midst of constant fears, he is timid and will not venture to contradict the great lords; yet he wishes to be thought brave.
He hates dancing and music in general and especially all the mincing affectations of the court … .
From want of proper instruction his manners are boorish and very rough, as well in his way of speaking, eating. dress, amusements and conversation, even in the company of women.
He is never at rest in one place but takes a singular pleasure in walking; but his gait is very ungainly and his step is wandering and unsteady, even in a room.  His voice is thick and very deep as he speaks. … He is weak of body … But to sum up, he is an old young man. …
He misunderstands the real extent of his poverty and weakness; he boasts too much of himself and he despises other princes.  In the second place, he disregards the wishes of his subjects; and lastly, he is too idle and careless in business and too much addicted to his own pleasures, chiefly hunting. … He told me that he really gave greater attention to business than he seemed to do for he could get through more work in one hour than others could in a day. … 

James ruled Scotland as James VI from  24th July 1567;  James ruled in England and Ireland as James 1st from 24th March, 1603. He died 27th March, 1625 at Theobalds House, and his remains lie in the Henry VII Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey.
If you have Acrobat Reader you can click  here  for a genealogy chart of the descendants of Henry VII.  (Be sure to use the zoom-in tool to make the chart readable.  Also, please click on the back button to get back to this page.)  The chart shows the ancestral relationship of James’ parents through Margaret Tudor’s marriage to James IV of Scotland, and her second marriage to Archibald Douglas.  You will see that the marriage to James IV produced Margaret Tudor’s granddaughter Mary Queen of Scots, and her marriage to Archibald Douglas produced Margaret Tudor’s grandson, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.


1603 Accession of James.   The MAIN PLOT, to put Arabella Stuart on the throne, discovered.   The BYE PLOT, to secure toleration for Puritans and Roman Catholics also discovered.   Execution of three leading conspirators in the MAIN PLOT. Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned. Heavy outbreak of plague in England.
1604 The Hampton Court Conference held between the bishops and Puritan leaders.   The conference was a failure but led to a new version of the bible known as the Authorised Version (1611)
1605 The Gunpowder Plot discovered.
1607 Jamestown, Virginia founded.
1608 Quebec (Canada) founded by the French
1609 A truce between the Dutch and Spain marks the beginning of Dutch independence.
1610 The House of Commons objected to imposition of duties/taxes on imported goods without the consent of Parliament. (Note: see 1614) Moors expelled from Spain.
1611 The Colonisation of Ulster (Ireland) by the English and Scots.
1612 Tobacco planted in Virginia in American colonies. The first British factory in India, opened at Surat.
1614 James’ second parliament was dissolved. James had unlawfully raised duties/taxes on imported goods such as tobacco. New York founded by the Dutch.
1616 Sir Walter Raleigh allowed to sale for America. Death of William Shakespeare.
1618 Execution of Sir Walter Raleigh James I: “Book of Sports.” Puritans object to playing of popular sports. Beginning of the Thirty Years’ War
1620 The Pilgrim Fathers emigrated to America and founded New England.
1620 The third Parliament. The House of Commons protested that “their liberties and privileges were the undoubted birthright of the people of England.”  James, angrily, dissolved Parliament.
1624 The fourth Parliament.  War declared against Spain. Virginia becomes a crown colony.
1625 Death of James. Colonial Office established in London. First fire engines in England. Hackney coaches in London. Tobacco tax. First English settlement on Barbados.

©2024 Scotland's Mary


We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.


Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?