1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
James I of Great Britain
JAMES I. (1566-1625), king of Great Britain and Ireland, formerly king of Scotland as James VI., was the only child of Mary Queen of Scots, and her second husband, Henry Stewart Lord Darnley. He was born in the castle of Edinburgh on the i 9th of June 1566, and was proclaimed king of Scotland on the 24th of July 1567, upon the forced abdication of his mother. Until 1578 he was treated as being incapable of taking any real part in public affairs, and was kept in the castle of Stirling for safety's sake amid the confused fighting of the early years of his minority.
The young king was a very weakly boy. It is said that he could not stand without support until he was seven, and although he lived until he was nearly sixty, he was never a strong man. In after life he was a constant and even a reckless rider, but the weakness in his legs was never quite cured. During a great part of his life he found it necessary to be tied to the saddle. When on one occasion in 1621 his horse threw him into the New River near his palace of Theobalds in the neighbourhood of London, he had a very narrow escape of being drowned; yet he continued to ride as before. At all times he preferred to lean on the shoulder of an attendant when walking. This feebleness of body, which had no doubt a large share in causing certain corresponding deficiencies of character, was attributed to the agitations and the violent efforts forced on his mother by the murder of her secretary Rizzio when she was in the sixth month of her pregnancy. T'he fact that James was a bold rider, in spite of this serious disqualification for athletic exercise, should be borne in mind when he is accused of having been a coward. The circumstances surrounding him in boyhood were not favourable to the development of his character. His immediate guardian or foster-father, the earl of Mar, was indeed an honourable man, and the countess, who had charge of the nursing of the king, discharged her duty so as to win his lasting confidence. James afterwards entrusted her with the care of his eldest son, Henry. When the earl died in 1572 his place was well filled by his brother, Sir Alexander Erskine. The king's education was placed under the care of George Buchanan, assisted by Peter Young, and two other tutors. Buchanan, who did not spare the rod, and the other teachers, who had more reverence for the royal person, gave the boy a sound training in languages. The English envoy, Sir Henry Killigrew, who saw him in 1574, testified to his proficiency in translating from and into Latin and French. As it was very desirable that he should be trained a Protestant king, he was well instructed in theology. The exceptionally scholastic quality of his education helped to give him a taste for learning, but also tended to make him a pedant. James was only twelve when the earl of Morton was driven from the regency, and for some time after he can have been no more than a puppet in the hands of intriguers and party leaders. When, for instance, in 1582 he was seized by the faction of nobles who carried out the so-called raid of Ruthven, which was in fact a kidnapping enterprise carried out in the interest of the Protestant party, he cried like a child. One of the conspirators, the master of Glamis, Sir Thomas Lyon, told him that it was better "bairns should greet [children should cry] than bearded men." It was not indeed till 1583, when he broke away from his captors, that James began to govern in reality.
For the history of his reign reference may be made to the articles on the histories of England and Scotland. James's work as a ruler can be divided, without violating any sound rule of criticism, into black and white - into the part which was a failure and a preparation for future disaster, and the part which was solid achievement, honourable to himself and profitable to his people. His native kingdom of Scotland had the benefit of the second. Between 1583 and 1603 he reduced the anarchical baronage of Scotland to obedience, and replaced the subdivision of sovereignty and consequent confusion, which had been the very essence of feudalism, by a strong centralized royal authority. In fact he did in Scotland the work which had been done by the Tudors in England, by Louis XI. in France, and by Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain. It was the work of all the strong rulers of the Renaissance. But James not only brought his disobedient and intriguing barons to order - that was a comparatively easy achievement and might well have been performed by more than one of his predecessors, had their lives been prolonged - he also quelled the attempts of the Protestants to found what Hallam has well defined as a "Presbyterian Hildebrandism." He enforced the superiority of the state over the church. Both before his accession to the throne of England (1603) and afterwards he took an intelligent interest in the prosperity of his Scottish kingdom, and did much for the pacification of the Hebrides, for the enforcement of order on the Borders, and for the development of industry. That he did so much although the crown was poor (largely it must be confessed because he made profuse gifts of the secularized church lands), and although the armed force at his disposal was so small that to the very end he was exposed to the attacks of would-be kidnappers (as in the case of the Gowrie conspiracy of 1600), is proof positive that he was neither the mere poltroon nor the mere learned fool he has often been called.
James's methods of achieving ends in themselves honourable and profitable were indeed of a kind which has made posterity unjust to his real merits. The circumstances in which he passed his youth developed in him a natural tendency to craft. He boasted indeed of his "king-craft" and probably believed that he owed it to his studies. But it was in reality the resource of the weak, the art of playing off one possible enemy against another by trickery, and so deceiving all. The marquis de Fontenay, the French ambassador, who saw him in the early part of his reign, speaks of him as cowed by the violence about him. It is certain that James was most unscrupulous in making promises which he never meant to keep, and the terror in which he passed his youth sufficiently explains his preference for guile. He would make promises to everybody, as when he wrote to the pope in 1584 more than hinting that he would be a good Roman Catholic if helped in his need. His very natural desire to escape from the poverty and insecurity of Scotland to the opulent English throne not only kept him busy in intrigues to placate the Roman Catholics or anybody else who could help or hinder him, but led him to behave basely in regard to the execution of. his mother in 1587. He blustered to give himself an air of courage, but took good care to do nothing to offend Elizabeth. When the time came for fulfilling his promises and half-promises, he was not able, even if he had been willing, to keep his word to everybody. The methods which had helped him to success in Scotland did him harm in England, where his reign prepared the way for the great civil war. In his southern kingdom his failure was in fact complete. Although England accepted him as the alternative to civil war, and although he was received and surrounded with fulsome flattery, he did not win the respect of his English subjects. His undignified personal appearance was against him, and so were his garrulity, his Scottish accent, his slovenliness and his toleration of disorders in his court, but, above all, his favour for handsome male favourites, whom he loaded with gifts and caressed with demonstrations of affection which laid him open to vile suspicions. In ecclesiastical matters he offended many, who contrasted his severity and rudeness to the Puritan divines at the Hampton Court conference (1604) with his politeness to the Roman Catholics, whom he, however, worried by fits and starts. In a country where the authority of the state had been firmly established and the problem was how to keep it from degenerating into the mere instrument of a king's passions, his insistence on the doctrine of divine right aroused distrust and hostility. In itself, and in its origin, the doctrine was nothing more than a necessary assertion of the independence of the state in face of the "Hildebrandism" of Rome and Geneva alike. But when Englishmen were told that the king alone had indefeasible rights, and that all the privileges of subjects were revocable gifts, they were roused to hostility. His weaknesses cast suspicion on his best-meant schemes. His favour for his countrymen helped to defeat his wise wish to bring about a full union between England and Scotland. His profusion, which had been bad in the poverty of Scotland and was boundless amid the wealth of England, kept him necessitous, and drove him to shifts. Posterity can give him credit for his desire to forward religious peace in Europe, but his Protestant subjects were simply frightened when he sought a matrimonial alliance with Spain. Sagacious men among his contemporaries could not see the consistency of a king who married his daughter Elizabeth to the elector palatine, a leader of the German Protestants, and also sought to marry his son to an infanta of Spain. The king's subservience to Spain was indeed almost besotted. He could not see her real weakness, and he allowed himself to be befooled by the ministers of Philip III. and Philip IV. The end of his scheming was that he was dragged into a needless war with Spain by his son Charles and his favourite George Villiers, duke of Buckingham, just before his death on the 5th of March 1625 at his favourite residence, Theobalds.
James married in 1589 Anne, second daughter of Frederick II., king of Denmark. His voyage to meet his bride, whose ship had been driven into a Norwegian port by bad weather, is the only episode of a romantic character in the life of this very prosaic member of a poetic family. By this wife James had three children who survived infancy: Henry Frederick, prince of Wales, who died in 1612; Charles, the future king; and Elizabeth, wife of the elector palatine, Frederick V.
Not the least of James's many ambitions was the desire to excel as an author. He left a body of writings which, though of mediocre quality as literature, entitle him to a unique place among English kings since Alfred for width of intellectual interest and literary faculty. His efforts were inspired by his preceptor George Buchanan, whose memory he cherished in later years. His first work was in verse, Essayes of a Prentise in the Divine Art of Poesie (Edin. Vautrollier, 1584), containing fifteen sonnets, "Ane Metaphoricall invention of a tragedie called Phoenix," a short poem "Of Time," translations from Du Bartas, Lucan and the Book of Psalms ("out of Tremellius"), and a prose tract entitled "Ane short treatise, containing some Reulis and Cautelis to be observit and eschewit in Scottis Poesie." The volume is introduced by commendatory sonnets, including one by Alexander Montgomerie. The chief interest of the book lies in the "Treatise" and the prefatory sonnets "To the Reader" and "Sonnet decifring the perfyte poete." There is little originality in this youthful production. It has been surmised that it was compiled from the exercises written when the author was Buchanan's pupil at Stirling, and that it was directly suggested by his preceptor's De Prosodia and his annotations on Vives. On the other hand, it shows intimate acquaintance with the critical reflections of Ronsard and Du Bellay, and of Gascoigne in his Notes of Instruction (1575). In 1591 James published Poeticall Exercises at Vacant Houres, including a translation of the Furies of Du Bartas, his own Lepanto, and Du Bartas's version of it, La Lepanthe. His Daemonologie, a prose treatise denouncing witchcraft and exhorting the civil power to the strongest measures of suppression, appeared in 1599. In the same year he printed the first edition (seven copies) of his Basilikon Doron, strongly Protestant in tone. A French edition, specially translated for presentation to the pope, has a disingenuous preface explaining that certain phrases (e.g. "papistical doctrine") are omitted, because of the difficulty of rendering them in a foreign tongue. The original edition was, however, translated by order of the suspicious pope, and was immediately placed on the Index. Shortly after going to England James produced his famous Counterblaste to Tobacco (London, 1604), in which he forsakes his Scots tongue for Southern English. The volume was published anonymously. James's prose works (including his speeches) were collected and edited (folio, 1616) by James Montagu, bishop of Winchester, and were translated into Latin by the same hand in a companion folio, in 1619 (also Frankfort, 1689). A tract, entitled "The True Law of Free Monarchies," appeared in 1603; "An Apology for the Oath of Allegiance" in 1607; and a " Declaration du Roy Jacques I.... pour le droit des Rois" in 1615. In 1588 and 1589 James issued two small volumes of Meditations on some verses of (a) Revelations and ( b) 1 Chronicles. Other two "meditations" were printed posthumously. a See T. F. Henderson, James I. and VI. (London, 1904); P. Hume Brown, History of Scotland, vol. ii. (Edinburgh and Cambridge, 1902); and Andrew Lang, History of Scotland, vol. ii. (Edinburgh, 1902) and James VI. and the Gowrie Mystery (London, 1902); The Register of the Privy Council of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1877, &c.), vols. ii. to xiii.; S. R. Gardiner, History of England 1603-1642 (London, 1883-1884). A comprehensive bibliography will be found in the Cambridge Modern Hist. iii. 847 (Cambridge, 1904).
For James's literary work, see Edward Arber's reprint of the Essayes and Counterblaste (" English Reprints," 1869, &c.); R. S. Rait's Lusus Regius (1900); G. Gregory Smith's Elizabethan Critical Essays (1904), vol. i., where the Treatise is edited for the first time; A. O. M eyer's "Clemens VIII. and Jacob I. von England" in Quellen and Forschungen (Preuss. Hist. Inst.), VII. ii., for an account of the issues of the Basilikon Doron; P. Hume Brown's George Buchanan (1890), pp. 250-261, for a sketch of James'sassociation with Buchanan.
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Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'James I of Great Britain'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/bri/j/james-i-of-great-britain.html. 1910.