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King James I, an ardent advocate of complete union between England and Scotland, would hardly be tolerant of the excessive Scottish nationalism and talks of devolution so prevalent today. Indeed he would be antagonistic to discussions of a separate Scottish Parliament, to be revived after 288 years. Today there exists a separate Scottish heraldic household with its own Lord Lyon King of Arms, a Lord High Constable and a Hereditary Master of the Household. Our Queen's Scottish bodyguard, the Royal Company of Archers, is highly esteemed and honoured.
In England James would constantly remind the House of Commons that the first Tudor King Henry VII had united the Houses of York and Lancaster, Indeed he had acted as a symbol of union between England and Scotland, for his elder daughter Margaret had married James IV of Scotland, James VI's great-grandfather. Henry, proud of his Welsh blood, believed himself a descendant of King Arthur, proclaimed by legend the ruler of all Britain! So attracted to this notion was the King that he named his eldest son Arthur. When the Prince of Wales died early in 1502 in Ludlow Castle, it was a crushing blow for the King.
Elizabeth I would never openly acknowledge James as her successor, though before 1603 the King had considered himself a new Arthur about to unite the two kingdoms. However, it was unfortunate for James that a marked hostility existed between the English and the Scots, hardly surprising when we consider the constant warfare waged over several centuries. It was natural therefore for the English to complain about the many Scottish upstarts at his Court. They murmured against them, moaning that they were suffered like locusts to devour this kingdom, from whence they became so rich and insolent as nothing with any moderation, could either be given them or denied them.
In his views on a complete and lasting union between the two countries, James revealed an imaginative insight of no mean order, but he was opposed by many influential people. The resistance he encountered infuriated James, for he regarded himself as the instrument through which God was promoting the union of the two kingdoms. In his characteristic way James said 'What God hath conjoined let no man separate. I am the husband. All the whole realm is my lawful wife.'
Our first Stuart king was not only original, but visionary. He realized the advantages of reducing the laws of the two kingdoms to a single system, and he favoured a common coinage. During April 1604 the King asked the House of Commons to take two preliminary steps, firstly to allow him to assume the title of King of Great Britain and secondly, to appoint Commissioners to negotiate with politicians from Scotland on other matters. When opposed, James turned furiously on those who confronted him. Francis Bacon on first meeting the King at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, described James in a letter to Henry Percy, ninth Earl of Northumberland. 'Your Lordship shall find a Prince the farthest from the appearance of vain-glory that may be, and rather like a prince of the ancient form than of the latter time.' He thought of making his early archbishop, Bancroft, Primate of Great Britain.
A humourous play of Ben Jonson's named Eastward Ho, written in collaboration with two other playwrights, reflects the hostility the English bore the Scots in 1604. A mariner, Captain Seagull, is discussing in a Thames tavern the wealth of Virginia -- 'a land so rich that even the chamber-pots are made of solid gold. Since there are only a few hardworking Scots there, there is much space for Colonists, and for my part,' he declared, 'I would a hundred thousand of them were there, for we are one countrymen now, ye know, and we should find ten times more comfort by them there than we do here.'
When, during October 1604, James assumed the title of King of Great Britain, it was against the advice of his Council, for they considered the King's act as injudicious and provocative. Nicolo Molin, an early Venetian Ambassador at James's Court, reported to the Doge and Senate (December 16, 1604) that it was proposed to abolish all statutes indicative of hostility between England and Scotland. The King urged that all his subjects should be called 'Brittons' and that the names 'English' and 'Scottish' should be abolished. It is probable that Sir Robert Cecil, Viscount Cranbourne (soon to be created Earl of Salisbury), to whom James owed the blessing of a peaceful accession, persuaded the King that the union of the kingdom in a single monarchy must proceed more cautiously. James never realised his ambition. Complete union between England and Scotland did not exist until 1707. Today Tony Blair has promised if Labour achieves power, a whole newly elected legislature for Scotland would materialise.
Most people remember the homosexual James for his love of handsome favourites, Esme Stuart, Sieur d'Aubigny, Robert Cart and George Villiers. Rather we should remember his importance in inspiring the translation of the English Bible, and his constant and far-sighted work in search of peace, for in this respect he was much in advance of his age. He hated war and to hear of it was death to him.
A contemporary, Sir John Oglander, relates that King James 'was the most cowardly man I ever knew.' In his personal habits he was certainly timid, wearing great quilted doublets that were meant to be pistol-proof. The Spanish Ambassador, Count Gondomar, declared that James's love of peace was owing to his cowardice, but despite Gondomar's almost uncanny insight regarding the King's character, his devotion to peace was completely sincere. He was capable of courage as King of Scotland, when embarking on a highly dangerous journey by sea during 1589 to marry his bride, Anne of Denmark, thereby revealing the strong romantic streak in his character.
James constantly feared assassination both in Scotland and England, particularly after the gunpowder plot and after the assassination of Henri IV of France, a great king, in 1610. James wanted to maintain friendly relations with Scotland's ancient ally, but he had little in common with King Henri. The King of France taunted James, calling him the modem Solomon and the son of David Riccio, his mother's favourite. An absurd accusation because his portraits in boyhood show his physical resemblance to his father, Lord Darnley. With a touch of contempt, Henri described his fellow monarch as the wisest fool in Christendom, but James was far from being a fool. He possessed much political intelligence. He is the most human of our kings.
His character had many merits, for he possessed shrewdness, good common sense, wit, originality and readiness of speech. Bishop Goodman, a kindly contemporary critic, relates that 'his intellectual curiosity made him ever apt to search into secrets to try conclusions.' His tolerance made him tell his Parliaments 'I would be sorry to punish recusants their bodies for the errors of their minds.' His faults were, however, many. They included his conceit in his immense learning, particularly in his knowledge of Latin, acquired in his boyhood as the pupil of the scholarly Buchanan. James was often a poor judge of character, relying too much on worthless people. His increasing mental laziness after 1603 was to exasperate his ministers such as the Earl of Salisbury, maddened by his passion for hunting in the country, instead of attending to business. Making the excuse that life in the country was absolutely vital for his health, he always detested London, calling it 'a filthy toun'.
James's greatest failure was in the realm of foreign affairs in which he liked to act as arbiter. Yet in his early reign he enjoyed some limited success. He was absolutely right to seek peace with Spain in 1604 after long years of recrimination and warfare. Spain was gradually declining as a great power, but the English, probably impressed by Spanish boasting and arrogance, still thought of her as a mighty power with her colonies intact, a power much to be feared. A peace treaty was finally signed at Somerset House. After 1604 the relations between the two countries remained uneasy for some years and only improved with the arrival in London of the astute Sarmiento, later Count Diego Acuna Gondomar, a diplomat more than a match for James.
As one might expect, James hated piracy, seeming sympathetic to the accusations of Nicolo Molin, the Venetian Ambassador, when he complained of English pirates in the Mediterranean. He accused the Lord High Admiral, Nottingham (Howard of Effingham), of sharing in the booty, causing James in an emotional outburst to cry: 'By God, I'll hang the pirates with my own hands and my Lord Admiral as well.' If captured, they had a grisly fate.
James's relations with the Dutch, a maritime power, were reasonably good, but he was not yet alarmed by their increasing power at sea. Nor did he regard them as a threat. Since he never approved of rebels he had little sympathy for their revolt against Spain in the Spanish Netherlands, regarding it wrongly as a crime. Mainly because of his marriage with a Danish princess, James enjoyed much prestige in Scandinavia and Northern Germany.
Sir Henry Wotton, the King's able Italianate Ambassador in Venice, had first acquired James's favour by acting as the mouthpiece with an assumed name of Ferdinand I Grand Duke of Tuscany and travelling to Edinburgh to warn the King of Scotland of an attempt to assassinate him. Wotton wrote a perceptive character sketch of the King in Italian. He is best known, perhaps, for his witty definition of an ambassador in the album of a friend in Augsburg, 'An Ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for his country.' It followed that Wotton fell into disgrace from royal favour for almost a year.
The King is to be honoured as a great peacemaker, but he never realised that universal peace was impossible to achieve. His ambition was to become the Protestant Champion of Europe, to act as arbiter when disputes arose and at the same time to enjoy the friendship of Spain. He wanted to balance a Protestant marriage for his daughter, Elizabeth, with the Elector Frederick V of the Palatinate, while he planned a Roman Catholic marriage for his eldest son, Henry, Prince of Wales, a boy of much promise, with an Infanta of Spain. The negotiations collapsed (161D to fire secret relief of the Secretary of State, the Earl of Salisbury, who said: 'Our brave prince may find roses elsewhere instead of this olive.' Henry was to die of typhoid fever in St. James's Palace in 1612 aged eighteen, to be mourned by the whole nation. It was to Henry that his father had written his book of instruction Basilikon Doron, the best didactive prose work he ever wrote.
Princess Elizabeth by her marriage to Frederick in 1613 made James the Champion of Protestantism in Europe and certainly increased his influence in Germany. He could not foresee the ultimate fate of this enchanting princess and the weary years of exile that lay before her. A princess 'resplendent in darkness' as Wotton lovingly described her. The disgraceful blot on the memory of James I was his treatment of that great Elizabethan Sir Walter Raleigh and the sinister presence of Count Gondemar exclaiming 'Pirate' only served to alarm him.
May 1618, was a vital month in the history of Europe, for it marked the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War of Religion. James, Rex Pacificus, proposed himself as arbiter, having the backing of Spain, but neither the Holy Roman Emperor nor the contending Bohemian nobles were willing to accept his mediation.
When Frederick V Elector Palatinate rashly accepted the Bohemian crown from the rebel nobleman, James expressed his indignation that he had not been consulted. He blamed him as a rebel, usurping a kingdom not his own. To pursue incompatible aims, friendship with Spain and at the same time giving vital assistance in their necessity to his daughter and son-in-law was quite impossible. To conduct a hostile policy towards Spain after their invasion of the Palatinate and to negotiate a marriage between his surviving son, Prince Charles, with the Infanta of Spain reduced James to a state of paralysing indecision.
The last nine years of the King's life were dominated by his favourite, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, 'Steenie' as he nicknamed him (after St. Stephen). When Buckingham and Prince Charles returned to England from Spain, after the failure of the marriage negotiations, they clamoured in Parliament for war against Spain, but James, faithful to his principles, wanted to avoid war at any cost. He turned on Buckingham, 'You are a fool, Steenie,' he warned him. 'You are making a rod with which you will be scourged yourself.' To his son he added with rare insight, 'You will live to have your bellyful of parliaments'. Parliament did impeach Sir Lionel Cranfield, who had given the King splendid financial service.
The King died at Theobalds in Hertfordshire (1625), a sick, disillusioned, weary man, aged fifty-nine. The coffin in which his body reposed was placed in the magnificent vault in Westminster Abbey containing the remains of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York his consort, founders of the Tudor dynasty.
By Bryan Bevan