The age of James I


bullet James I was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry, Lord Darnley. He acceded to the throne of Scotland in 1567 while still a babe in arms, but exercised no real power until the 1580s.
bullet James was educated as a Protestant, but he never accepted the Presbyterian theories of church government propounded by his tutors.
bullet Scotland was poor in comparison with England, and its nobility and Kirk were considerably less amenable to control than their English counterparts. Nothing in Scotland looked better to James than the road south to the English throne, and he spent much effort before 1603 scheming to accede.
He returned to Scotland only once after his accession, and although some Scottish noblemen found a place in his affections, real influence and power thereafter lay with his English advisors.

Medal celebrating the marriage of James to Anne of Denmark

In 1589, James married Anne(1574-1619)  - sister of Christian IV, King of Denmark (1588-1648).
They had nine children, but only  Henry, Elizabeth, Charles, and Mary survived infancy. (Henry died of typhoid in 1612 at the age of eighteen).

bullet After Parliament had won the Civil War, Puritan writers attacked James as lazy, cowardly, effeminate, and corrupt. However, most contemporaries were far less hostile.
bullet James' accession to the English throne was entirely uncontested. James' ally, Sir Robert Cecil (later Earl of Salisbury) controlled the apparatus of government, and there was no real opposition to James within England's social elite. English Roman Catholics hoped that Mary, Queen of Scots' son would treat them favorably, and English puritans looked forward to a king raised in the reformed Kirk of Scotland.

James I


bulletJames I was one of the most highly-educated monarchs ever to have ruled England. He wrote elegant Latin poetry and had an extensive knowledge of theology.

James' works included A Counterblast to Tobacco (1604). Aimed against "this vile custom of tobacco taking", James used many arguments to discourage smoking including pointing to the "certain venomous faculty joined with the heat thereof, which makes it have an antipathy against nature, as by the hateful smell thereof doth well appear".

bulletJames was particularly interested in political theory and wrote three scholarly works on Roman Catholic political ideas. He also wrote a book of advice to his son, Henry (entitled Basilikon Doron)  outlining his political ideas, and expounded them (at length) to parliament.


His Majesties owne sonnet

God gives not kings the style of Gods in vain,
For on His throne His scepter do they sway:
And as their subjects ought them to obey,
So kings should fear and serve their God again:
If then ye would enjoy a happy reign
Observe the statutes of your heavenly king
And from His law make all your laws to spring:
Since His lieutenant here ye should remain,
Reward the just, Be steadfast, true, and plain,
Repress the proud, maintaining aye the right,
Walk always so, as ever in his sight,
Who guards the godly, plaguing the profane:
   And so ye shall in princely virtues shine,
   Resembling right your mighty king divine.

(Sonnet at the opening of Basilikon Doron, dedicated to Prince Henry)
[Spelling modernized]


bullet James was as fond of hunting as he was of dogmatic theology, and devoted more time to both than to the day-to-day administrative tasks of government that bored him.

James and the Catholics

bullet English Roman Catholics had hoped for much from the son of Mary, Queen of Scots. When their hopes were disappointed, some Catholic gentlemen began conspiring to change matters by violence.
bulletThe Gunpowder Plot involved an abortive - but highly dangerous - attempt to blow up the King and nobility of England and then seize control of the government.

Henry Garnet (1555-1606)
Garnet was hanged drawn and quartered 3 May 1606. A drop of his blood, spilt on a piece of straw [pictured above], supposedly resembled the priest's face, and was preserved as a sacred relic.

The involvement of a number of priests - in particular the Jesuit, Henry Garnet (who had known of the Plot but taken only feeble  measures to discourage it) - convinced the government that further measures were necessary to suppress Catholicism in England.

The penalties for recusancy were increased and a new Oath of Allegiance was imposed to try and test the loyalty of Catholic subjects.

bullet The Gunpowder Plot and the controversy over the Oath of Allegiance reinforced the connection in the minds of most English people between Catholicism and disloyalty. But after the Plot's failure, the Roman Catholic threat in fact rapidly declined:  Spain's economic decline removed the risk of foreign invasion, and English Catholics abandoned hopes of reclaiming England for the Old Religion and concentrated on their own survival.

 James and the Puritans

Lawrence Chaderton (1536-1640) - the leader of the puritans at the Hampton Court Conference

bullet In 1603, English puritans had high hopes that James I being more amenable to ecclesiastical reform than Elizabeth I had been. As James proceeded south to assume the throne they presented him with the Millenary Petition, asking for reforms to the Church of England's worship and organization.

bullet James responded by setting up the Hampton Court Conference between representatives of the puritan cause and the Church's bishops. James himself chaired the conference, which met in January 1604.

bullet James I sided with the bishops and  - apart from a few insignificant changes to the Book of Common Prayer - no real changes were made.

bullet James did authorize a new translation of the Bible. This appeared in 1611, and the King James Bible became the standard version in English for many centuries.


bulletAfter the Conference, a Convocation of the Church was called to pass canons enforcing clerical obedience to the established religion. Puritan ministers who refused to subscribe to these changes were deprived of their livings. (The House of Commons refused to confirm these canons, though this was less a result of puritan fervor than disputes with the crown over control of the Church).

Conflict between the Church of England's authorities and puritans diminished during the mild reign of George Abbot as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1611 to1633. Abbot sympathized with many of the puritans' complaints and regarded Catholicism as the real threat against which Protestants should unite.

George Abbot (1562-1633)


bullet Most puritans bowed before James I's firm rejection of reform, but a few formed their own congregations. These Independents (or semi-Separatists) were led first by Henry Jacob. Many moved to the Netherlands and later  established a colony in Massachusetts where they could worship according to their own lights.

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