In April 1603, a grand funeral cortege translated a coffin to Westminster Abbey in England. As it passed, the antiquarian John Stow recorded the scene
“Westminster was surcharged with multitudes of all sorts of people in their streets, houses, windows, leads and gutters, that came out to see the obsequy, and when they beheld her statue lying upon the coffin, there was such a general sighing, groaning and weeping as the like hath not been seen or known in the memory of man”
After a long reign, there’s often a tendency for a population to be a little relieved and look forward to a change of air and scenery and a fresh start; and the last decade of Elizabeth’s reign had been very difficult, in both Scotland and England, a time of failed harvests, rubbish weather, death and plague. But the English knew they were losing a good un in this case, and there was more public regret since the passing of the Big Man, Henry VIII – for whom, and I shall take this occasion to repeat the point often made, was held by his subjects in great reverence no matter the hysteria we like to pour on his head like holy oil.
James was well aware that since the previous autumn, Elizabeth had been ailing. He’d had one more panic attack about his succession, trying to persuade his convention to raise taxes for an army to invade England and claim his rights to the throne; and to the last Elizabeth refused to send him a letter that unequivocally said – ‘it’s you’. But Robert Cecil, the most powerful man in the realm and second of probably England’s most long lasting political dynasty, was in constant and secret contact from 1601. He wasn’t alone; in the finest tradition of cold hearted political manoeuvering, various aristocratic noses were heading trough-wards, such as Lord Howard for example.
In March 1603, Cecil drafted a proclamation and sent it for James’ approval; when the Queen looked beyond repair on 24th March, Cecil sent a messenger north at breakneck speed – he arrived 3 days later at Holyrood house. By the time he arrived, James had already been proclaimed king at Whitehall and London, the announcements received calmly and without objection, which was something of a win for the Tudors. On 5th April, he left Edinburgh for his new kingdom, promising to his Privy Council that he would return at least once every 3 years – a promise he no doubt sincerely believed at the time, and which would have been a good idea, but which was not to come to pass.
He left a kingdom in many ways transformed by the 25 years of his reign – politically stable, religious accommodation for the moment achieved between king and kirk, a strong administration and a nation making strides from the feudal kingdom of the past to a nation state – though many bridges were to be negotiated before that process was complete. The troubles of the 1590s were over, and prosperity and trade returning. James’ ride south through England turned into a triumphal progress, cheered all the way to the capital. Feasting and hunting all the way, while he immediately confirmed all the existing English Privy Councillors in their posts – a double edged tactic since the ambitious were thus at a stroke deprived of their hopes for advancement; he did add the odd Englishman, and also a couple of Scots to the English PC – the earls of Mar and Lennox.
So that’s all very nice and sweet then. By the time James left his capital in Edinburgh, he was surrounded by a stable Privy Council, and a relatively obedient kirk, with the number of bishops on the increase to support his royal authority. He left in particular two men as leaders Alexander Seton, Earl of Dunfermline, currently the Lord Chancellor, though viewed with suspicion by the kirk as a Catholic; but alongside, his political rival the impeccable George Hume, Earl of Dunbar. He left also a culture that these men, and others on the privy council, would not only seek to govern effectively on the king’s behalf but also seek to actually extend royal power. Dunbar and Dunfermline are in a way examples of new men, in the sense that they were not part of the ancient magnate families who might once have expected to rule; but it’s easy to over emphasise the point in our enthusiasm to advance the story of a Stuart revolution in Government through a new lairdly administration; you have heard both names, Hume and Seton before; these are important and ancient families, even if not of the first rank.
The moon that hit James’ eye like a big pizza pie as he surveyed his new kingdom was not the moon or romance, but the idea that hey, he was not just king of Scotland, and England, and Ireland, and Prince of Wales. All this lot shared the same archipelago of islands, and if you put Scotland and England together in particular what have you got? Why, the kingdom of Skengland of course! Well maybe not, let’s call it the Kingdom of Britain, and right from the start James charged with enthusiasm into the idea that he should create a full union; there should be no messing about with anything complicated like the future union of 1707 would be, you know, preserving the laws and traditions of Scotland within a union that sort of tripe, nope – this would be a full union. He emphasised to everyone in England that he was not the first of a new dynasty, no no no, he was in fact a descendant of the very first Tudor – steady as she goes, no change, nothing to see here. Here was a king who had been practising his art for years, and he was confident he knew exactly what he was doing and needed no education on the business of kinging; and he knew what needed to be done – England and Scotland needed to become one country and he needed to be retitled King of Great Britain
I am the husband and the whole isle is my lawful wife
He declared. And
Unus Rex, unus Grex and una law
Which means One king, one people, one law
He wrote to Robert Cecil
I mean specifically …uniting both of the laws and parliaments of both kingdoms
He even set the college of Arms going to design a flag, and so was born the very first version of the Union Flag, in 1606, melding the Red cross of St George and the St Andrews Saltire; just to cover the oft repeated comment on twitter and other places, the Welsh dragon does not appear because by 1606 England and Wales were considered to be one kingdom. I didn’t make the decisions, don’t have a go at me, I’m just the messenger I’d love a sexy red dragon on the union flag, it’s without doubt the pick of the bunch.
Now look, the Scots and the English as a matter of principle only agree on 3 things; firstly, not to agree on anything but it’s always the fault of the English anyway; secondly that Joe Jordan really needed to see a dentist. But thirdly, they all agree that the idea of Union sucks, and when James’ told them all this, the sound of egg laying could be heard from Land’s End to John o’Groats. All kind of objections were thrown up. The English parliament said that the laws of England would be immediately extinguished, legally invalidated, because they were made by parliament and king of England, not some king of Britannia geezer. The Scots were already worried about the departure of James to London anyway
Our kings will be Englishmen, born in England residing in England. They will naturally prefer Englishmen as their attendants and courtiers
They made it quite clear that they would not be
A conquered and slavish province to be governed by a viceroy or a deputy
– they would retain their independence under their king, and a dual monarchy was the only possible solution. Scots feared integration of the church too, proudly declaring their church free of the papist practices of the imperfect English church and worried about being polluted by the Anglicans. Meanwhile, James had misread the English parliament too; turns out it was much bigger than the Scottish parliament, it’s bicamercal nature and the its guiding principle of partnership, king in Parliament and all that, made it much less easy to manage than the simplicity and nimbleness of making law through the Scottish institutions of privy council and conventions. Edwin Sandys, son of the Edwin Sandys who stood with Northumberland in the market place at Cambridge when Mary stole the throne from the rightful queen of England by the way, managed opposition in parliament to the king of Britain thing, and James rather fluffed things by tucking into his new English inheritance by paying off the debts of two Scottish noblemen to the exorbitant tune of £44,000. By 1607, the idea of union was already effectively dead – although James insisted on changing his styling on the coinage. There were the odd other changes made – so for example Scotsmen born and bred were now also naturalised Englishman. As Michael Lynch comments, inscrutably, and so was born the phenomenon of the London Scot. I can’t tell whether the comment has any side to it to be honest this is beyond my cultural knowledge. So any Scots out their listening please advise. Meanwhile, Cross Border trade increased to mutual benefit, and trade down the coast from Scotland to London was particularly lucrative.
James did not entirely give up on the King of Britain it has to be said; but he realised this was not a simple thing, it would demand a gradualist approach, and to give him his due, James was well able to play a long game. He also realised that the Scots had good reason for worry; how would he maintain contact, remain linked into Scottish concerns and priorities? Maintaining contact with his nobility had always been his super power, but already by 1607 even he was lamenting that he knew fewer and fewer of his great men in Scotland personally.
I doe not already know the one halfe of them by face, most of the youth now being risen up to be men, who were but children when I was there
Although he brought Scotsmen into the body politic, and into institutions such as the order of the garter for example, it became quickly clear that he could not stuff the English Privy Council with Scots – one or two, in a purely titular capacity was all that could be borne. But he managed to find a part way solution. Firstly, he encouraged links and contacts between the England and Scottish nobility – often by the traditional technique of intermarriage, although progress was slower than he hoped. Secondly and more practically, if he couldn’t surround himself with Scotsmen in the English political institutions, he could use his own personal household the bedchamber.
James surrounded himself there with Scots – just the one Englishman; it had the advantage that here was a channel of communication with Scotland and the magnates and lairds. It worked relatively well to mitigate the absentee king thing. There was something of a rush from Scotland as it happens, because as you know proximity to the king, even to the extent of joining him for a communal poo in the privy closet, is most valuable to get favours or patronage; less so, in this case, to talk politics. So numerous were the Scottish bees buzzing round the Stuart honey pot that the English lords began to grumble, cut off as they were from a traditional point of contact; Sir John Holles whined in 1610
The Scots monopolise his princely person, standing like mountains betwixt the beams of his majesty and us.
And if you were going to get in the way of princely beams, then James was the kind of prince to choose. As he travelled south to London, James fiddled madly with his codpiece, and presumably dribbled at an increased rate – now he was in the money. Most of this will be part of the history of England of course, but it’s relevant to note that James’ mad generosity just got worse with the resources of England at his disposal, and the taps opened, and there were no rules – English money gaily found its way into Scottish sporra, if that’s the plural of sporran. So if you took the time, expense and pain of travelling to London, on the one hand a Scottish lord was faced with enormous expense; but the rewards could be significant. Whereas if you stayed at home, you were a long way from the source. Given that the cause of this was James’ financial incontinence, is seems a little unfair that back in Scotland, hatred of Westminster, now a long and enduring condition for pretty much the whole of the North Atlantic archipelago starts here in Scotland; Westminster acquired a reputation in Scotland for corruption and unpopular fiscal expedients feeding over-spending, along with a toleration for Catholicism. Ironically of course, most of the English court would have agreed and pointed behind their hands at their Scottish king. None the less, James did succeed in quietly building Anglo Scottish links at his court.
Despite James’ worries about maintaining his personal contact, in other ways he was rather smug with some good reason about the way the Scottish government worked in his absence. So, he airily declared at one point to the English parliament
Here I sit and govern with my pen, I write and it is done, and by a clerk of the Council I govern Scotland now, which others could not do by the sword
There is some truth in this; and he was helped by the credit he had built up in the first half of his reign, the contacts and relationships he had formed; while those were alive, he reaped as he had sown. He also had at his disposal men of talent. The earl of Dunfermline, Alexander Seton initially acted as his chief minister, and he travelled constantly between Edinburgh and London at enormous expense but in 1605 quickly blotted his copybook with something of a boob as we will hear – and so the more decisive George Hume, Earl of Dunbar effectively led the government and Privy Council until his death in 1611, while Dunfermline kept his head down and wrote letters of support for Dunbar in a frankly rather toadying way. But in 1611 Dunfermline he received his reward for his brown nosing, and was James’ right hand man in Scotland again, until his own death in 1612.
James could also for a while rely on the support of Archbishop Spottiswode, and the talented and energetic Bishop Andrew Knox. In 1606, Knox was appointed moderator of the presbytery of the Isles, and his efforts and ability to communicate in Gaelic made a massive difference to the spread of the kirk in the Isles; in many instances it is only with the work of individuals such as Knox that Protestantism moved forward in Gaeldom. Meanwhile, the Privy Council continued to work to the advantage of Royal authority – there are no signs that in the absence of the Cat King, the Privy Council mice would play. In 1604 for example they laid down heavy penalties for those found guilty of feuding, which continued to lead towards the steady reduction of violence in Scottish politics, and was followed by more legislation in 1609. In 1625, James imported the principle of Justices of the Peace from England into the Scottish shires.
They also took action in what James referred to as the Middle Shires, essentially the Borders on both sides of the line. Well before the Dual Monarchy hove into view, James had targeted the violence of the Borderers; now that he had control of both sides on the Border his action and that of the Privy Council really began to pay dividends; it came at the cost of some brutality in suppressing the endemic violence, but little could have been worse than the continual violence of countries subject to the Reivers – however much we might like to romanticise them now. A joint border commission was established in 1605, a police force established – in 1605 alone, William Cranston their boss, caught and hung 104 Reviers. By 1609 it appeared to have worked; although problem children remained – the Lord Maxwell for example, a violent Catholic border lord, called for a truce and friendly meeting with the head of the Johnstones. And then shot the head of the johnstones in the back, which is an unconventional negotiating stance. Maxwell was executed for treason in 1613.
Part of the strategy was the start of the practice of getting rid of problem children or undesirables by dumping them somewhere else, a strategy which signalled James’ enthusiasm for the policy of plantation, as tried already in Lewes, to be implemented now in Ulster. And in centuries to come of course, for the dumping of undesirables across the world in place like Australia. It starts with King James VI of Scotland, ladies and gentlemen. The clan in question was the clan Graham, traditionally a very powerful border clan, located on some of the better land on the marches in Eskdale. And maybe for this reason, as well as their size and power, roundly hated on both sides of the border. The Grahams were viciously treated by the Border Commission, hunted down, their lands confiscated and suffering multiple executions. In 1606, the remnant were transported wholesale to Ireland. Their plantation lasted a couple of years, before, in common with the earlier English plantations, they disintegrated under the hostility of the locals, and the Grahams dispersed; many probably made their way toward Ulster to join later plantations.
I guess we should wait for the History of England to do the Irish history in more depth, but of course in a way it fits just as well into the history of Scotland. But just an overview now then; with the end of the Nine Years War and the flight of the earls from Ireland, The governor of Ireland, Chichester, proposed a reasonably conciliatory approach to James which gave native Irish significant rights. James favoured a sterner approach, and in this he was supported by the Secretary of the Scottish privy council, Alexander Hay. Here was a chance to extend the policy of removing the Grahams to other undesirable Reivers – and indeed as the Grahams made their way towards Ulster, they would find many Borderers from the harder parts of the west and middle Marches. But it was also an opportunity for hard pressed Scottish farmers to carve themselves out new lands in Ireland and set themselves up; and with James’ close personal interest, the stream of colonisers from Scotland, as well as some from England, made a real impact. By the time of a report into the situation in Ulster in 1622 the impact was clear, with the adoption of English law for example, and the growth of towns such as Derry and Coleraine. But there were never enough settlers to entirely replace the locals who remained as tenant Farmers, resolutely Catholic. And thus the seeds of future conflict were sown.
So let us turn back to the church then, and talk first of all about that boob I mentioned, for history is largely about boobs I have found. That my friends is I think a shining example of a bit of smutty and feeble double entendre in the style of Carry on up the Khyber, something of a classic if you would like to know more of the weaker side of English humour.
Anyway, back to boobs. James had worked very hard to establish the principle that only the king could call a General Assembly, as a way of maintaining some control over the Kirk; and slowly, James’ policy of extending the power of the Episcopy in the Scottish kirk, representative of royal authority, was bearing fruit in a more collaborate and emollient policy. In1605, that emollience continued as James re-assured the General Assembly of the Kirk that there would be no union with the English church. But in 1605, when the General assembly requested to meet at Aberdeen, Archbishop Spottiswode warned James that there was much invective against the Bishops among the more radical ministers, supporters of Andrew Melville – and so James refused permission to meet. And yet when a load of ministers turned up anyway in July, Dunfermline took the view that it was better to continue to emol – and he let them away with it and hold their meeting.
James was livid, and for this boob Dunferminline effectively found himself demoted, and Dunbar promoted in his place. But James did not leave it there – a group of the ring leaders of the illegal Assembly were prosecuted which led to an unseemly tussle, with James piling the pressure for conviction on the jury, and the Jury really, really not wanting to convict. In the end – the king squeaked it. But given the direction the kirk began to take by the of the reign, you have to wonder if James’s judgement had been here defective, and he should maybe have listened to Dunfermline a bit more carefully and not fanned the flames of opposition.
However, James thought he knew exactly where the problem lay. Andrew Melville had been a thorn in his side since, well for ever, and this time he’d have his ears. Melville and 8 others were invited down to London, and subjected to a collection of sermons, or whatever the collective noun for a vast number of sermons is, on the value of bishops. Of course, there was nothing emolient about Melville, and he was finally sent into exile by an exasperated James. He fled to Sedan, where he lived out the rest of his life as a prof.
James continued the charge; in 1610, the diocese of the Bishops were redrawn on pre-reformation lines; by 1611 as we have said all the bishops were in place, and forming a powerful advocate for the king in both the General Assembly and Parliament. Although there is more than a whiff of Anglo Scottish convergence in the role of bishops, thus far, the rank and file of the kirk were probably broadly on side with the king. The Scottish Bishops remained very different from their English counterparts, moderators of synods and presbyteries rather than sole masters of their dioceses, and with little of the palatial residencies found south of the border.
But James wanted to go further; and pursuing his advantage, he did so, expecting his bishops to push through further changes. These appeared in the synod of the Kirk in 1617, and would finally be approved by Parliament in 1621 as the Five Acts. These were that Only Bishops were to carry out confirmations; the five greatest pre-reformation festivals were re-established – Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension and Whitsunday. So we know where Cromwell got the idea of cancelling Christmas from. Only kidding. As you all know of course, Cromwell didn’t cancel Christmas. Most contentiously, everyone must receive communion while kneeling; this was particularly explosive in a Scottish context, because it implied acceptance of transubstantiation. The synod sought to fight off the Five acts, but James forced the Bishops to push them through at a General Assembly at Perth in 1618. Parliament ratified them in 1621, but it lead to uncharacteristically fierce parliamentary debate and a close vote – the Five Acts were wildly contentious. For the first time, the kirk was in the grip of real lay resistance, not just resistance by a group of radical ministers led by Melville, and the middle ground of ministers, normally relaxed about royal authority, began to shift in their attitude – because it was now James rather than Melville who was appearing to take an extreme view point. Many congregations now voted with their feet; nonconformism grew strongly as congregations left the kirk and established their own conventicles. The burgh of Edinburgh was absurdly required to monitor the attendance of all its 12,000 worshippers, an impossible task, and one smelling of religious tyranny and suppression.
The Bishops and the kirk tried to diffuse the situation by not enforcing the Five Acts rigorously; by the time he died in 1625, James was continuing to insist that failing to kneel for communion was prosecuted, and James was more and more favourable to the model of the English church. But divergence between England and Scotland was growing – and more and more left the church.
The question, then is; given time, and no further controversy, would the kirk and congregations have slowly come to accept the bishops and Five Acts, as has been asserted? Both Lynch and Pauline Croft rather doubt it, and certainly at the end of the reign, James left a very strained relationship between the crown and kirk and many independent congregations, which would have to be dealt with great tact by a skilful politician. Sadly, his son was to prove anything but a skilful politician. But it would not be entirely his fault; Charles had never been introduced to his Scottish nobility, and would prove a pig headed man. And the crisis of the Five Acts had the impact for many of damaging the traditional role of the king as the defender of Scottishness – after all – there he was in England, attacking the pride of Scotland, its most perfect kirk. It’s noteworthy also that English politics affected Scottish attitudes in other ways; James was by now pursuing peace with Spain and a Spanish marriage for his son. It’s an attractive part of James’ character to the modern observer – a sign of his religious tolerance, and his honest and consistent hatred of war and a search for European peace. But James didn’t live in the 21st century; in 17th century Scotland, he was playing with the Catholic devil, and the Kirk deeply distrusted and hated the idea.
To be honest, I think we are nearly there with Jimmy VI, maybe a couple more things to say. By 1617, James’ boast that Scotland managed itself at his written command was wearing just a little thin; the Privy Council, though still fighting his corner, was growing in independence, and indeed increasingly selective about the stream of commands making their way north. I feel an anecdote coming on. I had a happy period in my working life where we all worked for a CEO of genuine talent, a lovely person who inspired all and who pretty much everyone loved and yet had the courage to make continual and bold changes. Part of the reason for his success and of the company in those 10 heady years or so, was that Bob was surrounded by a team of enormous talent, including, I have to tell you, the best boss I ever worked for, one Kay by name; hard as nails but a mind like a bacon slicer and brave to boot. Anyway enough gushing. Bob had something like 100 ideas a day. 99 of these ideas were seriously rubbish; but one of them would be pure gold; the team around him had the skill and trust to side step the rubbish ones. The Scottish Privy Council by 1625 was operating the same way; In 1626 the Earl of Mar remarked to Charles I on his accession that
A hundred times your worthy father has sent down directions which we have stayed; and he has given thanks for it when we have informed him of the truth.
None the less, James did come back to Scotland one more time in 1617. The Privy Council made extravagant and detailed preparations. But it was something of a triumph, though it cost a king’s ransom; but James did what he did best, met his lords, hunted, hung out with all at court. But there were difficult times to come; in 1621, impending war that James could no longer avoid, resulted in a tax which for once hit the aristocratic class as well as everyone else; a 5% tax on annual rents which also extended the tax base. That caused some resentment, but probably worse in James’s desperate search for money was his sale of favours and promotion of new peers to the nobility; in 1585 there had been 49 peers – in 1625 there were 92. For the ancient magnate families, this dishonoured them, and bred resentment, which would again not serve his son well.
By the time 1625 rolled around, it has to be said James looked a bit rough around the edges. He suffered from arthritis, gout and kidney stones; he also lost his teeth. He had been partying for years, and while hunting had kept him reasonably fit, the boozing gets you in the end every time; in the last year of his life he was a right poorly pig. And of course his life had been marred by tragedy as so many families were, and the death of many of his children. I have forgotten though one of the great what ifs of British history; the death at the age of 18 of Prince Henry, the heir to the throne. Now obviously dying young does wonders for a man’s reputation, but by all accounts, Henry was fixing to be a fine king, and was very popular. When he died in 1612 of typhoid, it was keenly felt as a tragedy above and beyond the death any child must be. I say great what ifs, because historiography these days rather plays down long term causes for the British civil wars that would follow in Charles’s reign, and, to summarise to a horrible degree, that the main cause was because Charles was a blithering incompetent. Politican. We’ll argue that one through sometime, but what if it’s true? Maybe a more adroit King Henry I and IX would have pirouetted through the various crises and hundreds of thousands of lives saved. Though, what would the very best electric folk band in the history of electric folk then have called themselves? The John Ball supporters club maybe. Still James also bears a little blame for all that – in 1617 he really should have taken Charles to show him his Scottish kingdom and meet his people.
So what to say about Jimmy VI? It’s a little tricky because you have only really had half the story, and the better half at that. You will have to take my word for it that at the English court, James does the Spinal Tap thing and turns the amp up to 11 – more utterly irresponsible spending, outrageous favourites; and he really finds it much harder to manage the complexities of dealing with the English parliament, the largest representative body in Europe.
We see the best of him in Scotland in the first half of his reign I think. He has something of a cast iron reputation there, and you can see why if you just put mother and son together. Obviously as I often carefully explained to my mother on multiple occasions in my youth, as the great John Lydgate said, ‘odious of old are comparisons, and of comparisons hatred is engendered’, and are the Paterson children really so perfect, and can she be sure they are really happy? James didn’t have to deal with all the prejudices of gender in a deeply patriarchal world that his mother did, None the less, the ball he was passed, if not quite in the A&E department, was close to being a hospital pass – surrounded by faction and a tradition of political violence and assassination. When he took the last train to the coast, with father son and holy ghost, to become king of Britain. He left a kingdom that he could leave, and would remain stable and well administered, without political violence, during his absence of 22 long years. I mean – wow! Well played my son.
He’s a curious mix of the gentle and brutal; his search for affection and lavishing of affection, whether bisexual or not. His toleration and abrupt end to Elizabethan religious persecution, his constant reluctance to follow the business of European monarchs – making war, finding glory treasure and conquest. On the other hand, his brutality towards Gaeldom.
He had great political skills, even in the second half of his reign, which explains his success in Scotland to a large degree, and by the time he left he’d not reached the heights of his financial lunacy – arriving at the English sweetie shop, did that for him. But as Michael Lynch pointed out he did leave a legacy in the Five Acts and the Kirk for his son to cope with, a jam that would have baffled Abraham; and yet he’d done so well to re-establish royal authority, if he’d just stopped in 1610, maybe again the Scottish civil war could have been avoided. In the end his political sense deserted him, and he just pushed it too far. He bears significant responsibility though not all of course, for what happens in 1638. But that should not diminish the extent of his achievement, and he is one of those monarchs that deserves more attention and a stronger reputation than all the codpiece stuff.