Finding Union and Peace within a Dual Monarchy

With his accession to the throne of England in 1603, James VI and I reigned over the three kingdoms of Scotland, England, and Ireland. Although he brought much of his experience ruling Scotland to England, he still faced many new challenges. One of these challenges was the way in which James would ensure peace and some degree of unity between two kingdoms that were accustomed to being ruled as separate entities with distinct peoples and needs. As James stated in his accession speech, “…peace be a great blessing, yet is it far inferior to peace within… What God has conjoined then, let no man separate.”[1] Though James VI and I, as king of England, Ireland, and Scotland began by ruling his composite monarchy as separate entities, nevertheless, James’ ultimate goal was unity between and within the different realms.

The nature of this unity, specifically between England and Scotland, changed throughout James’ rule. Initially, James ruled England and Scotland as separate kingdoms. J.H. Elliott has categorized this type of union as an aeque principaliter union- the entities involved remained separate and sustained their local customs and government.[2] However, this particular style of governance and unity soon became insufficient in attaining James’ goal of peace throughout all three kingdoms. James’ intentions shifted from an aeque principaliter union to an accessory union, a union in which the various kingdoms shared one jurisdiction and law. He essentially sought to combine both an aeque principaliter union with an accessory union to create a distinct union that allowed for coherence as well as separation between the kingdoms of England and Scotland. This shift primarily affected the religious spheres of both England and Scotland, specifically with the adoption of England’s absolute monarchy. This union helped James rule his dual monarchy and ultimately aided to advance his aims for each kingdom. James had the goodwill of his people in mind, for, as he stated in his accession speech to parliament, “a righteous king know himself to be ordained for his people, and not his people for him.”[3] In the midst of his accession, James kept peace by attempting to cause as little disruption as possible by not appearing to favor either England or Scotland.

In discussing the union of England and Scotland, James stated: what “…God has conjoined then, let no man separate.”[4] It is apparent throughout his accession speech that a certain amount of unity between Scotland, Ireland and England was desirable. This would have satisfied the people of each kingdom and perhaps even helped to gain their trust. James began to incorporate specific aspects of both England and Scotland into his ruling style. James was specifically drawn to the Church of England and the strong, central role that the absolute monarch played within the church government. Within the Scottish Kirk, a Presbyterian system, James was accustomed to participate as a mere member of the church, an aspect of Scottish life King James did not like. Whereas in England it’s “hierarchical structure, presided over by the monarch, suited James nicely.”[5] The utmost respect and obedience given to the English monarch was attractive to James. Additionally, “England, as far as James was concerned, treated its monarchs with proper respect and formality and the Church of England played a prominent role in that.”[6] The authority given to the English monarch, which extended into the Church, was necessary especially for James to assert himself as absolute monarch of both England and Scotland.

Though James liked the position of authority within the Church of England, still, the Scottish Kirk was not about to become a mirror image of the Church of England. Rather, “James sought a modest level of ‘congruity’ between the churches: the reform of aspects of each church which were antithetical to the others.”[7] He wanted to create an equilibrium in the environment in which both the Scottish Kirk and the Church of England had just enough in common to peacefully coexist.[8] James “envisaged a gradual convergence of the Church of Scotland with the Church of England.”[9] This convergence represented a movement towards an accessory union.

Along with the English idea of an absolute monarch, James’ experience in ruling over Scotland aided in sustaining peace. Jenny Wormald writes, in “ trying to transmit his Scottish style of kingship to the English throne he defused problems within the church and the state, and thereby presided over a kingdom probably more stable than his predecessor had left.”[10] Rather than having one dominant kingdom with control and common legislation, James aimed for a degree of congruity and brought both English and Scottish influences to the throne.

The union that James created within his dual monarchy was unique in that it combined both an aeque principaliter union with an accessory union. James entered his reign using the principals of an aeque principaliter union and eventually adopted many accessory union characteristics. This allowed James to uphold a sense of congruity while treating England and Scotland with respect as individual kingdoms.

-Ellie Zuk

References:

[1] James I, “Accession speech to Parliament, 19 March 1603: Extracts on peace, the Union of the English and Scottish kingdoms and kingship,” Historical Royal Speeches and Writings.

[2] J.H. Elliott, “A Europe of Composite Monarchies,” Past and Present 137 (1992): 48-71.

[3] James I, “Accession speech to Parliament, 19 March 1603: Extracts on peace, the Union of the English and Scottish kingdoms and kingship,” Historical Royal Speeches and Writings.

[4] James I, “Accession speech to Parliament, 19 March 1603: Extracts on peace, the Union of the English and Scottish kingdoms and kingship,” Historical Royal Speeches and Writings.

[5] Alan MacDonald, “James VI and I, The Church of Scotland, and British Ecclesiastical Convergence,” The Historical Journal 48, 4 (2005): 887.

[6] MacDonald, “James VI and I, The Church of Scotland, and British Ecclesiastical Convergence,” 887.

[7] MacDonald, “James VI and I, The Church of Scotland, and British Ecclesiastical Convergence,” 888.

[8] John Morrill, “The National Covenant in its British Context, ” in The Scottish National Covenant in Its British Context, ed. John Morrill (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1990), 1-30.

[9] MacDonald, “James VI and I, The Church of Scotland, and British Ecclesiastical Convergence,” 889.

[10] Jenny Wormald, “James VI and I: Two Kings or One?” History 68, no 223 (1983): 187-209.

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