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. Continue reading

James VI and I: “Great Britain’s Solomon” or the “Wisest Fool in Christendom”?

The Union of the Crowns of 1603 was an historic event: James VI of Scotland, England’s neighbor and neutral ally since 1560, acceded the throne of England after Elizabeth I’s death, making him James VI of Scotland and James I of England and Ireland. Since James’ rule now extended over three different kingdoms, he aimed to find a way to unify them in order to ensure a solid footing during his reign. However, there have been varying opinions of how effective James was at doing this, but also how competent a king he was in the first place. These varying of opinions are evident when looking at the vastly different epithets that James earned, ranging from “Great Britain’s Solomon” to the “Wisest Fool in Christendom.” These diverging historiographical viewpoints raise the obvious question as to why there are so many varied opinions concerning James and his effectiveness as a ruler. Continue reading

Jacobean Court Perspectives on New World Colonization: 1603 – 1625

Roanoke Map
Map depicting the coast of present-day North Carolina and Roanoke island, drawn by John White, c. 1585.

To say that the English settlement of the New World was an easy task would be to severely understate the difficulties they met, if not outright fallacious. Starting under Elizabeth, the English experienced the failure of Sir Walter Raleigh’s colony at Roanoke in 1587 and the abandonment of Bartholomew Gosnold’s fort and trading post at Cuttyhunk Island (Massachusetts) in 1602. Granted, the English were successful over time at their Jamestown settlement in Virginia starting under James VI and I’s rule, but the ensuing century is merely a tale of abandonment, consolidation, and abysmal failure for English colonization of the North American continent. Continue reading

The “Effeminate” King

There has always been speculation over James VI and I’s homosexuality. Historians remain divided over whether this is true or simply an attempt to slander James. While his sexuality remains a mystery, it is worth exploring why some of his contemporaries may have portrayed him as a homosexual. The basis of their suspicions was James’ tendency to choose young, attractive men as his companions. Another contributing factor was the cultural emphasis on masculinity. English upper-class culture has always associated masculinity with good leadership.[1] Thus, the king was expected to be virile and forceful. There were in fact times during James’s reign when his masculinity was questioned due to his decisions regarding foreign policy. The fact that James often opted for peace could have led observers to believe that he was gay, for according to Michael B. Young, “effeminacy was an integral part of Jacobean discourse about [homosexuality].”[2] Yet it is also possible that James’ contemporaries wanted to tarnish his memory. After all, sex between males was considered illegal and immoral. To remember James as a homosexual was the equivalent of considering him as perverted, and therefore an unworthy king. Continue reading

Broadening the Scope: The Expansion of Imperial Aims from the Tudors to the Stuarts

The accession of James VI of Scotland as King James I of England after Elizabeth’s death marked a significant shift in the three kingdoms. Elizabeth’s choice of remaining without an heir meant with her death came the end of the Tudor dynasty and the foreign policy they employed for decades. With the Tudors, their intention of consolidating power over Scotland and Ireland meant their foreign endeavors ended at the isles themselves. With James’ acquisition of the English throne, he became, in theory, a figure head for unity and a symbol for hope that England, Scotland, and Ireland could unite and transform into “Britain.” With this transformation, “Britain” could turn its sights outward and adopt a new, more aggressive, foreign policy. James would later prove, however, that his plans differed. Continue reading

Celtic Lore and James VI and I’s Attempts at Union

In Westminster Abbey, underneath the coronation chair, there lays a plain stone. The stone, commonly known as the Coronation Stone, or the Stone of Scone, serves primarily as the place where English monarchs are crowned. However, before being used by the English crown, the stone was used by the Scottish kings according to legend. During Edward I’s war with Scotland in 1296, the stone was taken as a spoil of war and placed in Westminster Abbey. In the 1328 Treaty of Northampton, one of the terms was the restitution of the stone to Scotland. Despite the agreement of these terms, the stone remained in Westminster.[1] Thus it was notable when James VI of Scotland was crowned king of England in 1603 on this Scottish relic. Continue reading