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

15/35, Needed More Restriction

A king is, in theory, the figurehead for the kingdom he rules over. In him, outsiders can see the values the country he resides in and upholds. During times of conflict, he is a man who does not dwell in the safety of his castle, rather he fights with his knights on the front lines. In peace, he is a man of the people, always open to their suggestions and willing to negotiate, never resorting to using force or fear in order to control them. The king is righteous, justice incarnate, and a God-fearing warrior. He does not command respect; rather, he earns it.[1] These values were championed by Thomas More in his definition of a good king, though they would lead to his demise as Henry VIII reshaped those very definitions to suit his own goals. 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