Wednesday, 8 April 2015

A man in demand - The fantastic affair of being both James VI and I

James VI and I
The Union of The Crowns was an event in 1603, which saw the English and Scottish crowns joined under the monarch of a single king – James VI of Scotland who in turn became James I of England. Such circumstances arose as following the death of Queen Elizabeth I  in 1603, she had no children – and this left James , great grandson on Margaret Tudor (Henry VIII’s sister) in the blood-line to the English monarchy.   His accession to the crown itself  could be seen as considerably romanticised at the time, including mobbed by adoring and excited Englishfolk on entering London  and himself speculating on the joining of the crowns of England and Scotland  as a little like a ‘marriage’. However, this article will explore that the Union of the Crowns was not as necessarily harmonious as this image of ‘marriage’ suggests, and if we are to continue the relationship metaphor, potentially composed of many more illicit, and often short-lived romances.

After all, James himself had not been raised in circumstances of unity. The only child of Mary Queen of Scots  and Lord Darnley,  he was denied of his father – who was murdered in 1567, potentially in retaliation for the murder of the Queen’s secretary Rizzio. Mary then went onto marry The Earl Of Bothwell, which was regarded with disparity by most of the populace. This discontent even evinced itself physically in that the queen was captured– and imprisoned in Loch-Leven Castle, forced to pass the hereditary title to James, who was only 13 months old at the time. In reaction to Mary’s increasingly unpopular Catholicism – seen as linked to France and foreign invasion – James was raised by prominent protestant Earls; with his key regent for much of his early life being The Earl of Moray. Furthermore, it was Moray who played a key role in defeating Mary’s troops at Langside in 1582 – and in this way it is interesting to see how James was in effect, raised by a man implicated in the early doom of his mother. There was also further insecurity for James in this arrangement, as  not only under the influence of Moray, but also prominent advisors such as Lennox. James himself was the  object of kidnap in what has became  known as the 1582 Ruthven Raid as  he was captured by protestant elites seemingly suspicious of Lennox’s Catholic connections.
A young Mary Queen of Scots

However, rather than hard-lining his protestant views, it could be seen that James’ different series of experiences with different religious groups led  to him attempting to drive his own view – rather than what different parties had attempted to force on him. After all, James was a prominent champion of The Divine Right of Kings and this could appear exhibited in what could be seen as crackdown on religious practice following this release in 1583. This included curtailing rather than aiding Scottish protestants in the form of The Black Acts 1583 which exercised a greater extent of royal control over the kirk (Scottish Church). By some Scottish people at the time, this may well have been seen as a form of ‘betrayal’; especially when coupled with the Treaty Of Berwick which was drawing up an agreement of peace between Scotland and England whilst Elizabeth I was still ruling. In this light, to the Scottish people, limitations upon the kirk could may well have been associated with getting closer to England – and thus taken as negative and betrayal. This may well have been emphasized by James’ declaration to Elizabeth during the turbulence of the Spanish Armada (Phillip II attempting to enact his revenge on Catholic Mary’s protestant sister) that he would be like a ‘son’ to her and help where he could.

But were these just royal pleasantries or was James already making early steps to put himself in a position of unpopularity? Following the death of Elizabeth, accession was not a wholly popular decision after all – especially as James was in the eyes of many, the son of a woman guilty of treason (Mary Queen of Scots had been beheaded, as accused of plotting against Elizabeth I ) and also a ‘foreigner’. However, he also possessed factors which were attractive to any monarchy and a welcome rather than alienating break from the past. For example, he had a solid marriage with Anne of Denmark, and also three children – two of whom were male and thus could offer a hereditary line which had been an issue previously in terms of religion. On the surface then, people may have thought James offered a great, romanticised prospect, hence the enthusiastic crowds and James’ apparent tones of confidence.  It was this confidence he exhibited in calling both the Scottish and English parliaments in 1604 to discuss the idea of a ‘perfect union’.

Yet ‘perfect’ seems a term almost farcical to use in regards to monarchy – a momentary ideal perhaps, but not a state which can be maintained. This was ultimately the case in terms of James’ rule of Scotland and England, which could be seen as proceeding to entail multiple complications - and as many have argued, James’ betrayal of Scotland. This betrayal could be seen as beginning that despite his pledge he would return to Scotland (Edinburgh) every three years, he only returned once. The Scottish people may have seen this as proof that James had become a ‘puppet’  to England and her parliaments –as after all, James was stopped in his own ideals for closer and English and Scottish union by legal rejection through the parliament in both 1607 and 1647.

Part of the Treaty of Berwick 
But how could a prospect of a king who once seemed so popular now appear  so rejected? In one way, it could appear that with his own upheld views on The Divine Right  of Kings, James had placed himself at an idealistic distance from what in reality were tides of turbulence in regards to nation and religion. This was not just limited to Scotland and England, but also in Ireland , where  there was much animosity between the Irish and old English and new Scottish settlers moving in as part of James’ imposed plantations settlement. In this light, it appears James was a character intent to impose his ideals and no less. This was evident in Scotland also with apparent measures taken to what he termed as ‘civilise’ the clans in the highlights and islands – including The Statues of Iona of 1609, which required every clan leader to come to mainland Scotland and receive education in the English language. By many scots people, this was not only considered an affront to national identity, but to their pride – further impacted upon in that James referred to their Gaelic language  during his reign in a derogatory way, suggesting it was ‘alien’. Thus although James was a Scottish king, he may well have been seen by many traditional scots as harbouring a kind of rejection of Scottish values.

Yet James himself potentially saw himself neither as Scottish king or a rejecter of Scottish values, but a British king; a completely new concept. It was in 1604, following the union of the crowns, he proclaimed himself  ‘King of great Britain’; thus a proclamation rather than legal statute. And how could the people react to this? It was potentially a relationship to themselves which they could neither accept or reject, as it was an unknown concept. And in turn, a key reaction to what is unknown, is to attempt to destroy it, there were three major attempts on James’ life in the first five years of his joint reign – the  Bye plot, the Main Plot and the gunpowder plot – arranged largely by catholic conspirators alarmed bu his protestant  king from ‘foreign’ Scotland who likely in their eyes also had a ‘foreign’ way of doing things.  After all, rather than adopting what became known as the Anglican ‘middle way’ or religious settlement as Elizabeth had, it appeared that James preferred to use religion  and even nationalism with fluctuating intensity, in order to suit his needs. This not only included exercising his idealised Episcopalian polity over the more radical Presbyterian kirk, but also allowing a certain degree of laxity for practicing Catholics in Britain – before later cracking down with penal laws.  James himself was an avid supporter of the theatre – a patron of Shakespeare – and it could appear that within his dynastic affairs, he was attempting to stage a play which facilitated all his senses. 
The Eucharist - a significant area of dispute between covenanters and episcopalians 

Puritans  approached him  with the Millinery Petition to remove elements of what they believed as  ‘popery’ from the catholic church, but he turned them away. He also turned down the more readily Presbyterian system in Scotland in actual favour of bishops as they actually more readily supported a monarchical structure. Forcing through the Five Articles of Perth  despite unpopularity in Scotland, may well have appeared summative that  king of ‘Britain’; rather than Scotland, had power in mind rather than people.