King James was born in June, 1566—the only child of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, and her cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. His parents, both grandchildren of Margaret Tudor who had married King James IV of Scotland, had a strong claim to the English throne but Henry and Mary had a difficult marriage. He was a mean, jealous teenager who had probably contracted syphilis from his numerous liaisons. Soon after their marriage, Mary became pregnant with James and Henry, believing himself a cuckold, murdered her secretary, David Rizzio. Lord Bothwell, who eventually became Mary’s lover and husband, murdered Henry in an explosion, while Henry was recovering from another assassination attempt by poisoning. After Bothwell deserted her, Mary was eventually forced to abdicate and flee to what she thought was safety in England.
The infant King James was left to a succession of tutors, who were often assassinated. He was well-educated but harshly treated—by our standards, abused—by a succession of tutors who believed that sparing the rod would spoil the child. He was the target of abduction by those who wished to control Scotland. Until his cousin, Esme Stuart, arrived to visit from France when he was fourteen, James had little affection. Stuart who remained in Scotland for more than a year was suspected of conducting an unnatural relationship with James and unduly influencing him. The regents sent Esme on his way in 1582 and they never saw each other again. Esme returned to his wife and children in France and died the following year.
In 1589, Scotland contracted a marriage for James with 14-year-old Anne of Denmark. They were married by proxy and, when her ship was driven back to Denmark, he rushed to her side and returned with her to Scotland. When he decided that their difficult trip had been caused by witches, he convicted three witches of casting spells and burned them at the stake. This began a period in which witches were pursued and punished with James often supervising their interrogation (torture) himself. He also attempted to break the power of the Scottish clans.
Queen Elizabeth maintained contact with James and sent him gifts and money. James had also initiated contact with Robert Cecil, Elizabeth’s councilor, in which they had arranged an orderly transfer of power. When Elizabeth died in 1603, James rushed to London with his Scottish friends in tow to secure his position. Along the way, he sold knighthoods to fill his coffers, would-be viscounts paid more. On the trip down, he also met Robert Carr—more on him later.
Queen Anne who was pregnant was forced to remain in Scotland, though she lost the child and followed soon after. Since she didn’t have the wealth to purchase an adequate wardrobe, Queen Elizabeth’s clothing and jewels were brought for her to wear. Once she arrived in London, however, that lack was remedied. She and James both spent outrageous amounts of money on luxury items, entertainment and friends.
James didn’t worry about clothes too much, though. He was known to wear one set of clothing until it fell to pieces, even on his daily hunting trips. About this time his interest in men became more obvious. He used endearments publicly and wrote love notes. His behavior became more outrageous after Anne’s death in 1619.
James showered his favorites with gifts and honors and awarded them prominent positions in his cabinet. After Cecil died, the incompetence of his favorites became more obvious. James had made Carr, who was not very bright and was certainly not up to the job, the Earl of Somerset . George Villiers, the handsome son of a minor knight, was introduced to him in 1614 to decrease the influence of Robert Carr. It worked—their correspondence leaves little doubt about the nature of their relationship. Villiers who became the Duke of Buckingham, was much more capable.
James wished to bring England and Scotland under one rule—the first monarch to rule “Britain.” He attempted to unite the two churches—Presbyterian and Anglican. As part of that effort, he commissioned the writing of the King James version of the Bible. He also fostered the colonization of the New World.
James was a believer in the divine right of kings, a belief he passed on to his only surviving son, Charles. Parliament was viewed as a necessity for finance but little more, an attitude that set Charles up for failure. In 1625 James died from a stroke with Buckingham at his bedside. Three years later Buckingham was assassinated. James, “The wisest fool in Christendom,” and Buckingham are buried in the HenryVII Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey. Next week, we salute the Bard–William Shakespear? Rita Bay