King James was born in 1566, the son of Mary Queen of Scots and her second husband Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley. Though he was 37 when he became king of England, it wasn’t long after he was born that he became King James VI of Scotland.
His father was found dead in 1567 and, later the same year, his mother was forced to abdicate the Scottish throne, leaving it to her young son. James was just 13 months old when he was crowned King James VI of Scotland.
Taking the English Throne
So how exactly did James become the King of England after the death of Queen Elizabeth I?
The two monarchs became allies with the Treaty of Berwick in 1586. James had his eye on the prize and when the English queen had his mother murdered just a year later, he didn’t revolt as you might expect. He was keeping the queen on side.
To reinforce his right to the English throne, he was also keen to get married. After discussions with several European royal families, he decided on the 14-year-old Anne of Denmark.
His plan worked. When Elizabeth died in 1603, James took over as king of England and Ireland and kept his place as king of Scotland. It was a move that combined the crowns of England and Scotland and brought together England, Ireland and Scotland for the first time, creating Great Britain.
He moved from Edinburgh’s modest court to the more lavish London court. After that, he only ever visited his home country once more in 1617.
Was King James I a Good King?
It’s said there were two sides to King James. He was highly educated and witty. He published books on subjects like politics and the paranormal and was a staunch supporter of literature and arts. He even granted Shakespeare’s company the title of ‘The King’s Players’.
James is perhaps most remembered for issuing the Authorised King James's Version of the bible in 1611, a bible that’s held up as one of the gems of the English language.
As far as Europe was concerned, James wanted peace. Just a year after he became king of England, he ended the country’s war with Spain. He even attempted to marry his son to the daughter of the king of Spain.
But James was also a rather foolish, weak king.
He was certainly a disappointment for a country that had become accustomed to the strong and stable reign of the great Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I. Those at the English court were unsure of James, with his blatant homosexual affairs with male courtiers, his curious manner and a tongue that was too big for his mouth.
He was financially incompetent and constantly in need of money. In fact, one of the first things he did when he reached England was to write the English Privy Council to ask for money to help him out of his big debt.
James had been brought up as a Protestant but, when it came to religion, he pleased neither Protestants, who wanted a more complete reformation than they got under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, nor the Catholics, who hoped for better treatment.
The Divine Right of Kings
One of the biggest issues of James I’s reign was that he believed in the Divine Right of Kings, the thinking that monarchs had God-given power and were ruling because God wanted it so. To question the authority of a king was to question God.
When he first came to the English throne, James acted under the advisement of the Earl of Salisbury. After Salisbury died in 1612, however, everything changed. Now he asserted supreme authority and put down anyone who questioned or rebelled against him, whether they were Protestants of Catholics. Naturally, Parliament hated this as the king refused to take its advice.
The Death of King James I
Discontentment with the king grew and grew as he became more senile towards the end of this life. He eventually died in 1625 after a stroke left him with no control of himself.
After James’s first son, Henry, died of typhoid at the age of 18, it was his second son, Charles, who was to become the next king.