On 24 March 1603 the English throne passed to James VI of Scotland, great-grandson of Henry VIII’s sister, Margaret. Born on 19 June 1566, James VI was one of Scotland’s most successful monarchs. He did not fare as well in England.
Historian L.B. Smith described James as “lumpish and lazy, foul-mouthed and not overly clean.” Henry IV of France called him “the wisest fool in Christendom.”
James’ personality was both a strength and a weakness. He was warm, affectionate, generous, and peace loving. He disapproved of smoking and was skeptical of superstitious customs. He was in favor of religious toleration. On the other hand, he lacked the “kingly” image of his predecessor, and many contemporaries disapproved of his homosexual encounters, obscene language, and pacifist foreign policies.
He elaborated his theory of monarchy in The True Law of Free Monarchies, published in 1603 and based on his Scottish experiences.
Many of James’ problems as king were inherited from Elizabeth – the religious settlement, the Spanish war, and the financial difficulties, to name three.
Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, James’ chief minister from 1603 to 1612, tried to increase the royal revenues by issuing new impositions or custom duties. These were successful in bolstering the royal coffers in the short run, but in the long run they contributed to the failure of the Great Contract. The Great Contract of 1610 would have led James to surrender the right of wardship and of purveyance in exchange for a permanent annual grant of £200,000.
With the death of Salisbury, James turned to less talented advisors – Robert Carr, the Earls of Northampton and Suffolk, and George Villiers. In 1621 James’ minister Sir Francis Bacon was impeached for licensing over 700 monopolies that were given to “favorites.” Parliament also drew up the Protestation of 1621 claiming that religious policy and foreign policy were proper topics for parliamentary debate.
The marriage of James’ daughter Elizabeth to the Elector of the Palatine was very popular in the country; the proposed marriage of his son Charles to the Spanish (and Catholic) infanta was not.
James’ response to the Millenary
Petition was quite sensible, and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 rallied parliament
around his religious policies.