James VI and I

James VI and I, from the frontispiece to his collected works published in 1616

James VI and I (1566-1625) became king of Scotland, England, and Ireland. Born to Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587), and her second husband Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley (1545-1567), on 19 June 1566, James acceded to the Scottish throne upon his mother’s abdication in July 1567. He was crowned as a protestant, although his Catholic mother continued to cause trouble until her execution in 1587. In 1589 James married Princess Anne of Denmark (1574-1619), who was crowned Queen of Scotland at Holyrood Abbey on 17 May 1590. In 1594 the Stuart dynasty was strengthened by the birth of Prince Henry, and then secured by the births of Elizabeth in 1596, Margaret in 1598, Charles in 1600, and Robert in 1602, although Margaret and Robert sadly died in infancy.

James’s great-great-grandparents were Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York. He was the closest living relative of Queen Elizabeth of England (1533-1603). Hence, when Elizabeth died on 24 March 1603, James theoretically had a stronger claim to the English throne than potential other claimants. (On the Elizabethan succession question, see here.) Elizabeth’s largely protestant privy council immediately wrote to James offering him the crown. He accepted. After settling his affairs in Scotland, James travelled south to London in a grand royal procession. However, an outbreak of plague led to a postponement of James’s royal entry into the city, and curtailed attendance at the coronation at Westminster Abbey on 25 July.

It was mainly James’s protestantism that appealed to the English. James was a sophisticated and prolific protestant polemicist. His Daemonology of 1597, advocating the hunting of witches, was promptly reprinted in England upon his accession in 1603, as were his tracts on protestant kingship, The True Lawe of Free Monarchies (1598) and Basilikon Doron (1599). Much of the succession literature from 1603 directly addresses James’s protestantism. But James also had male and female heirs of his body, which was especially important after nearly half a century of speculation about the succession due to Elizabeth’s childlessness.

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