What was the reign of James I of Scotland/James VI of England like, and what were some of the most significant events?

Expert Answers
Stephen Holliday eNotes educator| Certified Educator

James I of Scotland/James VI of England (1566-1625) was the only son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and became King James I of Scotland in 1567.  His mother was forced to abdicate in 1567 and was eventually imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth on false charges of plotting against her life,  and Mary was executed in 1587, when James was only 21.  He had last seen his mother when he was about a year old, so he was brought up under a series of Scottish nobles, who insured that he received a thorough education but spent most of their time fighting over who would control the young James.  His religious education was based on a Scottish form of Calvinism, which essentially was a very harsh form of Puritanism that ultimately became the foundation for Scottish Presbyterianism.

During his reign as James I, he was a very successful monarch, using his intellect and his royal power to balance the warring factions within his nobility.  Perhaps the hallmark of his view of kingship is summed up in the phrase "the Divine Right of Kings," meaning that he firmly believed God had appointed him to his kingship and therefore his right to rule came not from Scotland's royalty or its people but from God.

In 1603, after the death of Queen Elizabeth, James inherited Elizabeth's throne and almost immediately moved his court to England.  Even though one of his goals was formally to unite England and Scotland, this was never realized, with Scotland retaining its own government and religious institutions.  Unfortunately, because of his Calvinist upbringing, his ideas about government, religion, and, most important, kingship, were fixed in stone when he acceded to Elizabeth's throne, and this intellectual and philosophical rigidity made it difficult, if not impossible, for him to rule the English as he had the Scots.  

When James tried to impose taxes to help curb rising inflation, using as his justification his divine right to rule as he saw fit, the English protested:

The King may not rule his people by other laws than they assent unto, and therefore he may set upon them no imposition, i. e., tax, without their assent.

The views of James on his right to rule in an enlightened, but arbitrary, manner, and the English insistence that he ruled because they consented to his rule, became the prevailing theme of his kingship.  His religion brought him into conflict with both English Protestants and Catholics, which led to the most notorious plot against a king and his parliament in English history--the Gunpowder Plot of November, 1605, in which a group of Catholics, led by Robert Catesby and assisted by Guy Fawkes, planned to blow up Parliament, with James in attendance.  When the plot was uncovered and stopped, a persecution of England's Catholic minority began.

The achievement for which King James VI is most often remembered for was the King James Bible in 1611.  Up to that time, the English Church was using several versions of the Bible, and there existed no well-researched, well-written, well-translated Bible, so in 1607 James established committees at Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminster, comprising almost 50 scholars, to create a version of the Bible that everyone agreed reflected, with absolute certainty, the word of God.  The King James version was the result, and one could argue that, of James's rule in its entirety, this achievement is the high mark of his kingship.

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question