Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Monday, March 27, 2006

Dead King Watch: James I

James I died on March 27 1625, which makes today the 381st anniversary of his death, if my maths hasn't completely deserted me. Born in 1566, James was a direct descendant of Henry VII, through his great-grandmother Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII. James ruled in Scotland as James VI from 24 July 1567 until his death, and, from the 'Union of the Crowns', in England and Ireland as James I from 24 March 1603 until his death. FraVernero has made some excellent points in the comments below, written before I wrote what follows, but I want to just briefly run through his life.

James's parents were rather interesting - his mother Mary, Queen of Scots had been married to Francis II of France, but he had copped it in 1560, leaving Mary to return to Scotland alone. However, in 1565, she seems to have fallen for Henry Stuart Darnley, son of the Earl of Lennox, who she described as the 'lustiest and best-proportioned lang man she had seen'. She made him Earl of Ross - which was as good as marriage. However, soon afterwards, she realised Darnley was merely a playboy and utterly useless as a King and consort but by then many Scottish nobles had been appalled at this new attempt by them to jointly rule Scotland, and had unsuccessfully rebelled. Moreover, by then she was pregnant - and it was into this stormy world that James was born.

Yet James was not to know his father Darnley, who was strangled in 1566 ( his mother Mary was executed with the consent of Queen Elizabeth I in 1587) - leaving him James VI, King of Scotland aged 1. James therefore relied on male courtiers throughout his life, and we can see signs of his homosexuality beginning with his relationship when he was 13 with his older relative Esmé Stewart, 1st Duke of Lennox.

In 1586, aged 20, James VI and Elizabeth I became allies under the Treaty of Berwick. James sought to remain in the favour of the unmarried Queen of England, as he was a potential successor to her Crown. When his mother Mary was executed for her crimes in 1587, her Scottish supporters became weak and James managed to significantly reduce the influence of the Roman Catholic nobles in Scotland. He further endeared himself to Protestants by marrying the young Anne of Denmark — a princess from a Protestant country and daughter of Frederick II of Denmark—by proxy in 1589. At first, James and his new queen were close, but gradually drifted apart. The couple produced eight children, three of whom survived infancy and one who was stillborn.

In 1590, James attended the North Berwick Witch Trial, in which several people were convicted of having used witchcraft to create a storm in an attempt to sink a ship on which James and Anne had been travelling. This made him very concerned about the threat that witches and witchcraft were apparently posing to himself and the country. In 1597, he wrote Daemonologie, a treatise on demonology. As a result, hundreds of women were put to death for witchcraft; their bodies were later found in what was then called Nor Loch (now Princes Street Gardens).

Despite this, James pretended he was an intellectual. He wrote books on what he called kingcraft, stressing the 'Divine Right of Kings' but really all about how to use trickery and cunning to maintain power, such as The True Law of Free Monarchies (1598) and Basilikon Doron (1599). The latter incidently apparently lists sodomy among those 'horrible crimes which ye are bound in conscience never to forgive'. This was ironical as by 1603, when, with the death of Queen Elizabeth, James VI became James I, King of England, his homosexuality seems to have become common knowledge. Nonconformists said 'Elizabeth was King: now James is Queen'.

In power, James was indeed different from Elizabeth. As AL Morton notes, James, 'coming from Scotland, with its undeveloped industries and negligible foreign trade, failed to recognise the political importance of the London merchants and quickly alienated them by his cautious and finally pro-Spanish foreign policy.' This infuriated Protestants and merchants and brought no gain to James, as the navy decayed. His only serious concession to Protestant feeling seems to have been bringing in one uniform Bible - the King James version - in 1611.

Moreover, the difference between James and Elizabeth was because of the existence of a Parliament in England - or at least some sort of democracy - which in Scotland James had not had to worry about tremendously. He prefered to get on with his private interests - such as his detestation of the practise of smoking, which he described as 'a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs and in the black, stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless'.

But now he found others subjecting his policy to scrutiny. This was an outrage to him: 'As to dispute what God may do is blasphemy, so it is sedition in subjects to dispute what a king may do in height of his power. I will not be content that my power be disputed on'. Parliament responded by affirming its right 'to debate freely on all matters which properly concern the subject and his right or state' - thus prompting James to dissolve it in 1610 and from then until 1621 only one Parliament was briefly called (in 1614).

Moreover, he now needed capital. With the Crown deep in debt, James blatantly sold honours and titles to raise funds. In 1611, he used letters patent to invent a completely new dignity: that of Baronet, which one could become upon the payment of £1,080. One could become a Baron for about £5,000, a Viscount for about £10,000, and an Earl for about £20,000. Blair's 'cash for coronets' scandal, which is brilliantly pilloried by Mark Steel here, can, it seems be dated back to the early 1600s - though to be fair to James, he was a King who thought he ruled with Divine Hereditary Right - not apparently leader of a 'Democratic Socialist' Labour Party.

After alienating the London merchants by making peace with Spain, James did not try to win back their trust. Indeed, things deteriorated. 'Traders complained of the attacks of pirates even in the English Channel. In 1618 Sir Walter Raleigh, the leader of the party pressing for war against Spain, was allowed to go to South America at the head of an exhibition in search of gold. He returned unsuccessful and was beheaded at the demand of the Spanish ambassador to the great disgust of the trading classes who regarded his activities as natural and praiseworthy.'

This turn in foreign policy led to a sea-change in domestic politics - as previously the Catholics had led opposition - even violent terrorism against the Crown - think of the Gunpowder Plot as late as 1605 - now were tolerated and indeed became loyal supporters of the Crown. For Morton at least, this is of tremendous import: 'The Puritans, drawn from the classes which had been the main supporters of the Tudors, were correspondingly driven into opposition to a regime which they believed, not altogether correctly, was working to restore Catholicism to England. In this way opposition to the Crown became identified with patriotism and the monarchy with the section of the population widely believed to be in league with foreign enemies. By their foreign policy the Stuarts abandoned what had been the main source of the Crown's strength - its alliance with the most historically progressive class in the country.'

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7 Comments:

At 7:58 pm, Blogger FraVernero said...

Lend you a helping hand if you don´t mind, pal...
Jimmy was the first king of the house of Stuart. He had some funny ideas about kings and their divine rights, and also thought a lot of himself as an intellectual. To justify his theories he wrote a few funny books, hard to find today: Daemonologie, The True Law of Free Monarchies, Basilikon Doron and A Counterblaste to Tobacco.
He wasn´t very popular in England, were vox populi used to say that he stank and -in spite of hard laws against sodomy- had a certain predisposition to male love. Some called him -not to his face,of course-, Queen James.
Quite a superstitious fellow, to. Believed in Witches, and thought they had nearly drowned him. Whitchunting was rife during his reign. Shakespeare -always a genius, but also a courter of royal favour, which he received- wrote 'Macbeth' for him, playing simpathetic tunes for James: evil Witches and the absolute evils of usurping the legitimate king.
Some historians used to comment that the only interesting thing of his time in office was the union of England and Scotland. That probably saved flemish painter (and catholic secret agent) Rubens from acute embarrasement, and the allegorical union gave him the one glorious deed he needed to decorate the top of the Banqueting Hall, London -a baroque exaltation of James and Divine Monarchy.
Isn´t it Ironic that Rubens´paintings were one of the last things King Charles (James´son)saw on the way to the scaffold?
Poetic justice, perhaps...

 
At 9:38 am, Blogger Snowball said...

Nice one fravernero - yours is the sort of comment DKW likes. Cheers.

 
At 8:54 pm, Anonymous RJ said...

'A Counterblaste To Tobacco'(http://www.jesus-is-lord.com/kjcounte.htm) is actually an interesting read, and quite relevant. It puts paid to the old excuse of the older generation that they were unaware of smoking's harmful effects. Despite some questionable science, James identifies the aesthetic, olfactory and medical arguments against smoking (albeit somewhat longwindedly. Alright, spectacularly longwindedly).
Oh, p.s. don't forget that he started a certain 5th November celebration that we all still enjoy.
And apparently his tongue was too big for his mouth (perhaps rendering him unable to inhale...)

 
At 7:32 am, Anonymous TJ said...

JImmy I was a phat sick phuck, from most accounts, as was his boy Schackspeare. The KJ Bible in some sense might make it worse. It's all sort of shadowing de sadean crap with the aristo gloss on it--even Cromwell however bloody sort of superior: The TEmpest was supposedly for Queen James and it's a rather demented if not spooky little drama

 
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