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James I is Crowned King of England: The Joining of Two Countries

Updated on July 25, 2013
King James I of Great Britain and Ireland
King James I of Great Britain and Ireland

On July 25, 1603, James I was officially crowned King of England after succeeding to the throne on March 24, after Elizabeth I’s death. This was a major event for the English and Scottish people as it meant the two countries were united. James I was already James VI of Scotland and a direct descendant of Henry VII of England, through Henry’s older daughter, Margaret, both on his mother's and father's sides!

The Early Life of James I of England

James Stuart was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. He was originally named Charles James, after his birth on June 19, 1566, but James was chosen for the monarch after so many great King James’ ruled Scotland. He never got to know either of his parents. His father was killed on February 10, 1567, and his mother fled to England and was executed February 8, 1587.

He was just 13 months old when his mother abdicated in favour of him. While Mary could have been a good Queen, she was a Roman Catholic and Scotland had moved to the Protestant religion. She was also suspected of murdering Lord Darnley, especially after remarrying in May of that year. The marriage to her third husband proved unpopular with the Scottish government and it was time for the infant to become King.

Mary’s illegitimate half-brother, James Stewart , Earl of Moray, was appointed as the young King’s regent and King James was sent to Stirling Castle under the care of the Earl and Countess of Mar for his own safety. His regent switched hands in 1570 when James Stewart was assassinated on January 23 and Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox took over. This only lasted a year, when he was wounded and died. The next regent, the Earl of Mar, became sick and died on October 28, 1572! It was looking like a scary job to be King James VI’s regent!

James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, soon proved that he was an effective regent for the King but this led to enemies and he quickly fell from favour with Esme Stewart, Sieur d’Aubigny, Lord Darnley’s first cousin and a Frenchman. Esme Stewart became the Earl of Lennox and quickly became a favourite for the young King James, becoming the only Scottish duke on August 8, 1581. This was just after the execution of James Douglas on June 2, for the murder of Lord Darnley. James was 15 at the time and he would soon gain full power over the Scottish people.

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James VI of Scotland Becomes King in His Own Right

James finally gained full control in June 1583, when Esme was forced to leave Scotland by the Earls of Angus and Gowrie. To prove that he wanted this power, he denounced his former tutor, Buchanan’s, writings and pushed the Black Acts through so he had royal authority over the Kirk. He proved to be a just and favourable King to the Scottish people by bring some peace between the Lords and ruling the country effectively.

He also signed the Treaty of Berwick with England and denounced his mother’s execution in 1587 as a “preposterous and strange procedure”. These two actions helped James become favourable with the English people, which he would need some years later. It is possible that James had realised he needed to do this since he would become the next English King. By 1587, it was clear that Queen Elizabeth I would never marry or have children of her own. He was next in line for the English throne. He needed to secure that and his support during the Spanish Armada crisis a year later furthered that.

The problem was that James was showing no interest in women. He preferred male company and while his chastity was a great virtue, he needed an heir to secure the Stuart line. It seems that a marriage was easily sought and James married Anne of Denmark, Frederick II of Denmark’s younger daughter, in August 1589 by proxy. James was a gentleman and after Anne was forced to Norway due to storms, he personally sailed to meet her. This allowed a formal and traditional marriage in Oslo on November 23 of that year. They didn’t return to Scotland until May 1, 1590!

The marriage was a happy one until Anne’s death in 1619. James was patience, affectionate and infatuated with his bride. They had three children, although only two survived. Their eldest son, Henry Frederick, died in 1612 at 18-years-old of typhoid fever. This led to their younger son, Charles, to become king after James’ death in 1625.

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The 20 year old James VI of Scotland
The 20 year old James VI of Scotland

James VI Becomes Obsessed with the Witch Trials

The witch trials were a major part in James’ life after his visit to Denmark. This was a country that was familiar with the witch hunts and this may have led to James’ interest in studying witchcrafts; something he considered to be part of theology. He attended the witch trials in North Berwick – the first big persecution that Scotland saw since the Witchcraft Act 1563.

He quickly became obsessed with witches and the threats that they posed. He created material that would later become material for the Tragedy of Macbeth, a play by William Shakespeare, after writing the Daemonologie. He even supervised some of the torture that women went through after being accused of witchcraft.

The symbol for the union of two crowns
The symbol for the union of two crowns

James VI and James I Are the Same People

Something that many people fail to comprehend is that James VI of Scotland and James I of England are the same people. His title had to change, considering England had never seen a King James in the past. It would seem strange for there to be a James VI of England, without a one, two, three, four or five!

Henry VIII of England never wanted the two crowns to join. The Act of Succession stated that should Elizabeth Tudor die without issue, the crown would pass onto his younger sister’s line—the Grey family. The problem for Frances Grey, Mary’s daughter, was that the Grey line had become tarnished after the problems with Lady Jane Grey and the attempt to remove Mary and Elizabeth Tudor from the line of succession. There was no choice but for James to become King of England.

Elizabeth was clearly in favour of her cousin becoming King. She had written to him on numerous occasions to ensure that the transition would be smooth. Luckily for Elizabeth, James had been raised as a Protestant, unlike his mother, so there was no risk of her own hard work being in vain. Her reign had been focused on joining the Protestant and Catholic religions together to create something all the English people could enjoy.

James was also a scholar and enjoyed the arts. This meant that the drama and literature that was so popular during Elizabeth’s reign could continue. William Shakespeare, Sir Frances Bacon, Ben Johnson and many others could continue contributing freely.

Of course, his rule was not as easy as Elizabeth’s with an assassination attempt that was foiled on November 5, 1605. He had also become King of a country that was deeply in debt due to Elizabeth’s later years. It was facing a debt of £400,000 at the time! The coronation was not everything it was supposed to be either, with an outbreak of plague at the time.

James I of England decided to style himself as King James of Great Britain and Ireland but the Scottish and English parliaments and laws remained separate. He never completed joined the two countries and that didn’t happen until his descendant Queen Anne. England did become his base though from 1603 and the only time he returned to Scotland was in 1617.


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    • escole61 profile image

      colin powell 4 months ago from march

      I never realised that he supervised torture on occasions during witch trials. Very interesting read.

    • aingham86 profile image

      Alexandria Ingham 4 years ago from UK

      Thank you. It's amazing what some of the monarchs have gone through. So many of the Scottish ones were babies when they became King/Queen!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      A very interesting history lesson and thank you so much for sharing. Voting up .