James VI

James VI and I was King of Scots, King of England, and King of Ireland and was the first to style himself King of Great Britain. He ruled in Scotland as James VI from 24 July 1567. Then from the ‘Union of the Crowns’, in England and Ireland as James I, from 24 March 1603 until his death. He was the first monarch of England from the House of Stuart, succeeding the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I, who died without issue.

James was a successful monarch in Scotland, but the same was not true in England. He was unable to deal with a hostile Parliament and the refusal on the part of the House of Commons to impose sufficiently high taxes crippled the royal finances. His taste for political absolutism, his mismanagement of the kingdom’s funds and his cultivation of unpopular favourites established the foundation for the English Civil War, during which James’ son and successor, Charles I, was tried and executed. During James’ own life, however, the governments of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland were relatively stable.

Along with Alfred the Great, James is considered to have been one of the most intellectual and learned individuals ever to sit on the English or Scottish thrones. Under him, much of the cultural flourishing of Elizabethan England continued; science, literature and art, contributed by individuals such as Sir Francis Bacon and William Shakespeare grew by leaps and bounds during his reign. James himself was a talented scholar, writing works such as Daemonologie (1597), The True Law of Free Monarchies (1598), Basilikon Doron (1599) and A Counterblaste to Tobacco (1604). King James was known by the epithet “the wisest fool in Christendom’’.

James died at Theobalds House in 1625 of ‘tertian ague’ probably brought upon by kidney failure and stroke, and was buried in the Henry VII Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey. Charles, Prince of Wales, succeeded him as Charles I. James had ruled in Scotland for almost sixty years; no English, Scottish or British monarch, with the exceptions of Victoria and George III, has surpassed his mark.