TIMELINE OF WORLD HISTORY
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The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century

 

 
 


Ireland and Scotland in the Middle Ages
 


CA. 450-1603
 

 


1 Irish high cross, stone sculpture,
twelfth century



In 1 Ireland and Scotland, neither of which had ever been part of the Roman Empire or conquered by Germans, many Celtic traditions that had disappeared in England were preserved. Both countries, however, were subjected to the English kings' expansionism. The English were able to take advantage of Ireland's internal divisions to subjugate clans and then the entire island, although English control remained weak. Scotland, on the other hand, maintained its independence until the dynastic unification with England.


Ireland
 

The rivalry among the clans prevented the development of a unified Irish state and made it possible for the English to extend their rule into Ireland.

 

The history of Ireland is dominated by the battles of a large number of hostile clans fighting among themselves, each attempting to build up a unified complex of dominions.
Four large kingdoms emerged between the fourth and tenth centuries— Connacht, Leinster, 2 Munster, and Ulster—in addition to numerous other smaller kingdoms.


2 St. Patrick's Cathedral in Cashel, the former capital of the kingdom of Munster


The title of an overall Irish 3 "high king" remained hotly contested among the clans. In the fifth century, 5 St. Patrick Christianized the whole of Ireland from the see he established in Armagh.


3 Broach from Таrа,
the seat of the Irish high kings,
twelfth century


5 The miracle of St. Patrick, painting by Tiepolo,
18th century
 

A distinctive Irish type of Christianity, characterized by autonomous 6 monasteries, developed.

The monasteries ushered in a cultural golden age, particularly in literature, while also maintaining the old Celtic epics. Moreover, the monks traveled in active missionary work—for example, Gallus among the Germans on the Continent, and St. Columban of Iona in Scotland in the sixth century.

A plea for help to Henry II of England from a minor Irish king in battle against his rivals brought an 4 English invasion in 1169.

Initially only a portion of the east coast was occupied, and the English kings were satisfied with nominal sovereignty. Not until the time of the Tudors was an attempt made to control the entire island, but then Henry VIII assumed the title of king of Ireland in the year 1541. The deliberate settlement of English people and later also Scots, particularly in Ulster, that began in the 16th century was meant to secure English rule. Religious conflicts developed, however, because the new settlers were Protestants while the Irish remained Catholics. After several rebellions, the revolt of Hugh O'Neill in 1595 became a serious threat to the English crown's rule over Ireland. Despite support from Spain, the Irish were overcome. The Irish supported the pro-Catholic Stuarts in the English civil war and during the Glorious Revolution, which they paid for through appalling retaliatory measures and a wide-reaching deprivation of rights by the English up to the 19th century.
 


6 The round tower of Clonmacnoise Abbey,
built in the twelfth century


4 English fleet navigating a stormy Channel
on the way to invade Ireland, book painting,
ca. 1400

 

 

 


Scotland
 

The Scottish kings had to establish national unity and independence in the face of the Scottish aristocracy and the claims of the English.

 

In Roman times Scotland was inhabited by tribes with a 7 Celtic culture.
 


7 Ossian on the bank of the Lora invoking the Gods to the strains of a Harp,
painting by Gerard, 19th с


Ossian

Ossian, Gaelic Oisín, the Irish warrior-poet of the Fenian cycle of hero tales about Finn MacCumhaill (MacCool) and his war band, the Fianna Éireann. The name Ossian became known throughout Europe in 1762, when the Scottish poet James Macpherson “discovered” and published the poems of Oisín, first with the epic Fingal and the following year with Temora; both of these works were supposedly translations from 3rd-century Gaelic originals. Actually, although based in part on genuine Gaelic ballads, the works were largely the invention of Macpherson and were full of similarities to Homer, John Milton, and the Bible. These so-called poems of Ossian won wide acclaim and were a central influence in the early Romantic movement. J.W. von Goethe was one of their many admirers, but they aroused the suspicions of some critics, such as Samuel Johnson. They infuriated Irish scholars because they mixed Fenian and Ulster legends indiscriminately and because Macpherson claimed that the Irish heroes were Caledonians and therefore a glory to Scotland’s past, rather than to Ireland’s.

The Ossianic controversy was finally settled in the late 19th century, when it was demonstrated that the only Gaelic originals that Macpherson had produced were translations in a barbarous Gaelic of his own English compositions. The name Ossian, popularized by Macpherson, superseded Oisín, though they are often used interchangeably. The term Ossianic ballads refers to genuine late Gaelic poems that form part of the common Scots-Irish tradition and should not be confused with the romanticized epics of “Ossian.”

Encyclopaedia Britannica


The Romans called them Picts ("the painted"), because of their tattoos. In the third century, Celtic "Scottis"—after whom Scotland was named—began invading from out of Ireland; they settled and founded a kingdom. In the ninth century, their king, Kenneth MacAlpin, united the Picts and Scots in the Kingdom of Alba.
MacAlpin's descendents died out in 1018.

A relative, Duncan I, took the throne, but was murdered by the usurper 8 Macbeth in 1034.
 


Duncan I


Duncan I

Duncan I, (died Aug. 14, 1040, near Elgin, Moray, Scot.), king of the Scots from 1034 to 1040.

Duncan was the grandson of King Malcolm II (ruled 1005–34), who irregularly made him ruler of Strathclyde when that region was absorbed into the Scottish kingdom (probably shortly before 1034). Malcolm violated the established system of succession whereby the kingship alternated between two branches of the royal family. Upon Malcolm’s death, Duncan succeeded peacefully, but he soon faced the rivalry of Macbeth, Mormaor (subking) of Moray, who probably had a better claim to the throne. Duncan besieged Durham unsuccessfully in 1039 and in the following year was murdered by Macbeth. Duncan’s elder son later killed Macbeth and ruled as King Malcolm III Canmore (1058–93).

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 


8 Macbeth and the three witches, scene from
Shakespeare's Scottish play Macbeth,
painting, 19th century


Macbeth

Macbeth, (died August 15, 1057, near Lumphanan, Aberdeen [now in Aberdeenshire], Scotland), king of Scots from 1040, the legend of whose life was the basis of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. He was probably a grandson of King Kenneth II (reigned 971–995), and he married Gruoch, a descendant of King Kenneth III (reigned 997–1005). About 1031 Macbeth succeeded his father, Findlaech (Sinel in Shakespeare), as mormaer, or chief, in the province of Moray, in northern Scotland. Macbeth established himself on the throne after killing his cousin King Duncan I in battle near Elgin—not, as in Shakespeare, by murdering Duncan in bed—on August 14, 1040. Both Duncan and Macbeth derived their rights to the crown through their mothers.

Macbeth’s victory in 1045 over a rebel army, near Dunkeld (in the modern region of Perth and Kinross), may account for the later references (in Shakespeare and others) to Birnam Wood, for the village of Birnam is near Dunkeld. In 1046 Siward, earl of Northumbria, unsuccessfully attempted to dethrone Macbeth in favour of Malcolm (afterward King Malcolm III Canmore), eldest son of Duncan I. By 1050 Macbeth felt secure enough to leave Scotland for a pilgrimage to Rome. But in 1054 he was apparently forced by Siward to yield part of southern Scotland to Malcolm. Three years later Macbeth was killed in battle by Malcolm, with assistance from the English.

Macbeth was buried on the island of Iona, regarded as the resting place of lawful kings but not of usurpers. His followers installed his stepson, Lulach, as king; when Lulach was killed on March 17, 1058, Malcolm III was left supreme in Scotland.

Encyclopaedia Britannica
 


Macbeth then fell in battle against Duncan's son, who became king as Malcolm III of Scotland in 1057.

English influence in Scotland increased during the reign of Malcolm III and afterward. The Roman Catholic Church suppressed the Irish-Scottish form of Christianity.
 


Malcolm III


Malcolm III

Malcolm III Canmore, (born c. 1031—died Nov. 13, 1093, near Alnwick, Northumberland, Eng.), king of Scotland from 1058 to 1093, founder of the dynasty that consolidated royal power in the Scottish kingdom.

The son of King Duncan I (reigned 1034–40), Malcolm lived in exile in England during part of the reign of his father’s murderer, Macbeth (reigned 1040–57). Malcolm killed Macbeth in battle in 1057 and then ascended the throne. After the conquest of England by William the Conqueror, in 1066, Malcolm gave refuge to the Anglo-Saxon prince Edgar the Aetheling and his sisters, one of whom, Margaret (later St. Margaret), became his second wife.

Malcolm acknowledged the overlordship of William in 1072 but nevertheless soon violated his feudal obligations and made five raids into England. During the last of these invasions he was killed by the forces of King William II Rufus (reigned 1087–1100). Except for a brief interval after Malcolm’s death, the Scottish throne remained in his family until the death of Queen Margaret, the Maid of Norway, in 1290. Of Malcolm’s six sons by Margaret, three succeeded to the throne: Edgar (reigned 1097–1107), Alexander I (1107–24), and David I (1124–53).

Encyclopaedia Britannica
 


The feudal system in the English form became established in the Southeast and the 9 Lowlands.

The Highlands, however, remained ruled by the clans as in Celtic times.



9 Edinburgh Castle, built from the late seventh century on, in Edinburgh,
capital of the Scottish Lowlands



Once Malcolm's dynasty was extinguished at the end of the 13th century, the powerful Bruce and Balliol families fought over the succession. Edward I of England saw an opportunity and helped John de Balliol to the throne, in return for which he was to recognize English suzerainty. However, after winning the crown, Balliol refused to submit to English interests, whereupon the English occupied the country. Sir William Wallace and Robert the Bruce organized the resistance against the English occupiers. In extended fighting, Robert, who was crowned king in 1306, was able to defend Scottish independence. The Scots were able to strengthen their position further as England became embroiled in the Hundred Years' War and the War of the Roses.

In 1371, the Stuarts replaced the House of Bruce. Despite the marriage of James IV Stuart to Margaret Tudor, the daughter of Henry VII of England in 1503, clashes with the English continued.

Nevertheless, this marriage formed the basis for the claim of James's granddaughter 11 Mary Stuart  to the English throne and led in 1603 to the unification of both kingdoms under Mary's son 10 James VI of Scotland and I of England.
 


11 Mary Stuart, Queen Mary I of Scotland, and her second husband Lord Henry Darnley,
parents of the later King James I of England.


10 James VI of Scotland and James I of England,
painting, 1605

 
 
 

Sir William Wallace

Sir William Wallace, (born c. 1270, probably near Paisley, Renfrew, Scot.—died Aug. 23, 1305, London, Eng.), one of Scotland’s greatest national heroes, leader of the Scottish resistance forces during the first years of the long, and ultimately successful, struggle to free Scotland from English rule.

His father, Sir Malcolm Wallace, was a small landowner in Renfrew. In 1296 King Edward I of England deposed and imprisoned the Scottish king John de Balliol and declared himself ruler of Scotland. Sporadic resistance had already occurred when, in May 1297, Wallace and a band of some 30 men burned Lanark and killed its English sheriff. Wallace then organized an army of commoners and small landowners and attacked the English garrisons between the Rivers Forth and Tay. On Sept. 11, 1297, an English army under John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, confronted him at the Forth near Stirling. Wallace’s forces were greatly outnumbered, but Surrey had to cross a narrow bridge over the Forth before he could reach the Scottish positions. By slaughtering the English as they crossed the river, Wallace gained an overwhelming victory. He captured Stirling Castle, and for the moment Scotland was nearly free of occupying forces. In October he invaded northern England and ravaged the counties of Northumberland and Cumberland.

Upon returning to Scotland early in December 1297, Wallace was knighted and proclaimed guardian of the kingdom, ruling in Balliol’s name. Nevertheless, many nobles lent him only grudging support; and he had yet to confront Edward I, who was campaigning in France. Edward returned to England in March 1298, and on July 3 he invaded Scotland. On July 22 Wallace’s spearmen were defeated by Edward’s archers and cavalry in the Battle of Falkirk, Stirling. Although Edward failed to pacify Scotland before returning to England, Wallace’s military reputation was ruined. He resigned his guardianship in December and was succeeded by Robert de Bruce (later King Robert I) and Sir John Comyn “the Red.”

There is some evidence that Wallace went to France in 1299 and thereafter acted as a solitary guerrilla leader in Scotland; but from the autumn of 1299 nothing is known of his activities for more than four years. Although most of the Scottish nobles submitted to Edward in 1304, the English continued to pursue Wallace relentlessly. On Aug. 5, 1305, he was arrested near Glasgow. Taken to London, he was condemned as a traitor to the king even though, as he maintained, he had never sworn allegiance to Edward. He was hanged, disemboweled, beheaded, and quartered. In 1306 Bruce raised the rebellion that eventually won independence for Scotland.

Many of the stories surrounding Wallace have been traced to a late 15th-century romance ascribed to Henry the Minstrel, or “Blind Harry.” The most popular tales are not supported by documentary evidence, but they show Wallace’s firm hold on the imagination of his people. A huge monument (1861–69) to Wallace stands atop the rock of Abbey Craig near Stirling.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

 

Mary Stuart

Mary, byname Mary, Queen of Scots, original name Mary Stuart or Mary Stewart (born December 8, 1542, Linlithgow Palace, West Lothian, Scotland—died February 8, 1587, Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, England), queen of Scotland (1542–67) and queen consort of France (1559–60). Her unwise marital and political actions provoked rebellion among the Scottish nobles, forcing her to flee to England, where she was eventually beheaded as a Roman Catholic threat to the English throne.


Early life
Mary Stuart was the only child of King James V of Scotland and his French wife, Mary of Guise. The death of her father six days after her birth left Mary as queen of Scotland in her own right. Although Mary’s great-uncle King Henry VIII of England made an unsuccessful effort to secure control of her (Mary inherited Tudor blood through her grandmother, a sister of Henry VIII), the regency of the kingdom was settled in favour of her mother.

Her mother saw to it that Mary was sent to France at age five. There she was brought up at the court of King Henry II and his queen Catherine de Médicis with their own large family, assisted by relations on her mother’s side, the powerful Guises. Despite a charmed childhood of much luxury, including frequent hunting and dancing (at both of which she excelled), Mary’s education was not neglected, and she was taught Latin, Italian, Spanish, and some Greek. French now became her first language, and indeed in every other way Mary grew into a Frenchwoman rather than a Scot.

By her remarkable beauty, with her tall, slender figure (she was about 5 feet 11 inches), her red-gold hair and amber-coloured eyes, and her taste for music and poetry, Mary summed up the contemporary ideal of the Renaissance princess at the time of her marriage to Francis, eldest son of Henry and Catherine, in April 1558. Although it was a political match aimed at the union of France and Scotland, Mary was sincerely fond of her boy husband, though the marriage was probably never consummated.

The accession of Elizabeth Tudor to the throne of England in November 1558 meant that Mary was, by virtue of her Tudor blood, next in line to the English throne. Those Roman Catholics who considered Elizabeth illegitimate because they regarded Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn invalid even looked upon Mary as the lawful queen. Mary’s father-in-law, Henry II of France, thus claimed the English throne on her behalf. The death of Henry in 1559 brought Francis to the French throne and made Mary a glittering queen consort of France, until Francis’s premature death in December 1560 made her a widow at the age of 18.


Queen of Scotland
Returning to Scotland in August 1561, Mary discovered that her sheltered French upbringing had made her ill-equipped to cope with the series of problems now facing her. Mary’s former pretensions to the English throne had incurred Elizabeth’s hostility. She refused to acknowledge Mary as her heiress, however much Mary, nothing if not royal by temperament, prized her English rights. While Mary herself was a Roman Catholic, the official religion of Scotland had been reformed to Protestantism in her absence, and she thus represented to many, including the leading Calvinist preacher John Knox, a foreign queen of an alien religion. Most difficult of all were the Scottish nobles; factious and turbulent after a series of royal minorities, they cared more for private feuds and self-aggrandizement than support of the crown. Nevertheless, for the first years of her rule, Mary managed well, with the aid of her bastard half-brother James, earl of Moray, and helped in particular by her policy of religious tolerance. Nor were all the Scots averse to the spectacle of a pretty young queen creating a graceful court life and enjoying her progresses round the country.

It was Mary’s second marriage in July 1565 to her cousin Henry Stewart (Stuart), earl of Darnley, son of Matthew Stewart, 4th earl of Lennox, that started the fatal train of events culminating in her destruction. Mary married the handsome Darnley recklessly for love. It was a disastrous choice because by her marriage she antagonized all the elements interested in the power structure of Scotland, including Elizabeth, who disapproved of Mary marrying another Tudor descendant, and her half brother James, who, jealous of the Lennox family’s rise to power, promptly rebelled. Nor did Darnley’s character measure up to the promise of his appearance—he was weak, vicious, and yet ambitious. The callous butchery of her secretary and confidant, David Riccio (Rizzio), in front of her own eyes, in March 1566, by Darnley and a group of nobles, convinced Mary that her husband had aimed at her own life. The birth of their son James in June did nothing to reconcile the couple, and Mary, armed now with the heir she had craved, looked for some means to relieve an intolerable situation.

The next eight months constitute the most tangled and controversial period of Mary’s career. According to Mary’s detractors, it was during this period that she developed an adulterous liaison with James Hepburn, 4th earl of Bothwell, and planned with him the death of Darnley and their own following marriage. There is, however, no contemporary evidence of this love affair, before Darnley’s death, except the highly dubious so-called Casket Letters, poems and letters supposedly written by Mary to Bothwell but now generally considered to be inadmissible evidence by historians. But Mary did undoubtedly consider the question of a divorce from Darnley, after a serious illness in October 1566, which left her health wrecked and her spirits low. On the night of February 9, 1567, the house at Kirk o’ Field on the outskirts of Edinburgh where Darnley lay recovering from illness was blown up, and Darnley himself was strangled while trying to escape. Many theories have been put forward to explain conflicting accounts of the crime, including the possibility that Darnley, plotting to blow up Mary, was caught in his own trap. Nevertheless, the most obvious explanation—that those responsible were the nobles who hated Darnley—is the most likely one.

Whatever Mary’s foreknowledge of the crime, her conduct thereafter was fatally unwise and showed how much she lacked wise counselors in Scotland. After three months, she allowed herself to be married off to Bothwell, the chief suspect, after he abducted and ravished her. If passion is rejected as the motive, Mary’s behaviour can be ascribed to her increasing despair, exacerbated by ill health, at her inability to manage the affairs of tempestuous Scotland without a strong arm to support her. But in fact Bothwell as a consort proved no more acceptable to the jealous Scottish nobility than Darnley had been. Mary and Bothwell were parted forever at Carberry Hill on June 15, 1567, Bothwell to exile and imprisonment where he died in 1578, and Mary to incarceration on the tiny island of Loch Leven, where she was formally deposed in favour of her one-year-old son James. After a brief fling of liberty the following year, defeat of her supporters at a battle at Langside put her once more to flight. Impulsively, Mary sought refuge in England with her cousin Elizabeth. But Elizabeth, with all the political cunning Mary lacked, employed a series of excuses connected with the murder of Darnley to hold Mary in English captivity in a series of prisons for the next 18 years of her life. In the meantime, Mary’s brother Moray flourished as regent of Scotland.


Captivity in England
Mary’s captivity was long and wearisome, only partly allayed by the consolations of religion and, on a more mundane level, her skill at embroidery and her love of such little pets as lap dogs and singing birds. Her health suffered from the lack of physical exercise, her figure thickened, and her beauty diminished, as can be seen in the best-known pictures of her in black velvet and white veil, dating from 1578. Naturally, she concentrated her energies on procuring release from an imprisonment she considered unjustified, at first by pleas, and later by conspiracy. Unfortunately for her survival, Mary as a Catholic was the natural focus for the hopes of those English Catholics who wished to replace the Protestant queen Elizabeth on the throne. It was the discovery in 1586 of a plot to assassinate Elizabeth and bring about a Roman Catholic uprising that convinced Queen Elizabeth that, while she lived, Mary would always constitute too dangerous a threat to her own position.

Despite the fact that she was the sovereign queen of another country, Mary was tried by an English court and condemned; her son, James, who had not seen his mother since infancy and now had his sights fixed on succeeding to the English throne, raised no objections. Mary was executed in 1587 in the great hall at Fotheringhay Castle, near Peterborough; she was 44 years old. It was a chilling scene, redeemed by the great personal dignity with which Mary met her fate. Her body ultimately came to rest in Westminster Abbey in a magnificent monument James I raised to his mother, after he finally ascended the throne of England.

A romantic and tragic figure to her supporters, a scheming adulteress if not murderess to her political enemies, Mary aroused furious controversy in her own lifetime, during which her cousin Queen Elizabeth aptly termed her “the daughter of debate.” Her dramatic story has continued to provoke argument among historians ever since, while the public interest in this 16th-century femme fatale remains unabated.

Lady Antonia Fraser

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

 

James I

James I, (born June 19, 1566, Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scot.—died March 27, 1625, Theobalds, Hertfordshire, Eng.), king of Scotland (as James VI) from 1567 to 1625 and first Stuart king of England from 1603 to 1625, who styled himself “king of Great Britain.” James was a strong advocate of royal absolutism, and his conflicts with an increasingly self-assertive Parliament set the stage for the rebellion against his successor, Charles I.

James was the only son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her second husband, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley. Eight months after James’s birth his father died when his house was destroyed by an explosion. After her third marriage, to James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, Mary was defeated by rebel Scottish lords and abdicated the throne. James, one year old, became king of Scotland on July 24, 1567; Mary left the kingdom on May 16, 1568, and never saw her son again. During his minority James was surrounded by a small band of the great Scottish lords, from whom emerged the four successive regents, the earls of Moray, Lennox, Mar, and Morton. There did not exist in Scotland the great gulf between rulers and ruled that separated the Tudors and their subjects in England. For nine generations the Stuarts had in fact been merely the ruling family among many equals, and James all his life retained a feeling for those of the great Scottish lords who gained his confidence.

The young king was kept fairly isolated but was given a good education until the age of 14. He studied Greek, French, and Latin and made good use of a library of classical and religious writings that his tutors, George Buchanan and Peter Young, assembled for him. James’s education aroused in him literary ambitions rarely found in princes but which also tended to make him a pedant.

Before James was 12 he had taken the government nominally into his own hands when the Earl of Morton was driven from the regency in 1578. For several years more, however, James remained the puppet of contending intriguers and faction leaders. After falling under the influence of the Duke of Lennox, a Roman Catholic who schemed to win back Scotland for the imprisoned Queen Mary, James was kidnapped by William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie, in 1582 and was forced to denounce Lennox. The following year James escaped from his Protestant captors and began to pursue his own policies as king. His chief purposes were to escape from subservience to Scottish factions and to establish his claim to succeed the childless Elizabeth I upon the throne of England. Realizing that more was to be gained by cultivating Elizabeth’s goodwill than by allying himself with her enemies, James in 1585–86 concluded an alliance with England. Thenceforward, in his own unsteady fashion, he remained true to this policy, and even Elizabeth’s execution of his mother in 1587 drew from him only formal protests.

In 1589 James was married to Anne, the daughter of Frederick II of Denmark, who, in 1594, gave birth to their first son, Prince Henry. James’s rule of Scotland was basically successful. He was able to play off Protestant and Roman Catholic factions of Scottish nobles against each other, and through a group of commissioners known as the Octavians (1596–97), he was able to rule Scotland almost as absolutely as Elizabeth ruled England. The king was a convinced Presbyterian, but in 1584 he secured a series of acts that made him the head of the Presbyterian church in Scotland, with the power to appoint the church’s bishops.

When James at length succeeded to the English throne on the death of Elizabeth I (March 24, 1603), he was already, as he told the English Parliament, “an old and experienced king” and one with a clearly defined theory of royal government. Unfortunately, neither his experience nor his theory equipped him to solve the new problems facing him; and he lacked the qualities of mind and character to supply the deficiency. James hardly understood the rights or the temper of the English Parliament, and he thus came into conflict with it. He had little contact with the English middle classes, and he suffered from the narrowness of his horizons. His 22-year-long reign over England was to prove almost as unfortunate for the Stuart dynasty as his years before 1603 had been fortunate.

There was admittedly much that was sensible in his policies, and the opening years of his reign as king of Great Britain were a time of material prosperity for both England and Scotland. For one thing, he established peace by speedily ending England’s war with Spain in 1604. But the true test of his statesmanship lay in his handling of Parliament, which was claiming ever-wider rights to criticize and shape public policy. Moreover, Parliament’s established monopoly of granting taxes made its assent necessary for the improvement of the crown’s finances, which had been seriously undermined by the expense of the long war with Spain. James, who had so successfully divided and corrupted Scottish assemblies, never mastered the subtler art of managing an English Parliament. He kept few privy councillors in the House of Commons and thus allowed independent members there to seize the initiative. Moreover, his lavish creations of new peers and, later in his reign, his subservience to various recently ennobled favourites loosened his hold upon the House of Lords. His fondness for lecturing both houses of Parliament about his royal prerogatives offended them and drew forth such counterclaims as the Apology of the Commons (1604). To parliamentary statesmen used to Tudor dignity, James’s shambling gait, restless garrulity, and dribbling mouth ill-befitted his exalted claims to power and privilege.

When Parliament refused to grant him a special fund to pay for his extravagances, James placed new customs duties on merchants without Parliament’s consent, thereby threatening its control of governmental finance. Moreover, by getting the law courts to proclaim these actions as law (1608) after Parliament had refused to enact them, James struck at the houses’ legislative supremacy. In four years of peace, James practically doubled the debt left by Elizabeth, and it was hardly surprising that when his chief minister, Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, tried in 1610–11 to exchange the king’s feudal revenues for a fixed annual sum from Parliament, the negotiations over this so-called Great Contract came to nothing. James dissolved Parliament in 1611.

The abortive Great Contract, and the death of Cecil in 1612, marked the turning point of James’s reign; he was never to have another chief minister who was so experienced and so powerful. During the ensuing 10 years the king summoned only the brief Addled Parliament of 1614. Deprived of parliamentary grants, the crown was forced to adopt unpopular expedients, such as the sale of monopolies, to raise funds. Moreover, during these years the king succumbed to the influence of the incompetent Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset. Carr was succeeded as the king’s favourite by George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, who showed more ability as chief minister but who was even more hated for his arrogance and his monopoly of royal favour.

In his later years the king’s judgment faltered. He embarked on a foreign policy that fused discontent into a formidable opposition. The king felt a sympathy, which his countrymen found inexplicable, for the Spanish ambassador, Diego Sarmiento de Acuña, Count of Gondomar. When Sir Walter Raleigh, who had gone to Guiana in search of gold, came into conflict with the Spaniards, who were then at peace with England, Gondomar persuaded James to have Raleigh beheaded. With Gondomar’s encouragement, James developed a plan to marry his second son and heir Charles to a Spanish princess, along with a concurrent plan to join with Spain in mediating the Thirty Years’ War in Germany. The plan, though plausible in the abstract, showed an astonishing disregard for English public opinion, which solidly supported James’s son-in-law, Frederick, the Protestant elector of the Palatinate, whose lands were then occupied by Spain. When James called a third Parliament in 1621 to raise funds for his designs, that body was bitterly critical of his attempts to ally England with Spain. James in a fury tore the record of the offending Protestations from the House of Commons’ journal and dissolved the Parliament.

The Duke of Buckingham had begun in enmity with Prince Charles, who became the heir when his brother Prince Henry died in 1612, but in the course of time the two formed an alliance from which the king was quite excluded. James was now aging rapidly, and in the last 18 months of his reign he, in effect, exercised no power; Charles and Buckingham decided most issues. James died at his favourite country residence, Theobalds, in Hertfordshire.

Besides the political problems that he bequeathed to his son Charles, James left a body of writings which, though of mediocre quality as literature, entitle him to a unique place among English kings since the time of Alfred. Chief among these writings are two political treatises, The True Lawe of Free Monarchies (1598) and Basilikon Doron (1599), in which he expounded his own views on the divine right of kings. The Poems of James VI of Scotland, 2 vol., were edited by James Craigie (1955–58). The 1616 edition of The Political Works of James I was edited by Charles Howard McIlwain (1918).

The Most Rev. David Mathew

Encyclopaedia Britannica