Day in History: Birth of James I and VI of England and Scotland
With so much focus on contemporary royals, historical ones are often forgotten. These blog entries will focus on British royals of the past on days that bear particular importance in relation to them.
Today’s Royal is not in any imminent danger of fading into background; the reign of James VI and I was one of the pivotal moments in English, Scottish, and eventually, British histories – the Union of Crowns. Since right now the question of Scottish independence seems to be prevalent, it is all the more important to remember how the Union came to existence in the first place.
James VI was born on 19 June 1566 at Edinburgh Castle as the eldest and only son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. As the Heir Apparent of the Scottish Monarch, he immediately assumed the title Duke of Rothesay. James was not only the Heir to the Scottish Throne; both his parents had claims (albeit remote at the point) to the English Throne as great-grandchildren of Henry VII of England through his sister, Margaret Tudor.
The Prince was baptised at Stirling Castle, with Charles IX of France and Elizabeth I of England among his Godparents. He was only months old when his father was murdered; subsequently, his mother was forced to abdicate on 24 July 1567 and Duke of Rothesay ascended to the Scottish Throne as James VI – he was 13 months old at the time.
Until the young King came of age, four regents – George Buchanan, Peter Young, Adam Erskine and David Erskine – were selected to rule under his name; the regency officially ended in 1578, and in 1583 the King assumed full control of his Government. A thoughtful and well-educated man, he is widely regarded by historians as an able and serious Monarch. However, James’ greatest legacy is in laying a foundation of what would later become Great Britain and then – the United Kingdom.
Although James was Elizabeth I’s closest male relative, he was not next in the Line of Succession to the English Throne and his claim had little support in England. By the Third Succession Act (passed by English Parliament in 1543) the descendants of Princess Margaret had no claims to the English Throne as they ruled in a foreign country (Scotland). According to that Act, the Heiress to the Throne was Lady Anne Stanley, Countess of Castlehaven – granddaughter of Margaret Stanley, Countess of Derby, herself the granddaughter of Mary Tudor, Henry VII’s younger sister. Lady Anne didn’t have enough support as well, however, and it was generally assumed Elizabeth I would name her own successor among the descendants of Henry VII; that she did, choosing James VI of Scotland.
After the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, James VI of Scotland ascended to the English Throne as James I of England. Although he was initially warmly welcomed in England, his reign there was not without obstacles; he survived several conspiracies (Bye Plot and Main Plot), not to mention the infamous Gunpowder Plot, which nearly blew up the House of Parliament along with the King who was due for the State Opening. The greatest opposition James faced was to his plans to unite England and Scotland into one single country with a common Government and laws.
While James VI and I was King of both England and Scotland, he was not King of Great Britain (a country that simply didn’t exist at the time), as is commonly believed. The two Kingdoms remained individual sovereign states that enjoyed Personal Union of Crowns (rather like the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and other Countries of the Realm do now). It wasn’t until a century later, during the reign of James VI and I’s great-granddaughter Queen Anne, that the two countries finally united into one – Great Britain. Nevertheless, his reign was the first and most important step in the direction of one single united country.
King James reigned is the longest in the history of sovereign Kingdom of Scotland; he ascended to the Throne on 24 July 1567 and reigned until 27 March 1625 – for a total of 57 years, 246 days. His reign in England started much later, on 4 March 1603; nevertheless, it amounted to a respectable 22 years and 3 days.Filed under British Royals, Historical Royals
Tagged Biography, Elizabeth I, England, James VI and I, Scotland, Union of Crowns.