Whether or not he should have become Scotland’s monarch in 1566 at the age of one, when his mother Mary was executed in 1587 his reign was fully legitimised. As a baby he had been removed from his mother, raised as a Protestant and taught to hate her and the Catholic Church.
His mother was executed in England when he was just 21 years old and, with Elizabeth I of England still childless at the age of 54, it was becoming increasingly obvious that James VI would eventually become King of England too.
Even before Elizabeth’s death, James VI was being contacted by English courtiers to ensure a smooth transition when the time came.
He turned out to be a very well educated and intellectual monarch, speaking numerous languages and having views on many theological matters. He authored works on the divinity of kings, yes he really believed a king was on a higher spiritual plain. He also became extremely interested in opposing witchcraft.
When Elizabeth finally expired in 1603, James VI of Scotland was proclaimed James I of England. Historians usually call him James VI and I because Scotland is the older of the two kingdoms. Sadly, English historians often seem to take pride in conveniently forgetting that he was James VI of Scotland first. Many documentary makers seem to forget that he was ever king of Scotland!
So we finally have a Scots king of England. Some north of the border will have believed that this was the natural order of events and it does raise some interesting prospects.
Just imagine what he could have achieved. He could have made the English wear the kilt, eat haggis and play the bagpipes. He could have built Wembley stadium in Edinburgh and banned the game of cricket from ever being played!
But he didn’t do any of that. What he did do was dreadful for Scotland. He abandoned his people and moved to England!
All of those wars of independence, all of those kings who had fought to keep Scotland independent and then our own king moves to England, effectively giving away our independence to a greater Britain. From that point on, the Scottish influence within the union became less and less important. The fact that the English adopted James as their own added insult to injury, but that is just what they have done with the Scottish oilfields more recently!
James VI & I took on extensive projects including setting up the commission to translate the Bible into English and, rather surprisingly for such a devout man, he also came up with a foolproof method of identifying witches.
This was quite a simple procedure which required a tight band of cloth being wound around the suspect’s head. Then a very sharp knife is worked up under the cloth band and the skin. The blade is gradually worked around the head until the entire scalp can be lifted off the skull. Amazingly all the genuine witches confessed before the process was complete!
Speaking of witches, James VI influenced William Shakespeare, actually requesting that the bard introduce a storyline within his “Scottish Play” to show that James VI would one day become the Scottish King. Hence the invention of Banquo.
During Macbeth and Banquo’s meeting with the three weird sisters early in the play, Banquo was told that although he would not be a king himself, he would nevertheless beget a line of kings who would come after him. These kings were, of course, the Stewarts and the divine James VI was the culmination of the witches’ prophecy. Banquo is the only invented character in Shakespeare’s play because even the witches are mentioned in Holinshed’s supposed “history” of the time.
After James’ egotistical fifty-eight year reign of Scotland we finally get his son who became Charles I of both countries. James VI had reigned through an era of peace in both countries and although there were inflationary pressures at times, the Jacobean period was seen as fiscally quite sound with low taxes and general prosperity.
It was hoped that Charles would continue in this vein, but that was not to be the case.
Charles was also an advocate of the view that kings were on a higher level than ordinary human beings and he attempted to capture more control over the running of the country. This inevitably set him on a collision course with the English Parliament.
Coupled with his ambition for more power and control, his failure to discourage the acceptance of the Catholic religion set him against both the Church as well as parliament.
After the English Civil War it was thought Charles would knuckle under, but this was not to be the case and eventually, after a failed attempt to forge an alliance with Scotland, the Scots handed him to the English Parliamentarians. The Scottish Parliament however, never expected the English to execute their rightful king and no permission for this was ever granted by the Scots.
How dare the English execute the king of Scotland?
Once again the English were running roughshod over their northern neighbour’s wishes. There was, of course, more to it than that, but in the end analysis that is exactly what the English did and it was only to get worse!
The main protagonist was the English Parliamentarian, Oliver Cromwell.
Cromwell had had the king executed, yet he had sufficient sympathy towards the royal family that he actually allowed the king’s head to be sewn back onto his body so that they could grieve over it. At least the executioner had managed the task in a single strike on this occasion though.
Once Charles I was beheaded, this English Parliamentarian, Cromwell, tried to rule Scotland from England.
How dare he try to rule Scotland? What right had any Englishman to rule north of the border?
We seemed to be back to the bad old days of Edward Longshanks. All of the fighting and struggling by Sir William Wallace, Sir Andrew de Moray and King Robert the Bruce had all been in vain.
Did James VI appreciate that this would be the result of his inadvertently traitorous action, or did it all just creep up upon his family through circumstance?
The Scots hated Oliver Cromwell, although it must be said that his time in Scotland was actually a time of peace, prosperity and law and order north of the border, as well as the south, of course.
Cromwell was also full of political and religious contradictions. He executed the King yet agonised over whether to become King himself. He forcefully shut down parliaments yet called himself a parliamentarian. In fact, in the end analysis, Cromwell was not as hated in Scotland as he had been in Ireland, despite the fact that the Scots supported Charles I’s son’s accession to the throne.
Eventually the royal family were invited back to Britain and Charles II was crowned. We were on the verge of a new, and even more bloody religious conflict.
A score had to be settled with Oliver Cromwell first though.
His body was exhumed and, on the same date that his father was executed, Charles II had Cromwell’s body hanged in chains. The head was displayed outside Westminster Abbey for more than twenty years and was only buried relatively recently in 1960 at Cambridge.