King James I of England

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James I was the first king of Great Britain, the first Stuart king of England, and the royal benefactor of William Shakespeare, the first permanent settlement in North America, and the committee who crafted a well-known version of the Christian Bible.

England's King James I

He was born on June 19, 1566 in Edinburgh Castle. His mother was Mary, Queen of Scots; his father was Lord Darnley. Both Mary and Darnley had many enemies. Darnley was killed in early 1567; later that year, Mary was forced to abdicate. At the age of 13 months, James was King of Scotland.

As was the custom at the time, James was the monarch but adults served as regent. James was technically king in his own right in 1576, but he didn't assume total control until five years later. In 1581, he became King James VI of Scotland.

James and England's Queen Elizabeth I signed the Treaty of Berwick in 1586, a peace agreement between their respective countries, even as Elizabeth was holding James's mother prisoner. Mary, Queen of Scots was executed a year later.

James was distantly related to Elizabeth, whose father was King Henry VIII. Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VII, was an ancestor of James. Elizabeth's trusted advisor Lord Cecil was convinced that having James succeed Elizabeth as the ruler of England was the right thing to do and so opened secret negotiations between the two rulers. In order to present a more stable case for rule, James got married, to Anne of Denmark, in 1589.

The marriage to Anne solidified James's position with his country's Protestants, who were prevalent, especially Presbyterians. Both England and Scotland had large Catholic populations, despite laws to discourage the practice of the Catholic faith. The most prominent Catholic in Scotland when James was born was his own mother.

Coat of arms of England's King James I

Elizabeth I died without an heir in 1603, and Cecil sent a formal invitation to James, asking him to assume the English throne. He did so, becoming King James I of England while technically also remaining James VI of Scotland. (He was eventually Lord of Ireland as well, making him the ruler of three countries.) He was crowned on July 25, 1603.

James moved to England in 1603 to assume the throne there. He returned to Scotland only once, in 1617.

James had difficulties with Parliament for his entire reign. He took a quite personal view of his monarchy and believed in the Divine Right of Kings: that monarchs were answerable only to God and certainly not to Parliament or to the people at large.

One instance in which James and Parliament were on the same side was in reaction to the Gunpowder Plot, an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the Parliament building in 1605. The most well-known of the Gunpowder plotters was Guy Fawkes. The plot was unsuccessful, and the perpetrators were caught and executed. Fawkes was known to be a Catholic, and James seized the opportunity to enact harsher measures against Catholics who refused to adhere to the Church of England's way of worship.

Book written by England's King James I

James was a very intelligent man. He was also well read and a talented writer. He encouraged artists while he was king, and he wrote several works himself, including a book on poetry, a tome on demonology, and a treatise on the monarchy. He was a patron of the acting troupe of William Shakespeare, and the troupe changed their name from the Lord Chamberlain's Men to the King's Men in James's honor. Another famous poet, Ben Jonson, was a favorite of James. The king and queen also quite enjoyed court masques, which combined music, singing, and dancing as a sort of stage play. Designing the sets for these stage plays was the famous architect Inigo Jones.

The king also encouraged scientific inquiry. Foremost in this field during this time was Francis Bacon, who also received in James's government, as attorney general and then Lord Chancellor.

Cover of King James Bible

King James I also brought together a large number of leading religious men of the time, and the result was the King James Bible. Completed in 1611, this English-language version of the Christian Old Testament and New Testament was the established Bible for Christians for another 200 years.

He provided funding and royal support for the first permanent English settlement in North America. That settlement, begun in 1607, was named for him: Jamestown.

From the age of 50, James was often ill, sometimes seriously so. He suffered repeatedly from arthritis and gout and had a series of fainting spells. He fell terribly ill in 1625 and never recovered. When he died in March of that year, his son Charles succeeded him as King of Great Britain and Lord of Ireland.

James and Anne had six other children, three of whom reached adulthood. Their first-born son, Henry, died of a fever when he was 18. Their first-born daughter, Elizabeth, married Frederick V, Elector of Palatine, and became Queen of Bohemia. It was through her that eventual monarchs the Hanoverians (George I–IV) traced their lineage.

King James I was quite popular with the peoples of England and Scotland during his reign. The country was relatively peaceful during his two-and-one-half decades on the throne, and taxes were relatively low as well. He was widely respected as a supporter of the arts and of the practice of exploration. This period has come to be called the Jacobean era.

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Social Studies for Kids
copyright 2002–2018
David White

Social Studies for Kids
copyright 2002–2019
David White