King James I: Timeline & History

Instructor: Mary Deering

Mary has a Master's Degree in History with 18 advanced hours in Government. She has taught college History and Government courses.

Explore the tumultuous and complex world of King James I, the ruler of England and Scotland. Learn about the problems and triumphs of this King and discover his connections to the modern world.

Who Was King James I?

James Stuart, or King James I of England, was the cousin of the famous monarch Queen Elizabeth I of England. One of the only female monarchs in Europe during the 1500s, Elizabeth was both a remarkable woman and a successful monarch. During her reign, England enjoyed a period of remarkable prosperity and peace. Part of Elizabeth's power came from her refusal to marry and align herself with any of the other ruling monarchs of Europe. Without a husband or children to succeed her, with the death of Elizabeth, the throne of England passed to her cousin, the King of Scotland, James Stuart, in 1603.

Portrait of James I by John De Critz from Dulwich Picture Gallery
Image of Portrait of James I by John De Critz from Dulwich Picture Gallery

At the time of his ascension to the English throne, James I had ruled Scotland for 35 years and was a well-educated and wise king. James was a more modest ruler than Elizabeth I had been and refused to indulge in the displays of power that his predecessor had preferred. Reportedly, when James was urged to wave his hand to the crowds that gathered to welcome him to London, he complained that he was tired and offered to drop his pants and let the crowd cheer at his behind.

Problems During the Reign of James I (1603-1625)

In addition to his personal annoyance with pomp and circumstance, the biggest problem that faced James I was his personal belief that a monarch has a divine right, a God-given mandate, to authority over his people. He believed that a monarch was responsible only to God, and on several occasions he went so far as to inform the House of Commons, one of the two legislative houses of England, that no privileges could be denied the King despite the long-term practice of English law to the contrary. Through his reign and the reign of his son, Charles I, the monarchy and the House of Commons remained at odds.

Portrait of Charles I
Image of portrait of Charles I

James I also encountered difficulties on religious grounds. During the reign of King Henry VIII, the father of Elizabeth I, the country of England became Protestant and the English began following the Church of England headed by the King. The transformation of England from a Catholic nation to a Protestant country was a rocky one and created much strife within and outside of England. Elizabeth I had ruled England as a Protestant queen. However, she was lenient in persecuting Catholics, and under her rule the Church of England utilized many Catholic practices and rituals.

One religious group called the Puritans believed that the Church of England needed to be reformed and purified of the influence of Catholicism. James I refused to reform the Church of England and supported the opulent lifestyles practiced by bishops of the Church. James's alliance with the wealthy bishops of the Church and his antagonism of the House of Commons earned him some enemies; however, the majority of the English common people appreciated the stability that came with his reign.

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