James VI & I was the first monarch of both Scotland and England. The product of the disastrous marriage between Mary, Queen of Scots, and her husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, James was crowned as King of Scots at the tender age of thirteen months, following his father’s murder, and his mother’s enforced abdication. His accession to the English throne after the death of Elizabeth I in 1603 began the long process of union.
James' life was in many ways a lonely one – he never knew his parents, although he felt affection for his wife, they were not close, and he suffered numerous abduction and assassination attempts. Yet these vicissitudes did not sour him nor make him vindictive. Instead, he tried to reconcile competing religious views, unite his two kingdoms and make peace in place of war. Sadly, his efforts never achieved complete success.
James travelled extensively around the lowlands and eastern Scotland and even went to Denmark to rescue his ship-wrecked bride. Once in England, he undertook the usual royal progresses, which became an increasing financial burden on his subjects.
Although James is not one of the best known of British monarchs, during his reign, the ultimate flourishing of Shakespeare, Ben Johnson and the architect Inigo Jones took place. James’ obsession with witchcraft is one of the most difficult things for modern minds to comprehend, but it resulted in a wave of persecution – which he may have regretted in the end. James’ greatest claim to fame however, is his sponsoring of the King James Authorised Version of the Bible – the best-selling book ever published in English.
James travelled fairly extensively around the central and eastern parts of Scotland, and, once he became King of England visited a number of towns and great houses as part of regular progresses. He also undertook one voyage abroad, visiting Denmark in 1589 to fetch his bride. Many of the locations James lived in can be visited, although the buildings are not always visible today.
Listen to our editor, Melita Thomas, discussing James VI & I with Heather Teysko of the Renaissance English History Podcast