ames VI of Scotland was exactly the kind of stability England needed, someone that could step into the shoes of his predecessor Elizabeth I, a monarch who had placed great emphasis on the stability of her realm. Any less from James and the results could be disastrous. Even so James met competition from only one person, Arabella Stuart, someone with no support bar the Elizabethan adventurer Walter Raleigh. Arabella’s claim was defeated and Raleigh sent to the tower. James’ claim to the throne was secured. His rule was to be defined by the pursuit of peace, his motto ‘Beati Pacific’ (Blessed are the peacemakers) is distinct to James and was a considerable hint to the populace of his intentions.
he King James Bible of 1611 has become synonymous with James and his reign due to its significant impact on England and the world in general, even to the present day the King James Bible arouses great admiration. James deserves more though, simply because his achievements both bravura and forgettable cover all facets of his reign. On ascending to the throne James, through his chief minister Robert Cecil, signed the Treaty of London ending the Armada war with Spain that had placed great demands on England’s finances leaving James with a £300, 000 deficit to deal with.
ames, with the view that England was the land of milk and honey got a rude shock when faced by a strong English Parliament that was unenthusiastic about funding James’ enormous expenditure on seemingly frivolous things such as the double supper. An invention of the Earl of Carlisle, James Hay, the double supper consisted of laying out an extraordinary twenty courses which were simply thrown away before they could be eaten and replaced by an even greater meal. This kind of image was propagated among the political nation and did a lot to destroy the careful image of monarchy that Elizabeth had built up throughout her reign; she would have been turning in her grave. James idolized splendour and opulence; it was the opium of the Jacobean court.
he Lord Treasurer Thomas Sackville (Fill – Sack) who built a reputation of corruption completely failed to reign in James’ spending and his successor Robert Cecil was the only one during the early stages of James’ reign who gained at least limited success in this facet government. Cecil managed to raise a further £200, 000 for the royal treasury through unpopular means such as the Court of Wards. Cecil also made the unwise decision to sell off crown assets and land worth £600, 000, this short term fix wiped out rents from crown lands which would be sorely needed during the reign of Charles I. It highlights the dangers of selling income earning assets for governments in the modern age.
he first fifteen years of James’ reign is dominated by issues of finance and the ‘Great Contract’ of 1610 would be the pinnacle of Cecil’s ministerial life. It was revolutionary in many ways, most notably for its capacity to transform royal finance and the nature of English monarchy itself. Cecil proposed that the monarch would give up the right to ‘Feudal Dues’ (Purveyance and Wardship) in exchange for a lump sum to pay off Royal Debt, additionally the Commons would pay the King a regular sum of £200, 000 per year to cover the loss of Feudal Dues. The plan fell through and ended Cecil’s career when the chancellor of the Exchequer Sir Julius Caesar claimed that Cecil had his ‘sums wrong’. James lost confidence and demanded another £2oo, 000 from Parliament which they flatly refused. In 1612 Cecil died, a man whose talents had been squandered by James and made fun of due to his hunched over posture, “My little beagle that sits by the fire”.
arliament was dismissed in 1610 and not called again until 1614, it came to be known as the ‘Addled Parliament’ due to the fact it achieved nothing. The Parliament conducted some disorganized attacks on James’ court and also presented some petitions against James’ new impositions. James’ attitude was summed up in his conversation to the Spanish Ambassador Count Gondomar:
“The House of Commons is a body without a head. The members gave their opinions in a disorderly manner… I am surprised my ancestors should have ever permitted such an institution to come into existence. I am a stranger [here] and found it when I arrived, so I am obliged to put up with what I cannot get rid of.”
he Addled Parliament was dissolved and James didn’t summon another one until 1621, in the meantime two significant events would take precedence over everything else, the Cockayne Project of 1615 – 17 and the Overbury scandal of 1615 – 16. In short the Overbury scandal was an affair between the favourite Robert Carr and Lady Essex the wife of the son of Robert Devereaux who would later become a Parliamentary general in the civil war. Sir Thomas Overbury who had been happy to arrange the affair was not enthused about the proposed marriage of the two. James himself was also implicated as he rigged the courts so that the Essex’s could be divorced. Overbury, threatening to release the details of the affair was offered an ambassadorship abroad by James, he refused. Overbury was imprisoned and then poisoned by Lady Essex. She was found out; the new happy couple were imprisoned and charged with murder however they were both pardoned by James. Rochester however lost favour with James and faded into the background, replaced by George Abbott’s George Villiers. The whole image of the Royal Court was also further degraded.
t this time the Lord Treasure Suffolk who was woefully incompetent oversaw the deficit on ordinary income grow to £160, 000 by 1616. Alderman Cockayne had a solution. Cloth was England’s biggest export and Cockayne proposed finishing the cloth in England and then exporting it for a greater profit. The Englishman lacked the skills to finish the cloth and the entire cloth trade had been decimated by 1618, just as the thirty years war was beginning to get going. James, who had endorsed the Cockayne project was never trusted by the City of London merchants ever again and would find his requests for loans falling on deaf ears.
1618 saw the beginning of George Villiers’ (Duke of Buckingham) control of the Royal Court. He was so powerful that everyone had to defer to him and gain his affection to get anywhere. He was also in complete control of patronage, titles, honours and offices of profit were handed out by Villiers to those in his favour. There are several scandals surrounding Villiers including the suspicion that he was James’ secret lover. During Charles’ reign he was targeted by Parliament but Charles shielded him by dismissing several Parliaments.
ionel Cranfield, Earl of Middlesex, became the Lord Treasurer in 1621, in many ways he was the most efficient and realistically minded of James’ ministers. He knew that James’ expenditure needed to be cut in order for the crown to live within its means, he also opposed war with Spain, mindful of the costs of war, because of this stance he would lose his position in 1624.
n 1623 James’ son Charles and his sole favourite the Duke of Buckingham journeyed to Spain to secure the marriage of Charles to the Spanish Infanta. The whole idea was unpopular with both the English and the Spanish; Charles was detested by the Infanta and the talks quickly broke down, Buckingham was hated by the Spanish authorities who petitioned for his executed and James was taken aback by the £100, 000 cost of the expedition. Charles and Buckingham with damaged egos were gunning for war with Spain; the wise King James saw the weaknesses in Charles’ foreign policy and his concerns would be confirmed when Charles conducted an unsuccessful war against the Spanish during his early reign.
n 1624 James died at his huge manor of Theobalds, his early reign had been defined by religious upheaval and paranoia but overwhelmingly James watched over a stable kingdom that vehemently opposed the restlessness and destruction of war. There is also an unfortunate side to James, his massive expenditure in spite of trying economic conditions and attempts to sure up James’ finances ended in failure, the Cockayne project irreparably damaged the English economy. This shows a man, not appointed by the divines but a mere man, with the same failures and weaknesses as you and me.