The Early Stuarts, 1603-1660

By Godfrey Davies | Go to book overview

I
POLITICAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY, 1603-29

ELIZABETH I died early on 24 March 1603, but not before she had signified that James VI of Scotland should succeed her. The privy council at once issued a proclamation of the Scottish king's accession as James I of England, in a form to which he had previously assented. His peaceful accession was welcomed with practical unanimity, and, we are told, 'the like joy, both in London and all parts of England, was never known'.1 The king spent a month on his progress from Edinburgh to London, and the first impressions his new subjects gained were favourable. His familiarity and courtesy were praised on every side,2 and his zeal for hunting endeared him at once to many. The gentry who flocked to see him were rewarded by knighthoods, with a profusion far in excess of any previous grants.3

James VI, born in 1566 and crowned king of Scotland the next year, began to reign formally in 1578 and actually in 1583. Educated by George Buchanan, the Scottish humanist, he became one of the most learned of kings, especially in theology, his main interest. His knowledge did not broaden his mind but made him pedantic and pedagogic. Throughout his life he aspired to instruct his subjects and wrote treatises and delivered speeches to teach them the obedience they owed to God's vicegerent on earth. His precocious self-conceit increased with his success in suppressing the disorders in the Western Isles and along the Border and in attacking presbyterianism. He accepted the presbyterian doctrine but hated the discipline as incompatible with his theories of divine right. His confidence in his statecraft grew after his peaceful succession to the English

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1
Hist. MSS. Com., Salisbury MSS. ( 1930), xv. 26.
3
In two months James created as many knights as Elizabeth in the last ten years of her reign. Bacon wrote to Cecil, 3 July 1603: 'For this almost prostituted title of knighthood I could now without charge by your means be content to have it; both because of this late disgrace, and because I have three new knights in my mess in Gray's Inn commons, and because I have found out an alderman's daughter, a handsome maiden, to my liking' (ibid., p. 167).

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