Scotlands History

James VI and I (19 June 1566 – 27 March 1625)

James became King of Scotland when he was just 13 months old.  He succeeded his mother Mary, Queen of Scots after she was forced to abdicate. James was brought up in the Protestant faith. He gained full control of his Scottish kingdom in 1581, and succeeded Elizabeth I to the English throne on 24 March 1603.

James married Anne of Denmark in 1589 and they had three children who survived childhood: Henry, Elizabeth and Charles (the future King Charles I). James VI and I ruled Scotland, England and Ireland for 22 years until he died in 1625.

King James was once called ‘the wisest fool in Christendom’ – perhaps because he was a great scholar but did not retain very useful knowledge.

A devout king who feared treason and witchcraft in equal measure; James took part personally in the trials of the North Berwick Witches in 1590 and wrote ‘Daemonologie, In Forme of a Dialogie, Diuided into three Bookes. By James Rx’ warning of the natures of witches and the devil.

James was a patron of William Shakespeare. ‘The Lord Chamberlain's Men’ - a company of actors that included Shakespeare – became ‘The King’s Men’ after the death of Elizabeth I.

The Gunpowder Plot, to kill James and his government on the 5th of November 1605, was foiled. Guy Fawkes was caught with barrels of gunpowder beneath the House of Lords.

In 1606 James VI and I granted a charter to establish a colony in North America. ‘Jamestown’ was named in honour of the King. It became the first permanent British settlement in America. When Pocahontas visited England from America in 1616 she met King James. The Virginian colony’s main export was tobacco – which James detested. He wrote ‘A counterblaste to tobacco’ warning that smoking tobacco was:

A custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black, stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.

The Authorised King James Version of the Bible was dedicated to James VI and I in 1608. He died after a series of illnesses in 1625.

  • Painting of James VI wearing Elizabethan dress

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Listen to King James VI and I describing the divine right of kingship in a speech to Parliament, 1609.