Saturday, March 24, 2012

Today in History- March 24, 1603- James I becomes King of England

James VI and I (19 June 1566 – 27 March 1625) was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603 until his death. The kingdoms of England and Scotland were individual sovereign states, with their own parliaments, judiciary, and laws, though both were ruled by James in personal union.

He became King of Scotland at the age of thirteen months, succeeding his mother Mary, Queen of Scots, who had been compelled to abdicate in his favour. Four different regents governed during his minority, which ended officially in 1578, though he did not gain full control of his government until 1583. In 1603, he succeeded the last Tudor monarch of England and Ireland, Elizabeth I, who died without issue. He continued to reign in all three kingdoms for 22 years, often using the title "King of Great Britain and Ireland", until his death in 1625 at the age of 58. He based himself in England (the largest of the three realms) from 1603, only returning to Scotland once in 1617. His stated aim of having one parliament for both countries would not be realised until the Act of Union in 1707. In his reign, the Plantation of Ulster and British colonization of the Americas began.

At 57 years and 246 days, his reign in Scotland was longer than any of his predecessors. He achieved most of his aims in Scotland but faced great difficulties in England, including the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 and repeated conflicts with the English Parliament. Under James, the "Golden Age" of Elizabethan literature and drama continued, with writers such as William Shakespeare, John Donne, Ben Jonson, and Sir Francis Bacon contributing to a flourishing literary culture. James himself was a talented scholar, the author of works such as Daemonologie (1597), True Law of Free Monarchies (1598), and Basilikon Doron (1599). He sponsored the translation of the Bible that was named after him: the Authorised King James Version. Sir Anthony Weldon claimed that James had been termed "the wisest fool in Christendom", an epithet associated with his character ever since. Since the latter half of the twentieth century, however, historians have revised James's reputation and have treated him as a serious and thoughtful monarch.

From 1601, in the last years of Elizabeth I's life, certain English politicians, notably her chief minister Sir Robert Cecil, maintained a secret correspondence with James in order to prepare in advance for a smooth succession. In March 1603, with the Queen clearly dying, Cecil sent James a draft proclamation of his accession to the English throne. Elizabeth died in the early hours of 24 March, and James was proclaimed king in London later the same day. On 5 April, James left Edinburgh for London, promising to return every three years (a promise he did not keep), and progressed slowly southwards, to arrive in the capital after Elizabeth's funeral. Local lords received him with lavish hospitality along the route, and his new subjects flocked to see him, relieved that the succession had triggered neither unrest nor invasion. When he entered London on 7 May, he was mobbed by a crowd of spectators.

His English coronation took place on 25 July, with elaborate allegories provided by dramatic poets such as Thomas Dekker and Ben Jonson. Even though an outbreak of plague restricted festivities, "the streets seemed paved with men," wrote Dekker. "Stalls instead of rich wares were set out with children, open casements filled up with women".

The kingdom to which James succeeded was, however, not without its problems. Monopolies and taxation had engendered a widespread sense of grievance, and the costs of war in Ireland had become a heavy burden on the government

Despite the smoothness of the succession and the warmth of his welcome, James survived two conspiracies in the first year of his reign, the Bye Plot and Main Plot, which led to the arrest, among others, of Lord Cobham and Sir Walter Raleigh. Those hoping for governmental change from James were at first disappointed when he maintained Elizabeth's Privy Councillors in office, as secretly planned with Cecil, but James shortly added long-time supporter Henry Howard and his nephew Thomas Howard to the Privy Council, as well as five Scottish nobles. In the early years of James's reign, the day-to-day running of the government was tightly managed by the shrewd Robert Cecil, later Earl of Salisbury, ably assisted by the experienced Thomas Egerton, whom James made Baron Ellesmere and Lord Chancellor, and by Thomas Sackville, soon Earl of Dorset, who continued as Lord Treasurer. As a consequence, James was free to concentrate on bigger issues, such as a scheme for a closer union between England and Scotland and matters of foreign policy, as well as to enjoy his leisure pursuits, particularly hunting.

James was ambitious to build on the personal union of the Crowns of Scotland and England to establish a single country under one monarch, one parliament and one law, a plan which met opposition in both realms. "Hath He not made us all in one island," James told the English parliament, "compassed with one sea and of itself by nature indivisible?" In April 1604, however, the Commons refused on legal grounds his request to be titled "King of Great Britain". In October 1604, he assumed the title "King of Great Britain" by proclamation rather than statute, though Sir Francis Bacon told him he could not use the style in "any legal proceeding, instrument or assurance".

In foreign policy, James achieved more success. Never having been at war with Spain, he devoted his efforts to bringing the long Anglo–Spanish War to an end, and in August 1604, thanks to skilled diplomacy on the part of Robert Cecil and Henry Howard, now Earl of Northampton, a peace treaty was signed between the two countries, which James celebrated by hosting a great banquet. Freedom of worship for Catholics in England continued, however, to be a major objective of Spanish policy, causing constant dilemmas for James, distrusted abroad for repression of Catholics while at home being encouraged by the Privy Council to show even less tolerance towards them.

On the night of 4–5 November 1605, the eve of the state opening of the second session of James's first English Parliament, Catholic Guy Fawkes was discovered in the cellars of the parliament buildings. He was guarding a pile of wood not far from 36 barrels of gunpowder with which Fawkes intended to blow up Parliament House the following day and cause the destruction, as James put it, "not only ... of my person, nor of my wife and posterity also, but of the whole body of the State in general". The sensational discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, as it quickly became known, aroused a mood of national relief at the delivery of the king and his sons which Salisbury exploited to extract higher subsidies from the ensuing Parliament than any but one granted to Elizabeth. Fawkes and others implicated in the unsuccessful conspiracy were executed.

The Tragedy of Macbeth (commonly called Macbeth) is a tragedy by William Shakespeare about a man who commits regicide so as to become king and then commits further murders to maintain his power. The play clearly demonstrates the corrupting effect of ambition, but also deals with the relationship between cruelty and masculinity, tyranny and kingship, treachery, violence, guilt, prophecy, and disruption of the natural order.

The play is believed to have been written sometime between 1603 and 1607. The earliest account of a performance of what was probably Shakespeare's play is April 1611, when Simon Forman recorded seeing such a play at the Globe Theatre. It was first published in the Folio of 1623, possibly from a prompt book. As the play was most likely written during the reign of James I, who had been James VI of Scotland before he succeeded to the English throne in 1603. James was a patron of Shakespeare’s acting company, and of all the plays Shakespeare wrote under James’s reign, Macbeth most clearly reflects the playwright’s close relationship with the sovereign.

No comments: