War in the West

James VI and I

Roger Lockyer takes a fresh look at the much-maligned James VI of Scotland, who became the first Stuart king of England.

 Portrait of James by John de Critz, c. 1606
Portrait of James by John de Critz, c. 1606

James VI of Scotland and I of England has had a bad press. It began with Sir Anthony Weldon, who held a minor post in the royal administration until he was sacked for writing a scurrilous tract about Scotland, the King's native land. Weldon took his revenge by producing the Court and Character of King James I, a piece of sensational journalism which would never have seen the light of day but for the breakdown of censorship in the 1640s. This became a best-seller, and James was thereafter regarded as little better than a buffoon, unworthily spanning the gap between the glorious Virgin Queen and the tragic royal martyr. This traditional view survived well into the 20th century. Only in the 1970s did historians start looking afresh at the surviving evidence of James's reign in both Scotland and England. As they did so, they became aware that there was a great deal to be said in his favour.

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