Rex fuit Elizabeth – nunc est regina Jacobus1 (Elizabeth was King – now James is Queen.)
England’s Stuart reign was born of violence when Elizabeth I executed Mary, Queen of Scots, and her son, James, ascended the Scottish throne. When Elizabeth died in 1603 without leaving an heir, a Council of Ascension then named James the king of England.
The ascension of a Scot to the English throne was unprecedented and ushered in political unrest that culminated in civil war and the only regicide in England’s history. As a Scot, James had no experience with England’s Parliament, and England’s Parliament had never before experienced a Scottish monarch.
Though considered one of England’s most intellectual monarchs, Henry IV of France called James, The wisest fool in Christendom.2 His works, The True Law of Free Monarchies and Basilikon Doron, demonstrate both his intellect and his folly by advocating the divine right of the king. By asserting that the monarch is not accountable to any earthy authority, James alienated both England’s Parliament and its aristocracy.
To support his extravagant lifestyle, James circumvented Parliament and imposed taxes without their approval. When Parliament preempted these taxes, James responded by selling titles and honors. During the first year of his reign, James sold more than one thousand peerages and knighthoods—inflating the aristocracy by forty percent. Nobility was further diminished through James’ creation and sale of Baronets that were gobbled up by a newly emerging merchant class hungry for the respectability they felt a title granted.3
Parliament deemed James an uncouth homosexual Scottish upstart. One foreign ambassador said his court was altogether undignified.4 His first attempt at diplomacy was the 1613 marriage of his daughter, Elizabeth Stuart, to Frederick V, the Elector Palatine.
In 1618, Frederick ignited the Thirty Years’ War when he invaded Bohemia and deposed Ferdinand II. When the Catholic Hapsburg Empire invaded Bohemia to recover Ferdinand’s throne, James asked Parliament for funds to support his son-in-law, Frederick.
Parliament refused, and in 1622, Fredrick fled to the Dutch Republic, where he established a court in exile at The Hague.
Ironically, the match between Elizabeth Stuart with Frederick V produced an heir, Sophia of the House of Hanover, whose son, George I, supplanted the Stuarts in 1660.
As James aged, he became increasingly dependent on his lover, George Villiers, and declared before his Privy Council,
I, James, am neither a god nor an angel, but a man, like any other. Therefore I act like a man and confess to loving those dear to me more than other men. You may be sure that I love the Earl of Buckingham more than anyone else, and more than you who are here assembled.5
In 1623, Villiers was elevated to the Duke of Buckingham, and Parliament sought his impeachment for a monopoly patent he granted his half-brother, Sir Edward Villiers. The patent made Villiers the sole manufacturer of gold and silver thread in England.
In response, Parliament presented James with a Great Protestation claiming the rights and traditions granted them by previous monarchs were being undermined by James and his patronage of Buckingham. James reacted by dissolving Parliament, which did not resume until shortly before his death in March 1625.
James’ successor Charles—by any measure—was not suited for the throne and would never have been king were it not for the 1612 death of his older brother, Henry. Charles stood a mere five feet four inches tall, was physically frail, and had a severe stutter.
Buckingham, who was eight years his senior, mentored Charles as Crown Prince and became his closest advisor once he ascended to the throne.
In February 1626, Charles summoned Parliament for funds to help his uncle, King Christian IV of Denmark, in the Thirty Years’ War. Before the matter could be decided, however, Charles suspended Parliament to preempt the impeachment of Buckingham.
Soon after, when his uncle was defeated at the Battle of Lutter, Charles imposed a Forced Loan on England to obtain funds and vowed,
he would render his uncle every assistance, even at the risk of his crown and his life.6
Charles’ vow proved prophetic in January 1649 when the Rump Parliament tried him for treason and executed him outside the Banqueting House at Whitehall.7
Execution of Charles I
1 “As both King James VI of Scotland and later as King of England, James I’s sexuality and choice of male partners were the subject of gossip from the taverns to the Privy Council. When James inherited the English throne from Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, it was openly joked that ‘Rex fuit Elizabeth: nunc est regina Jacobus’ (‘Elizabeth was King: now James is Queen’).” From Love Letters: 2,000 Years of Romance, edited by Andrea Clarke, published by the British Library in 2012.
2 McElwee, W. The Wisest Fool in Christendom: The Reign of King James I and VI. (Harcourt, 1958).
3 Stone, L. The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558-1641. (Oxford University Press, 1965).
4 1.McElwee, W. The Wisest Fool in Christendom: The Reign of King James I and VI. (Harcourt, 1958).
5 Bergeron, D. M. King James and Letters of Homoerotic Desire. (University of Iowa Press, 2002). p.32-143
6 Cust, Richard. Charles I: a Political Life, London: Routledge, 2014.
7 DeLisle, L. The White King: Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr. (Public Affairs, Hachette Book Group, 2017).