James I - 1603-1625
James VI of Scotland inherited the throne of England as the great-grandson of James IV's English wife, Margaret Tudor, and the legitimate heir of Elizabeth I, who had died childless. James inherited some of the worst characteristics of his parents, Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley, being self-centred and prone towards setting up favourites as advisers. Although he was brought up in the belief of the Divine Right of Kings, he did try to rule his two kingdoms tolerantly.
Working in England through Parliament, he attempted to relax penal laws. In 1605 a group of Catholic conspirators, including one Guy Fawkes, tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament when he was present but they were caught and executed.
James's relationship with Parliament worsened after the Gunpowder Plot, which drove him to listen more closely to his advisers. The two principal favourites of James I were, in succession, Robert Ker and George Villiers. Both were good-looking and high-spirited young men. Ker had been the King's page and was created Earl of Somerset in 1613. He was also made a member of the Privy Council and entrusted with the King's most intimate business.
However, he angered the nation by encouraging the King to make an alliance with Spain, and by helping him to raise unquestionable taxes. By 1616 the King had taken to George Villiers, who quickly became Earl of Buckingham. He was a Catholic, and had antagonised both the Anglican and Puritan factions in Parliament.
Politically, James hoped to bring about the union of England and Scotland but was defeated by the strong opposition of the English Parliament. The reign of James I was not entirely unsuccessful in foreign affairs. At home, Ulster ended its rebellion against the crown and accepted Protestant settlers and the magnificent Authorised Version of the Bible was published.
The theatre flourished and Shakespeare wrote his greatest plays, including King Lear, and published his sonnets during the reign. James invited Dutch painters to England who had become skilled in the art of oil painting. Among them was Anthony Van Dyck who painted a full length portrait of James, which now hangs in Windsor Castle.
James also invited Dutch experts skilled in the reclamation of swampy land, a common problem in low-lying Holland. Their dykes and ditches began to turn East Anglia into arable land, though this task was not fully complete until the reign of William III.
Some extreme Protestants were not happy with the religious attitudes of James' reign and a group of them, after an initial move to Protestant Holland, set off for the young colonies in America on a ship called the Mayflower in 1620.
Key Events during the Reign of James I
1603 - James VI of Scotland becomes King James I of England after the death of Elizabeth I.
1604 - Somerset House Peace Conference results in peace between England and Spain. The Hampton Court conference fails to settle doctrinal differences between the Anglican church and its Puritan critics.
1605 - Gunpowder Plot attempts to blow up the King and Parliament. Shakespeare writes King Lear.
1607 - The Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnel end their rebellion against English rule of Ireland and flee to Europe. Ulster is colonized by Protestant settlers from Scotland and England.
1609 - Shakespeare completes the Sonnets.
1611 - Authorized Version of the Bible is published.
1612 - Henry, Prince of Wales, dies of typhoid.
1616 - Shakespeare dies.
1618 - Walter Raleigh is executed for alleged treason at Westminster.
1620 - Pilgrim Fathers set sail for America in the Mayflower.
1625 - Death of James I.