JAMES I  1603 - 1625  (J1)  Lived 1566 - 1625


Tokugawa Ieyasu becomes military governor of Japan. His reforms bring a long period of peace and stability, but the country soon cuts itself off from contact with the Western World.


The Iranian leader Abbas I, greatest of the Safavid rulers, defeats the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Tabriz, and later, in 1623, goes on to capture the city of Baghdad and eastern Iran.


ThexGunpowder Plot, aimed to blow up the king, the heir to the throne, and members of parliament, ends in failure. Guy Fawkes is arrested along with the other conspirators. All are tortured and executed.

Akbar dies, and his son, Jahangir, becomes leader of the Mughal Empire. As we shall see (1632 C1), his campaign to conquer southern India is continued by his successor Shah Jahan.

TheXEnglish writer and philosopher Francis Bacon, one of the pioneers of modern scientific

research, discusses scientific method in his scholarly work The Advancement of Learning.


The explorers Pedro Fernandez de Quiros and Luis Vaez de Torres discover the New Hebrides. Torres then voyages on and finds the strait between New Guinea and Australia.

The English playwright William Shakespeare produces his tragedy Macbeth, a Scottish play written in honour of James I. Other great dramas of this period include Othello and King Lear.


The Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi produces his first opera, The Legend of Orpheus. By his musical innovation, this proves a milestone in the development and popularity of European opera.

The first permanent English colony is established in Virginia, North America. Named Jamestown in honour of the king, it remains an important centre for some seventy years.


A truce is agreed between Spain and the United Provinces, but fighting breaks out again during the Thirty Years War, and Dutch independence is once more thrown into the balance.

The Dutch jurist and theologian Hugo Grotius writes his treatise on The Free Sea. This and a later work, On the Law of War and Peace, 1625, earn him the title Father of International Law.


The English navigator Henry Hudson discovers the bay in North America which today bears his name. Earlier he had sailed up the Hudson River, claiming the territory for the Dutch.

The great Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo uses an astronomical telescope for the first time, and his visual findings support the Copernican theory of the universe. He also makes important advances in the science of mechanics.

The Ulster Plantation begins whereby English and Scottish Protestants are encouraged to settle on land confiscated in six of the nine counties of Ulster in northern Ireland.

The French bishop and theologian Francis de Sales founds an order of nuns known as the Order of the Visitation of Our Lady. His best known work is his Introduction to a Devout Life.


The Authorized Version of the Bible, translated from the Latin, is completed. Begun following a decision at the Hampton Court Conference seven years earlier, it is often known as the King James Version and is still in use today.

Peter Rubens, the great Flemish painter, returns to Antwerp after travelling in Italy, and starts work on The Descent from the Cross, one of his many baroque masterpieces.   

The first English trading post in India is established at Surat, the chief port of the Mughal Empire. This marks the very beginning of Britain's long association with the subcontinent.  

ThexEnglishxdramatists Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher produce two of their joint plays, A King or No King and The Maid’s Tragedy. Their works proved extremely popular.


A clinical thermometer is invented by the Italian physician Santorio. He was the first to use

precision instruments in medical practice. He also made advances in the study of metabolism.


After a power struggle lasting nine years, Michael Romanov becomes Tsar of Russia and founds the powerful Romanov dynasty, destined to remain in power until 1917.



John Napier, the Scottish mathematician, invents logarithms, and starts work on a mechanical calculating device. He is also the first to use the decimal point in calculation.

The French parliament, the Estates General, is summoned during the early and turbulent years of the reign of  Louis XIII. It  breaks up in disorder and is not called again until 1789.

Ben Jonson, the English dramatist and poet, produces Bartholomew Fair, one of his best known comedies. A man of ready wit, he also wrote a series of brilliant masques to entertain the royal court.

The Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes completes Don Quixoto, his famous, influential work about the travels of a would-be, heroic knight and his down-to-earth man servant Sancho Panza.


The Thirty Years’ War breaks out. It is fought mainly in the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) between Catholics and Protestants, but later a number of other countries join in the conflict.

Nurhachi, leader of a powerful Manchurian tribe, invades China and, setting up his own state in the province of Liaotung, paves the way for the overthrow of the Ming dynasty in 1644 (C1).


The Dutch East India Company establishes Batavia in the Spice Islands and from there spreads its trade throughout S.E. Asia and into India, China, Japan, Iran and South Africa.

Johannes Kepler, the German astronomer, completes his three famous laws governing planetary motion. They confirm the Copernican theory and greatly assist further research.


The Pilgrim Fathers, sailing in the Mayflower, reach New England and found a settlement at Plymouth. Within ten years thousands of English settlers, mostly Puritans, join them.

A vessel designed to travel under water is invented by the Dutch scientist Cornelius van Drebbel. Over the next four years he carries out trials on the River Thames in London.


The German composer and organist Michael Praetorius completes three volumes of his

Syntagma musicum, a valuable work on the instruments and instrumental music of his time.


The Banqueting House in Whitehall, London, is completed. The masterpiece of the English architect Inigo Jones, it is a fine example of the classical style he introduced from Italy.


Abbas I of Iran conquers Baghdad and eastern Iraq from the ailing Ottoman Empire. The empire's new Sultan, Murad IV, embarks on a series of reforms to try to stop the decline.


Appointed chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu sets about the task of making Louis XIII of France

an absolute monarch by crushing the political power of the nobles and the Huguenots.

The Flemish-born portrait painter Frans Hals produces The Laughing Cavalier, his best known work, and one which well captures his early, light-hearted and spontaneous style.


The king, James I, who had been failing in health over the past eighteen months, dies at Theobalds, his favourite country residence, and is succeeded by his son Charles I.


James I: detail, by the Dutch portrait painter Daniel Mytens (c1590-c1647), 1621 – National Portrait Gallery, London. Carr: by the English miniature painter John Hoskins (died 1664), 1625/30 – National Portrait Gallery, London. Coat of Arms: licensed under Creative Commons. Author: Sodacan – https://commons.wikimedia.org.


xxxxxThe only son of Mary Queen of Scots and her second husband Lord Darnley, James succeeded to the Scottish throne as James VI at the age of one, following his mother's abdication in 1567. He had a troubled minority, being a pawn amid rival factions, but he came to power in his own right in 1583 and from then on kept a tight grip on the affairs of state. On the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, he succeeded to the English throne as James I, the first of the Stuart line and the most experienced monarch to wear the crown since William the Conqueror. Taking the title King of Great Britain, he then lost no time in emphasising his belief in the Divine Right of Kings, a doctrine which he clearly spelt out at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604, and which he had propounded earlier in his work The True Law of Free Monarchies.

xxxxxFor nine years he was guided by his skilful minister Robert Cecil, but following his death in 1612, he soon allowed court favourites to play a significant role in the affairs of state - particularly the incompetent Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset (illustrated), and the arrogant George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. Extravagant by nature, he lavished expensive gifts upon these and other favourites, and appointed a number of friends to positions of high office. This not only lost him popular support, but also added fuel to his growing conflict with Parliament, already beset by a number of heated exchanges. Here, his firm belief in his God-given right to govern was at dangerous odds with Parliament's concept of its own rights, particularly in financial matters. As far as the king was concerned, members of Parliament were simply there to do his bidding. But that is not how Parliament saw it. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that in 1611 the "Great Contract", by which James hoped to obtain an annual sum from Parliament, came to nothing. Nor is it surprising that, after the failure of the Addled Parliament of 1614 - so called because it passed no legislation - James ruled without Parliament for seven years - selling peerages and raising taxes illegally to help pay towards his spiralling debts. The final showdown came in 1621 when, following a misunderstanding over the king's policy towards Spain, the Commons issued a Protestation, setting out a statement of their liberties. James promptly sent for the Commons journal and personally tore out the relevant pages!

xxxxxBut for most people it is over matters of religion that the reign of James I is best remembered. He was embroiled in doctrinal strife soon after coming to the English throne. A convinced Presbyterian, he made it clear from the start that he would "harry from the land" any kind of religious extremism. This harsh warning resulted in a number of conspiracies against the king, including the abortive Gunpowder Plot of 1605 - all the work of Catholic extremists -, whilst his conciliatory attitude towards the Spanish, his ending of support for the Dutch, and his refusal to reform more drastically the Church of England, lost him the favour of the Puritans - the Protestant extremists. Indeed, alienated by his High Church views, many Puritans emigrated to the continent, and it was a small band of these who returned to England and, known as the Pilgrim Fathers, set sail from Plymouth in 1620 to settle in the New World. Meanwhile, in Ireland James continued and intensified the plantation policy introduced by the Tudors. His Ulster Plantation scheme, started in 1610, encouraged the settlement of a large number of English and Scottish Protestants into the north of the island.

xxxxxIn his foreign policy it would seem that he did make a genuine attempt to bring about peace on the continent, then being ravaged by the Thirty Years War. In 1604 he ended the war with Spain and in 1613 he married his daughter Elizabeth to the leader of the German Protestants, Frederick V, probably hoping to be some kind of mediator between the two warring sides. Later, however, coming under the spell of the Spanish ambassador, the Count of Gondomar, and oblivious it would seem to the effect it would have on English public opinion, he embarked upon a scheme to marry his son Charles, heir to the throne, to the Roman Catholic Infanta of Spain. In 1523 Charles and the Duke of Buckingham actually visited Madrid incognito to make arrangements for the marriage. And when this marriage plan failed in 1624, he tried to make one between Charles and Henrietta Maria, daughter of the French king, Henry IV, a proposition that only served to fan the flames then spreading across the continent. Only much further afield, across the Atlantic in fact, did he achieve some success. In 1606 he chartered the London Company, and the following year this did succeed in founding England's first successful colony in North America, the settlement of Jamestown on the coast of Virginia.

xxxxxOver the years, James I has not received a very good press. It is said that he did not have an attractive personality and that, despite an unfortunate stammer, he liked the sound of his own voice, earning himself the title of "The Wisest Fool in Christendom". However, much of this criticism would seem to have come from his detractors and must be viewed with caution. He was an intelligent man, and is regarded as one of the most successful of Scottish kings. As an English king his failure lay, above all, in his inability to read the changing times. His dogged belief in the royal prerogative set him on a direct collision course with a Parliament which was just beginning to flex its political muscle. He might well have achieved all his aims had he put away the big hammer and learnt the subtle art of managing the English parliament, but he didn't really have the temperament that this required. He died, we are told, warning his heir of the dangers he faced from Parliament. That is one thing he certainly got right!

xxxxxSomething of a pedant by nature, James I was not without literary ambition. During his lifetime he wrote a number of books. His Counterblast to Tobacco, written in 1604, must be seen as leading the country's first anti-smoking campaign, and his Book of Sports angered the Puritans by his open support for playing certain games on a Sunday - like archery, Morris dancing and "May-games". He also produced a book on witchcraft, wrote two volumes of mediocre poems, and, as we have seen, defended the Divine Right of Kings in his True Law of Free Monarchies. And it was James, of course, who in 1611 commissioned the production of the Authorised Version of the Bible, a translation from Latin into English which proved a masterpiece of Jacobean prose and is still used in many churches today.

xxxxxIncidentally, James I was crowned in Westminster Abbey on a coronation chair that held beneath it the Stone of Scone, for centuries associated with the crowning of Scottish kings. This stone had been brought from Scotland to London by Edward III in 1296, where it was seen as a symbol that English kings would also be crowned kings of Scotland. However, legend has it that attached to the stone at one time was the following prophecy:


Unless the fates be faulty grown

And prophet's voice be vain

Where'er is found this sacred stone

The Scottish race shall reign.

xxxxxAfter a gap of some 300 years the legend was fulfilled when in 1603 the Scotsman James VI became ruler of England as James I! ……

xxxxx…… James I discovered Newmarket Heath in February 1605, and saw its potential as a racecourse. He built the first grandstand there, and the first recorded race was held in March 1622. In the world of horseracing, it was the start of something big.

































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