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Book of the Month

September 2003

James VI and I


   Sp Coll Bf72-e.5

To mark the four hundredth anniversary of the Union of the Crowns in 1603 - when James VI of Scotland inherited the throne of England following the death of Queen Elizabeth I, thus becoming the first king of Great Britain - this month we feature a volume of first editions of James's speeches. Originally printed between 1604 and 1621, these constitute an invaluable primary resource for the understanding of James as a ruler.

title-page of speech, 19 March 1603/4
Bf72-e.5:  item 1

The volume contains nine different items bound together, and it was acquired by the library in 1944 with the aid of a Carnegie grant. The principal part of the book consists of six speeches made to parliament by King James. As is to be expected in a monarch's addresses to his constitution, they centre on practical matters of legislation and policy.

James VI of Scotland (at age 14)
frontispiece of S.M. 1248

Of added interest are annotations in the margins of several of the pamphlets. These have been made by different readers in the seventeenth century and provide a unique insight into contemporary reactions and views of James as king.

James Charles Stuart was born on 19 June 1566. Just over a year later, at the age of thirteen months, his mother Mary Queen of Scots abdicated and he was crowned King James VI. During his minority, James was rigorously instructed in the Protestant faith and given the education of a Renaissance scholar by his two tutors, George Buchanan and Peter Young. Buchanan was one of the most famous classicists of the age; renowned throughout Europe as a scholar, he was a severe teacher. It is thanks to this schooling that James can be described as 'probably the best-educated ruler ever to sit on an English or Scottish throne, and the only one with any claim to be a political philosopher'.

James was a prolific writer. His first known poem, 'Since thought is free', was written at the age of fifteen. As well as poetry and commentaries on religious texts, he was also responsible for penning treatises on a variety of topics including duelling, tobacco, and witchcraft. But it is probably for his political writings that he is best remembered, and he is now cited as one of the most influential political writers of the early modern period. His first political work, The trew law of free monarchies, was published in 1598; in it, James stressed the considerable duties of rulers while defending divine-right monarchy, warning against the 'sirene songs' of those who praised or excused rebellions.

James VI of Scotland
Bf73-d.19 (folio k3r)

The following year, Basilicon Doron appeared. His most famous work, this was a book of advice written for his son and heir, Henry; a treatise on kingship, it attacked Presbyterian thinking for undermining the king's authority and again underlined the duties as well as the powers of monarchs. The work was reprinted in 1603 and became a European best seller. James's religious and political works were so highly thought of that they appeared in two collected editions during his lifetime.

James I coat of arms
title-page verso of Bf72-e.5: item 1

The first item bound in our volume is a copy of the speech made by James in the House of Lords at the opening of his first Parliament on 19 March, 1604.

flyleaf manuscript listing of contents of Bf72-e.5

beginning of speech, 19 March 1603/4
Bf72-e.5:  item 1
(folio A3r)

part of speech, 19 March 1603/4
Bf72-e.5:  item 1
(folio B1r)

On this occasion, James delivered a general exposition of the general principles guiding his policy, including the issue of the Union of England and Scotland, an undertaking dear to his heart. The reference in the first lines of the speech to God's 'devouring angel' alludes to the terrible outbreak of plague in England of 1603. As well as killing more than 37,000 people, it subdued the celebrations and pageantry of James's coronation and was probably a significant factor in delaying the first meeting of parliament until 1604.

title-page of speech, 9 November 1605
Bf72-e.5:  item 2

part of speech, 9 November 1605
Bf72-e.5:  item 2
(folio B2r)

James's second speech mainly concerns the circumstances of the Gunpowder plot, discovered on 5 November, four days before the speech was delivered. He describes the plot as 'this great and horrible attempt', reflecting that kings are most subject 'to the dayly tempests of innumerable dangers'. He alludes to two previous attempts on his life. The first, when he was 'yet in my mothers belly', is a reference to Rizzio's murder, calculated, it was always supposed, to upset his mother's pregnancy; the second, when he was delivered 'from the very brinke of deathe, from the point of the dagger' refers to the Gowrie conspiracy of 5 August 1600, a supposed attempt by malcontent Scottish noblemen to capture James.

title-page of speech, 31 March 1607
Bf72-e.5:  item 3

The speech from 1607 is devoted to the Union of England and Scotland. James's greatest wish was leave behind him at his death 'one worship to God, one kingdom entirely governed, one uniformity in laws'. The failure to bring this about was probably his greatest disappointment.

By 1610 James was hoping to be granted a long-term financial settlement by Parliament. His speech on 21 March shows his eagerness to retain the good will of the House of Commons. Although uncompromising about divine-right kingship, he stresses his respect for the common law and assures his hearers that he has no intention of using the 'absolute power of a King' to alter the existing form of government in England: he asserts that a good king does not abuse his power, but rules according to the laws of the land.

title-page of speech, 21 March 1609/10
Bf72-e.5:  item 4

part of speech, 21 March 1609/10, with reader annotations
Bf72-e.5:  item 4 (folio B1r)

This is the most extensively annotated speech in the volume, although several others are also marked with the marginalia of early readers. The book is now in an eighteenth century binding, and while a fairly late hand has added a manuscript listing of its contents to a flyleaf, there seem to be at least three different, earlier, hands at work in adding comments to the texts. Cropping to the comments is evidence that they were added before the various items were brought together and bound up. It may be assumed that the pamphlets were originally in the possession of different owners: the signature of Ri[chard] Bacon appears on the title-pages of the 1604 and 1605 items, the monogram 'K' appears on the 1610 speech, while a note about a payment of rent is found at the end of the 1616 speech is signed 'T. Browne'.

The section where James describes his views on the state of monarchy seems to have been of particular interest to the reader of the 1610 speech. James's argument is summed up as 'God and king compared', and the annotator refers to chapters in other books for comparison. Elsewhere, chapters from the Basilicon Doron are cited for comparison of James's arguments.

part of speech, ? 1609, with reader annotations
Bf72-e.5:  item 4 (folio B3r)

Other comments include attacks on James's gifts to favourites and 'scotishemenn'. James' profligacy was a constant source of concern throughout his reign. Undoubtedly a spendthrift - especially in comparison with his predecessor, Elizabeth - his extravagance was a frequent cause of dispute between himself and parliament.

reader annotations at end of speech, ? 1609
Bf72-e.5:  item 4 (folio I2r)

James had continuing difficulties with his parliaments, the first ending acrimoniously in 1610. As the reader notes at the end of this speech, 'I take it that the king brake up this parliament ... in displeasure without doinge of anythinge'. However, it is not true that 'hee would never have more parliaments' as stated here. In fact, parliament was reconvened in 1616. James had hopes that this parliament would overcome previous misunderstandings and that it would become the parliament 'of love', but in reality it became even more fractious then its predecessor and James brought it to an abrupt end: it has become known as the 'Addled Parliament'.

title-page of speech, 20 June 1616
Bf72-e.5:  item 5

The fifth item in the volume is James's speech from 1616 delivered in the Star Chamber. It principally concerns the proper administration of the law of England as James conceived it; he asserts that it is the king who should determine the boundaries between the jurisdictions of the country's various courts. Also discussed is the problem of the rapid expansion of London, a growing matter for concern.

After a seven year gap, parliament was again called in 1621. Although the speech from this year is chiefly concerned with abuses in the exercise of patents which were being pursued by the Commons, it again expresses a desire for more harmonious relations between the monarch and his parliament.

title-page of speech, 26 March 1621
Bf72-e.5:  item 6

title-page of declaration by James, 1646
Bf72-e.5:  item 7

Three other pamphlets are bound in with the speeches. Two precede the Union of Crowns and relate to James's rule as king of Scotland. The seventh item is a 1646 copy of a Declaration made by King James in Scotland concerning Church-Government and Presbyters, made in 1585; the eighth item is a copy of A Declaratioun of the Kings Majesties intentioun and meaning toward the lait actis of Parliament, published by Thomas Vautroullier in Edinburgh in 1585. The last item is the only pamphlet not directly connected with James. It is a copy of A Speech delivered in the starr-chamber, on Wednesday the 14th June 1637 at the censure of John Bastwick, Henry Burton & William Prynne concerning pretended innovations in the Church. This pamphlet was printed by Richard Badger in 1637 and dedicated to Charles I.

James died in 1625. Contemporary opinions of his rule differed widely: while Henry IV of France labelled him as 'the most learned fool in Christendom', John Locke referred to him as 'that Learned King who well understood the Notions of things'. For many years he was disparaged by historians as a political failure. His reputation, however, has been reconsidered more favourably in recent years. He is now seen more as an enlightened Renaissance king, who successfully pursued peace by relying on strong monarchical power in a period of religious conflict. That he was the most intellectual and scholarly of all British monarchs is undisputed.

The speeches found in this volume provide direct evidence of James's views on kingship and reflect his interests in politics, theology and social issues. In the introduction to a recent book on James's writings, Kevin Sharpe encourages their study today as enabling 'a far better understanding of the man and monarch as well as of the nature of Jacobean literary and political culture'. Furthermore, he underlines the need for more in depth study 'of the traces of the readings of the king's works in marginalia and glosses ... of the king as a text'. With this book, students at Glasgow University have a perfect opportunity to explore this area further.


The following were useful in compiling this article:
The political works of James I (reprinted from the edition of 1616 with an introduction by Charles Howard McIlwain) New York: 1965 Level 6 Politics C680 1965-J; ed. Johann P. Sommerville King James VI and I: political writings Cambridge: 1994 Level 6 Politics C680 1994-S; ed. by Daniel Fischlin and Mark Fortier Royal subjects: essays on the writings of James VI and I Detroit: 2002 Level 9 English JJ11 FIS; Roger Lockyer James VI and I London: 1998 Level 8 History DK650 LOC



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Julie Gardham September 2003