James quickly established his household with Scots taking a large share, with associated argy bargy. Queen Anne also established her court, which would become a cultural centre and popular destination for noblewomen and luminaries such as Ben Johnson and Inigo Jones
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Now I’m not going to lie to you, there were some that were nervous about the arrival of their new monarch. After all, relations with Scotland hadn’t always been easy; it was not so long ago when Scotland and France had been closely allied and who knows if the French wouldn’t stir up trouble, it’s the sort of thing they’d do all right. The war in Ireland was only just ending. However, the French ambassador wrote home that after James’ proclamation as king, unaccompanied by explosions, that ‘the satisfaction was universal among the English’, and that was also among tru the Scots despite the ‘rooted and ancient hostility of the English to the Scots’, though said Ambassador failed to mention the rooted and ancient hostility of the Scots towards the English, which seems careless of him.
So relief followed fear, but close on the heels came expectation and hope, and hope as you know, is the most dangerous of emotions, particularly for an England football fan, where for the sake of mental health, hope and expectation are to be immediately crushed beneath the booted heel of realism. The hotter type of protestants knew about the reformation in Scotland and its better and closer adherence to the Calvinist search for a Godly society, and they hoped James would overturn Elizabeth’s strange love of ceremonial and resistance to reform, and help them further reform the English church like the Scots had done. Meanwhile Catholics, conscious that James’ mother Mary had been a Catholic, hoped that James would bring toleration with him.
It is fair to say that James was thoroughly looking forward to being king of Three kingdoms and a Principality. He had acquired something of a reputation for rather wild liberality in Scotland, shelling money and favours out to his courtiers and nobility, eager to maintain their dignity; so much so that the Scottish Privy Council had tried to take steps to restrain him – rather unsuccessfully it must be said. Now, not only could he look any of the head of Europe squarely in the eye, but he would have access to the surely bottomless wealth of a country 5 times the size of Scotland in terms of population. The Venetian ambassador observed slightly cheekily that James intended to
dedicate himself to his books and to the chase’.
And as he travelled south to his immense satisfaction, his progress turned into something of a triumph; his route all the way from Berwick to London was lined with people. Petitioners rushed to press petitions into his hands urging him for reform, many begging the king to help with economic abuses, particularly the thoroughly ruinous and widespread use of monopolies which enriched courtiers and restricted trade. Puritans begged for greater reform towards the true church of the Godly; had they read their James’ publications, they might have been more cautious, since he had once described puritans as the
Verie pestes in the church and common weal
Catholics petitioners came forward too asking for ‘free use of their religion’, i.e. including the absence of recusancy fines, and were initially mildly encouraged when James told them
He would not use extremity if they continued in duty like subjects
Essentially, James’ attitude to the religion of his subjects, a bit like Elizabeth’s, was to demand obedience to the monarchy as the most important requirement of his subjects and their souls were up to them. He was much more opposed to executions than Elizabeth, however, I think only 25 were executed for religion in his reign. So maybe all looked set fair. However, as Catholics were to discover, outward uniformity was also important to James, and he had no desire to see dissidents, either Catholic or what he described as Anabaptists or Puritans, grow in strength and number.
Anyhow as James reached Westminster in May 1603, carefully avoiding London itself because there was plague there and tipping up covered in buboes wouldn’t have been sufficiently regal, things looked set fair for an encouraging start; James had also already issued a proclamation confirming all Privy Councillors in their posts to try and smooth the path, and Robert Cecil had prepared a proclamation for suspending a range of monopolies – ah ! So, here was a king prepared to listen to the complaints of his subjects! Within pretty short order, though, the Catholics had been set right on royal priorities; money was tight, and James had not come to England to save a few quid. So in May, almost immediately, he gave orders that the recusancy fines for non attendance at church should be levied. It was a slap in the face for Catholic hopes, hopes which had lasted a remarkably short time. Some Catholics started looking for rather more explosive methods of persuasion. Also, there was an interesting little incident at court where a group Catholic lords refused to attend a religious service with him, being under the protestant rite of course, at which James remarked tartly
he ‘who can’t pray with me can’t love me’.
All this led to the first couple of plots against James – I know you will all be gagging to hear about the Gunpowder Treason and plot, so that you can dust off your school projects and wallow a little in happy memories of school – or hopefully happy memories, unless you did your project during detention of something like that. But as it happens, ladies and gentlemen girls and boys, Guido and the lads were not the first. That honour, if honour it be, goes to an odd little backwater of English history called the Bye and Main plots. Bye in this case meaning secondary and Main of course the big plot, and thus it appears there is a hierarchy of treason and sedition. I sigh with apology for the bye plotters who have thus been diminished.
Anyway, the Bye plot was cooked up by a Catholic priest, William Watson, although a couple of laymen, the puritan Lord Grey of Wilton also got involved; the idea was to kidnap the king in June to enforce religious toleration, and remove the recusancy laws. The plot didn’t go much beyond wild talk, largely because Watson was tripped up by the Archpriest controversy. The eagle eared among you may remember that English Catholics fell out over the subject of Jesuit authority in England, and a group named the Appellants, objected to the Pope’s appointment of George Blackwell as the Archpriest in England. The Archpriest controversy is another interesting little bye way, because in the course of it, Elizabeth had allowed the Catholic Appellants access to printers as long as they committed to loyalty to her, since she rather liked the idea of Catholics falling out with each other. Anyway, too much information – except that it explains whey George Blackwell, Archpriest, and Henry Garnet and John Gerard, two Jesuits, shopped their own co-religionist Watson and the plot to the queen. As a result of their kindly intervention to their co-religionists, Watson went to the gallows in December. So did Lord Grey, as it happens, but at the foot of the gallows a well scripted bit of theatre was conducted when the King’s mercy and pardon arrived at the very last moment.
Anyway, the piece of knitting that was the Bye Plot has a loose thread, and in pulling on that thread, which was called George Brooke, the knitting unravelled to reveal another knitted plot – the so-called main plot. Now this was even more threatening to the new king – a plot by Lord Henry Cobham not just to kidnap James, but to remove him kill him and kill Robert Cecil, and replace King James with Lady Arabella Stuart.
At which point the rabbit hole yawns wide and swallows us. Lady Arabella Stuart is an interesting case, one of those whose life was blighted by the fact that she had a claim to the throne of England, being a descendant of the Lennox clan that included Lady Margaret Douglas. She was brought up for a while in glorious Derbyshire at Hardwick Hall with the don’t-mess-with-me Bess of Hardwick, although she made it to the English court as a gentlewoman of good Queen Bess. But she was seen chatting happily to the Earl of Essex, and anyway Elizabeth was not keen to see someone with a claim to the throne marrying and potentially breeding lots of little alternative claimants to the English throne. So poor Arabella, though lauded for her intellectual accomplishments and multiple languages, led a limited life. Rather later, incidentally, she would throw up her hands and get married secretly at the age of 35 to an unsuitable boy of 22, William Seymour. He was hunted by the agents of the crown, and Arabella tried to flee to France with him, but she waited too long for her paramour, and so she was captured and incarcerated in the Tower, where she would die.
But anyway, back to the previous part of the warren, to the Main plot. As it happens, the plotters included the leading conspirator Lord Henry Cobham – Henry Brooke was his name, and he was brother to George Brooke, implicated in the Bye Plot. So when the investigator William Waad pulled on the loose thread that was George Brooke, the unravelling knitwear led to Lord Cobham, who, of course, panicked, and blurted out a range of accusations against one Sir Walter Ralegh, figuring that maybe Walt had dobbed him in – which he hadn’t actually. In fact, Cobham had written to Arabella about the plot and the chance to get Phillip III of Spain involved with men and money. Arabella, very sensibly, had simply laughed and passed the letter across to Robert Cecil.
What a tangled web. Walter Ralegh was of course hauled in; since Cobham had recovered his wits a little after the first flush of panic, he’d retracted his accusations. If Ralegh had been in good odour, maybe he’d have managed to laugh all of this off. However the odour around Ralegh at this time might be described as of the pigsty variety. A run of failed expeditions and rather grand claims had rather wrecked his reputation with the Gen Pub, and he was strongly suspected of atheism in an age where this was categorically not a plus point. Plus, Henry Howard, in good odour with the king of course following his correspondence to the king-when-in-waiting, had resolutely and repeatedly bad mouthed Ralegh to James, and Ralegh had at the same time fallen out badly with Robert Cecil. He had few friends therefore, and the result was a treason trial on 17th November 1603.
The trial became something of a cause celebre. The prosecution was carried out by the famous and accomplished lawyer, the Attorney General himself, Edward Coke, a name that would be redolent with the legal case for English liberties through the centuries. But also, something of a horror personally – have I told you that he brutally forced his daughter into a politically motivated marriage against her will, and on his death his wife said something along the lines of ‘the world will not see his like again – by the grace of God’? I feel I have, but it bears repeating. But personal horror or not, Coke was a famously talented lawyer.
Well in this trial he absolutely over reached himself, and copybooks were being blotted all over the shop until the copy was unrecognisable even beyond the dog ate my homework level. He was mindlessly aggressive and the evidence against Raleigh was wafer thin. Meanwhile Ralegh excelled himself – cool, collected, dignified, constantly challenging Coke to produce his accuser. In the end the jury returned a conviction, on the basis that however dodgy the evidence of Ralegh’s actual treason, he had at least appeared to have let Cobham ramble on in his wild plans and accusations about James. But James repeated his trick of reprieving Ralegh on the gallows, and he was instead to spend the next 15 years in prison, writing away. Meanwhile, oddly, his performance at his trial transformed Ralegh’s popular reputation from universal contempt to universal sympathy; an observer wrote
‘never was a man so hated and so popular in so short a time.
Right well, now we are back at the top of the burrow, so back to the main story, which of course is James’ arrival on the English throne. But remember that disappointment of Catholics – it might have potentially explosive consequences, nudge nudge, wink wink.
James had sent lots of re-assuring messages as he set off as I say confirming all the existing Privy Councillors in their posts, but he was also aware that the scope of the Privy Council had become rather narrow under Elizabeth; and so he was to extend its membership too. Robert Cecil remained at the heart of the government and James’ right hand man, confirmed in post as Secretary of State. By 1605, Cecil had been made the Earl of Salisbury, and so we have that traditional problem of key players changing their names. So sorry for English history. Um, let’s call him Salisbury now shall we? A little early for the purist but easier for podcasters. Afterall, in a 2 or 3 hundred years we’ll have another Salisbury as Prime Minister in high Victorian England, so I should get you all used to it.
Joining, um, Salisbury were Henry Percy Earl of you know where – well, Northumberland since we’ve not heard of the Percies for a while; Thomas Howard was soon created Duke of Suffolk, and Henry Howard, his correspondent during James’ time in the waiting room, received his due reward and was created earl of Northampton. You might note a lot of peer creation going on already – this will be a feature I have to tell you.
James also came with a group of trusted Scottish advisers, as you do in these circumstances; a bit like new CEOs arriving, or Football coaches, coming with their trusted staff attached as part of the deal. He appointed 5 Scots to the Privy Council, though the positions were more symbolic than anything; however, the English Privy Council were to get used to having one or two of them frequently at meetings.
While we are on it, the departure of James for London of course created stresses and strains in Scotland; although the court was less important in Scotland, Scotland has even been described as all country and no court, though that’s putting it too strongly, it was still a centre of patronage, and the lack of the king’s presence was keenly felt. It also meant that for Scottish lords who wanted to stay connected to the royal source of influence and patronage, they faced a tricky choice. They could make the 800 mile round trip with all the expense; or they could move to London with all the expense. Someone once calculated that the relative wealth of the average Scottish peer was equivalent to the average Yorkshire gentry, so moving to London was a big decision.
Now James and indeed his son Charles kept management of Scotland and England strictly separate, despite James’ passion for the idea of a combined kingdom of Britain. He maintained a Scottish Privy Council in Edinburgh, and was lucky or clever enough to have two leaders in the Earls of Dunbar and Dunfermline who were both skilfull administrators and keen to extend royal power; James was to proudly say that he’d managed his northern Kingdom so well that he could rule it at a distance by the pen, which had some truth – but in reality even he would come to realise that he began to lose knowledge and contacts over time, and would lead to some decisions that led to problems for his son. It also meant that the advisors around him in London were not necessarily the best informed about the latest in Scottish politics.
However, where the Scots really won out was in appointments to the royal household – over 40% of the higher court appointments of royal bedchamber went to Scots. As you can imagine, this led to complaints from the English about favouritism and lack of access to the ear of the king, but for the Scots it was important; they worried, as one of them wrote, that
Our kings will be Englishmen, born in England, residing in England. They will naturally prefer Englishmen as their attendants and courtiers
The presence of Scots in the royal household, and the separation of Privy Councils helped alleviate that fear a little bit. But it was a source of resentment that would grow and grow, because James was an incontinent man, financially speaking, and members of the bedchamber were not slow to take advantage, persuading the king to provide them with pensions; earlier in his reign James’ had been keen to support his nobility financially in Scotland, and now with all this lovely English lolly available, there seemed no impediment. In 1607 there was to be an outcry when it was discovered that James had paid the debts of two Scottish lords and 1 English lord to the massive tune of £44,000 no less; meanwhile it was laconically observed that payment of the king’s debts were to be delayed 2 years. It’s not just that this led to a deal of argy bargey between Scots and English – afterall what’s new about that – but it began to lead to a serious sense of weariness in the English parliament that if they voted a subsidy for the king, it would not be spent wisely on matters of state, but fritterd away on people with the warmest lips situated closest to the royal lug.
Anyway, that’s in the future. For the moment, another person joined James – the Queen, Anne of Denmark. Anne was pregnant when James left, and so stayed behind; but she was determined that she would not leave for England without her son Henry – who, you might remember had been removed from her to be looked after by the Earl of Mar. Now Anne was nobody’s push over; so she turned up at Stirling and tried to take him, and during all the stress, Anne sadly miscarried; but she stuck at it. And she won this battle – and was able to travel south together with her 9 year old lad. By July she and James had been crowned at Westminster – though still avoiding the city of London due to plague. It would not be until March 1604 that James made a formal entry into London, all crowds cheering and waving.
A royal consort was a novelty to England of course, they’d not had one for a while. In Anne they got someone who seems to have been quite estranged from her husband by 1603; though there was no great public falling out. But James seemed more interested in his courtiers, in hunting and you know, kinging; and Anne seems to have thoroughly disapproved of his carrying on.
The king conducts himself so ill in every respect, that I expect an early and evil result
Which is a comment that could be described with some justice as indiscreet. But then in Anne, the English did not get a cypher; Anne was very proud of her Hapsburg ancestry, and had no intention of being sidelined. In matters of honour she was very sensitive and touchy, declaring that ‘honour goes before life, I must ever think’; there’s a tale that when her brother Ulric was on an extended visit, he assumed as her bro’ he could obviously wander into her private chambers unannounced; Anne did not agree, and as a result would not speak to him for 2 months. I must admit that I have observed similar responses to sibling intrusions these days too, as part of the parenting process. The Venetian ambassador noted that Anne was someone who had both a good and a bad side on which it was possible to get and that she was
full of kindness for those who support her, but on the other hand she is terrible, proud, unendurable to those she dislikes.
However, Anne established herself and her court as a leading cultural patron. She set up shop at Somerset House in London, and carried out building works there and elsewhere. She quickly became regarded as the head of the kingdom’s noblewomen, and positions at her court were highly sought after, and fulfilled a practical as well as cultural function, a forum to bring Scottish and English nobility together. She established an art collection, loved music, patronising musicians and laying on frequent events. She also laid on extensive and complicated masques, combining ballet and drama, music and scenery, and employed such luminaries as Ben Johnson and Inigo Jones.
Last couple of things to say, that she was off the leash, she had quite an influence on Henry’s cultural development. The same seems to apply to her second son, Charles; when she died it hit Charles very hard, since it was observed that ‘she having always been to him a tender and indulgent mother’; and Charles of course would develop a passionate interest in collecting and commissioning works of art like Mum. Very controversially, Anne would leave her estate to her son, rather than husband. The other thing is, that Anne remained a Catholic- in secret though, so she was in effect a church papist – she had Protestant chaplains, attended protestant services and so on; but attended catholic services in secret – secret being firmly in inverted commas, not much of a secret, more of a metaphorical fig leaf. But it did mean that she did not thereby build up much of a centre for catholic worship or focus, or indeed employ many Catholic religious; this was sometimes a matter of some irritation to her priests, who were given to withhold communion from her in protest and punishment.
Ok, so we are all set up I think; king in place, Queen ensconced, Privy Council and household sorted, Scots and English at court, and so we are all ready for the first set piece of the reign – which you might think would be the parliament of 1604, but there, I’m afraid, I’m going to have to ask you to hold your horses, because we are going to talk first about the Hampton Court conference of January 1604.
We’ve seen something of James’s religious approach already – not keen to persecute, focussed on loyalty to the king and conformity rather than a deep search into the souls of his subjects. But as Catholics had discovered, nor was he keen to see Catholicism increase; and he distrusted the extremes of Protestants, which we should probably not call puritans, because it was really what James called Anabpatists to whom he objected; or any separatists from the CofE.
None the less, James was a thorough going Calvinist, don’t be mislead by his lack of desire to persecute Catholics. He was proud of his brain and its contents, considering himself Like Henry VIII a bit of an expert in theological debate – and in England of course he had walked into a situation in many ways closer to his liking – a church of which he was supreme governor, with Bishops and all. Not that he considered the English church to be superior to the Scottish variant; he was something of a connoisseur of sermons, and considered the English church far less expert and ministers less well educated than in Scotland; and established the court as a centre of expertise for preaching, to help develop the art in England.
Anyway, the historical debate about religion at this time in England tended once to focus around the perceived divisions in the English church; one view was that the Civil wars would be in part a consequence of remaining divisions in the church, between the puritans who wanted reform and the conformist who were happy with what they had. The pendulum appears to have swung to a position where actually unity in the Elizabethan church is more stressed – it’s noted that puritans were almost all participants in the national church rather than separatist. And generally the story is, though still debated I think, that it seems that by the end of Elizabeth’s reign puritans remained firmly within the body of the church. But there were folks like the followers of Rutland’s favourite son Robert Browne, who were called Brownists and appeared from 1580. Well I say favourite, I doubt there are many who would know about the chap in Rutland these days, but hey. The Brownists were a small movement it has to be said, but enough to put the wind up places wind has no business to be as far as the CofE was concerned, and would, as I understand it, be represented on the Mayflower, which I’m told is some sort of boat that went somewhere. There had been the Marprelate controversy, a period of theological conflict; but Marprelate had been squished thoroughly, and under the Archbishopric of Whitgift, separatism had largely disappeared. With some debate, Whitgift had enforced his three articles in 1583, which defined the Church of England as firstly, acknowledging the royal supremacy, the book of Common Prayer and the 39 articles of 1563.
Nonetheless, the pressures were there in the church; and James holds a reputation for travelling a clever and balanced path, balancing and keeping on board those who favoured a full blooded Calvinism, and at the other end of the scale, those attracted by the teaching of Arminius, with their focus on ceremony and modified beliefs with regards to predestination.
So, James decided to set the tone by arranging a healthy debate at Hampton court, where selected puritans were able to make their case against the Church and the need for reform on 16th. James was not impressed by the job the puritans did at said debate; in fact he said they debated so poorly, that had he been their tutor, he would have caned their buttocks. James roundly and firmly rejected the idea that Presbyters, elders of the parish, should exercise authority alongside the bishops, though that of course was what had come to pass in Scotland – James was committed to the authority of Bishops, and so it’s here that he produced his super famous bon mot, so famous that I think it even makes it into 1066 and all that, of ‘No Bishop, no king’. He re-confirmed Whitgift’s three articles.
There were a few other outcomes of the conference. In February, he issued a proclamation that all Jesuits and Catholic clergy should immediately leave the realm, another negative signal to the Catholic community of course. A revised BCP appeared in 1604 with just few differences, and a proclamation issued commanding conformity to the BCP, ‘according to the laws of the realm heretofore established’ – so once more, its business as usual. Plus, now here’s one if you have any sort of Anglican upbringing at all – everyone agreed that a new version of the bible was required; the most popular bible in use was the Geneva Bible, which came with Calvinist add ons – annotations which suggested Godly resistance to ungodly monarchs was acceptable for example, which put more wind up unspecified part of the regality; and the use of language such as congregation and elder rather than church and priest. The Hampton Court conference wanted something that aimed to be as inclusive and broadly acceptable as possible. And so was born the idea of one of those cultural as well as religious icons, the King James Bible of Authorised Version. Now a lot of ink has been spilt over that I suspect. It would appear in 1611, and maybe we’ll talk about it again then. The language is quite catchy somehow.
Archbishop Whitgift died shortly after the conference, to be replaced by George Bancroft; Bancroft would be in place until 1610, and carried on Whitgift’s approach of enforcing conformity within the church, while also promoting the quality of preaching. Ministers were required to subscribe to Whitgift’s 3 Articles after the conference; and although the Privy Council tried to stay the severity of Bancroft’s hand, 75 ministers refused, and left the church; but out of 9,000 parishes, that’s quite a small hill of beans. Not much more than a cassoulet really.
I might cheat a little if you don’t mind and jump ahead a bit on the church. Essentially as I’ve mentioned James trod quite a clever line between the various theological scholars; after Bancroft died, he was replaced by a reassuringly Calvinist George Abbot as Archbishop. James patronised evangelical clergy, and most of his bishops were Calvinist in theology; the historian Patrick Collinson remarked that the tide of evangelical Calvinism all but submerged the differences between conformity and dissent. He did fail to effectively tackle pluralism. Pluralism was that practice of giving priests more than one parish to look after, which meant they could augment their income – but of course provide a far less effective service to their parishioners. Part of the problem there was that over 30% of church livings had been half inched by lay patrons, which meant they skimmed off much of the tithes, leaving little for the vicar; but most Bishops were active, preached regularly, and educational standards among the clergy rose substantially. James was flexible in appointments as far as theology was concerned – so alongside Calvinists were others with Arminian leanings, Lancelot Andrews bishop of Winchester, and Richard Neile at Durham for example. The result was a theologically flexible and broad based church, and by the middle of his reign James could look with some satisfaction at the quality and harmony in his church; again, that’s not to say the old pressures had gone. But pressure for separatism was tiny.
 Childs, Jessie. God’s Traitors (p. 277). Random House. Kindle Edition.