At A Gallop – Dawn of Stuart England to 1605

The dawn of the Stuart age of Britain came within a European context of the growing strength of the nation state, absolutism, relgious conflict and war. And James arrival as the new king was welcomed, and started well.

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Now then gentle listeners I have a new idea. I have been getting feedback, and although my Grandmother never actually said never apologise and never explain, though I have often claimed she did, I have made the mistake of listening to some of the comments and taking some action. I have no idea if this will work. People have said they are getting a bit lost in the detail, and in the blizzard; others are saying can we get on with the gory bits where people kill each other please? Still more are saying what is it with all these names, can’t be doing with it.

So this is my solution. I am going to experiment with a parallel series, to be called The History of England at a Gallop. The idea is that in these episodes I will cover the ground more quickly at less detail. So for example, I covered James I in 22 episodes. I will now create 3 episodes which will cover that same ground come out, broadly, 1603-1625.

You can use the At A Gallop episodes in a number of ways. If you want t go faster, then just listen to these – they’ll give you the main political trends and events. I’ll reference the more detailed episodes as we go, so you can dig into detail that interests you.

Or. You can use it as a framework – get the main events before you listen to all the core episodes, so you can navigate the details more easily. Or finally, you could listen to the core episodes, and then AAG to check you’ve got the main points. The world will be your lobster.

However, I have many worriers – because I am by nature a panicker, I have built a life on panicking hard and panicking early – I consider it my super power. My film hero is Woody on Toy Story, at the point when Buzz says this is no time to panic, and Woody responds ‘This is the perfect time to panic’. It’s always a good time to panic. So the things that worry me are that the story will not be so good, because the excitement, it seems to me, comes from the detail. But look – who dares wins, fortune favours the bold. It is time to be bold. However – I would like your feedback please; you can comment on the website post at the history of, or on the Facebook group, or email me at If it works and finds your favour, I’ll try to keep it going, though that presents a research and writing challenge. But in the words of the Beatles, let it be – though I think they may have got the phrase somewhere else.

I’ll produce these over the next couple of months, once a month because at the moment I am doing 3 core episodes a month – so they can go in the empty week 4. Once I have done James, I would like to take stock, see what

So in this At A Gallop Episode, we are going to look at the start of Stuart rule in the Northern Archipelago of Scotland. Ireland, Wales and England. However, as we stand in the mansion of many rooms that is English History, our foot poised, trembling, on the threshold that takes us from the room of the Tudors to the room of the Stuarts, it is as well to set the scene, to give you context. Because no man is an island, and nor is England as it happens. Nor even is the North Atlantic Archipelago nt island in cultural, political and diplomatic terms – We have always been part of Europe, other European countries have shaped us, and we shaped Europe too. So let us talk about Europe, and you can find the detail in episodes 322-324a. Then I’ll get James on the throne covering 325 to 328 inclusive and bring us up to 1605 and the Gunpowder plot.

The 17th Century in Europe I suppose might be most signally marked by the continuing Renaissance, the Reformation and the continuing struggle for mastery between Imperial and Spanish Hapsburgs and the French Valois. Of the renaissance, I regret deeply that I will say almost nothing; but you might like to hear about Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre, and if you do, then there are three episodes, 344-346, where I talk about this that; and I talk a titchy tiny bit about the start of the Scientific revolution in episode 322. But let us talk about the Reformation.

The first phase of the religious wars and debates were traditionally brought to a close by the Treaty of Augsberg in 1555, on the principle that while religious toleration is a dreadful idea, we need to stop killing each other, and each prince may chose the religion of their country. So it resolved nothing – with the possible exception of the Dutch republic where a more genuine toleration does begin to appear. The spread of Protestantism for a while seems unstoppable, despite the reaffirmation of Catholicism at the council of Trent in 1564. But around 1583 a Germany territory for the first time fought off an attempt to be converted to Protestantism, and the tide changes somewhat. Effectively what happens is that the confessional lines of Europe are drawn a lot more clearly; a new Protestant creed appears, Calvinism, alongside Lutheranism; and Catholicism is more firmly defined. It means, sadly, that there are fewer grey areas, it is harder to live and let live with a bit of slightly dodgy doctrine to smooth over the differences.

Now another couple of features of the Reformation in Western Europe that are particularly important for the 17th century story. One is the legacy of the French religious wars, which had wracked France from 1562, only coming to some sort of truce in 1598 after Henry IV the protestant leader had converted to Catholicism, because Paris is worth a mass, and assured security for the country’s 1 million Calvinists with the edict of Nantes. Yet division remained, especially as Henry’s successor, Louis III and his chief adviser, Cardinal Richelieu, try to unwind some of the problems of this state within a state, and assert the central power of the monarchy – of which a bit more when we talk about Absolutism. The English will become fixated by the fate of their co-religionists in France, the Huguenots, particularly as Louis and Richelieu try to break the power of the Huguenot stronghold at La Rochelle on the west coast.

Another thing you need to hold onto is that the Hapsburgs remain staunchly Catholic, and champions of the State. There are two branches of Hapsburg – the Spanish half within which lies the low countries, Spain and all the overseas colonies. And the Emperor, the Imperial part, centred on Vienna and Germany. Both these empires have different focuses; the Emperor for example is more than a little distracted by the threat from the East, and the Ottoman Turks  – but the Empire and Spain remain very conscious of their shared lineage, and combine in being the shock troops of the Tridentine Catholic church. For Spain, their overseas possessions generate enormous wealth but enormous commitments and expense too; but the big one, the conflict which drains away their lifeblood, and will end their status as Europe’s leading power before the mid 17th century is the continuing conflict with the low countries. The 80 Years war, the long struggle for independence by the Dutch Republic between 1568 and 1648 sucks up Spanish gold, and leaves them exhausted. The conflict is also of constant interest to the English, who get involved both officially under Elizabeth, and privately, as citizens go and do their bit for the protestant church – where were you during the Reformation daddy? Sort of thing. By 1648 and the Treaty of Westphalia, Spain had held on to the southern part, eventually to become Belgium, but was finally forced to recognise the independence of the Dutch Republic. Who then were to continue to enjoy what became known as their Golden Age.

All the religious controversy resulted in the catastrophic conflict known as the Thirty Years War. I think it’s fashionable to poo poo the idea that this is really a religious war; which is a fair point because it is as much about other things as it is for religion: the Dutch struggle for independence, the Hapsburgs trying and failing to assert centralised control over  the German princes, and a continuation of the traditional struggle for dominance between Valois and Hapsburg; so when it seems that the Hapsburgs are sweeping all before them, in 1635 the Catholic French monarchy intervenes on behalf of the Protestant German princes and Sweden.

Now, you can hear more about the 30 years war in episode 324a with Zack Twambly and myself having a chat about the brutal death of millions of Germans, so let me just note a few things. Although we recognise it was not simply about religion, for many at the time it was very much was about religion. Tens of thousands of ordinary people go and fight to do their bit – English Scots and Welsh for Protestant forces, the Scots in particular, and may thousands of Irish to go to the wars too, principally for the Spanish. But what they see going on horrifies most people in Britain and Ireland, especially such events as the St Bartholomew day massacre where thousands of protestants are butchered in France; they both fear what religious war can bring, and feel slightly smug that it hasn’t happened here. And you know what they say? They say that smugness goes before a fall.

Another impact I should briefly mention is a wave of witch crazes. Now there are lots of reasons for witch crazes of which one but not the only one is rampant misogyny, and I don’t intend to go into it here – though I do have a discussion in episode 322. But it is notable that witch crazes tend to coincide with periods of great instability, and the breakdown of the normal forces of public law and order; that makes a big contribution in Germany during the 30 YW, where crazes are particularly virulent, and in Scotland; and indeed England also has the odd upsurge, notably in 1644 during the civil war.

But maybe the biggest story about the thirty years war is that the continuation of warfare is part of the military revolution which has far reaching consequences for European and world history. Constant warfare demands a lot of money, and gets more and more expensive as technology grows with the use of gunpowder. Private citizens, however over mighty, can’t really hack it any more – warfare becomes the preserve of the state. And to compete, states need to organise; they need to tax the living daylights out of their citizens, they need to strictly govern and organise them, they need to get the population behind what is becoming a national effort, not just the pastime of warlords and kings looking to fill a lazy Sunday afternoon with a bit of light pillaging.

It is one of the reasons for the growth and definition of the nation state, and it is one of reasons for the growth of absolutism. In France in particular, it was very quickly decided that really it was no good asking the myriad of provincial estates if they wouldn’t mind pretty please giving the King a few coins so he can go and conquer northern Italy? So they no longer meet, and taxation is levied using prerogative taxes like the Gabelle, salt tax. The power of the king is declared to be absolute – most famously later in the century under Louis XIV of course, but it is earlier under Richelieu that France really centralises. It is worth noting that not all states of Europe take the centralising Absolutist approach – look at Switzerland – but most of the Big Boys and Girls do – France, Austria, Spain. From over the channel to the Stuarts, it looks mighty attractive. Of which more later. That’s all I am going to say about nation states – there’s more in 323 and a survey of other nations. But I think we have done enough. So to summarise; constant warfare and destruction; religious strife with confessional lines now strictly drawn with little space for flexibility, the rise of the centralised, absolutist nation state.

Phew, this summarisation business is hard, really hard, so much said, so much left unsaid. Let us cross the oceans though to come home. But not to England – to Scotland. Because as is probably emblazoned on your heart, in 1603 off to heaven flew Elizabeth’s spirit free. She croaked, essentially, clogs were royally popped, and the heir was her cousin, James Stuart VI, of Scotland.

Jimmy VI and I has what I believe you might call an interesting life. Born at the age of zero in 1566, as soon as he became aware he would have spotted the absence of his mother. Because Mary. Called queen of Scots by the English so as to differentiate her from all the other Marys, who were legion, was incarcerated in an English gilded cage. I cannot of course go into Jimmy’s Scottish careering any depth, but he’d be 37 by the time he arrived in the land of lardy cake and the free, and so come with some attitudes already hard wired. He had been tutored, rather harshly, by a Scottish academic of European renown, George Buchanan. George was a foremost exponent of the idea that kingship was a contract; if the ruler had the wrong religion, then he could be removed by the people. George had beaten his young charge, and James would have nightmares about that to his dying day.

And that might partly be the reason why James appears to have reacted very strongly against Buchanan’s teachings on contractual kingship. In 1599 James had written a book for his son and heir Henry; it was called Basilikon Doron, royal gift, and it’s a sort of manual for kinging. In super, super summary, kings were appointed by God and that was that. Don’t listen to people like George, just listen to your conscience, that’s God speaking. Now fair dos, king’s had a responsibility to rule well, but of it turned out they were in fact hideous smelly tyrants with a passion for milk and alcohol, then as a subject all you could do was lower your head, grin, bear it, and hope it would soon be over.

James was a very clever man, and the story of his reign is that in most things he knew where the line was and that stepping over it, even if you had the green light from your maker, was not sensible. His son – not Henry, the other one, you know the martyr one Charles – his son would not possess that innate good sense. And there will be trouble as a result. But anyway, James is a clever chap; and something of a renaissance man; he had the good sense to detest smoking, something I never had the good sense to detest, sadly for my lungs, he wrote a book on witchcraft and he wrote poems, some of which Jenny Wormald thinks aren’t half bad, and she should know, she has a mind like a bacon slicer that would put Miss Marple to shame. Jimmy though has been the victim of a hatchet job by one of his haters one Antony Weldon, who wrote things like him being the wisest fool in Christendom, and a tongue too big for his mouth so that he slobbered, and that he kept fiddling with his piece of cod. The trouble with such mud is that

  1. It sticks
  2. It’s fun

But C), it ain’t necessarily so.

James came to England very experienced at kinging, and with a good CV; he’d had a terrible time as a young ‘un being kicked around by the nobles who had kicked his Mum out of Scotland, but had very convincingly re-established the authority and reputation of the monarchy, and played the traditional role of a successful Scottish monarch, as a fair arbiter who sat above faction. He also married well, namely Anne of Denmark. So pleased was James with such a prestigious match, that he went and picked Anne up and brought her home himself, which was gallant of him, and reportedly on meeting her he, and I quote

kissed her in the Scottish fashion in spite of her protests

I’m hoping that wasn’t what used to be known as a Glasgow kiss. Anne of Denmark would play a major role in advancing the prestige of the Scottish monarchy, and indeed the English monarchy; she was of royal blood, and thoroughly cultured, leading a court renowned for its masques and music. She and Jim got on tolerably, though later on began to be quite distant, and James focussed on his young men. Anne and James also, though, had seven children, which had not previously been much of a talent in a Scottish royal house much given to dodgy minorities. If you want to know more about that, go to the and become a member, and there you’ll find a history of Scotland.

James’ attitude to the nobility is therefore quite interesting; you’d think he’d be a bit agin ‘em, and  come down hard on any sign of backchat; but actually the lineage and status of his nobles were very important to him, and he tried hard to support them, since many Scottish nobles struggled with debt. James was a generous man, and more than a bit financially incontinent, and so shelled money out to his chumps with gay abandon – which would cause problems.

Talking of gay abandon, James had a manner with his friends that caused comment; he was very friendly, touchy feely, very informal. When he fell for someone he fell hard, as a contemporary noted

The love the king shewed was as amorously conveyed as if he had mistaken their sex, and thought them ladies

Whether James was gay or not is moot, but probably, and he also probably didn’t go all the way, whether in the dashboard lights or not. He was always very affectionate, almost embarrassingly so at times, but hey, we are supposed to be in touch with our feelings, so let’s see that as a positive thing. But he did fall for young men, and this was a problem; James was a sucker for favourites. As a young man, there was Esme Stewart the earl of Lennox, when he came to England he brought a man called Robert Kerr with him, and then of course most famously he’d advance the career of a handsome young man called George Villiers, advance him all the way to Duke of Buckingham. Favourites of course were always a problem; they created jealousies among courtiers, they subverted the normal processes, they could become very corrupt; and by their close association with the king, their bad behaviour reflected on the reputation of that king. So, be careful of who you choose if you are thinking of having a favourite.

One more thing before James comes into town; religion. James was a good protestant, raised far away from his mother’s Catholicism. However, he was not really fully in tune with the very very Calvinist kirk of his home country; I mean I don’t think anyone could be more Calvin than Calvin, but lord, Knox and Melville and the kirk tried, especially in South West Scotland. James was firm for some of the older traditions of the reformed Scottish kirk, which the more extreme Calvinists in Scotland tried to pretend hadn’t existed – Bishops for example. So, although a good Calvinist, James brought with him a dislike of the extremes, the precise puritans. His son would pick that up too.

Hokey Dokey, let’s have at 1603 then! You might think that people would be a bit wary of a foreigner taking over as king, but not a bit of it – or not at first anyway. On his way down south people were smiling and waving, and James smiled and waved right back. He could not have been more pleased. However, whether he knew it or not, he was raising expectations; as he passed people pressed petitions into his hand; the Godly wanted more church reform. Smile and wave. The Catholics, they wanted relief from recusancy fines and freedom to practice. Smile and wave. Now I can see what you are thinking; this is a king from a resolutely Calvinist country and Catholics think they are on to a good thing? What are you like? Well, it’s not quite as barmy as it sounds. James has many admirable qualities; one of them was that he hated the idea of persecuting on the basis of religion; his reign compares favourably to Elizabeth’s, with only 25 priests executed for treason. I say only, and I know what you’re thinking, ONLY but this is the early modern age everyone, religious persecution was the European schtick. Even in James’ belief in witchcraft, it seems he was becoming increasingly sceptical, even before he came to England. But the Catholic was very soon be disillusioned; one of James’ less impressive qualities was his desperate incontinence with money; and recusancy fines meant money in pocket sadly. Persecution pays.

he ‘who can’t pray with me can’t love me’

he said shortly before confirming the next round of recusancy fines. The Catholic disappointment would be explosive. Nudge nudge. Wink and without let or hindrance, wink. You know what I’m talking about.

In fact church governance was one of the first questions to which James applied himself; in 1604 he convened a council to hear the pleas of the clergy, including those who wished for more reforms and a group of those who wished for a return to greater ceremony.While the loudest voices came from the more extreme Calvinists, they were not the only voice. Let’s talk about this just a bit.

The Godly were looking for greater reform, and the Scots, and some English favoured an even more radical change – Presbyterianism. Presbyterians had looked quite carefully through the bible, and had noticed that there was no mention of bishops. So – Bishops should go, and the church should be run by local elders – ministers and laity. On the far end of the other side were the followers of a very different doctrine, espoused by one Jacobus Arminius. Aminius talked of the mystery of the sacraments, of the need for ceremony and decoration to celebrate the mystery; and came dangerously close to the Catholic idea of grace – that by their actions people could earn their salvation, not everything was predestined. Let us call these people Arminians. For that was what they were called. That has absolutely nothing to do with the country Armenia or the people who live there, Armenians . Put that out of your mind, begone Armenia. Arminian. With an I in the middle.

Now on this Arminian Vs Presbyterian Vs Calvinist thing. I mean I suspect that in every Christian church that ever existed there have been pressures, disagreements, disputes and at times a full and frank exchange of views. This isn’t trivial stuff, this about your immortal soul. The clever people steered a line, a compromise none hated so much they felt they had to leave the church – this was the triumph of the Elizabethan settlement, a flexibility and width that was in itself a form of religious toleration. James was good at that. Although he’d get a bit more ranty about Puritans later in his reign, until 1620 at least he maintained the balance of appointments to key church positions – Bishops in the main. There was an Arminian contingent; but the Calvinist theology and practice which had brought the church of England to the equilibrium it had achieved by the end of the century remained and unity with it; the number of separatists, Brownists or Anabpatists as they were sneeringly called, were very few indeed, a contingent so small and weedy you were quite safe to kick sand in their collective face. That will change, let me tell you.

Anyway, James fancied himself as an expert in theological matters, a bit like Henry VIII and so he called together a collection of divines to make arguments about where the church was going – group of radical Calvinists put the case for more reform; one day they’d look back at this and wish for the good old days. The arguments went back and forth, to and fro, up and down sideways and back, but James was unconvinced, especially by the argument of the presbyterian element that bishops were not part of the early church, not in the bible and were to be removed. This is when James offered up his famous dictum, drummed into the furrowed brows of every schoolchild

No Bishops, no king.

Is this still the core fulcrum on which the English curriculum swivels? And is there honey still for tea? It’s important to unpick why – not why there should always be honey for tea, but why James, and monarchs in general loved Bishops so much. Putting aside any complicated matters of theology, Bishops were the mechanism by which monarchs could both control and adjust church doctrine, and enforce discipline in the church; but Bishops, and through them every the pulpit in the land was far and away the most effective communication method to reach their subjects. To lose control of that would be like losing a leg on which the monarchy stood. Many Scots believed that the church and state should be completely separate, that the king should have no say in religious matters. James, and indeed his son Charles, would rather stick pins in their eyes, eat their own livers an do all sorts of hideous acts of self harm to avoid that.

The conference made a few tweaks to Cranmer’s glorious Book of Common Prayer, but one other thing came from the 1604 conference, which would lead to a cultural masterpiece; King James commissioned a new version of the Bible in English. Now clearly I can’t cover that while galloping, but you might take yourself to the second half of episode 338. Three things though about the Book of Books; firstly it is still William Tyndale’s child – 82% of it was based on his words. Secondly it is a child also of Old English – 90% of the language derives from Anglo Saxon, and thirdly little wrinkle, one of its earliest printings in 1611 was called the Wicked Bible because it had some critical typos, including the 6th commandment which was rendered as ‘though shall commit adultery’. Oo’er. Missus.

Now when a new monarch rides into town, everyone gathers together and it is traditional to perform the parrot sketch. Well in fact it’s more traditional to hold a parliament – in fact it’s a requirement, the new kid on the block needs to hear his subjects grievances so they can rule well in accordance with the community of the realm and all that. And one of the issues at the parliament was Britain.

James was the king of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland, And he had a vision;

Unus rex…Unus Grex and una lex

One king, one people, one law. Just like a business that’s bought itself a vibrant, innovative, proud and growing business little , he thought of course he should shove them all together – economies of scale, efficiencies that sort of thing. I mean of course the normal inevitable result is that the thing that made that little business unique gets buried under the dead weight of bureaucracy and sameness and loses what made it special but hey things will be different this time. That is my one piece of business advice, but you ought to know that no one ever called me David ‘business guru’ Crowther so treat it with care. Anyway, James put it to his new parliament that he should henceforth be known as the King of Great Britain, and told them to come up with a plan to make one kingdom.

Everyone hated it. Neither English nor Scots wanted to see what made them distinctive swept away; in addition the Scots feared they would become just a province of England, and lose their personal connection with a dynasty they thought to have ruled unbroken for 300 years and to be the core of their identity. On the other hand in Engl and there was already a lot of resentment at the number of Scots dominating key positions around the king; and the money being shelled out to them. James essentially thought he’d been given free run of the sweetie shop, a nation vastly bigger and more wealthy than back home; it’s been estimated for example that your grandest Scottish magnate had an income similar to a member of the Yorkshire gentry. So James set about eating al the sweeties and handing them out to his pals; he almost immediately made a gift to three of his Scottish lords of £44,000. £6m in today’s money.

So parliament effectively said no. I mean that’s an abbreviation, parliaments didn’t get to say no to monarchs, but they employed the tactics of the teenager – they moaned, whined, sulked, through up a myriad of petty objections until they wore the grown up down, robbed them of the will to live and they gave up.  Four things came out of the initiative though; the first flag of Great Britain; then, a growing connection and convergence between the elites of England and Scotland that in the end, after a hundred years or so, will win the day for James’s shades. The third I’d pick is an end to the violence of the Scottish borders which had blighted the lives of the inhabitants on both sides for hundreds of years. The Reivers had become a way of life, full of raid and counter raid, clans and wardens on either side of the line; a local architecture you can still see in places – small stone bastle houses, with heavy stone and titchy tiny windows, built for defence. James took to calling them the Middle Shires, which speaks of his different mindset. A committee was set up, and law enforcement of law ensued – which could be pretty brutal. Including, for example, a wholesale uprooting of the Armstrong clan, plonked down in central Ireland, where the locals gave them such a kicking they essentially drifted on or back. And then fourthly of course – an idea, and idea of Great Britain, which would percolate away, like a long term coffee maker.

James’s relationship’s with his parliaments will be a little tricky, and the problem that will plague it appeared in 1604 – money, the root of all evil. i.e. the King spent too much of it and there wasn’t enough of it. But it would take a few years for the issue to become dominant, and initially at least despite some grumbles, things in the kingdom seemed set fair, which was a triumph given how worried people had been about the death of Good Queen Bess – people had expected chaos and violence. And one of the first things that helped was that almost immediately, in 1604, James put an end to the seemingly endless war with Spain. England at last was at peace, and it is another of James’ attractive points that he seemed genuinely uninterested in war, while Europe groaned continually under its weight. We are chalking up the good points. But black marks are on the way, never fear.

Back to those Catholics then. James had proved a disappointment to thm; he’d confirmed the recusancy fines, he’d ordered all Jesuits and Catholic priests to leave the country on pain of death, and on top of that, the peace with Spain was a kick in the guts; the Spanish had walked away from the cause with no mention of toleration. And a group of radically minded Catholics lead by one Robert Catesby decided they could not stand the prospect of yet another reign of this. So now I must remember the 5th of November, Gunpowder treason and plot…and if you want a better longer rendition, you should head for episode 328.

Here was the plan; in November, parliament would reconvene after the recess, and not only would the place be stuffed with protestant MPs the horrid things, but also the king and his sons would be there the little tykes, so here’s a plan – why not blow the lot of them to smithereens, all 600 of them? Then they’d get their hands on one of James’ daughters, Elizabeth by name, pop her on the throne and bring her up a Catholic and we’d all live happily ever after. And to be fair the plan seemed to be going well; they rented storage apartments under the house of parliament, and managed to stuff it with vast quantities of gunpowder, ready to blow on the big day.

A few days before the balloon went up – or parliament went up – a message reached an MP who passed it to Robert Cecil, earl of Salisbury

‘As you tender your life, devise some excuse to shift of your attendance at this Parliament, for God and man hath concurred to punish the wickedness of this time.’

This was unpleasantly scary, but also unpleasantly non specific. The night before the big day, a search was carried out of the rooms under parliament. They met a terribly nice chap called Guy Fawkes down there, nothing to see here but some faggots of wood. But Salisbury was on it and not convinced – he sent them back down again and this time they happened to notice that under said faggots was a vast quantity of gunpowder. Fawkes was later tortured, but the news hit the street pretty much immediately, Catesby and the conspirators fled and on 8th November died in a hail of bullets charging the soldiers sent to get them – Catesby is supposed to have died kissing a crucifix on his way to some sort of bizarre martyrdom of the kind accorded only to brutal murders I suppose.

Although there was a recent daft drama on TV describing the fates of the prospective murderers at the hands of the authorities as a ‘dark corner of our history’  – I mean what, this is 1605 and they had just tried to butcher 600 people, come on – everyone else at the time was thoroughly delighted that the organ that represented the commonwealth of the realm had not been destroyed and lit bonfires and ate sausages and that’s what we still do every year, so who says good cannot come from evil?

Now then I think I should leave you with the image of happy today’s English folk gathering round bonfires, watching fireworks, drinking eating and chatting while celebrating the survival of their parliament. In 1606, James had made a bright start; brought peace, started to resolve conflicts, maintained the balance and harmony of the church, commissioned one of the greatest works of English literature; and added to that he was popular, basking in the goodwill that came from relief at the failure of the Gunpowder plot. The new Sun King was shining on the sea of the English people shining with all his might, and making the billows smooth and bright. But the waters would get choppier.



19 thoughts on “At A Gallop – Dawn of Stuart England to 1605

  1. Hi David,

    As a fellow panicker I thought I’d better respond to your appeal in your latest episode.

    I’ve been listening to your podcast from episode 1 until now (I even listened the revised versions of the earlier recordings). I love the detail you go into and as someone who struggled to find history interesting in school, I love the way you tell a good story.

    Personally I think the challenges that you named in your intro – many names, intricate details, losing the overview – is just inbuilt into the challenge of learning about the entire history of England. It’s just inevitable.

    I’ve never been a fan of the overview episodes e.g. when you do the politics, society & religion overviews of europe prior to changing monarchs. I accept them as a necessity but they’re not my favourite style.

    For me, your strength is the way you bring the historical figures to life and explain the dynamics and relationships between them and the society they live in. I think the history at the gallop doesn’t work to these strengths.

    So for me these history at a gallop episodes are not appealing, but I’m one of many different listeners so I’m leaving this as info only. I will still listen to them, because I love the way you impart knowledge. But I wouldn’t weep if you stopped doing them.

    Good luck and hope you don’t stress too much about this either way – you’re a great imparter of podcast knowledge whatever you do.



    1. Hi Yoshi. I tink us panickers ought to form some sort of society, so we can sahre some of our famous panics. I have panicked about some of the most extraordinarily trivial things…

      I absolutely agree with you. I really want the world to know about Harry Vane, Henry Marten, Thomas Rainsborough. Partly that’s why I’m giving this a go; because I don’t want to strip down the main narrative, which is the alternative. I’m trying to have te best of both worlds.

      It’s really interesting to see how people are responding – thanks very much for taking the trouble to let me know your thoughts, I appreciate it.

  2. Well, this is a pleasant surprise. I like your telling of history from both long distance and close up. So I mean to enjoy both.
    A couple of nits about James. First he would also have noticed the absence of his dad; his general maturity and good judgement are even more impressive in view of his appalling parentage. Second, James might have had to kill fewer Catholic priests than Elizabeth because fewer were being sent to overthrow the government and murder the monarch.
    Finally, I’d argue that Spain’s decline stemmed from several generations of its kings marrying their nieces, as well as their determination to hold on to all their possessions everywhere.
    But these nearly microscopic nits don’t detract from an excellent episode. Many thanks!

    1. Ezcellent I’m very glad it was a pleasant surprise not a distraction! You might be right about James and persecution; but I think both things migt be true, he also opposed persecution, but quite roight, he didn’t suffer the threat of assassination to quite te same degree, except the Gunpowder Plot

  3. This is a great idea! I’ve been listening since 2016 and I think this makes a useful preview/review. I do the same thing when I go to see a production of Shakespeare: do a little overview first and then go see the real thing. As long as our guide doesn’t burn himself out by taking on another task, I’m for it. I paused the episode to come write this. Diving back in now.

    1. Thanks Nick, very kind – and such dedication to the cause! I hope it then made sense when you listened. Sp no wporries about plot spoilers, which is good!

  4. Hello David, first: your work is awesome. I have been thoroughly enjoying the journey from the Anglo Saxon beginnings and – as a Dutch person – am almost giddy with anticipation of the Glorious Revolution to come. Besides wanting to give you a compliment, I would like to add my name to the “This is a good idea” pile: for people like me who do not have at least an inkling of the history of England, these summaries help to ground me and help put the details in context.

    1. Hi Joost and lovely to hear from you. I also am looking forward to the Dutch saving us from the tyranny of Stuarts, and the regretable but happily short period of argy bargy between us, before good sense is re-established. Thank you for the feedback, which is very helpful

  5. Hi David, Someone has to be on the fence. I, too, have been a long-time follower and enjoy the details. I also have been lost a few times as well. (The 1620’s for example.) I am just finishing my second time through the Stuart podcast. Listening a second or third time does not bother me at all. It gives me a chance the binge them. If your summaries were before the episodes, they might be the podcast. This summary was excellent, too good. I worry that for some listeners, the details might seem dull after hearing this. Doing the summaries after the episodes reduces the need for them to provide an overview. It is the names and players I am having a problem with. (And who are Say and Seal?) Having a few more who’s who could be helpful. Some introductions to the coming topics might also help. I will listen regardless, twice at least.

    On the diversions, they add to the enjoyment. This includes the small ones in an episode as well as devoting some podcasts to a related topic. I do like the humor and try to catch the references. Your passion and personality shine. Thank you.

    1. Thank you, that’s very thoughtful. Um. It is a poser,and I think anyway I need to spend a bit more time summarising and introducing in the core episodes anyway. Lord Saye and Sele is one bloke, William Fiennes. It’s come up elsewhere when someone asked ‘why are these guys always together?’ and I reliased I had in this isntance failed as a story teller!

      I share your fear that people switch off the detail and just settle for the summaries, but I think most are not as committed as you to go back and listen again. I don’t feel I can do nothing, but diversions in the Gallop episodes are impossible really…

      Oh dear!

  6. Hi David! I am working my way through the podcast chronologically and I’m actually just at the dawn of the Tudors in my regular listening, but on a whim
    I decided to listen to this more current episode just to see what it’s like.

    I really like the details and sidetracks of the original show, and not remembering names and places doesn’t bother me at all. Ha! I am in the US and no one is testing me on this, and I am happy to re-listen if I really don’t follow a story. But it’s the personal stories and details that we wouldn’t hear about otherwise that make your particular method so helpful! That being said, I don’t mind a review at the end of a section either. Do what you want, I’m all ears!

    And PS, I have used a lot of the other content on the site (maps, family trees, etc) to help sort out things that have been confusing for me. It’s so helpful!

    1. Melissa that is so nice to hear! I have to say I always wonder whether the hours spent on the website were worth it, so it’salways lovely to hear someone using it.
      It’s brilliant to hear that you like ther detail. I wouldhate not to do those, and will charge ahead with renewed vigour, because quite a few people have said the same, so thank you!

  7. David,

    I too at times lose the overall narrative–this has been the case a bit more frequently since the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign. But instead of your producing entirely new overview episodes (seems like a lot of work for you), I recommend a different approach. For narrative episodes: (1) begin with a few sentences that summarize the main events of the previous episode (with years of said events); (2) during episodes, add a few helpful reminders of how a specific event fits into the general chronology; and (3) add a few sentences at the end of an episode to recapitulate the main events discussed. I think this approach would add six or ten sentences to an episode, which is far less than an entirely new recap episode. I think you deserve a break every few weeks.

    Also, religion baffles me. I understand that it was (and is) important to many people. But commonly, their beliefs and imposition of their beliefs on others is so foreign to me, that I have trouble comprehending actions. Any elucidation is appreciated.

    1. Thanks Spencer and certainly good advice, thank you; I am certainly trying to adopt that approach in the main episodes.I might do both.
      I agree the religion think is the hardest thing to grasp; the catholic panic in particular. It’s why I keep coming back to it, but it’s almost impossible to deeply appreciate how central it is in peoples’ lives.

      I read a book about heresy which helped me with one aspect; the idea that deviance from the defined set of beliefs by an individual, threatened God’s wrath not only for the individual but for the whole community which allowed such deviance; and so uniformity must be imposed.

  8. You were asking for feedback on these ‘at a gallop’ episodes and my wife loves them but couldn’t find where to give you feedback on the podcast sites so I thought I would try and find a way to let you know – she would love for you to do more – thanks for all the work that goes into these!

  9. This is just what I needed, at the moment I needed it!
    As the cast of characters has exploded (and irregular life encroached on my regular listening, alas), I’ve felt my grip on the details getting looser. A recap of the previous generation is very welcome and very helpful.
    Thanks for this.

  10. Hi David,
    Although I completely understand the comments from others about the level of detail in your podcasts, for me, there are other resources out there to provide an overview. I feel that this isn’t a gap that you need to fill. I worry (panic, even?) that you will be expending energy away from your prime task and that you might be taking on too much to cover all bases.

    I love the detail. It makes the story, which you tell so well. It is what defines your podcast. Your style, delivery, and especially the detail have all lit a flame for history in me that had never previously existed. Long may it last!

    Now, back to the Ashes at the Oval 🙂

    1. Hi Malc, and thank you. this is my attempt to have it all; I could NOT refuse the detail of such a stunnin period of history…but I am losing people. So although it will be a distraction, I think I can handle it

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