The last 10 years of James’ reign saw the rise of the king’s great favourite the Duke of Buckingham, and continued friction with parliament – until the story of the knights Adventurers turned policy and politics on their head
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Hello everyone and welcome to the History of England At a gallop, King of Britain. This episode covers the same period as the detailed Episodes 336 to 349, which very broadly is 1615-1625. At a gallop is designed for a couple of uses. You might want to take a faster, more summarised route through a period. Or, you might use it as a refresher or framework to help you sort out the contents of the detailed episodes in your mind. If neither are what you want, you don’t have to listen to this – you may have found episodes 36-349 just to your liking, and it has to be said this At a Gallop excludes some lovely cultural stuff; specifically three episodes on English renaissance theatre, Shakespeare, Jonson, the Sirenicals club & stuff, episodes 344- 346, and 2 episodes on a tremendous era of architecture with the great prodigy houses, town development, and Hoskins’ theory of the Great Rebuilding of vernacular building, all in episodes 348 and 349. It would b a shame to miss those. But look, At A Gallop is here if you want it – the world is your lobster
This week we are going to look at the last 10 years of James’ reign up to his death. We’ll start with the British plantations of Ireland and the intentions with which they were established, and then talk about James’ visit to Scotland and growing support for Arminianism and distrust of radical protestants. And we are going to hear about one of the most horrendous outbreaks of war and violence Europe, which will shape foreign policy and domestic politics, including the extraordinary story of the Knights Adventurer.
I read a very good article in the Pappy this morning, about how important balanced and shared history is to the process of healing and building stronger, happier societies; the writers’ theme was that, in his view, people still take sides over the history of Northern Ireland, and each glorify their own narratives rather than genuinely accepting an holistic, balanced view that seeks to understand al perspectives. This seems a very strong argument. However to illustrate this, I might make one quibble about it; the article talked about English activities in Ireland. So let me point out that the impact of James’ enthusiasm for the Ulster plantations was very much a British policy, the first act of British as opposed to English or Scottish colonisation, and it involved English, Scots, and Welsh. And indeed Irish, while we are at it.
The background was the Elizabethan, and very much English, conquest of Ireland, which we talked about in episodes 303, 304 and 318, the Age of Atrocities as it has been dubbed by one historian. At the end of which, after a surprisingly generous settlement for Tyrone and his allies, the leading Earls of Ulster found they nonetheless couldn’t live with it, and fled, or rebelled and then fled in 1609, the Flight of the Earls. As rebels, their lands were, as was traditional of course, forfeit to the crown. And so James had a windfall to do with as he would near the start of his reign. Rather than allocating the land to some deserving lords, as was the normal run, James decided to dramatically extend the policy that had started under the Tudors and Queen Mary – to establish plantations of model societies based on the British model of the way the world should be run.
We might as well get it out there; the basic attitude that lay behind this is that that native Gaelic Irish were barbarous and backward; that they didn’t manage and work the land as they should and therefore were poor and uncivilised, and addicted to Catholicism. As so they were in urgent need of a civilising process. In 1615 one English colonist reported the Irish to be
More barbarous and more brutish in their costumes and demeanours than in any part of the world that is known
This reflected also long-standing lowland Scottish attitudes towards their own Gaelic culture; John of Fordoun in the 14th century, for example described highlanders as ‘a savage and untamed nation, rude and independent…and exceedingly cruel’. James and the English were obsessed with the idea that Ireland was a back door to Spanish and Catholic invasion. The answer was to bring all the countries in the North Atlantic Archipelago together into one harmonious set of beliefs – different peoples and languages but living in harmony under one king, one law and style of administration, in shared prosperity. The philosophy was inherently racially biased – the stated aim was for the Irish to be ‘civilised’, which meant Gaelic law and customs were to be deleted and replaced by the majority British social and economic model. To James’ mind the aim was not terrorisation, violence, bloodshed against the native Irish, it was to bring peace, prosperity and freedom from the tyranny of the Gaelic system of lordship. As he himself wrote, the aim was a:
‘Mixt conversation of different nations one amongst another’ to help ‘induce obedience, civilitie and Christian policie into those parts to the welfare and tranquilitie of the whole realme’
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I urge to you go to episode 336 for more detail, but in brief, the mechanism was this. Major lords and institutions were offered land in Ulster, if in return they would populate those lands with colonists. There was a standard model behind the colonisation, which would be the attempted template for colonisation in the Americas as well, until the education of practical experience resulted in something more varied. So, the major Undertakers, and Servitors as they were called, would establish towns to help commerce flourish and encourage economic independence. There was clearly awareness that this wasn’t going to be popular locally, so the servitors would need to make provision for defence. The settlements would be logically laid out with buildings, equipment, careful allocation of land between arable, woodland and pasture – all designed according to the British social and economic lowland model. It was understood that the Irish would have a role only in a few of the settlements, that in many they would be actively excluded. That didn’t mean the Irish were to be left without means of sustenance; the faulty understanding was that Ireland was largely uncultivated wilderness, and therefore anyone thrown off the land would be compensated with land elsewhere – which of course they’d then begin to cultivate with the new model in mind. And so all would live happily ever after. I do not want you to suppose for a moment that I am claiming that British imperialism in Ireland was not also driven by gold and the desire for profit, any less than elsewhere in the growing empire, because it absolutely was. Those undertakers and servitors fully expected to line their pockets through this process. But np did they see it as a zero sum game, they did also see it as offering riches for all. There were many, the City of London Corporation in particular, who realised that fulfilling the demands was onerous, expensive, risky and highly speculative; and took part only because James pushed them into it.
Because as it happens, there was never anywhere near enough settlers for that to happen anyway – native Irish continued to form a substantial part of the new settlements. And indeed major Irish landowners also took part. British undertakers and servitors received about 217,000 acres. Irish received 94,000 acres; one of whom was Randal McDonnell, a major Irish Catholic landowner in his own right, who acquired a plantation of 4,500 acres, and another was Phleim O’Neil of whom you’ll hear more in 1641. The London companies received 45,000 acres. London was very important in this process; it was going to be very expensive to do all this undertaking, and their money was crucial. The government wanted them to rebuild the towns of Derry and Coleraine to create more trade and wealth. So they were allocated the entire county of Coleraine, and parts of Tyrone and Antrim – to create a new county called Londonderry, and a contentious name was born.
Then 74,000 acres went to the church to foster its potential to spread the protestant word. And 12,400 to Trinity College Dublin – the university set up in Ireland by the English in 1592. Although recruitment never reached the hoped for levels, by 1641, about 100,000 British may have re-settled in Ireland, whether part of official schemes or from informal migration – about 30,000 Scots, and 70,000 English and Welsh. It was coincidentally a time of prosperity and growth generally for the Irish population and economy, the population grew to 1.4m from 1 million. Although we might think the strategy would obviously cause trouble, there wasn’t much sign of it at the time and for the next 30 years; Francis Bacon was complacently able to write that Ireland
‘hath come in and been reclaimed from desolation and a desert to population and plantation, and from savage and barbarous custom to humanity and civility’.
But closer and better observers knew better. One observer predicted the Old English and Native Irish would unite in the face of this onslaught and
The next rebellion, whensoever it shall happen would threaten more danger to the state than any other that has preceded it, because the revolt is likely to be general
Time will tell who was right, eh?
I think it may be best to talk about religion next, and we can therefore leave the fun stuff about dynasty, the buffoonery of favourites and so on to later. Not that religion isn’t fun, you understand, but generally I’d contend there are a limited number of gags in the bible, but I listened to a podcast the other day and our good and excellent ABC seemed to be suggesting I am wrong. Answers on a postcard. Anyway, religion.
I need to tie this into the history of Scotland, so let me start there, rather than in the pulpit. Obviously, the Scots saw the departure of their king with some trepidation; they feared marginalisation, they feared rule by the English of becoming a province; and also the removal of the king and his court from Edinburgh, meant the loss of a local centre of patronage, cash and politics. In many ways their fears were not realised or not immediately at least; James knew personally the magnates that ruled Scottish politics and society, and in his chief ministers in Scotland he was to prove very fortunate, In Dunbar and Dunfermline two lords who knew when to follow their king’s directives, and when to select file and forget. In addition. James also kept his Scottish and English Privy Councils very separate, as would his son, and was therefore largely advised by Scots. James was indeed to boast he’d ruled Scotland by the pen, from London just as successfully as he had from Edinburgh. But that he wasn’t quite true; there is no doubt the centre of gravity moved, and Edinburgh suffered, and in addition his experience would not be typical; his successor would have been born in Scotland, but never been there, with none of the contacts, feel and affinity with its institutions and culture.
However in 1617, James did indeed travel north back to his homeland – he’d promised to do so regularly back in 1603, in which he fibbed, 1617 was in fact the only time. But in general his visit went well, everyone was pleased to see him, he spent a pile of cash and there were parties. And he got involved. However, like the aliens in the War of the world, he left deep in the ground the seeds of rebellion that would one day spring to life when activated by the signal from above. I think I repeat myself when I say Scottish religious beliefs developed with a much more strictly Calvinist bent, to the point that many aspects of ceremony that remained in the English church were considered pretty much indistinguishable from papism; and in many parts of lowland Scotland bishops were viewed with some horror, church hierarchy itself considered as a popish tyranny, and a Presbyterian model without church hierarchy was longed for in many regions. During his visit, James refused to accept such things, and enforced on the General Assembly of the Kirk a regime that would be enshrined in law as the Five Articles of Perth. These articles did things that re-inforced the role of bishops and hierarchy, ceremony such as bowing at the name of Jesus, and re-established traditional festivals – such as Christmas. Which many strict Calvinists considered simply a catholic invention. Now, James had the good sense not to push his bishops to enforce the Five Articles of Perth too rigorously, to allow a good deal of leeway in day to day practice from parish to parish and diocese to diocese. But they were there; let’s just imagine if a less sensitive king were to come to the throne well, who knew what might happen, nudge wink wink say no more say no more.
On his way back south, James happened to pass through Lancashire and the locals were very excited at this; in a timeless conversational gambit, one of them might well have said to James. ‘You know we don’t get many kings around here’. Also, the county was notoriously unreformed; the local MP, a good puritan, was rather horrified by their adherence to the fun and festivals of the old days, dancing, piping, bowling and all that which is fine but they did in on the Lord’s day – probably because that was their only day off. So the local JP had issued a series of bloodcurdling bans.
So it was that that James found a petition thrust into his grubby mitts as he passed – begging for their king to set the record straight on these matters and restore the old ways.
Now, James’ attitudes were beginning to move somewhat, as it does as you get older. Us older types are much more tolerant, free and easy than the often very purist young ‘uns, taught as we are in the university of life, and the target of James religious exasperation was increasingly the puritanicals, rather than those of a Catholic persuasion. And Jimmy was livid with the local JP for taking the law into his own hands; he, the king – he was the only person allowed to make pronouncements such as these.
The result was the 1617 Book of Sports, a proclamation by the King about what was allowable on the Sabbath – and dancing and having fun very much were; only a few things were prohibited – Interludes, which were local plays which could turn subversive, bull baiting which was horrid and, interestingly, bowling. Bowling is indeed the root of much evil – though probably it’s because in the 17th century bowling was essentially, like Darts in the 20th century, an excuse to down an unfeasible quantity of booze at the same time. Puritans fumed not necessarily at drinking, but they drew the line at drunkenness and disorder.
The proclamation specifically mentioned ‘puritans and precise people’. And it forms part of a general trend by James towards a position where he associated puritanism, the Godly as they thought of themselves, with disloyalty and sedition. Very probably his return to Scotland had accentuated this, where the teachings of Buchanan and the theory of two kingdoms and resistance to the king with the wrong religion was strongest. The reign, therefore saw a gradual but perceptible move towards favouring the more Elizabethan form of Protestantism. The kind of debate about further religious reform of the church, beloved of Puritans, was forbidden, and punished. Recusancy laws were suspended. And Arminian Bishops began to be preferred for appointments, and in the back ground the career of William Laud, the arch Arminian, was going well. James liked Arminians, because they were very hot on social hierarchy, authority, and the absolute power of monarchs. James liked that better than resistance theory. So by the end of the reign there was a strong body of Arminian Bishops, who would be ready when William Laud and Charles called in the 1630s. As in Scotland – with good sense and sensitivity, there shouldn’t be a problem, and James could be a canny olitical operator, and leave dogmatism to one side. But the seed was sewn was laid, puritans complained bitterly about all this nicey nicey towards the supporters of whom they considered the anti christ.
Which will bring us to foreign affairs, oddly, for foreign policy also comes to be seen by many citizens through a very religious lens, while by the King through a very dynastic lens; and there was conflict, ladies and gentlemen, and dissonance. But before we get to all the political stuff, I’d like to literally just mention a few cultural and economic things, just so I can point you in the right direction to find out more, I don’t have space to expand on them, though I did mention them at the start.
So, I should mention theatre and just remind you that the days of English renaissance theatre are not over; past their glory days maybe, but theatre is still vibrant, and the likes of Ben Johnson still plied their trade. It is also glory days of Inigo Jones, who is apparently one of our great architects, though I am personally not a great fan, but I know nothing so I must toe the line; in 1616 the Queen’s House in London was part of a much larger project not complete until 1635. While I’m on building stuff, I desperately want to mention that around 1500-1700 we are in a period the lovely W G Hoskins described as the Great Rebuilding – cheap brick, technology and wealth meant if you had land, your living space was transformed with chimneys, upstairs downstairs that sort of thing. It’s a lovely topic – find our more about the transformation of England’s bult environment in episodes 348 and 349, and there’s picture and stuff I put on the website the history of England.co.uk that, if I say so myself, was pretty darned hot.
Anne of Denmark was possibly a greater cultural influence than James as it happens, and both Jonson and Jones would work their trade, often together, in the production of the Queen’s great masques, which sought to extol the powers and virtues of the monarch and court as the seat of virtue and stability. Their reach though, it has be said, was a shadow of things like newsheets and libels that spread gossip about the royal court’s dodgy religious credentials, and the scandalous behaviour and politics – as we heard last time. And then there’s an event I forgot to mention in the core podcasts, to my shame, the career of William Harvey. When I was a lad, it was simply that he discovered circulation of the blood, these days we are more careful, and understand that science doesn’t work that way; and as Newton would famously say, we stand on the shoulders of Giants; that one of the great things about the 16th century was the development of an international discourse about natural philosophy. However, in 1628 it appears that Harvey, Physician to James by this stage, was indeed the first to complete the description of the mechanisms and circulation of the blood. That is, sadly, all I have to say on that, but along with Francis Bacon and his contribution to ideas on the scientific method, England was at least making a contribution to the advancement of knowledge.
Right let’s get away from all that earnest stuff, and let’s do some Bunburying have some fun, let’s do dynasty, politics, court, foreign affairs. First, a couple of people. The death of the aforementioned Queen Anne, in 1619 for one. Over the last years of her life, she become rather estranged from James and from being a force at court, became rather isolated; she converted to Catholicism along the way also. That may have been one of the reasons for her declining influence, but another could have been the rise of James’ last and favourite favourite, George Villiers, the artist to become known as the Duke of Buckingham. Actually, Anne had encouraged Villiers and rather liked him; though she did call him her ‘dog’, which might have been intended as a term of endearment but it’s not one I think I’d enjoy, much as I like dogs.
But, anyway, George Villiers. You would not have said at birth that George was destined for success and vast political power at court – he didn’t come from a particularly grand family. But he had two factors to thank for his rise, in addition to his own talents. The First was his Mother, Mary Villiers was ambitious for her son, pushed him hard, made sure he was taught all the talents needed by the consummate courtier; George loved his mother and stayed close to her. The second was the vagaries of faction at court. To explain. Let me introduce the factions to you very briefly. In one corner we have the Patriot faction. The Patriots believed that Protestantism should be at the heart of everything, policy foreign and domestic, and that parliament was a crucial partner of the crown, and also strong advocates of Protestantism. In the other corner were the Pro Spanish party – less concerned about religion, more traditionally focussed on dynasty, the power of the crown and glory.
Here’s how it worked. The favourite at the time, before his fall, as we heard last time, was Robert Kerr, Earl of Somerset, husband of Frances Howard, a Pro Spanish man. The Patriots wanted rid of him, and so trailed Villiers in front of James – just 21, full of the vigour, beauty and the health of youth, charming, graceful, blooming. It worked, even before Kerr’s conviction, Villiers was replacing him in James’ trust and affections.
We don’t have space to recount the details of Villiers’ rise to power; but by 1620, the king’s favour, gifts and ennoblement, Villiers had outstripped the power and influence of the Patriot faction, and operated absolutely independently of them – pupil had become master. He controlled access to James, to get something done you almost always needed Villiers on board; but he never took over decision making or made James feel subservient – James made the decisions, and was quite capable of overturning Villiers’ view. And in return Villiers never forgot the lesson of the favourite – all he had came from the king, and as the king had given, so the king could take away. Favourites don’t get a good press, and Villiers was no different, but he not an unimpressive man, his career is marked by a desire to fulfil that Renaissance ambition he shared with Thomas More, and Francis Bacon, the demands of service to the best of his ability. But he also became immensely toweringly rich; he acquired York Place in London, Wolsey’s old palace, and did it up with such grandeur that when Inigo Jones saw it, he fell to his knees in wonder.
George Villiers was as much a wonder to the young Charles as he was to his father James; for Charles, Villiers must have been like his older brother, full of confidence where the young Charles was rather inarticulate, lacking in confidence and struggled with a stammer. The three of them became close; Villiers was James’ Steenie, as beautiful as the Angel St Stephen he said; Charles was Baby Charles, and James, Dear Dad. Slightly vomit inducing, I have to say. Other courtiers were in no way excluded; but Villiers was supreme.
Ok, so before we get to the politics, let us then have the dramatic events that would drive foreign policy for the rest of the reign. In 1619, the people of Bohemia defenestrated the representative of their Catholic prince and looked for a Protestant Champion to become King of Bohemia. They selected Frederick of the Rhine Palatine, and he considered this, though lots of people said don’t do it, you’ll be crushed. But he was not at home to Mr & Mrs Doom and Gloom, so he said sure, and within months he had indeed been crushed at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620 by the Catholic emperor who was understandably miffed at having his local rep defenestrated. So quickly and completely did disaster follow triumph, that Frederick and Elizabeth his wife became known as the Winter King, and the Winter Queen. And the 30 Years war was on, as the Catholic emperor enthusiastically tried to bring the protestant German princes under his control again, re convert Germany to Catholicism, and conquer the Rhine Palatinate while he was about it.
There are two point about this. Firstly, the British may not have been directly involved but they were emotionally engaged in spades. This was the Godly against the anti Christ, and as the most protestant nation they wanted to do their bit. The other thing is that The Winter Queen Elizabeth was James’ daughter, Charles’ sister. Elizabeth Stuart is without doubt worth her own episode, but not here sadly. In brief, she was highly educated in natural history, geography, theology, languages, writing, music, and dancing, was fluent in several languages, with a passion for literature and a thorough going protestant. She would have a large family, was an energetic and forceful advocate for her family and prospects, despite spending 40 years in exile, often in very tight conditions.
Now James had deeply disapproved of Frederick’s actions – one does not simply depose rightful monarchs because their envoys get defenestrated. But as the war progressed, badly for the Protestants, the Rhine Palatinate was itself taken over. James was determined to strain every nerve to see his daughter and son in law re-instated in the Palatinate at least, though probably not Bohemia which had anyway been a bit of a cheek. But James was deeply unhappy about using war as a means to do so; as much as kings could be , he was a pacifist. Diplomacy would have to do the job. Right from the start there is a basic dissonance between king and his subjects; the English thought James should raise an army, declare war, ride into battle in glittery armour and a flag of St George and save Protestantism. James on the other hand thought that he could persuade the Holy Roman Emperor to do the right thing through diplomacy. He was also clear that this sort of stuff was the business of kings, the arcana of majesty, not the business of oiks, aka subjects. King’s did not ask the people or indeed parliament for strategy advice, because they did not have a direct line to God. Parliament and the people’s role was to ask how much? When the King asked for money. James became so annoyed at the chatter and libels and newssheets demanding war for the Protestant cause that he issued a proclamation telling the English
Not to intermeddle by pen or by speech with causes of state, and secrets of empire either at home or abroad
He should maybe have called himself Canute, trying as he was to hold back an unstoppable tide of protestant fear and passion.
James’ diplomatic objective then, was to persuade the Hapsburg Emperor in Austria to give the Palatinate back. He would do this by persuading their relatives, the Spanish Hapsburg monarchs, to put pressure on the Imperial Hapsburgs to hand it back to the Winter king and Queen. To achieve that he would use both carrot and stick.
The Carrot was Charles’ body. He would marry Charles to the Spanish princess, the Infanta Anna Maria. The price would be
- a massive dowry from, Spain that would pay off all James’ debts and make him free of parliament and subsidize endless hunting trips and soft feather beds, and
- Return of the palatinate to his daughter Elizabeth
The stick – was war. If the Spanish did not agree to the marriage, James would raise and army, and come and kick the imperial bottom.
I don’t believe the Spanish ever had any intention of arranging what became known as the Spanish Match. But the hope and prospect of it was constantly trailed by the Spanish Ambassador to keep England out of the war. And since James had no money, the 10 ton Spanish gorilla had no fear of having sand kicked in their face by the English or seeing the Imperial buttocks given more than a bit of a pat by the British king. There was effectively no stick, hardly even a twiglet.
So, James needed his stick – he needed money to convincingly threaten war. And despite 7 happy years without parliament, it was becoming clear by 1621 that James would have to call another one. Curses. Because his finances were a mess, and that is despite the work of an unpopular financial wizard, Lionel Cranfield, earl of Middlesex, who had worked miracles – and had, of course, made himself immensely rich at the same time. But not even Cranfield could stem the flood of James’ financial incontinence.
The expectations for the 1621 Parliament were sky high. When it was opened, the streets were rammed with people – James would declare war on Spain, parliament would vote generous subsidies to help, the English would go to war and crush the Emperor and the Catholic threat. Cry Harry and all that.
The parliament started well, and quickly voted a provisional subsidy. But it was only provisional. Because none of the problems that had poisoned the 1614 Addled parliament had gone away. Parliament were still furious at the lack of royal financial control; they still objected to the tactics the crown was using to raise money without parliamentary consent – customs impositions, and the sale of those hateful monopolies in particular. And they were furious at the king’s refusal to make a commitment to a protestant crusade. And it was these things they duly debated.
James was hopping around in fury like Rumpelstiltskin. Livid, that parliament was pretending to have the right to debate foreign policy, the arcana of kings. You could hear the screams of Show me the money’ all the way from Whitehall like some demented Tom Cruise in that film, whatever it’s called. But parliament would make it’s point, parliament would make the king recognise that their opinion mattered. Now you have to realise just how remarkable this was; parliament had been about supporting the monarch and achieving consensus, all through the Tudor dynasty. Now it was flexing muscles James didn’t believe they should even have. I should mention a name here – Edward Coke, an eminent lawyer, MP and jurist, and whose name will be ever associated with one of the most important constitutional developments in the next reign – the bill of Rights. A brilliant lawyer who had a firm belief that the king was subject to the law, and that Magna Carta was not in fact a peace treaty – but a guarantor of the rights of the English. Eminent and brilliant– not entirely likeable, responsible for prosecuting Walter Ralegh amongst others, forcing his daughter into a marriage by at one stage tying her to her bed, of whom when he died, his wife was to say
We shall not see his like again – by the grace of God
Which I think qualifies as a bone fide burn. But this was Coke’s moment; he was determined that people would be held to account for the excesses of government; and it was monopolists where he focussed the attention of the Commons. We’ve talked about monopolies a wonderful way of raising revenue and rewarding courtiers but destructive of trade and prosperity. The Commons went after one of the biggest offenders to make their point. He was duly condemned though before he could be prosecuted he lifted his hose and legged it. But Coke had set his sights higher – there were bigger fish to fry, the biggest. The king’s most high profile ministers and supporters – the Lord High Chancellor, Francis Bacon. And the king’s favourite, George Villiers, now elevated to the heights of the Duke of Buckingham.
But James would not permit the Commons to have Buckingham’s scalp; there’s a lovely piece of theatre in the House of Lords, where Buckingham knelt to the king and swore he was innocent of corruption in front of the peers and James lifted him to his feet in acceptance; the message was clear – hands off by Buck. But for the sake of the subsidy and getting his hands on all that lovely money, James was quite prepared to sacrifice some monopolies, and indeed to sacrifice his loyal and faithful servant Francis Bacon. Such are the brutal realities of politics. To get his man, Coke revived an ancient Medieval procedure – Impeachment. The way impeachment worked is that he Commons accused the defendant, the Lords would try him; the beauty of impeachment was that it did not require the same level of proof as a court of law – if the members voted because they believed it, so be it. We will hear much more of impeachment – a very useful, quasi legal form of political assassination. Poor Francis Bacon. Horrified at his king’s desertion of him, he jumped before he was pushed and resigned.
James now expected his subsidy from the Commons so he could threaten the Spanish with war if they did not offer an alliance and marriage. But the Commons were not done; they next demanded religious reforms. This is too much – and James blew his top, called all of parliament to Whitehall to see him, and instructed them in no uncertain terms that religion was his province, nothing to do with Parliament. While I assume the MPs slunk from Whitehall with tails suitably located between legs and pretending to look appropriately guilty, once back at St Stephens Chapel, the home of the Commons, the flame of defiance burned once more from the ashes of censure, like a phoenix; the result was the Protestation of December 1621 from the Commons, where Coke and his allies roundly defended and proclaimed the ancient privilege of parliament to freely debate exactly what they chose, without fear of prosecution or persecution.
That did it. James’ lid flipped. In a rage, he dissolved parliament, sent the whole lot of them packing, snarling that
He would govern according to the good of the common weal; but not according to the common will
In so doing, the subsidy bill died, he lost any chance of filling his coffers, lost any chance of wiping out his humungeous debt, lost any chance of taking war to the Spanish. The Spanish Ambassador was rubbing his hands with glee and wrote home with what he called
The best news in a century
So that’s that then. The Spanish faction have lost, the Patriots with their plans for Dutch alliance and fighting for the palatinate, maybe looking at a French alliance – they would surely now rule the roost? Well you might think that, and it would make sense; the English had no leverage, and the Spanish surely would have absolutely no intention of throwing a princess not only to a heretic, but also a country without any power to help them win their war. But if you are thinking all these things, well – you have not factored in the ambition, chutzpah and general romantic effervescence of the Knights Adventurer. I speak, of course – of the Gallant Duke of Buckingham, and the young Buck, Prince Charles.
Early one morning just as the day was dawning and presumably fair maids were just working themselves to roll in the due or sing tragic songs, as they did back then, two heavily disguised travellers took a boat from Dover and set off across the plains of France and the mountains of the pyrenees, down over the piriankles and late one night banged on the door of the English Ambassador in Madrid. This, in my humble opinion, could be the maddest story in English royal history, bar none. Buckingham and the Prince of Wales, heir to the throne of England, had resolved that love would conquer all, overthrow all the considerations of tawdry power diplomacy, pah and pshaw, the Spanish Infanta would swoon at the appearance of her thoroughly buffed knight errant fall into his arms and they would be married.
Well, she didn’t. And they weren’t. The whole mad venture crashed and burned, and that is all I have to say here about this fantastic corner of English history, but you can find out all about it in episode 341.
Well, while they were trying to wow the Spanish court, news of course got out back in blighty; James was worried sick that his Steenie and Baby Charles had put themselves in the hands of a foreign power, but more importantly the vast majority of the English found themselves a corner and started laying eggs. An absolute storm of comment, libels, ballads, newsheets and gossip exploded across the country. Their prince was in the hands of the Spanish; or just as bad, their protestant prince would marry a Catholic, and the palatinate and the protestant cause in Europe would be lost for ever. There was panic not only at the disco, but also in the streets, in the fields, in the pubs, and in the pulpits. There was, in short, a bit of a to-do.
So when Baby Charles and Steenie reappeared in October 1623, unmarried, in a pub in Godalming of all places – once the parish of the Norman Archbishop Ranulph Flambard, incidentally – England went absolutely potty. When London goes potty, a town made principally of wood, I should point out, it is to booze, bonfires and bells to which they turn. Booze and Bells, fine, Bonfire – frankly suicidal, but hey you only live once.
Charles and the Buckster were also on fire. On fire with fury and humiliation at their failure and rejection at the hands of perfidious Hispania who they now realised had been stringing them along for a decade or more. As far as Spain was concerned, the English were food not friends. Love could not conquer all. The cruellest lesson.
The last couple of years of James’s reign are really quite remarkable. The story is that Charles and Buckingham are for the first – and probably only – time in their lives, wildly popular. Suddenly they are the darling of the people. Because when they returned, they made it quite clear that as far as they are concerned Spain must be punished, England must take up the cudgels and fight for the protestant cause in Europe, and must raise money and men to do so.
Poor James is now ill, old and tired, and I am afraid to say that Charles and Buckingham rather brow beat him into calling a new parliament. In his heart, James was still committed to the Spanish match and to the cause of a peaceful solution to the Palatinate, despite the evidence of that strategy’s ineffectiveness. But Charles would not have it; the Spanish faction were out, the Patriots were back. At one point, James tearfully wrote
Do you want to commit me to war in my old age and make me break with Spain?’
Yup, said Baby Charles and the beautiful Steenie
We then have the extraordinary sight of a parliament where all the frictions of the previous decade were pushed aside, forgotten, in a welter of patriotic, religious fervour, a national demand to meet the threat from catholic Spain and Catholic Europe head on, and stand with their protestant allies the Dutch, Germans, Swedes and Danes. Politics were dramatically polarised, and very significantly, the catholic threat was not simply an external one; to many in the country, the Catholic threat also came from James’ court, from the king, supposedly the very heart of nationhood and defender of the people. The country and parliament were acting together to correct the corruptions and dodgy religious backsliding of king and court. And at the vanguard was the prince. Here was the sight of the Prince using parliament as a tool to brow beat and change the policy of the king. It is a first, gentle listeners, it is a first. Won’t be the last. It is a sign that from being an occasional consultative body, parliament was replacing king as the voice of the people. I think we can agree that’s significant can we not? All in favour say ‘aye’.
Opponents of the new strategy of war were now swept aside, in some cases with brutal unfairness. Lionel Cranfield the Lord Treasurer had held the precarious finances of the state together in the face of all James’ incontinence; but he was firmly opposed to war. Just war costs more than a bob or two. So now once more, the newly found tool of impeachment was rolled out; Cranfield was convicted, removed and fined. A subsidy was indeed granted by parliament.
James gave way and let it all happen, as he descended towards his last breath. But his political antennae did not fail him, and he warned his son and favourite that they were playing with fire, telling them with quite spooky foresight
You are a fool. You are making a rod with which you will be scourged yourself …You will have your bellyful of impeachments
Wow. James VI and I – not an idiot, how right he was – Charles would indeed. But – no plot spoilers!
A force was indeed recruited under an experienced Captain called Count Mansfield, and a collaboration worked out with France – at the same time as which a marriage agreement was made to marry England and France, Charles and Henrietta Maria, of which more next time. The expedition though was an unmitigated disaster. This time it was a case of perfidious Frankia who backed out half way through having always intended to use the army for their own ends, Mansfield’s massively expensive army rotted and died of disease outside a Dutch city.
By this time, March 1625, James I and VI was dead at the age of 58. His was an interesting reign, and much passed over I think in the annals of history. Generally the lad gets quite a good press from modern historians, who stress the work he did to bring the elites of England, Wales and Scotland together and create the idea of Britain; who was politically astute enough to never quite let political friction with parliament or religious friction get out of hand. And he was in many ways a man of attractive attitudes – personable, informal, surprisingly religiously tolerant given his upbringing; able to learn from mistakes in which I might also put his increasing scepticism about witchcraft; and a man genuinely and deeply sceptical about the benefits of war, a man of peace.
But look, I don’t think we should go overboard – here is the case for the prosecution. There are a series of trends that start under James with which only a consummate statesman and political operator would be able to deal. Religiously, Scotland, England & Wales, and Ireland are diverging; James left a little package of poison in Scotland with the Articles of Perth, while he allowed the Calvinist harmony of Church of England to slip, through an excessive fear of puritans and the over promotion of Arminian Bishops. Although he did not invent the strategy of plantation and initiated the plantations of Ulster with the best intentions, they created a very dangerous source of future conflict as many native Irish lost land and status there. And his religious pluralism, the behaviour of his court, and his fractious parliaments created a fundamental shift in attitudes – for the first time, for many English people, it was their law, county leaders and parliament that represented their sense of nationhood, not a king who had become to seem corrupt and not in tune with the values of his people.
As the news of James’ death spread, one of his Scottish magnates remarked
‘As he lived in peace so did he die in peace, and I pray God our king Charles I may follow him’