I choked a bit when our speaker, Paul Blair, noted that James I of England declared himself in place of freedom of religion. Well, true on the surface, but James was not really so religiously autocratic as Bloody Mary or in fact half the monarchs of the day. James was caught in a bind between Catholics who were the majority of England and Protestant Anglicans who ruled. In Scotland, long an ally of France, (To keep England at bay) he quarreled with both the parliament and the Protestant kirk until finally he capitulated in order to keep peace and also assume the throne of England. Will Durant calls him “the most learned hard drinker in Europe.” I guess I choked on Blair's comment because he could have picked on a lot of others.
What do you get when a kid can’t remember a time when he wasn’t king? A spoiled brat and a narcissist. James VI of Scotland was son to Mary Stuart, the Catholic French girl queen sent to inherit the Scottish throne, just as Knox and the Protestants rebelled and took over. Knox bullied Mary and aligned all of Scotland against her until she fled to England were she was radioactive. (She was considered the rightful heir by Catholics) She was imprisoned 19 years and then executed in one of the ugliest chapters in British history. This happened in an era when the crown was head of the church, any heresy was often viewed as an insurrection against the nation. And there was little freedom of faith. Mary left behind in Scotland her infant son, to be raised by nannies.
He was very educated and very theoretical about everything, including governing. He was loud (yet eloquent) and partisan to his own cause, coarse, yet more learned than anyone around him. And he concluded he was the smartest guy in every room. By the way, does this sound faintly like our Obama? They share the narcissism. He married Queen Anne but was gay and promoted his gay friends. After 37 years of reigning in Scotland (mostly by regency) he assumed England’s throne when Elizabeth died without heirs and, with Mary Stuart gone, James VI of Scotland became James I of England. He was a lazy and vain, not governing too well, leaving it to others. His Catholic tendencies, from first allegiance to his mother, led him to flirt with France and Spain in diplomacy and the Scots did not like it. Trying to play both sides, he cracked down on Catholics who thereupon tried to assassinate him. That sealed his allegiance as a Protestant.
“For the most part, James was a tolerant dogmatist”, offending everybody but not so badly. He executed only a couple of Unitarians who refused to believe in Christ—not half as bloody as most of the European monarchs. He underwrote a translation of the Bible, which took 12 men 18 years and a lot of donnybrookes to accomplish. Finally they used mostly Tyndale’s brilliant New Testament. Strangely, a lot of people today swear that the once controversial KJV is the ONLY translation.
James declared that his word was divine, as in “papal”, which made all the Protestants gag. But having made that conceited pronouncement, he rarely tried to make it mean anything. He had little stomach for war, and little ability to organize for it. That was actually to England’s benefit. So Durant concludes, “Despite his vanity and coarseness, he was a better king than some who excelled him in vigor, courage, and enterprise. His absolutism was mainly a theory, tempered with timidity and inability to work with parliaments. His pretensions to theology did not impede a will of tolerance more generous than that of his predecessors.” So while he pretended to speak divinely, it was more out of narcissism than determination. “He was a scholar, a college professor, miscast as a ruler.”