Friday, February 17, 2012


A review of Irene Carrier’s James VI and I King of Great Britain (1998)

(Rating 3 of 5)

Irene Carrier’s James is not a biography in the traditional sense, although it does contain some biographical narrative, it is an historical overview of the reign of the first monarch to rule over a united Britain. The book is divided into several chapters devoted to separate aspects of the reign. Each chapter has a biographical-type introduction, a timeline, and is loaded with primary sources that are mostly letters from James and his various associates. After each section of letters the author has questions for the reader—most of whom would be college students—to help them focus on the point of the letters.

The subject himself is pretty fascinating. The man who would succeed both of the rival queens, Mary I, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I, Queen of England, on their thrones. By the time he was a baby he was the son of a murder victim when his father, Henry Stuart, was killed. The primary suspect was his mother, the Queen. The controversy led to her overthrow and his enthronement as an infant. Like his mother, grandfather, and great-grandfather he would grow up as Scotland’s monarch. Later, he would lose his other parent when his mother, the dethroned Queen Mary, was executed under Elizabeth’s orders. Although he was more upset that his mother a queen was executed than his mother was executed.

Many Kings of England had tried and failed to add Scotland to their realms. However in 1603 the King of Scotland became the King of England. The man who was James VI in the north was now to the south, James I*. His great-great-grandfather, King Henry VII, whose James’ claim was based, had united the warring factions of the Yorkist and Lancastrians. Now the great-great-grandson was uniting two historically warring kingdoms.

(King James I, the first monarch of a united Britain)

“James VI’s departure for London in April 1603 amidst scenes of great emotion looked like the high point of Scottish pride. The Scots had given their ‘auld enemies’ a king, and thus provided the final answer to the aggression of Edward I, Edward III, and Henry VIII.” (p.142)

Dubbed by King Henry IV of France as the ‘wisest fool of Christendom,’ James would right three famous works. He would right about smoking, witches, and divine-right monarchy. He was against smoking**, against witches, and all for divine-right monarchy. The new version of the Bible was something that he had supervised at his Hampton Court Conference. Nevertheless he did have a heavy influence on the new version; you could say he was more the editor than the author of the King James Bible.

This is an okay book if you like primary sources and school textbooks. In the words of King Edward III ‘it is as is.’

*An interesting irony, James I, King of Scotland, was in England at the time of his ascension. He was there as a prisoner of England’s King Henry IV.

**Ironic considering Jamestown,the first permanent English colony, had as its primary crop: tobacco.

{Video from a BBC Documentary about the Gunpowder Plot}

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