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© January 2007
revised 7 March 2007

The following biography of James I of England (also James VI of Scotland) is copied from Alexander Brown’s The Genesis of the United States, vol. 2, pp. 1026–27.

WThis biography stresses James’s active promotion of English maritime exploration and enterprise. Brown describes James I as “a constant friend” to English commerce, and a monarch who took an “especial and personal interest in the success of” his American colonies.

James Stuart, King James I of England & King James VI of Scotland (1566–1625)

“Stuart, King James, clothworker. The first of the Stuart line of the kings of England, was born in Edinburgh Castle, June 19, 1566; succeeded his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, as King of Scotland, July 24, 1567, and was crowned at Stirling, July 29. Married Anne of Denmark, November 24, 1589; endeavored to restore peace in Europe in 1590; proclaimed King of England on the death of Queen Elizabeth, March 24, and was crowned at Westminster, July 25, 1603; Hampton Court conference, January 14–17, 1604, which resulted in a new translation of the Bible. He favored merchants, and enlarged the privileges of the East India, the Muscovy, the Turkey, and the Merchant Adventurers companies in 1604; granted first charter to the Va. companies, April 10, 1606; articles, orders, etc., for the Va. colonies, November 20, 1606; an ordinance and constitution, etc., for said colonies, March 9, 1607; Jamestown and James River were rightly named for him, 1607; in 1609, on April 11, opened the new exchange; May 3, ordered merchandise, etc., for Virginia to go duty free; May 11, granted a more ample charter to the E. I. Co.; May 23, granted a more ample charter to the South Va. Co., and in October encouraged the formation of a company to trade with France; May 2, 1610, granted a charter to the N. Fld. Co. In 1611 the new translation of the Bible was dedicated to him (read ‘The Epistle Dedicatory’). March 12, 1612, granted a third charter with increased privileges to the Va. Co.; July 26, 1612, granted a charter to the N. W. P. Co.; March 29, 1613, granted a charter to the Irish Society of London for settling plantations at Londonderry, etc.; March 30, 1613, granted a more ample charter to the Rus. Co.; August 28, 1613, granted a charter for an English plantation in Guiana, South America; June 29, 1615, granted a charter to the B. I. Co.; August 26, 1616, license to Sir Walter Ralegh to make a voyage to South America; November 16, 1618, granted a charter for trading to Africa; November 3, 1620, granted a charter to the New England Colony; December 31, 1622, granted a charter for a plantation in Avalon (Newfoundland). In the factions of the Va. Co. of London, he favored the merchant party, as ‘he conceived merchants to be fittest, for the management of such undertakings, because of their experience and skill in staple commodities,’ etc. I believe that he showed good judgment in this opinion, as well as in the selection of the men whom he proposed to the company for the offices of treasurer and deputy. He was a constant friend to the colonies. He agreed to the treaty for the Spanish marriage in July, 1623; broke off the treaty in December following, and declared war on Spain, March 10, 1624; June 16, 1624, the ‘charter of the company of English Merchants trading to Virginia’ was declared by Chief Justice Lee to be null and void, and the colony was taken immediately under the protection of the crown. He died at Theobald’s March 27, 1625, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

“King James was a human being; he had faults. It is said that he swore like a trooper, hunted with hounds, hated war, and did many things which he ought not to have done; but he had some good qualities also, he loved books, literature, arts, and peace. I believe that he loved his country, and to the best of his ability and judgment tried to maintain the English Church, to preserve peace, and to advance the English nation by increasing trades and traffics, by encouraging merchants, commerce, colonization, and discoveries. But the king of England was of ‘the bare-Iegged Scottish nation from over the border,’ and this was ‘the bitter pill’ to many Englishmen.

“War had been almost the only profession of princes, and it still had advocates, but under his peaceful policy the colonies in America and the commerce of East India were established. The corner-stone of the present prosperity of the united kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was laid. The onward march of the English-speaking people over the face of the earth began. It may be that he has found but few friends among the historians of America, yet I am sure that America has more cause to bless him than to blame him.

“He has been condemned for the part taken by him in the annual elections of the Va. Co. of London during 1620–24; and for the character of the men recommended by him as suitable for officers of that company; yet his active interest in these affairs make evident his especial and personal interest in the success of the movement, and those recommended by him as suitable for officers were certainly thoroughly qualified business men, as their sketches in this Dictionary will prove. He is also condemned for appointing the commissions of May 9, 1623, and of June 24, 1624, and for the tasks assigned to them; but it must now be conceded that these acts were necessary. Both commissions are given in Hazard’s ‘Historical Collections,’ vol. i. pp. 155–159 and 183–188. At the head of the first was Sir William Jones, one of the justices of the Court of Common Pleas, a distinguished lawyer, author of first Jones’s Reports, 18 James I. to 17 Charles I.; and under him were Sir Nicholas Fortescue, Sir Francis Gofton, Sir Richard Sutton, Sir William Pitt, Sir Henry Bouchier, and Sir Henry Spiller, all either auditors or officers of the exchequer, especially qualified for the work in hand, and all of them disinterested; none of them were members of the Va. Co., or of either faction thereof. After examining the case thoroughly they made their report, which justified Chief Justice James Ley (or Lee) (afterwards Earl of Marlborough) in declaring the charter, on June 16, 1624, thenceforth null and void. And every man, appointed by the Privy Council on the commission of June 14 (and July 15) 1624, ‘for the well-settling of the colony of Virginia,’ was an earnest friend of the object in view, as their sketches in this Dictionary amply demonstrate.

“With our present knowledge of the case, the constant care of James I. for his American colonies is evident. It is proven by the records, by the royal charters, orders, commissions, etc., as well as by the remaining contemporary evidence compiled by the different factions in the company. It is true, the Sandys party did not agree with him in thinking merchants (especially those of the E. I. Co.) the best managers for such an enterprise, and that they differed with him in several other particulars; but I cannot find that even this faction ever called in question, during his life, his good will for the enterprise, or his honesty of purpose, and in their discourse to the Privy Council, after his death, in the spring of 1625, they wrote, ‘Amongst the many glorious workes of the late Kinge, there was none more eminent, than his gracious inclination, together with ye propagation of Christian Religion, to advance and sett forward a New Plantation in the New World, which purpose of his continued till the last.’

“His race is probably extinct in the male line; but continues to rule a great part of the world in the female lines. Among his descendants are to be found the names of almost all the reigning princes of Europe: the Queen of England; the Czar of Russia; the emperors of Germany and Austria; the kings of Spain, Italy, Denmark, etc. (See London ‘Notes and Queries,’ 6 ser. xii. pp. 251, 252.)”

(Brown II:1026–27)


another portrait of James I and further discussion of Jacobean geopolitics in the GALLERY exhibit on the Velasco Map of 1610/11

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a portrait print of James I (with his queen, Anne of Denmark) in the GALLERY exhibit on royalist psychological portraiture

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an IN BRIEF biography of Sir Robert Cecil, James I’s powerful secretary of state, master of the wards, and lord treasurer

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an IN BRIEF biography of James I’s eldest son, the immensely popular and precocious Prince Henry

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an IN BRIEF biography of Prince Henry’s “great Favorite,” Sir Walter Ralegh, about whom Henry once said, “No one but my father would keep such a bird in a cage”

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an IN BRIEF biography of Count de Gondomar, Spanish ambassador to the court of James I from 1613–1618 — the brilliant courtier and diplomat who could “play upon [James I] as on an instrument”

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