Monday, 5 January 2009

James as a politician

James was, despite his grand political mistake of preaching DRK on a regular basis, was an able and skillful politician. Even before his coronation, James had been cautious to lavish favour on neither Protestant nor Catholic causes. By doing this, James kept both sides believing that James would favour them when he was crowned. Even when he was king, he threw caution to the wind as regards keeping both religious divisions happy. He did this by marrying his daughter Elizabeth to a protestant: Frederick V, Elector Palatine. He also married his son Charles to a catholic: Henrietta Maria of France. In the completion of these marriages, James managed to keep a foot in both camps, as it were, and stay on course to attain his legacy as "Rex Pacificus". Unfortunately, James' marriage alliances would get him into much unforseen trouble: the first issue unfolded when James' son-in-law Frederick accepted the leadership of the Protestant Alliance, an offer James had already recieved and rejected for the purposes of remaining a mediator. Having accepted this and after Protestant Bohemian estates had rebelled against King Ferdinand II and invited Frederick to be the new king, he accepted that also, against the wishes of James. Fredericks kingship especially in the wake of the overthrowing of the Roman Catholic Ferdinand angered the Holy Roman Empire. The result was, unfortunately for James, an offensive launched against Bohemia and Palatine by the Holy Roman Empire. James was left with a dilemma, he could agree to send troops and anger catholic countries or he could refrain from sending troops and refuse help to his son-in-law and daughter. Furthermore, parliament were pushing for troops to be sent but were unwilling to grant the subsidies required to send the troops. James eventually helped by subsidising foreign protestant troops. His mediation skills were impressive though. He managed to mediate several agreements to avoid conflicts such as the Cleves-Julich affair in 1614. Through this, he managed to delay the thirty years war several times. Many times James demonstrated his abilities as a mediator. He chaired successful conferences such as that of Hampton Court and successfully made peace with Spain with good terms for England.
James, however, never had a brilliant relationship with his parliaments and there were frequent squabbles over prerogatives. James often encroached on parliaments prerogatives and vice versa. Although, to his credit, James did his best to avoid conflict such as the election altercation early in his reign.
James was a skilled politician and did much to aid England's cause with the best intentions, yet in a society where war was glory and James was percieved as a coward, he wasn't acknowledged for anything more than the negotiator of traiterous treaties (Treaty of London) and a pure coward for his avoision and aversion to war.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

James I and his ideologies

As has already been mentioned in the previous post; James I had a passionate dislike for war and conflict. This ideology was instilled in him through the bloodshed he could not have failed to witness throughout his childhood in Scotland from the very tender age of 13 months when he took over the Scottish throne. Scotland was a society very much different from that of England. The relative civilisation in England contrasted to the terratorial rule of clans in Scotland. Owing to his experience of rule in Scotland, James saw fit to publish two books. The first book, published in 1598 was entitled: The Trew Law of Free Monarchies: The Reciprock and mutuall duetie betwixt a free king and his naturall subjects. A mouthful: definately; uncontroversial: certainly not. In the book, James laid bare his ideas that would later provide a vital provocative entity in the commencement of the English Civil War: the notion of the "Divine Right of Kings" (hereafter to be shortened to DRK).
The idea of DRK was that the king had a right to be king that was granted by God. The king was, essentially, God's earthly representative. The obvious problem to evolve from this was that whatever the king said was, to all intents and purposes, the word of God. Whosoever should dare contradict the monarch would be contradicting God. That was a no-go in 17th century England.
The second book: Basilikon Doron was divided into three sections and was given, firstly to Prince Henry, James' eldest son. After Henry's death in 1612, James passed it on to Charles who was to become Charles I. Basilikon Doron was a book about, in its most basic element, how to be a king. It went into tremendous detail about items as trivial as eating meat so as to be strong for war and travelling and keeping in fine condition as regards hair and nails. Yet again, however, was present James rhetoric: DRK. It preached the kings rights to the point of absolutism.
Whilst in a Scotland scarred by clans and factions and uncivillised groups, this brand of kingship was perfectly accepted as being in keeping with the need to govern with an iron fist; in England, James applied the same ideology. This was a mistake. James continuously preached about his rights throughout his reign: much to the displeasure of the commons. James believed so strongly in his prerogatives divinely granted that he encroached at times into the prerogatives of parliament such as in the Bates case, although James was very canny about such matters.
James' ideologies in Scotland made him an effective ruler. Yet his lack of ammendment to the ideologies on his ascension to the English throne made him unpopular and seem like an absolute ruler who undermined parliament. He refused to hear his parliaments' grievances on a regular basis due to how he held them in contempt at times. There is, however, no denying that James' advisors such as those he inherited from Elizabeth like Robert Cecil, were poor advisors to say the least. They did not instruct him on the dangers of what he was doing. With experience such as that of Cecil as to the workings of English politics, one would have thought that he would have made recommendations to change. Yet he didn't and this is a failure of James' advisors and not of the king himself. James' ideologies were not unconsidered and they had worked in Scotland, had he been better briefed on English politics then he may have made the changes required to become better thought of as a just monarch (which he preached the importance of in Basilikon Doron) as opposed to a tyrannical and absolutist dictator.

James I as a person

James was, plainly, a remarkably uninspiring king. He was neither strong nor had a commanding presence but was frail and relatively weak. His tongue was too large for his mouth that caused problems when banqueting as he would have a tendency to dribble. This is not, it must be concurred, a perfect template of a sovereign especially in 17th century Europe. James also posessed the most vulgar of manners, he would swear and curse and even exposed his rear quarters to his subjects when riding in his carriage.

Despite these faults; James was a modernising and progressive-thinking monarch. Having seen so many of his close friends and relatives murdered when he was growing up, James harboured a dislike for bloodshed and war. He did not believe war was a path to glory and honour. He was also a skilled mediator and saw himself almost akin to a keystone in the bridge of Europe: Rex Pacificus (King of Peace). Naturally in a bloodthirsty post-Elizabethan society, he was viewed as a coward. Yet his skill at mediation and his desire for peace was a powerful force for good when maximised to its full potential.

James as a character had a mixture of good and bad in him, there is no better illustration of this than in the Treaty of London (1604) when he met with Spanish reprasentatives and managed to negotiate a superb deal for England only to nearly jeopardise it all by losing his temper and shouting and cursing directly to a group of representatives. His character was changeable, he could make up for his uninspiring physique with his mental sharpness, yet a vulgar and base streak in his character could potentially undermine his "good points".