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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 29.djvu/176

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James I
of England

fines from the wealthiest of the catholic laity, and early in 1605, being annoyed by learning that the pope had taken his loose talk about a reunion of the churches to signify a desire of personal conversion, replied, announcing on 10 Feb. his intention to execute the whole of the recusancy laws.

Long before this severe measure was taken there had grown up in the minds of certain catholics a design to destroy the king and his young sons, by blowing them up with the Houses of Lords and Commons when parliament was next opened [see Fawkes, Guy ]. Gunpowder plot, as it was called, was revealed to the council on 26 Oct. 1605, and on 3 Nov. the ministers, in informing James of their discovery, took care to allow him to pride himself on being the first to penetrate the secret. In 1606 parliament retaliated by a recusancy act of increased severity, though its operation was intended to be modified by a new oath of allegiance, which was to make a distinction in favour of such catholics as refused to uphold the power of deposing kings, said to be inherent in the papacy.

The bringing forward of an oath of allegiance at a time of general exasperation with the catholics was the outcome of the conciliatory tendencies of James's mind. In the same spirit he refused to ratify a collection of canons drawn up by convocation in 1606, in which the doctrine of non-resistance was taught, on the ground that obedience was due to the king actually in possession (Bishop Overall, Convocation Book). To this James objected, not merely on the ground that hereditary right was a better basis of authority than actual possession, but because he denied that tyranny could ever exist by the appointment of God. Although ideas so completely out of accord with all the fanaticisms of the day could never be popular, yet, in this very session of 1606, a rumour that James had been murdered called forth, as soon as it proved to be false, an outburst of enthusiasm in the House of Commons, which took visible form in the grant of a supply of money.

It was not, however, only by living in an intellectual world of his own that James failed to gain a hold on the hearts of Englishmen. The riotous profusion of his court gave wide offence. In July 1606, when his brother-in-law, Christian IV of Denmark, visited him, ladies who were to act in a dramatic performance before the two kings were too drunk to play their parts, and the offence was left uncorrected. His own life was a double one. He liked the company of the learned, who could discuss with him questions of theology and of ecclesiastical politics, but he also liked the boon companionship of the hunting-field; and though his own life was pure, and his own head, according to his physician's report (Mayerne, Diary), too hard to be affected by wine, he himself indulged in coarse language, and took no pains to avoid the society of evil-livers.

James's anxiety to pursue the work of assimilation between Scotland and England now led him to continue his work of reducing the independence of the Scottish clergy. For some years after his appointment in Scotland of bishops without jurisdiction he had apparently abandoned all attempts to bring the ministers under a real episcopacy, and after his removal to England had contented himself with prohibiting the meetings of general assemblies. Against this the more active clergy rebelled, and on 2 July 1605 nineteen ministers met at Aberdeen and declared themselves a lawful assembly, though they prorogued themselves to September. James forbade the meeting, and ordered the prosecution of the leading ministers who had been present at Aberdeen, and who subsequently declined to submit to the judgment of a civil court. In 1606 six ministers, after a trial in which every species of unfairness was practised, had a verdict recorded against them, and were sent into perpetual banishment, while eight others were placed in confinement. Towards the end of 1606 James, summoning to Linlithgow a body of ministers nominated by himself, obtained from them the concession that the presbyteries and synods should always have a ‘constant moderator,’ instead of appointing one at each meeting. As the existing bishops were elected as moderators of the presbyteries in which they resided, men got in the habit of seeing them in places of authority, though no formal inroad on the presbyterian system had been made. James owed his success in part to the influence which he had gained over the Scottish nobility by his removal to England. On the one hand, it was no longer in their power to capture him, while, on the other, he had pensions and estates to give away to their younger sons.

James also attempted to bring about a political union between the two countries. He learnt, however, that English prejudice was against the complete union which he would have preferred, and in 1606–7, during the third session of his first parliament, he contented himself with asking for four concessions, of which the two most important were freedom of trade between the two countries, and the naturalisation of Scotsmen in England and of Englishmen in Scotland. On both these the House of Commons proved obdurate, and in 1608 James obtained from