In 1618 Raleigh returned from Guiana. Not only had he completely failed in the object of his search, but his men had burnt a Spanish village. Gondomar complained, and James ordered an inquiry into Raleigh's conduct. There were legal difficulties in the way of bringing Raleigh to a formal trial, but it was possible to accuse him in public and to allow him to answer in his defence. James, however, preferred to send him to the block on the old sentence of 1603, because he feared lest Raleigh should denounce him as an accomplice of Spain [see Raleigh, Sir Walter].
James's project for a Spanish alliance was by this time at a standstill. What the Spaniards wanted was to secure the conversion of England, and when, in May 1618, Digby returned to England, he brought information that Philip was ready to give a marriage portion of 600,000l., on condition that James would promise, among other things, to obtain an act of parliament repealing all laws against the catholics. James neither could nor would do this, though he was prepared to promise to do everything in his own power to alleviate their lot. On 15 July Gondomar left for Spain.
The higher side of this unhappy marriage treaty lay in James's desire to maintain peace with all nations on terms equitable to all alike. In the spring of 1618 he issued a little book named ‘The Peacemaker,’ much of which, as far as may be judged by its style, was written by Andrewes, some perhaps by Bacon, some by James himself. It was the manifesto of a king who preferred peace to war.
In the course of 1618, besides questioning Raleigh and discussing the Spanish proposals with Gondomar, James was engaged in removing the influence of the Howards from his domestic administration. During this and the following year one Howard after another was, on one pretext or another, deprived of office, the result being that all power was practically accumulated in the person of Buckingham. The change was, no doubt, accompanied by a series of administrative and financial reforms, conducted mainly by Lionel Cranfield [q. v.], afterwards lord treasurer and earl of Middlesex. For the first time in James's reign his receipts nearly balanced his expenditure.
About the same time James became involved in difficulties connected with the outbreak of a revolution in Bohemia, which proved to be the opening scene of the thirty years' war. His attitude towards the contending parties was that of a man sincerely desirous of peace, and hopeful of conciliating adverse interests by a cheap profession of general principles, without real knowledge of the characters of men or of the forces by which his contemporaries were swayed. In September he accepted the office of mediator between the Bohemians and their king, the Emperor Matthias, at the request of the Spanish government—a request which was made in the hope that England would thereby be kept from giving material aid to the Bohemians. James was thus attracted to the side of Spain, and continued to think the Spanish marriage desirable. In January 1619 he threw cold water on the schemes of his son-in-law, Frederick, the elector palatine, for raising a general conflagration in Germany, informing the elector's ambassador, Christopher Dohna, that though he was ready to assist his son-in-law and the other princes of the union in defending themselves against attack, he would not support aggression. In February he despatched Doncaster [see Hay, James, Earl of Carlisle] to Germany to mediate on his behalf, and in April he rejected a proposal made through De Plessen, one of Frederick's agents, that he should support a plan for giving Bohemia to Charles Emmanuel, duke of Savoy, and for procuring for him the imperial crown in succession to Matthias, who had recently died.
On 2 March 1618–19 the queen died [see Anne of Denmark]. The difference of religion between the pair after Anne became a Roman catholic had for some years been a bar to any close intercourse of affection, and when the queen died James was lying ill at Newmarket. At one time he was thought to be dying, but by the middle of April he was well enough to be moved to Theobalds, and on 1 June appeared in London, where his popularity was still sufficient to gather unusual crowds to attend a thanksgiving sermon at Paul's Cross. The Banqueting House at Whitehall, completed in this year by Inigo Jones, was the unfinished beginning of a great palace which James hoped to complete.
For the moment all looked hopeful. Spain and France were, in outward show, bidding for his help, and he could flatter himself that his influence was at least strong enough to restrain the ambition of his son-in-law. But in July 1619 James found that not only was Frederick drifting towards interference in Bohemia, but that his own ambassador, Doncaster, approved of Frederick's vague hopes and plans. James refused to countenance these proceedings, but it was not long before he learnt that his optimistic hopes of the restoration of peace in Bohemia were unlikely to be realised. Ferdinand of Styria, a bigoted