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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51

James I. (1603-1625)

James I. (1603-1625).

James I., son of Mary, Queen of Scots, great grandson of Margaret, daughter of Henry VII. succeeded Elizabeth, the last of the Tudors.

"The Stuarts," it has been said, "might be pardoned their bad hearts for their worse brains;" but that is only a partial excuse for their wickedness. Their folly was no doubt great, but their natural depravity was very much greater. The British Solomon in particular was a choice specimen of every royal vice. Two years before James's decease, Count Tillières, the French ambassador, thus wrote of "the wisest fool in Christendom: "—"The king will have no man about him of condition, intellect, or judgment, but little people who defer to him in everything, who praise his vices as others praise virtues, and who calumniate all men of honour and virtue. He hates such mortally, thinking that they defame and dispraise him; he would fain avoid the sight of them because he thinks their countenances reproach him for his abominable and scandalous life." "At Newmarket," Tillières adds, "he (the king) leads a life to which past and present times present no parallel." "Unhappy people," he continues "to have such a king, who seeketh nothing but to impoverish them to enrich his favourites, and who careth not what cometh after his death."

Even Tillières, who was by no means squeamish, declines to record some of the unnatural crimes in which James I. is known to have indulged, and they cannot even be hinted at in page 54 these pages. The debauchery of the Court was worse than pagan. Secret murders were perpetrated, and the murderers, as in the case of the Earl and Countess of Somerset, continued to enjoy the royal favour. Mrs. Turner, who was executed vice that worthy couple for the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury, wondered that the earth did not open to swallow up so wicked a place. It is by no means improbable that James himself was an accomplice in the crime. Of his Court it has been truly recorded: "Impiety the most cynical, debauchery the most unveiled, public and unpunished homicide, private murders by what was called magic, by poison, by hired assassins, crimes natural, unnatural and preternatural were the common characteristics." James held that he was absolutely above the law: consequently he was not accountable to any earthly tribunal.

In a work on "The True Law of Free Monarchy," he had laid it down that "although a good king will frame his actions, to be according to law, yet he is not bound thereto, but of his own will and example-giving to his subjects." By a free monarchy James simply meant a state in which the people were to have no freedom whatever, and it was the logical application of this theory that brought his son's head to the block. "As it is atheism and blasphemy," he said, "to dispute what God can do, so it is a presumption and a high contempt in a subject to dispute what a king can do, or to say that a king cannot do this or that."

By his favourite maxim, "No bishop, no king," he meant that episcopal succession and hereditary regal succession were the only true foundations of Church and State—a doctrine received by the prelates with the greatest acceptance. They declared, at the celebrated Hampton Court Conference with the Puritan divines that this notable discovery of the British Solomon had been directly inspired by the Holy Ghost! The University of Oxford, not to be distanced in loyalty, decreed that "it was in no case lawful for subjects to make use of force against their princes, or to appear offensively or defensively against them." Queen Elizabeth did a good deal to "tune the pulpits;" but James went much farther. He laid it down that kings might "make what liked them law and gospel."

In pursuance of this comprehensive claim, he dismissed page 55 Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke, because he refused to administer the law illegally. He peremptorily ordered parliament to abstain from the discussion of certain "mysteries" of kingcraft beyond their province; and when hon. members said their say, notwithstanding, he sent for the journals of the House, and tore out the record of the proceedings with his own hand. "I will govern," he said, "according to the common weal, but not according to the common will." By "kingcraft" James simply meant comprehensive lying.

Even in the time of Nero, if a State prisoner died before conviction, his family did not suffer loss of the dead man's goods. But James improved on this unsatisfactory state of things. He caused corpses to be produced in court and convicted in order to secure escheat of estates to the Crown.

If he could not reach those who had offended him in one way, he did it in another. A half-crazed Scotsman—Thomas Ross—stuck a silly lampoon on his countrymen on the door of a college in Oxford. James could not get him adequately punished in England, so he sent him to his Privy Council in Edinburgh, who, to please their master, first caused the offender's right hand to be struck off, and then his head.

Yet at this critical moment, when the royal terror daunted all but the bravest spirits, the seeds of liberty were being silently sown. Hereditary kingcraft and episcopal priestcraft could not be imposed without challenge on a people politically convinced that taxation imposed without the consent of parliament is illegal; on a people with an open Bible teaching them that royalty was originally granted by the Almighty under a solemn protest and warning; on Christian men daily reading in their New Testaments, "The princes of the Gentiles bear dominion over them, and their great ones exercise authority upon them, but among you it shall not be so. He that would be the greatest among you let him be the least, let him be the servant of all." Among a really Christian people it is not too much to say that a king could not possiby exist. It is noteworthy that when Christ had occasion to allude to King Herod he described him, not as His Gracious Majesty, but as "that fox."

Even in James I. 's time the storm-clouds of revolution were visibly gathering. In his parliaments of 1614 and 1621 the Pyms, Eliots, and Wentworths—that matchless race of page 56 heroes—began to make their appearance in the House. But as usual, the sins of the father were visited, not on the father, James I., but on the son, Charles I. James died in bed, and Charles laid his head on the block.