King James VI (James I)

KING James VI of Scotland, and the 1st of England, made a lasting impression on British and world history. James was born at Edinburgh castle in June 1566 to Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley and ascended to the throne of Scotland when he was just one-year old following his mother's exile.

House of Stewart

James VI was the son of the ill-fated Mary, Queen of Scots and was from the Royal House of Stewart which traces its origins back to Robert the Bruce.When James VI became king in more than name he cultivated good relations with England despite Queen Elizabeth's execution of his mother in 1587. James VI became James I of England following the death of Elizabeth I in 1603. The Union flag was selected by James VI, who styled himself King of Great Britain.

James was considered a learned monarch and wrote many articles and treatise. He is noted for A Counterblast to Tobacco, which he wrote around 1604. In this pamphlet he describes the habit of smoking as "loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking fume thereof nearest resembling the horrible stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless." James also published Daemonologie in 1597, condemning the practice of witchcraft - a subject he was obsessed with at the time.

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Although educated and possessing some intelligence, James was an opinionated, obstinate and imprudent leader who, guided by his belief in the divine right of kings, was often in conflict with the assertive English parliament over financial and foreign policy. James continuously dissolved parliament only to discover his government worsened in its absence.

His reign was often mired in religious disputes, but his attempts to douse the flames often fanned them. Anti-Catholic paranoia in Britain reached fever pitch with the 1605 Gunpowder Plot when Guy Fawkes was apprehended trying to blow up parliament. At the same time Protestants such as the Puritans demanded more toleration for their religious practices. James refused but did authorise the first government-endorsed English translation of the bible in 1611, later called the King James Bible. He did not himself write what remains the best-selling book in the history of English letters.

James was instrumental in establishing British colonies overseas. At his behest the northern part of Ireland was settled by Protestants from Britain, thus sowing the seeds of the current sectarian divide. James also formally established the colony of Virginia in what was to become the US.

King James is also remembered for his love of the arts and his encouragement of them during his reign. James was a patron of English playwright William Shakespeare, whose theatre company became known as the King's Men in his honour.

King James died in 1625 after a period of senility.