James VI of Scotland and
James I of England.
It is ironic that
in 1603 James VI of Scotland succeeded to the English
throne and became James I of England.
Thus a Scotsman ruled three independent nations
(England, Ireland and Scotland ; Wales being subject to
English law by an Act of Union in 1536) which were not
united politically until 1707. James had a London power
base that facilitated cronyism and the self-seeking
interests of an essentially English court
which made the problems in Scotland worse. He made
some effort to share out posts equitably on a rough ratio
of four in ten going to Scots. But there was always an
undercurrent of mistrust and jealousy by the English over
trade, as well as James’ own idealistic views and
ambitions. The King’s position as head of both State and
the Episcopal Church of England impacted his policies
against religious non-conformity in England, Scotland,
and, to a lesser extent, in Ireland.
Queen Elizabeth I died on 24
March 1603 and James arrived in London for his coronation
as King James I of England on May 3.
But even so he could not arrive without some
controversy due to his having ordered the execution of a
thief in Newark without trial. This drew a sarcastic
a courtier, Sir John Harrington,
“ Now if the wind bloweth thus, why not a man be
tried before he hath offended ?.”
James soon showed that he came to teach that
resisting the royal wish was to oppose Divine will, and
that he was as indisputable as God.
Foremost now in Scotland was his drive to have a
common or uniform church, as he had in England, with
himself as supreme head of both church and state.
the Hampton Court Conference in 1604 James ominously said
of the English Puritans, who were quite similar to
Presbyterians in those days:
I shall make them conform themselves, or else
James’ boast at the opening of the English Parliament in
1607 grossly underestimated the Scottish people.
I may say for Scotland, and may truly vaunt it; here I sit
and govern it with my pen; I write and it is done, and by
a Clerk of the Council I govern Scotland now, which others
could not do with the sword.
By then he had been King of Scotland, infant, boy, and
man, for forty years and should have known better. It is
true that Scotland had been dragged from its slumber and
was enjoying a better economic climate. Trade with England
was less restricted, and movement of people between
Scotland and London also prompted new ideas and methods
for industry and agriculture . But for the Presbyterians
it was a transient thing, their hopes and aspirations for
a religious settlement were soon trampled under foot. The
belief that a remote Privy Council in Scotland was all
that was needed for King James and his successors to issue
their orders to merely created the environment for
despotism by compliant appointees in positions of
The legal position of
Episcopacy chopped and changed greatly over the remaining
years of the Reformation with the Stuart Kings imposing it
by stealth and ultimately by force, and latterly the Covenanters
rejecting it and suffering for their beliefs. James
continued to practice his `kingcraft` in Scotland
and by non violent means secured his objective of
installing episcopacy in the Kirk. The violence in his reign was
constrained mainly to the `fire and sword` ordered
to be taken against Clan MacGregor , and the action
against the Border Reivers. In the latter the application
of `Jeddart Justice` ( hang them first and ask
questions afterwards) soon ended border raids, and many of
the troublemaking families were transported to the
province of Connacht in the west of Ireland.
The story of the Reformation continues with
increasing pressure from the king to install the bishops. At first there was a honeymoon period with a gradual intrusion into the Presbyterian structure such as the requirement for the kings permission to hold General Assemblies, and the appointment of `constant moderators`. From about 1610 a tougher line reinforced the kings will and resulted in the bishops becoming established, admitted as members of the Estates of Parliament, consecrated, and fulfilling the full range of ecclesiastical duties. By the end of his reign (1625) James had replaced the mechanics of the Presbyterian church by episcopacy and reinforced the role of the bishops.
It was in the reign of his son, Charles I, that the second tranche of reforms – to the liturgy and ceremonies of the church, took place. These changes were highly visible to the common man and led to the resistance, and ultimately the persecution, of non
conforming Presbyterians and the Covenanters in the years following the National Covenant of 1638.