24 March 1603: the union of the Scottish and English crowns

After ruling England for 44-and-a-bit years, Queen Elizabeth I died childless in the early hours of the morning on this day in 1603. Within eight hours, her successor was named. James VI of Scotland, her first cousin twice removed, would become James I of England.

Not only did this mark the end of the Tudor era and the start of the Stuart dynasty, it meant that the crowns of the kingdoms of Scotland and England were now united.

James was a pragmatic choice, and despite having the disadvantage of being Scottish, he had the benefit of not being a Roman Catholic.

Technically, James had been King of Scotland since he was one year old. He had enjoyed a relatively stable reign in a fairly turbulent country – subduing troublesome highlanders and quelling restless elements of the Church of Scotland. In fact, he thought he was so good at being king that in 1598 he wrote a book about it: The True Law of Free Monarchies, or The Reciprocal and Mutual Duty Betwixt a Free King and His Natural Subjects.

He didn’t have completely free ride when he got to London, however. He and Parliament disagreed on a few fundamental things. He was quite keen on the divine right of kings, for example, which Parliament took a dim view of. He was also keen on a ‘perfect union’ of the two kingdoms – to include parliaments, legal systems and economies. Parliament didn’t fancy that, either. And he wanted to style himself ‘King of Great Britain’. Parliament wouldn’t allow it, but he did it anyway.

In the end, he turned out to be quite a popular king. True, there was the little matter of Guy Fawkes trying to blow him up. But that just seemed to endear him to the protestant English.

And he not only created the Union Jack – or at least an early version of it – he may also have given it its name. Some people – including the UK parliament – claim its name is derived from Jacobus, the Latin for James.

And he commissioned one of the world’s greatest works of writing – the King James Version of the Bible, the language of which has had – and continues to have – a huge influence on our language and literature.

  • Alan Breck

    The “Gunpowder Plot” was NOT directed against the King. On the contrary it was an attempt to destroy Parliament and everyone in it. It was hoped by the conspirators that, with the removal of the institution of Parliament, the “Divine Right” of the Catholic monarch would prevail and ensure a reconciliation with the Vatican, the reversal of the nationalist religious policies instituted by Henry V111 and an end to the persecution of Catholics. If they had wanted to kill James they would have put the gunpowder under the palace!