Posted on

An introduction to James VI and I

On 19th June, 1566, King James I was born to Mary Queen of Scots and Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.  Only a year later, the family’s residence was destroyed in an explosion, with Lord Darnley found murdered in his garden.

Two months after the incident, Mary Queen of Scots married the fourth Earl of Bothwell James Hepburn, who was widely believed to have orchestrated the murder of her late husband.

The Scottish people were so moved by the idea that they staged an uprising and the queen was imprisoned in the Loch Leven Castle. She was forced to abdicate the throne in favour of her one-year-old son.

The child was crowned James VI of Scots in July 1567 at the Stirling Castle.

After the death of Queen Elizabeth I, James VI ascended the throne of England and Ireland on the 25th July, 1603 at Westminster Abbey.

He ruled for 20 years, until his death on 27th March 1625 at age 58.

King James VI and I: The skilled yet contentious writer and literary advocate

King James was viewed, both at the time and now, as a genuine intellectual, a man of letters, with a particular penchant for theology. In 1597 – 1599, he wrote both The True Law of Free Monarchies and Basilikon Doron (Royal Gift), in which he outlined a political theory on the divine right of kings. In the True Law of Free Monarchies he presented his beliefs and reasoning as to why monarchs are higher beings and presented an absolutist idea of monarchy. Louise XIV of France (1643-1715) also promoted this same theory of absolutism; the genesis of these ideas goes further back to early Mesopotamia and Dravidian culture.

King James was also responsible for the landmark translation of the Bible, which was subsequently named the King James Bible with the first edition surfacing circa 1611. During his reign, we also witness The Pilgrim Fathers’, the first English puritans voyage to America in the Mayflower at around 1620.

He aspired to literary fame, translating with ease the French poet Salluste de Bartas and the Psalms of David into English doggerel. Known for championing Scottish literary, poetry and music, James furthered these fields when he ascended the English throne in 1603.

His role as active literary participant and patron made him a defining figure in many respects for English Renaissance poetry and drama, which reached its zenith during his reign.

Treachery, Progress and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605

King James’ life was filled with attempts on his life, paranoia and, even by modern standards, high drama. In 1582, at the young age of 16, he was kidnapped by conspirators led by William Ruthven, Earl of Gowrie and held prisoner in Ruthven Castle.

He escaped the following year, and William Ruthven was put to death for his efforts. By 1600, the King believed the new Earl of Gowrie and his brother had renewed sinister machinations on his life, with more potential assassination plots to play out, the two Ruthvens were killed pre-emptively.

Nevertheless, despite a dysfunctional upbringing and constant emotional upheaval, he had managed to run Scotland by trying to add some middle-ground between the Catholics and Protestants. Refusing to persecute the Catholics, he was able to keep the Presbyterian Kirk on a proverbial leash whilst simultaneously collecting a handsome allowance from Elizabeth I in England.

His ascension to the throne in England was diametrically opposed to his rule in Scotland. On his arrival in England, the ever-increasing expensive War with Spain had halted, the situation in Ireland had also settled down. However, the new King had found himself short of money; naturally, Parliament opposed him on his demands for assistance.

The Parliament of the day had taken umbrage to his ideals of royal predominance and his inherent favouritism towards the Scots. The government found itself at an impasse with the new King on many levels, mainly due to his general proclivities and overall outlook, what would be simply called today “incompatible ideologies.”

In many ways, King James was more the intellectual than an astute or pragmatic sovereign. This is best exemplified in his foreign affairs and continued opposition to the war. His default-setting was that of peace, taking pride in expounding the ideas of pacification than imperialism.

He again came under attack for appeasing or conciliating Spain after the outbreak of the thirty years War, in 1618, between the Catholics and Protestants. This was seen as a myopic continuation of his laissez-faire behaviour.

In sum, it seemed as though the king was fixated on being the embodiment of divine rule, however, had not done enough to factor in or win the respect of his subjects and Parliament. In that sense, he was a walking contradiction, who always chose theory over practice, perhaps even careless and short-sighted in his quid-pro-quo requests to Parliament.

The following (verbatim extract) primary source delivered by James to Parliament on the 21st March 1610, epitomizes his views if not attitude. From this source one can see why Parliament struggled to work in tandem with him, or why they perhaps, more accurately, held reservations to his modus operandi.

“The state of Monarchy is the supremist thing upon earth; for kings are not only God’s lieutenants upon earth, and sit upon Gods throne – Kings are justly called Gods for that they exercise a manner or resemblance of divine power on earth.”

Albeit eleven years later, The Commons did respond, find below ‘The Commons Protestation’ 18th December 1621. This source is a response to James forbidding the Commons to ‘meddle with anything concerning our government or deep matters of state’ and that ‘we think ourselves very free and able to punish any man’s misdemeanour in Parliament’ The Parliament retort to his ecclesiastical threats, is as follows:

“That the liberties, franchises, privileges and jurisdictions of Parliament are the ancient and undoubted birthright and inheritance of the subjects of England –Every member of the House of Commons hath, and of right ought to have, freedom of speech to propound, treat, reason and bring to a conclusion the same.”

The Coinage of King James VI AND I

Insofar as numismatics, King James’ English coins were separated into three sections; first coinage (1603-5), second coinage (1604-19) and the third coinage (1619-24)*. Within this, there are several busts in place, legend inscriptions and mintmarks indicating the year range of issue.

King James has always been a popular monarch to collect, not least, as he is the first Stuart King. His gold hammered series are especially attractive and elaborate containing a variety of designs and motifs, as seen in the second coinage Ship Ryal of fifteen shillings and the later third coinage Spur-Ryal with facing lion.

We also have on offer an impressive James I Rose Ryal of thirty shillings, second coinage hammered fine gold piece, struck between 1606-1607, mintmark Escallop. These coins were struck in 23-carat gold, an arresting coin depicting the King enthroned in all of his royal regalia, a splendid example for the discerning House of Stuart enthusiast.

The Rose Ryal of James I was the Stuart equivalent of the late Tudor sovereign, appearing in his second coinage, introduced in 1604. According to the work of Lord Stewartby there are five obverse dies A-E and a further eleven reverse dies A – K. The obverse dies generally can be worked out to where the sceptre points, the reverse dies from the relation of the sepals of the Rose to legend lettering. Our piece appears to be Stewartby dies A + E.

James I (1603-25), Rose Ryal, second coinage, 1604-19, initial mark escallop (1606-7), king crowned seated on elaborate throne, holding orb and sceptre, portcullis below feet, two pillars either side, beaded


J. J. North – ‘English Hammered Coinage’ Volume II, Spink & Son 1991

S. J. Houston – ‘James I – Seminar Studies in History’ Longman, 1973

J. Rushwoth – ed, Historical Collections of Private Passages of state (8 Vols, London, 1659-1701), I, 53, pp 279-288

Lord Stewartby ‘Rose Ryals of James I 1605-17’, British Numismatic Journal 71 (2001) pp 87-90

Further reading ‘The English Silver Coins of James’ H.W Morrieson – BNJ. 1907 – pp165-178

*Broadly speaking Coins can be split into different coinages, this normally helped separate and segregate certain denominations, bust styles and portrait types, initial marks and legend inscriptions. It also helped separate new or equivalent denominations. In relation to James I, a good example is as follows; the fine Gold Unite of twenty-shillings that appeared in his second coinage, was replaced subsequently by a lighter twenty-shilling coin, the Laurel, in 1619 as part of the newer Third coinage. The Third coinage marks this sequential transition, a logical way of marking change, perhaps.

Contact us

Tel: +44 (0)20 7930 6879


Receive updates on our latest coins & medals and be the first to hear about our special offers.

Follow Us

Follow us on social media for
unmissable posts and updates…