James I and Charles I: Character, Court and Favourites


The Characters of James I and Charles I

When James became king of England in 1603, he was already an experienced monarch. He had been James VI of Scotland since 1567 (at the age of 13 months), and had effectively been the ruler of that country since he was 17. James was an intellectual, outgoing man who enjoyed debate and dealing with people. Alongside his ability to communicate and engage with people, James was also pragmatic, and these two qualities enabled him for the most part to make the ill-defined English political system work.

Historians stress that Charles I was a very different man and king from his politically astute father. Kevin Sharpe, for example, has commented that he "was in many respects a complete contrast to his father", and Thomas Cogswell referred to Charles as being James' "mirror opposite". Michael B. Young has gone so far as to argue that "it was not just that Charles happened to be the opposite of his father; he consciously set out to make himself the opposite."

Charles I's differences were rooted in his personality. In contrast with his outgoing father, Charles was shy and hampered by a speech efect. Both traits led to his being unapproachable and, more damaging, uncommunicative with Parliament. In governing, his intentions and actions often went unexplained, leaving others to interpret them. Charles had an inferiority complex that made him overstress his prerogative. Because of his insecurity, he had none of James I's political shrewdness or flexibility. He was unwilling to compromise. Charles seemed unable to understand viewpoints that differed from his own and interpreted the slightest hint of criticism as rebellion. He tended to see conspiracies whether they existed or not.

The differing personalities of the monarchs reflected how the monarchs viewed kingship. Both were firm believers in the Divine Right of Kings and defensive of their prerogative. Yet when it came to dealing with the ambiguity of the balance between the royal prerogative and parliamentary privilige in the unwritten constitution, James was pragmatic while Charles was provocative.

Although James had written about the art and theory of kingship (most notably in the book Basilikon Doron in 1599), he was able to distinguish between the theory and practicalities of ruling. James saw himself as the 'peacemaker king' in his foreign policy and he also sought compromise and negotiation with the Political Nation in England while defending his prerogative.

Charles also sought to defend his prerogative, but did so provocatively, partly as a result of his limited self-confidence. He was unwilling to negotiate and the nature of his court increasingly hampered dialogue with the Political Nation, ultimately leading to the undermining of his authority.

How James I's and Charles I's Characters Shaped their Monarchies and Styles of Rule

In the personal monarchy of the Stuart Age, the royal court was the centre of power and the physical manifestation of the character and kingship of the monarch. It was not tied to a specific place: it was wherever the monarch…


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