James VI: the monarch with a vision for Great Britain

James I of England and James VI of Scotland
On 25th July in 1603, James VI of Scotland was crowned James I of England, inheriting the English crown following the death of his cousin, Elizabeth I. 

James wanted to bring the two countries together and create a Kingdom of Great Britain, but despite his best efforts it would be more than 100 years before the Acts of Union finally merged the parliaments of England and Scotland and created the union. 

James VI became heir to the English throne thanks to the marriage of his great-grandfather, James IV, to Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VII. 

The marriage was a political one that aimed to bring peace between the two nations after years of war, with Henry VII making it clear that the Scottish House of Stuart would never be in line to inherit the throne. 

Over the years the peace was broken many times. In 1513 Henry VIII declared war on France, which responded by invoking its Auld Alliance with Scotland, imploring James to invade Northern England. The Scottish were defeated at the Battle of Flodden and King James was killed.

Henry VIII continued his aggressive stance and invaded Scotland several times, asserting the dominance of England over its neighbour.  

But as Henry VIII's heirs died without producing their own children, the issue of who would sit on the throne became more pressing. After Edward VI and Mary I’s reigns were cut short, Elizabeth I took the throne and ruled for 45 years as the virgin queen. With no children to succeed her, it was felt that only James VI, the son of Elizabeth’s cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, had the appropriate heritage to take the crown. 

As Elizabeth entered her final decade, her ministers opened channels of communication with the Scottish king to discuss the issue of succession. James was warned not to press the issue with the Queen, for fear of upsetting their carefully laid plans. 

When Elizabeth died in 1603, James was immediately declared King of England. Anticipating a backlash from the public or invasion from a foreign power, fortresses across England were put on alert, but his accession passed off peacefully. 

James left Edinburgh on 5 April, promising to return to his Scottish kingdom every three years. The new king travelled slowly through the country, taking more than three months to reach London as he enjoyed the hospitality of lords across the land. 

His coronation took place on 25 July with all of London coming out to enjoy the show, although an outbreak of the plague put a dampener on celebrations. 

After his coronation, James aimed to bring together the nations of England and Scotland and hoped to declare himself the King of Great Britain, but there was little enthusiasm for his plan from the parliaments of both countries and his grand vision wasn't realised during his lifetime.

James enjoyed the pomp and ceremony of his English court too much, and despite his promise of regular visits, he would only return to Scotland once before his death in 1625. 

His son Charles I took the throne, but the century ahead would prove to be a tumultuous one for the House of Stuart as they lost, regained, lost and regained the throne.

Queen Anne was on the throne in 1707 when the parliaments of England and Scotland agreed to come together and James' vision for a united kingdom was finally realised through the Act of Union.

Queen Anne was the last Stuart monarch, and the first ruler of Great Britain. 

Picture credit: James I by John de Critz, available in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons