James I of Scotland, James VI of England
Being the only son of Mary Queen of Scots and the ruler of Scotland since he was thirteen months old seems incredible enough on its own, but James' early childhood years were lonely ones, full of murder and intrigue, and they undoubtedly had a profound effect on him.
He had heard the story of his father's death presumably planned by his mother and executed by her lover who then fled when his complicity was discovered. He knew of his mother's desperate attempt to escape only to be arrested and imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle after abdicating in his favour and he knew she'd been forced to leave him in the care of her half-brother, James Stewart, Earl of Moray, while she had fled to England in the dead of night to escape the consequences. Instead of sanctuary, his mother had found herself spending the last nineteen years of her life in Elizabeth's prison, plotting endlessly for her cousin's murder. Eventually, Elizabeth had had enough. His mother's position as Queen of Scotland had made no difference at all to England when the crime was the attempted assassination of their queen. The expected punishment for treason had been beheading and Elizabeth had not wavered at the end.
In 1603, James' prayers were answered when Queen Elizabeth died in the early hours of 24th March without an heir and he was informed that he would indeed be the next King of England as James I. A month later, eager to start his new life in England, full of wealth and promise, James and his family left Edinburgh for London. With a fervent promise that he would return every three years, James set off on a high adventure. Compared to Scotland, England offered incredible prosperity and he was going to take every advantage of it. That fortune was now his and he had no intention of being parted from it, or the benefits of having it, for any length of time whatsoever.
When the people of England rushed to see their new king as he rode into London, most were shocked. No one had ever called James handsome. He wasn't even close. James had not been able to walk properly until the age of 5. Invariably, he leaned on men's shoulders for assistance and for some reason, his fingers were always embarrassingly fiddling with his codpiece. He was of medium height and weight, but he appeared much larger because he continued to wear bulky clothing, padded to protect him from the daggers of possible assassins. His conversations were usually longwinded and full of lengthy theories mingled with coarse jokes, although few could understand him as his speech was quite garbled with his strong Scottish accent. His protruding tongue seemed too large for his mouth and gave the impression that he ate liquids rather than drank them, slobbering his wine down his chin and onto his clothing. And he liked wine. A lot.
A charming man on the whole.
The timing of his father's death could not have been worse for Charles. There was widespread starvation throughout England at the end of a devastating harvest, inflation was high and parliament was seriously annoyed at seeing the Stuart's use of precious money spent lavishly on themselves and their friends. To top it all off, it was right in the middle of a devastating bout of bubonic plague.
Despite a shaky youth, by the time Charles was twenty-five years old, he had few physical faults. He had become a good horseman and a good shot with a crossbow and a gun. And he was intelligent. Very intelligent. His personality however was something else entirely. He was self-righteous and arrogant and he had an uncanny knack of making wrong decisions. Some said he was his own worst enemy.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I'm sure Charles would have regretted his decision to aggravate the Scots every day of his life. As Charles' power gradually weakened, Oliver Cromwell's grew. Civil war raged and there were too few places left undisturbed by the violence.
It was the Scots who eventually turned him in to Oliver Cromwell which eventually led to what we all remember Charles I for ... his beheading.
With his head held high as a light shower of snow fell from a grey, winter sky, Charles proclaimed his innocence of all charges. There was a shadow in his eyes and his breath was heavy as if a huge weight was bearing down on him. He took a long deep breath, summoning up his courage, then he knelt down, ready to lay his head on the executioner's block. He said a silent prayer then signalled to the executioner with his hand. In the utter silence, his head was severed with one blow and the crowd let out a terrible groan.
In exile across the sea, his eldest son, the future Charles II, went from shock to anger. Eventually he would win his throne back from Cromwell and when he did, the wait would be worth it. Revenge would be all the more sweet for the wait.
After Cromwell's death, Charles could hardly believe his luck when he was handed a letter from General Monck in England requesting that he return to England to reclaim his throne. Exiled and poor, there had been very little Charles could do from Europe so the letter had been a godsend. But from the start he knew it wasn't going to be easy. As always, there were conditions. If he accepted, he had to promise religious tolerance and he knew he could live with that. He had to pay back pay to all English soldiers and with that he had no problem either. But what irked him was that he had to promise a general pardon to any of his and his father's old enemies. that was the clause that made him hesitate. He could however, be allowed to administer punishment to the men who had signed his father's death warrant and for that little compensation, he would sign the agreement.
Prisoner after prisoner was executed and the brutal executions seemed to unleash something primal in London. With that out of the way, Charles settled in to his new role as King of England.
Behind everything Charles did was the issue of money, or more precisely, the lack of it. He owed a lot of money to William of Orange for the eight years when he and his family had lived in The Hague during Cromwell's rule. He had exorbitant costs with his many mistresses and he regarded the allowance given to him by Parliament as meagre, barely enough to cover half of his expenses. With hands out every way he turned, Charles was willing to agree to almost anything if there was more money in his pocket at the end of it all.
In the end, Charles had played a dangerous game as England was suffering terribly and slowly going bankrupt.
The jury is still out on James. Was he an egotistical bigot and a tyrant who rode roughshod over the will of the vast majority of his subjects? Was he simply naive? Was he perhaps just plain stupid? Perhaps he was only doing what he thought was best and he was actually an intelligent, clear-thinking strategically motivated monarch? After all, English taxes had remained low during James' reign, at only about 4% of the national income. This would suggest that he had no intention of modelling England after France whose taxes were at least twice as high.
No one will ever know the truth. What we do know is James should have been able to keep out any invaders. His daughter and her husband for instance. He had the numbers and he had the advantage of the home ground. What he didn't have was support or respect of his most trusted officers. His cowardly behaviour during the battle on the outskirts of Drogheda at the River Boyne. While James was panicking under the pressure, his son-in-law was courageously standing beside his men and fighting. James however had remained behind in a ravine where he could see the battle raging three miles away. His quick retreat to Louis in France, leaving his men behind to face their death, earned him the title 'James the Shit'.
William and Mary
In history, William is remembered for many things. He signed The Bill of Rights the excluded the Stuarts from assuming the throne, in the event that he and his wife were to have no children. He established the Settlement Act barring any royals, who were stupid enough to marry a Catholic, from succeeding to the throne. And he is remembered for the massacre at Glencoe.
He was still exerting his authority after The Battle of the Boyne and there were still the Highland clans free despite fighting against him with James. He thought long and hard about what he would do and he decided to offer the clans a pardon but only if they took an oath before a magistrate and agree to pledge allegiance to him. Needless to say, there were other forces at play and it became yet another fiasco between the MacDonalds and Campbells.
Despite William's physical frailties and Mary's mental fragility, they were good monarchs together. Their marriage had been arranged and had started off badly but over the years, Mary had fulfilled every responsibility as his dutiful wife. Except for one detail. There were no children. After both their deaths, the throne would go to James' younger daughter, Anne and her life would be one tragedy after another.
When it comes to tragic lives, Anne undoubtedly wins the competition hands down, mainly due to her horrific gynaecological record. In sixteen years, she had seventeen pregnancies: twelve were either miscarried or stillborn, having died weeks before in her womb. Of all her children, only one survived to 11 years of age before he died as well. There was nothing more heartbreaking than seeing Anne and her husband mourning together over a tiny empty cot. sometimes they would weep uncontrollably together. Other times they would just sit in silence, staring at nothing. It was unimaginably awful. By the time she came to the throne, she was sick with grief after having lost so many children and she took the throne knowing she was the last of her line.
No one expected Anne to ever be Queen. She was the second of James II two daughters and her uncle, Charles II, seemed more than willing to produce a large family, if you know what I mean. Her father had even remarried after the death of Anne's mother and he and his new wife had already produced a son. By all fairness, his son should have been the heir to the throne, not her sister Mary. Anne was so far down the line, she was almost forgotten.
But the rumour going around was that this male baby was not James' child at all and it was mainly due to her father's mismanagement. There had been no royal witnesses to the child's birth, a serious mistake on James' part, and everyone knew that in any case, James was a Catholic and the child would also be baptised a Catholic. This absolutely horrified Parliament because the child, James Francis Edward Stuart, would one day become King James III upon Anne's death and England would once again have a Catholic monarch. Everyone remembered well the last Catholic monarch. That had been Henry VIII's daughter, Bloody Mary, and she had well and truly lived up to the nickname given to her.
Parliament searched desperately through the Stuart family tree looking for a more suitable candidate but with fifty of Anne's Catholic relatives standing in a long queue to claim the throne, they needed to be quick. One by one they went through the list crossing names off as they went, even the names of those who had a legitimate claim to the throne were discarded in their frantic attempt to find a Protestant heir. And that was when the name Sophia Electress of Hanover finally popped up. She was the granddaughter of James I through his daughter Elizabeth and as such, she had Stuart blood running through her veins. And she was a Protestant.
Everyone seemed happy. Well, nearly everyone. James Francis Edward Stuart was not. And he meant to show everyone that he was not about to be pushed aside.