Today on March 24, 1603, King James VI of Scotland was crowned King of England — uniting the Scottish and English royal families for the first time in history.
Born in Edinburgh Castle, James Stuart was the first (and only) child of Mary Queen of Scots. At only thirteen months of age, he was crowned the King of Scotland after his mother's forced abdication. James VI was also a descendent of English royalty. King Henry VII was his great-great-grandfather, making him first cousins with Queen Elizabeth I. Known as the Virgin Queen, Queen Elizabeth reigned over the kingdom for over forty-five years, ushering in a golden age for England. She earned her nickname for having never been married or producing any legitimate heirs. Without children, James VI of Scotland was her closest living relative and the most suitable successor to the throne. In 1603, Elizabeth finally passed away — bringing an abrupt end to the Tudor Dynasty.
With few options, the English Parliament and nobility agreed to offer the crown to James. The new king became the first monarch to style himself as King of Great Britain and Ireland — symbolizing a formal union between England, Scotland, and Ireland. In England, his official title was King James I. He would reign over all three kingdoms for twenty-two years, an era known as the Jacobean period. Historians largely regard James as a prominent cultural and intellectual leader. Under his rule, the arts and literature flourished across the kingdom. Iconic figures such as William Shakespeare and Sir Francis Bacon produced the bulk of their works during this time.
"If I were not a king, I would be a university man, and if it were so that I must be a prisoner, if I might have my wish, I would desire to have no other prison than that library." —King James I
Nevertheless, King James I proved to be an ineffective politician who ultimately failed to work alongside the hostile parliamentarians. As a staunch believer in the divine rights of kings, he opted to rule with absolutism and supreme authority. In 1605, Robert Catesby and Guy Fawkes attempted to carry out the infamous Gunpowder Plot — a failed attempt to blow up the English parliament along with the king. His mismanagement of state finances and general disinterest in running the country set the foundation for the future English Civil War. His son and successor, King Charles I, would eventually lose the civil war to Oliver Cromwell and was beheaded in 1649. While largely ineffective, James I managed to avoid sabotage and betrayal because the people generally liked and respected him.