James VI of Scotland and James I of England.

It is ironic that in 1603 James VI of Scotland succeeded to the English throne and became James I of England Thus a Scotsman ruled  three independent nations (England, Ireland and Scotland ; Wales being subject to English law by an Act of Union in 1536) which were not united politically until 1707. James had a London power base that facilitated cronyism and the self-seeking interests of an essentially English court  which made the problems in Scotland worse. He made some effort to share out posts equitably on a rough ratio of four in ten going to Scots. But there was always an undercurrent of mistrust and jealousy by the English over trade, as well as James’ own idealistic views and ambitions. The King’s position as head of both State and the Episcopal Church of England impacted his policies against religious non-conformity in England, Scotland, and, to a lesser extent, in Ireland. 

Queen Elizabeth I died on 24 March 1603 and James arrived in London for his coronation as King James I of England on May 3.  But even so he could not arrive without some controversy due to his having ordered the execution of a thief in Newark without trial. This drew a sarcastic comment from  a courtier, Sir John Harrington“ Now if the wind bloweth thus, why not a man be tried before he hath offended ?.”  James soon showed that he came to teach that resisting the royal wish was to oppose Divine will, and that he was as indisputable as God.  Foremost now in Scotland was his drive to have a common or uniform church, as he had in England, with himself as supreme head of both church and state.  

At the Hampton Court Conference in 1604 James ominously said of the English Puritans, who were quite similar to Presbyterians in those days:  

 I shall make them conform themselves, or else do worse.

James’ boast at the opening of the English Parliament in 1607 grossly underestimated the Scottish people.

 This I may say for Scotland, and may truly vaunt it; here I sit and govern it with my pen; I write and it is done, and by a Clerk of the Council I govern Scotland now, which others could not do with the sword.

 By then he had been King of Scotland, infant, boy, and man, for forty years and should have known better. It is true that Scotland had been dragged from its slumber and was enjoying a better economic climate. Trade with England was less restricted, and movement of people between Scotland and London also prompted new ideas and methods for industry and agriculture . But for the Presbyterians it was a transient thing, their hopes and aspirations for a religious settlement were soon trampled under foot. The belief that a remote Privy Council in Scotland was all that was needed for King James and his successors to issue their orders to merely created the environment for despotism by compliant appointees in positions of authority.

The legal position of Episcopacy chopped and changed greatly over the remaining  years of the Reformation with the Stuart Kings imposing it by stealth and ultimately by force, and latterly the Covenanters rejecting it and suffering for their beliefs.  James continued to practice his `kingcraft`  in Scotland and by non violent means secured his objective of installing episcopacy in the Kirk. The violence in his reign was constrained mainly to the `fire and sword`  ordered to be taken against Clan MacGregor , and the action against the Border Reivers. In the latter the application of `Jeddart Justice`  ( hang them first and ask questions afterwards) soon ended border raids, and many of the troublemaking families were transported to the  province of Connacht in the west of Ireland.

The story of the Reformation continues with increasing pressure from the king to install the bishops. At first there was a honeymoon period with a gradual intrusion into the Presbyterian structure such as the requirement for the kings permission to hold General Assemblies, and the appointment of `constant moderators`. From about 1610 a tougher line reinforced the kings will and resulted in  the bishops becoming established, admitted as members of the Estates of Parliament, consecrated, and fulfilling the full range of ecclesiastical duties. By the end of his reign (1625) James had replaced the mechanics of the Presbyterian church by episcopacy and reinforced the role of the bishops.

It was in the reign of his son, Charles I, that the second tranche of reforms - to the liturgy and ceremonies of the church, took place. These changes were highly visible to the common man and led to  the resistance, and ultimately the persecution, of  non conforming Presbyterians and the Covenanters in the years following the National Covenant of 1638.



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