King James (James I) (June 19, 1566 – March 27, 1625) was the first monarch to style himself the King of Great Britain. The only child of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her second husband, Henry Stuart, the Duke of Albany (commonly known as Lord Darnley), James became the King of Scotland on July 29, 1567, when his mother Mary was forced to hand over the throne in his favor. James went on to become the first monarch of England from the House of Stuart, when he succeeded Elizabeth I as the King of England and Ireland on March 24, 1603.
King James was a strong believer of the divine power of kings, which he believed was sanctioned by the apostolic succession. James’ political absolutism was accepted by the docile Scottish Parliament, but it led to bitter conflicts in the English Parliament. Though the governments of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland were relatively stable in his reign. James’ dictatorial governance and his mismanagement of the kingdom’s funds is known to have destabilized the royal finances. His unpopularity among the English nobility is seen as one of the prime reasons leading to the English Civil War.
King James’ rule, however, has more pleasant sides to it than its darker aspects. Culturally, England continued to evolve in this period. Be it in the field of art or literature or science, with contributions from people like William Shakespeare and Sir Francis Bacon, the Elizabethan tradition was continued. James himself was very learned and produced such scholarly works as the Daemonologie (1597), The True Law of Free Monarchies (1598), Basilikon Doron (1599) and A Counterblaste to Tobacco (1604). In fact, he was acclaimed as ‘the wisest fool in Christendom’.
King James’ religious tolerance (compared to that of his predecessors) also made his reign a success. In spite of being a Protestant, he never attempted to abolish Catholicism. His religious tolerance also allowed for the continuation of Calvinism in Scotland and the growth of Puritanism in England. He also encouraged reformation of the Anglican Church and the growth of ‘High Church’ practices. He also authorized an official translation of the Bible. Known as King James’ Bible, known for the beauty of its language, this version has replaced other translations of the Bible as the standard version.
King James’ artistic genius found expression in the British Flag, which he designed (in 1603) by combining England’s red cross of St. George with Scotland’s white cross of St. Andrew, following the ‘Union of the Crowns’. Quite fittingly, the British Flag is christened the Union Jack – where Jac stands for Jacobus, Latin for James and represents the Union effected by King James.