Page images

Miss Aikin's object has apparently been, to impart to history the interest, yet not the precise form of biography. In her Memoirs of Queen Elizabeth, she succeeded in doing this. But what power of poet or of novelist could render the real character of James the First, or even his court, interesting? To save him from appearing alternately ridiculous and despicable, is all his biographer can do. His is a reign, indeed, with which it required some courage in a female writer to meddle; and Miss Aikin has evidently felt embarrassed by her task. She hopes that the indulgence which has attended her former labours, will not be found to have deserted her on the present 'occasion, when many circumstances, some of them connected with the subject of these pages, others of a personal nature, conspire to increase her anxiety and her diffidence.' Yet, the subject has one advantage. The reader brings to the perusal of the history of the reign of James I., fewer prepossessions and less unreasonable expectations. He does not require in the Writer a warmth of imagination which should give to history the colours of poetry, nor does he expect to find in its details the interest of romance. The reign which followed the merry days of good Queen Bess, has never been mistaken for a golden age. It was neither the age of chivalry, nor of gallantry, nor of martial achievements, nor of literary taste. It neither commenced with reformation, nor continued in honour, nor ended with glory. As regards foreign relations, the reign of James is one long disgrace upon our annals. At home, it was the triumph of favouritism, intrigue, ecclesiastical oppression, and profligacy of manners. And yet, this is the reign of which the apologist of the Stuarts says, Could human nature ever reach happiness, the condition of the English gentry under so mild and benign a prince, might merit that appellation.* Rapin closes his history of this period with an opposite remark, that whatever may be said for and against King James's person, it is certain that England never flourished less than in his reign.' And he gives the following epigram as a proof of the little esteem in which she was held by her neighbours.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Tandis qu' Elizabeth fut roy,
L'Anglois fut d'Espagne l'effroy.
Maintenant, devise et caquette,
Régi par la reine Jaquette.'t

Hume's Hist. Appendix to the Reign of James I.

† England, in King Bess's reign,

Once the dread and scourge of Spain,

Has the Don's derision been,

Under Jaqueline her Queen.

[ocr errors]

The great figure,' remarks Bishop Burnet in his homely language, which the Crown of England had made in Queen Elizabeth's time, who had rendered herself the arbiter of Christendom, and was the wonder of the age, was so much eclipsed, if not quite darkened during this reign, that King James was become the scorn of the age; and while hungry writers flattered him out of measure at home, he was despised by all abroad as a pedant without true judgement, courage, or steadiness, subject to his favourites, and de'livered up to the counsels or rather the corruption of Spain.' James was a striking exception to the general rule, “ Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he "will not depart from it." The royal pupil of Buchanan retained nothing of the lessons of his master, but his Latin and his pedantry. The young Presbyterian became the zealous and inexorable prelatist. But the events of his early life sufficiently explain the change in his sentiments. James was through life the creature of the most debasing of influences, that exercised by a favourite minion; and if the character of a sovereign may be known from that of his favourites, there needs no other proof of the worthlessness of him who could surrender himself to the guidance successively of such miscreants as Arran, Carr, and Villiers. The Duke of Lenox alone, of all his favourites, bore a character respectable in private life; and he was a Papist. The history of James's Scottish reign, is marked by the most deplorable imbecility and misrule. It is clear, that during the whole period, he was acting with profound dissimulation, and looking to the bright reversion of the English monarchy as the event which was to make him his own master. His hypocritical protestation is well known, when, standing up in the General Assembly with his bonnet off and his eyes raised to heaven, he praised God for being king of such a kirk, the sincerest in the world, adding: As for our neighbouring kirk of England, their 'service is an evil said mass in English; they want nothing of ⚫ the mass but the liftings.' And yet, in the" Basilicon Doron,' he urges upon his son the restoration of the bishops, and their re-admission into parliament, as the only remedy against that national pest, the Puritans, whom he vituperates as men whom ' no deserts can oblige, neither oaths nor promises bind, breathing nothing but sedition and calumnies, aspiring without measure, railing without reason, and making their own ima'ginations, without any warrant of the word, the square of 'their conscience.' At the head of the party thus intemperately denounced, was Andrew Melville!

It was in vain,' remarks Miss Aikin, that James had declared in his speech to parliament in 1598, that "he minded not to bring in

papistical or Anglicane bishops;" a decided hostility to the presbyterian discipline marked all his projects and all his actions; and his earnestness in procuring from the general assembly the absolution of the catholic earls from their sentence of excommunication, assisted in reviving the suspicion of his cherishing a secret partiality for the religion of his mother. These suspicions, however, appear to have been in one sense ill-founded: James, as a polemic, was probably sincere in maintaining the doctrine of the reformers; but as a prince, he dreaded and abhorred the republican spirit of presbyterianism; and as expectant of the English crown, he was at this time politically bent on conciliating the favor of the church of Rome at whatever expense of protestant consistency. With a view to this object, he had restored the temporalities of the see of Glasgow to Beaton the catholic archbishop, who had fled his country at the Reformation; and appointed him his ambassador to France. What was much more flagrant, he addressed a courtly letter to the pope himself, in which, after many professions of regard, and even of gratitude, to the holy father, he declared himself firmly resolved to treat the catholics with indulgence; and, for the sake of promoting a more frequent and intimate intercourse between Scotland and Rome, solicited the pope to confer the rank of cardinal on Drummond bishop of Vaison. This letter was discovered and copied by the master of Gray, who now resided at Rome in the character of an English spy, and conveyed with all speed to queen Elizabeth. Shocked at the sight, she immediately dispatched Bowes privately to remonstrate on this subject with James; but, happily for this prince, who would otherwise have had every thing to dread from popular fury, the letter was never made public till some years after James had quitted Scotland. It was then printed by cardinal Bellarmine, in the controversy respecting the oath of allegiance, and was never disavowed by its royal author.' pp. 32, 33.

[ocr errors]

James's leaning to popery might have been pardonable: it was the religion of his mother. But, in nothing consistent, he wrote, before he was twenty, a Latin commentary on the Apocalypse to prove that the Pope is antichrist, and then favoured the Catholics and courted the Pope. He appointed one of his father's murderers his ambassador to England; and yet, in his Basilicon Doron, he tells his son: Besides the judgements of ⚫ God that with my eyes I have seen fall upon all them that were chief traitors to my parents, I may justly affirm, I never found yet a constant biding by me in all my straits, by any ⚫ that were of perfite age in my parents' days, but only by such as constantly bode by them; I mean specially by them that served the queen my mother.' That is to say, the Roman Catholics of Scotland. The murder of the Earl of Murray, there can be no doubt, was favoured, if not instigated by James. Burnet says, that the King, on a secret jealousy of the Earl of Murray, then esteemed the handsomest man of Scotland, set on the Marquis of Huntley, who was his mortal

[ocr errors]

enemy, to murder him; and by a writing all in his own hand, he promised to save him harmless for it. He set the house in which he was on fire; and the Earl flying away, was followed ⚫ and murdered; and Huntley sent Gordon of Buckey with the news to the King. Soon after, all who were concerned in that vile fact were pardoned, which laid the King open to much censure. And this made the matter of Gowry to be the less believed. A dirge exists, composed for the bonny earl of Murray,' in which he is expressly styled the queen's love.' A similar explanation is assigned as the key to the inexplicable story of the Gowry conspiracy. Out of Scotland,' writes Sir Henry Neville to Sir Ralph Winwood, we hear that there is no good agreement, but rather an open diffidence, between the King of Scots and his wife; and many are of opinion, that the discovery of some affection between her and the Earl of ⚫ Gowrie's brother, who was killed with him, was the truest cause and motive of all that tragedy.' Certain it is, that James's conduct is unsusceptible of any explanation consistent with his entire innocence in the affair; and the best that can be said for him, is, that if his jealousy was well founded, it was not without provocation or precedent, that he stooped to assassination.* He who pardoned the murderer of Overbury, cannot at all events be wronged by the suspicion.

The Gowrie conspiracy,' remarks the present Writer, if so it merits to be entitled, was the last event of James's reign in Scotland; every thing was now hushed into tranquillity around him; and he had only to await, with as little impatience as possible, the moment destined to bring within his grasp the sceptre on which his hopes and expectations had so long been fixed.

Five and thirty years of royalty had now fully accomplished James VI. in what he called "king-craft;" but they had left him deplorably ignorant of the only true art of government, the best mode of securing the honor and happiness of a civilized nation. Amid the turbu lence and lawlessness of the contending factions who had alternately seized the custody of his person and protected themselves by the authority of his name, self-preservation had become the first object of the monarch's solicitude; and destitute of all higher and better resources, he had learned to avail himself of the natural weapons of the feeble,-deceit and artifice. A temporising policy, which flattered and disappointed every party by turns, which exposed all his professions to contempt, and all his principles to suspicion, thus became habitual to him, and passed upon himself for the perfection of civil wisdom. Two classes of men indeed, he regarded with undisguised aversion; the jesuits, who preached up the right of the pope to free

At a later period, when James was intent on cultivating the friendship of the young King of France, on occasion of the assassination of the Marshal D'Ancre by order of Louis, he did not scruple to assure him of his approbation of the act.'


subjects from their allegiance to heretical sovereigns; and the presbyterian clergy, who claimed the privilege of controlling the actions of their prince, and of excommunicating him if he refused to obey their admonitions. Against these enemies he exerted himself with all the energy of which he was capable; combating the jesuits with his pen, and the Scotch church not with this instrument alone, but with acts of parliament, and acts of power and prerogative, which in any other cause he would have feared to hazard. It seems to have been partly out of opposition to the contumacious spirit of the followers of Knox, that James adopted, and endeavoured to inculcate upon his subjects, that sublime theory of the absolute power and ineffable majesty of kings, which consoled his vanity in some degree for those practical limitations to which a haughty nobility and an intractable presbytery compelled him to submit.

The temper of this prince, though childishly irascible, was only on great and repeated provocations susceptible of rancor and revenge; towards his courtiers and favorites he overflowed with affability and good nature, and unfortunately both for himself and his people he was able to deny them nothing. Of dignity, whether moral, intellectual, or personal, he was totally destitute; and his indifference to female society, his passion for the sports of the field, the love of ribaldry and buffoonery which he had caught from Arran and the vile crew of sycophants with which he surrounded him, added to his odious habit of profane swearing, contracted probably in the same society, gave to his manners a decided stamp of coarseness and vulgarity.' Vol. I. pp. 59-61.

Such was the successor of Queen Elizabeth, before whom, at his accession, an obsequious church and a confiding nation fell prostrate! James was then in his seven and thirtieth year. His person is thus portrayed.


"He was of a middle stature, more corpulent through his clothes than in his body, yet fat enough ; his clothes ever being made large and easy, the doublets quilted for stiletto proof; his breeches in plaits and full stuffed he was naturally of a timorous disposition, which was the reason of his quilted doublets: his eye large, ever rolling after any stranger came in his presence; insomuch as many for shame have left the room, as being out of countenance: his beard was very thin; his tongue too large for his mouth, and made him drink very uncomely, as if eating his drink, which came out into the cup of each side his mouth; his skin was as soft as taffeta sarsenet; which felt so because he never washed his hands, only rubbed his fingers' ends slightly with the wet end of a napkin. His legs were very weak; having, as some thought, some foul play in his youth; or, rather, before he was born, that he was not able to stand at seven years of age; that weakness made him ever leaning on other men's shoulders; his walk was ever circular."

The disagreeable impression of so uncouth an exterior was aggravated in James by a dialect scarcely intelligible to the English, and peculiarly offensive to their ears from the sentiment of national ani

« EelmineJätka »