James I, the only child of Mary, Queen of Scots, was the first king to rule both England and Scotland, the latter as James VI. Born on June 19, 1566, James was only 15 months old when he succeeded his mother to the Scottish throne. He received an excellent education from tutors such as George Buchanan and, after a tumultuous minority, began his personal rule of Scotland in 1583. During the next 20 years James successfully asserted his position as head of church and state in Scotland, outwitting conspiring nobles. Being eager to succeed the childless Elizabeth I to the English throne, he merely protested when his mother was executed for treason against Elizabeth in 1587. James married Anne of Denmark in 1589; she bore several children but annoyed him by becoming Roman Catholic.

In 1603, James became the first Stuart king of England, and he devoted himself almost entirely to English affairs thereafter. Although raised as a Presbyterian, he immediately antagonized the rising Puritan movement (see Puritanism) by rejecting a petition for reform of the Church of England at the Hampton Court Conference (1604). Roman Catholic hostility, manifested in the attempt (1605) by Guy Fawkes to blow up both king and Parliament, did not dissolve the English suspicion that James was pro-Catholic because he had concluded peace with Spain in 1604. The suspicion was intensified when James took only ineffective diplomatic steps to secure the restoration of his Protestant son-in-law, Elector Palatine Frederick V, after he had been deposed in the Thirty Years' War.

Initially guided by Robert Cecil, 1st earl of Salisbury, an able chief minister, James subsequently allowed his court favorites—first Robert Carr, earl of Somerset, and later George Villiers, 1st duke of Buckingham—effective control. The role of these ministers complicated James's stormy relations with Parliament. That body's conception of its rights, especially in financial matters, clashed with the king's view of the royal prerogative.

Confident in his own wisdom and experience, James avoided hard work, preferring to hunt. He was fortunate in having the services of Lionel Cranfield, earl of Middlesex, a former merchant, who looked after the royal finances until he was impeached (1624) for corruption at the behest of Buckingham. Parliament also impeached (1621) another able minister, Francis Bacon, and blocked James in his attempts to arrange a formal Anglo-Scottish union and to exchange his rights to feudal dues for a permanent grant of revenue from Parliament.

James wrote books about kingship, theology, witchcraft, and tobacco and commissioned the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible (see King James Bible). He died on Mar. 27, 1625, having warned his son and heir, Charles I, of future dangers to the monarchy from Parliament.

Ashley, Maurice. "James I, King of England." Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Grolier Online, 2012. Web. 29 Jan. 2012.