James VI of Scotland - who also became James I of England - was son of Mary Queen of Scots and her second husband, Lord Darnley. His mother, who led a colourful personal and political life, was forced to give up her title when her son was a year old, thus making James King of the Scots whilst still an infant. Although very different people, James and his mother Mary had some striking similarities:
1) Both never knew their fathers. Mary’s father – James I – died when she was a few days old. James’ father, Lord Darnley, died in mysterious circumstances soon after James’ birth (there were rumours that Mary had been involved in a conspiracy to kill her own husband).
2) Both became infant monarchs, thus ensuring that in the early part of their reigns their affairs were managed by others.
3) Both were politically ambitious – Mary always had her eye on the English throne as did her son who believed in the Divine Right of Kings and achieved his goal of becoming English monarch on the death of Elizabeth I.
4) Both were imprisoned for political ends – Elizabeth I kept Mary (who she considered a threat) secure in castles and grand houses for nineteen years, then executed her; James was captured and held at Ruthven Castle when he was sixteen years old by men who did not agree with his religious/political beliefs.
5) Both took on the ruling of their Scottish kingdom whilst still in their teens – Mary once she returned to Scotland from France aged eighteen, James aged fifteen once his regent the Earl of Morton was executed due to charges of being involved in the plot to kill James’ father Lord Darnley.
Although many suspected James favoured men, his position and standing made it crucial that he took a bride. Thus he married Anne of Denmark in 1589 – he was twenty-three, she fourteen. They had several children, but only Elizabeth and Charles lived beyond the age of eighteen.
James VI of Scotland’s claim to the English throne came from the fact that none of Henry VIII’s children – Edward, Mary and Elizabeth – had offspring to carry on the Tudor line. A fact that may have had Henry VIII - who wanted to ensure his progeny would ensure his immortality - turning in his grave. Once James gained his kingship in England (where he was known as James I) in 1603 he spent most of his time in his newly acquired country.
James had a ruthless streak and was not afraid to deal harsh punishment. He ensured the William Ruthven, Earl of Gowrie was executed for his part in imprisoning his young Scottish king. As James I of England he sentenced Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators to be hung, drawn and quartered.
James was also a learned man. It was once said that he was “the wisest fool in Christendom.” He commissioned the Authorised/King James Bible, which built on the work done by William Tyndale and is still in active use today.