This is my contribution to the Historical Writers’ Forum Summer 2020 Blog Hop – the theme is Momentous Events and this was a big one: the birth of the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, would come to unite Scotland and England under a single ruler.
From his first breath, James was the only unquestionably legitimate male heir in the entire Tudor bloodline. And he was descended from Henry VII (twice) through Margaret Tudor, the oldest daughter, which comforted the primogeniture purists even though Henry VIII had removed her line from the succession. So he was immediately the informal heir presumptive because Elizabeth I had consistently declared her determination to remain the Virgin Queen (even though she was only 33 at the time and could still have married and borne a child of her own…indeed, she continued to threaten to do so).
(PS – You’ll notice I used the qualifier “unquestionably legitimate” : Katherine Grey, who descended from Henry VII through his youngest daughter, had married Edward Seymour (the son of executed former Protector Edward Seymour) in 1560 and had given birth to two sons, one in 1561 and the second in 1563. But Katherine and Edward had married clandestinely and in haste, with only one witness and a priest whose name they did not know. Their witness died in 1561 and they couldn’t locate the priest, so in 1563 Archbishop Parker declared their union invalid.)
James was also the philosophical favorite, even though he was a foreign ruler: how could England pass up such a perfect opportunity to unite with Scotland? This was a dream that Henry VIII had fanatically pursued a generation before when HE was the one with a son and Scotland the country with an infant female queen, Mary. But because Henry tried to bully the Scots into this plan (a strategy continued after his death), they turned instead to the Auld Alliance with France and secreted her away so she could marry their dauphin.
Even so, Elizabeth never formally designated James as her successor. Of course, she never formally designated ANY successor – always repeating that she’d known what it meant to be marked like that during her sister Mary’s rule, that she was not about to place herself “in a winding sheet before her time”. She did correspond with James, and they had a warm friendship that survived Elizabeth’s decision to execute his mother (which James was said to have taken Mary’s death “very heavily”, he quickly accepted Elizabeth’s impassioned letter to him and joined her in placing the blame on the English Council).
Regardless, James inherited the English crown on Elizabeth’s death, and became the first King of the new Great Britain. He ruled successfully for 22 years, leaving behind a mixed legacy (his people loved him for bringing peace and low taxes, but anti-Stuart historians writing soon after his death claimed that his absolutist attitudes and financial irresponsibility laid the foundations for the English Civil War). But that’s a story for a different blog…
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