James VI of Scotland ascends to King of England and Ireland as James I on March 24, 1603. The kingdoms of Scotland and England are individual sovereign states, with their own parliaments, judiciary, and laws, though both are ruled by James in personal union.
James is born on June 19, 1566 at Edinburgh Castle, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and a great-great-grandson of Henry VII, King of England and Lord of Ireland, uniquely positioning him to eventually accede to all three thrones. He is baptised “Charles James” on December 17, 1566 in a Catholic ceremony held at Stirling Castle.
James succeeds to the Scottish throne at the age of thirteen months, after his mother is compelled to abdicate in his favour. Four different regents govern during his minority though he does not gain full control of his government until 1583. On March 24, 1603, he succeeds his cousin, Elizabeth I, upon her death, uniting the crowns of Scotland and England, while also gaining possession of the Kingdom of Ireland, then an English possession.
James continues to reign in all three kingdoms for 22 years, a period known as the Jacobean era, until his death in 1625 at 58 years of age. After the Union of the Crowns in 1603, he bases himself in England, which is the largest of the three realms, and styles himself “King of Great Britain and Ireland.” He returns to Scotland only once in 1617. He is a major advocate of a single parliament for England and Scotland. During his reign, the Plantation of Ulster and British colonisation of the Americas begins.
At 57 years and 246 days, James’s reign in Scotland is longer than those of any of his predecessors. He achieves most of his aims in Scotland but faces great difficulties in England, including the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 and repeated conflicts with the English Parliament. Under James, the “Golden Age” of Elizabethan literature and drama continues, with writers such as William Shakespeare, John Donne, Ben Jonson, and Sir Francis Bacon contributing to a flourishing literary culture. James himself is a talented scholar, the author of works such as Daemonologie (1597), True Law of Free Monarchies (1598), and Basilikon Doron (1599). He sponsors the translation of the Bible that is named after him – the Authorised King James Version.
In early 1625, James is plagued by severe attacks of arthritis, gout, and fainting fits. In March, he falls seriously ill with tertian ague followed by a stroke. He dies at Theobalds House on March 27 during a violent attack of dysentery. James is buried in Westminster Abbey but the position of the tomb is lost for many years. In the 19th century, following an excavation of many of the vaults beneath the floor, the lead coffin is found in the Henry VII vault.