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In modern day society the Unification of the British Isles is often taken for granted. Few take time to acknowledge the roots of its conception, and for many this area of History is simply swept under the carpet. James VI and I was given the challenge of sparking the idea of unification. Prior to the death of Queen Elizabeth I King James VI had built much experience in ruling Scotland, and almost appeared to be lying in wait to claim his right as the King of England also. He had visions of creating a Union of hearts and minds, designing a new identity for the countries. However, his efforts were equally countered by the stubborn issues that arise in such an ambitious aim. One of the more prominent factors he fought against was simply his lack of experience in ruling a country such as England. England was much wealthier than Scotland and had a much higher population. It had also established its own kind of government that held the country together in the months prior to James’s arrival. These contrasts with Scottish rule would prove challenging. There was also the problem of religion. James sought to bind the Scottish Kirk and the Church of England. But this of course was a very delicate task that would prove extremely difficult to conquer. Finally there was the issue of separate governments and separate Kingdoms. Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland were all governed separately and had independent needs to fill. This made ruling an even more complicated task.
James VI and I’s fundamental flaw was his lack of experience in ruling a country such as England. At this time of course there were no ‘British’ Institutions. English had its parliament for English issues. Scotland held its daily governing by the Scottish privy council. Wales was governed by English law, and Ireland had its own separate parliament. This left James with a very broad scope of leadership. He was clearly very comfortable with Scotland from his experience, but this had rubbed off as a poor foundation for England. There was also a huge lack of communication. He was having to run much of his bidding totally blind, relying on his trust in those he left in charge. James was also said to view his new parliament as advisers and not valuable policy makers. However he was forced to call his parliament on several occasions because he depended on their money. James was a big spender. He relied on throwing the royal funds back a forth to maintain his power. He would bribe his Nobles and Loyalists to receive their support in return. It was also said that he spent up to £80,000 per annum on his family, which was hugely wasteful of funds. Eventually banks would feel embarrassed to refuse the crown loans and would gift them a portion of money as a compromise. Evidence of James’s unpopularity in England is conveyed in Lawrence Stone’s writings. ‘As a hated Scot, James was suspect to the English from the beginning and his ungainly presence, mumbling speech and dirty ways did not inspire respect.’  This unpopular opinion had a knock on effect to James’s success in ruling his multiple Kingdoms. it was clear that England’s lack of trust impacted his ill experience over the country. Yet at the same time, James’s efforts to sway England would have its negative effects on Scotland. The people feared that his new found determination would mean neglect for his home. His solution only hindered the royal treasury more, as he sent home large sums of money to Scotland, almost subtly favouring the country. However, this appeared to do the trick, as conveyed by Gordon Donaldson. ‘He may not have been the ablest of the Stewarts, but he was assuredly the most successful of his line in governing Scotland and bending it to his will.’  It is clear that James’s unfamiliarity with English rule had stifled much of his popularity within the country, but he always managed to work around this issue. He made use of the support he bought and laid down the foundations of the union, and to a vast extent, he was successful in overcoming his issue of ill experience. The union did not disintegrate, he had in fact bought time for it to make a gradual growth. He also managed to keep the countries at bay from any war in Europe for a substantial amount of time, allowing for focus on the development and binding of the countries.
Another problem that became apparent when faced with the challenge of running multiple Kingdoms, was the number of religious branches. Religion played a very dominant part in 17th century life. There are huge contrasts between early modern churches and those of today. James saw their similarities as a key pointer for unification. ‘protestantism as the official religion gave the three Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland, as well as the principality of Wales, a cause on which to unify…’  The idea of religious diversity and pluralism was disgusting. People fundamentally run their lives on the premise that if you were disloyal to the national church, then you were disloyal to the monarch, and your soul would not be saved. Church attendance was in no way a hobby. It was crucial to be seen to worship once a week.
Sermons were the central part of worship, and in hindsight convey the power religion held on people. There was nothing in the form of a national press at this time, and for many, Church was the only source of news. This allowed a certain bias to be implemented onto the general public. But the key problem for James that came with such strong religion was in its stubbornness. He was the Supreme Governor of the Churches. Meaning by law of God he was responsible for their doctrine and organisation. He saw himself as the defender of the Protestant fait and sought splice the religions of the English Church and Scottish Kirk. This of course was no easy task. Neither Church wanted to be tampered with.
Tom Webster conveys that’The contrasting contexts and the different fortunes of the three kingdoms in religious terms make an immediately holistic analysis of the three kingdoms a task performed at the expense of comprehension; cohesion would join the incoherency, as it were.’ James lacked in the religious understanding of the Churches to see that such a drastic religious splice was not possible. James quite clearly failed in his objective and was conquered by this problem, but he was cunning in his defeat. He recognised the importance of the Scottish Kirk, also portrayed by Webster. ’Apart from the crown, the Kirk was the only institution of national governance and, as James saw it, he needed a means to govern from a distance which was more manipulable and less likely to counter this wishes.’ James needed the Kirk on side if he wished to keep his influence in Scotland, and it was not as easily manipulated as the English Church. So to conclude, when faced with the problem of responsibility over multiple branches of religion, James failed to create any kind of bind between them. But he certainly made use of them as assets in the future.
The final struggle James VI and I faced when ruling multiple kingdoms was the issues that came from Ireland. To understand the consequences of inheriting rule over Ireland, it is important to first look back to Anglo-Scottish involvement under the reign of King Henry VIII. Henry declared himself as the King of Ireland, and made the demand that all land would now be owned by the crown. Any previous owner who wished to re-gain it would have to pledge his new allegiance. This alone was enough to annoy a vast majority of Irish citizens, but to add insult, Henry was the head of the Protestant Church. A majority of Irish people at the time had a much stronger religious sway towards Catholicism. So in order to regain their land, the owners were forced to slate their own religious beliefs. The issue then escalated under Elizabeth I’s rule after she too inherited rule over Ireland. She made the decision to introduce the Munster Plantation. The idea was to locate people from England and Scotland into an area named Munster and to then begin to tame Ireland. The negative factor here was the location of Munster. It was nestled in the South of Ireland. This made it extremely difficult for Scottish people to actually make the journey. Thus it was a majority of English people who made the trip. This then had a negative effect on the relations with Ireland, arguably contributing to the Nine Years War. So with this in mind it is clear that James received a hand full of issues consulting Ireland from the word go. This was one of the main factors contributing to James’s determination to keep his kingdoms at peace. The central challenge for James was in his attempt to rule Ireland from afar. ‘James only paid one visit to Scotland after he became King of England. Neither Charles or James visited Ireland.’.  With no form of modern communication, James would struggle to keep a close eye on the country. He signed a peace treaty with Spain in order to avoid any more conflict with Ireland. This was key to his ability to keep control. If he had to rule at a distance, then conflict would be the worst possible scenario. He kept his hold loose but not so weak as to lose dominance. ‘Crowns authority was exercised through a lord depth rather than directly and was much less hedged about by laws and customs than in England or Scotland.’ He decided he would attempt to execute a similar plan to Munster, redistributing English settlers into Ireland. This of course had the same consequence as previously. The Irish turned to revolt and once again, Scottish troops were sent in to defuse the situation. So overall, it is clear that James VI and I had good intentions when attempting to deal with his inherited Irish problems, but he was relatively unsuccessful in his aims. His investments seemed to have been a waste of time and money.
To conclude, James VI and I had some very strong, positive intentions when dealing with the problems of ruling multiple Kingdoms. He invested much money into bringing the English onside, whilst battling with blind leadership as a result of lacking modern communication. James also made brave attempts to bring the different religious branches of the Churches together as one and forget their differences. He then intended to recover from the damage to Ireland from his predecessors, whilst promoting his dream of a ‘hearts and minds’ Union. But in reality, all of his attempts were flawed. His huge spending of crown funds put the monarchy under great stress, disallowing much of the growth the British Isles needed. His attempts to splice the religious branches only caused a friction to further divide the two countries rather than bind them. And finally his plan to fix the issues that came with Ireland were quite clearly a waste of crown funds.
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