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Teachers' notes

This document collection on the reign of James I allows students and teachers to develop their own questions and lines of historical enquiry on the nature of monarchical power, challenges to the Church of England and the relationship between king and parliament. The documents are arranged according to themes which include James I’s extravagance; the Hampton Court Conference, the impact of Catholicism; union with Scotland, relations between crown and parliament, and the Spanish match. Again, for those students studying the civil wars which broke out in the reign of Charles I, this collection includes access a couple of documents which reflect the relationship Charles had with his parliaments.

Students can work with a group of sources on a certain theme or linked themes. It is hoped that the documents will offer them a chance to develop their powers of evaluation and analysis and support their course work. Alternatively, teachers may wish to use the collection to develop their own resources or encourage students to ‘curate’ their own ‘exhibition’ of the most significant sources on the topic. All transcripts have been modernised in terms of spelling, with some additional punctuation added, however nothing else has been altered.


Connections to the curriculum

These documents can be used to support any of the exam board specifications covering the Early Stuarts

AQA GCE History ‘A’ level

1D: Stuart Britain and the Crisis of Monarchy, 1603-1702

OCR GCE History ‘A’ Level

Unit Y108: The early Stuarts and the Origins of the Civil War 1603-1660


By Dr Hannah Worthen
Post-Doctoral Research Associate, University of Hull

King James I of England, and VI of Scotland, ascended the throne in 1603 following the death of Elizabeth I. He inherited substantial debts from his predecessor, as well as a country that was still struggling with the religious divisions of the Reformation, and significant foreign policy issues. James’ reign has been characterised by historians as one of financial excess and religious tension, most dramatically illustrated by the 1605 Gunpowder Plot. His reign is also regarded as significant because it directly preceded that of Charles I and the subsequent outbreak of the Civil War in England, Scotland and Ireland.

This document collection demonstrates a range of important matters that James I had to contend with. Soon after becoming King of England, he faced complex foreign policy issues as war raged on in Europe. During his reign he made peace with Spain but later saw war with Bohemia. Again, the King’s lavish spending is highlighted in several sources as are the attempts by his Secretary of State, Robert Cecil, to control it. In many ways, James I faced no problem as difficult as trying to unite the kingdoms of England and Scotland. This resource includes several records which showcase the debates surroubnding his ultimately thwarted ambition to see the creation of a united ‘Britain’.

Religion was a key concern for James I as there were particular problems between Roman Catholics (or ‘popish recusants’) and Puritans (Protestants who wanted further reformation of the Church). Several of our documents shed light on these tensions; one, from the desk of England’s chief spymaster, recounts the story of an argument over religion that broke out in a pub. Also, while the Gunpowder Plot may probably be the best-known event of James’ reign, this resource illustrates another less well-remembered threat to the king, with sources relating to a conspiracy called the Bye Plot.

As King, James’ relationship with Parliament was critical, especially so as this broke down during his son’s reign. So, the collection shows records which expose the tensions between them, particularly over such issues as the Divine right and royal prerogative. The resource also includes a few sources from the start of Charles’ reign to reveal what happened when Charles I argued with Parliament, eventually with dramatic consequences.

Most of these sources come from The National Archives’ State Papers collection. That means that they were originally part of the private papers of the Secretary of State (the most important minister for the monarch). These papers represent what he collected, so some of the sources are ‘official’ proclamations or reports of events, whilst others are private letters he received and reports of local news that he must have intercepted. Some of the sources are printed but most were handwritten in a style known as ‘secretary hand’ that is quite different to the one we use today. All of the sources have had sections transcribed, but in some cases occasional words are missing thanks to illegible handwriting or damage the documents have suffered over the centuries.

The reign of James I is essential to understanding this period in history, and the breadth of key issues it encompasses and provides a wider context for the Civil Wars which followed. The collection demonstrates the complexity of issues, both religious and political, that James came up against when he came to the throne.  It also highlights the wealth of information available within the state papers at The National Archives that shed light on the reign of this important monarch.

External links

Michael Drayton Esq – A Chorographicall Description of … this Renowned Isle of Great Britain.

Overview of James’s reign and collection of images of the King

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