A New Royal Family

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James VI of Scotland and I of England by John de Critz the Elder c.1606 by permission of the Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

James VI of Scotland and I of England
by John de Critz the Elder c.1606
by permission of the Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

 

On 24 March 1603, Queen Elizabeth I of England died after a long reign. The throne passed swiftly and with little controversy to James VI of Scotland, a cousin, who became King James I of England. Although he was the son of the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, James had been brought up a Protestant and he represented the prospect of a secure succession; for the first time in living memory there would be a complete royal family in England, comprising an adult king, a queen, a male heir, a younger brother and a marriageable daughter. The heir, Henry Frederick, was the focus of particular hope and expectation.

Interest in the new royal family expressed itself in various ways. Basilikon Doron, a manual on ruling written by James for Henry, became a bestseller. Numerous portraits were commissioned, including spectacular full-lengths from Robert Peake and John de Critz, and exquisite miniatures from Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver. But the Stuarts were not universally welcomed. A small group who sought Catholic rule in Britain planned to overthrow the king. The ‘Gunpowder Plot’, which included the murder of Henry alongside James in Parliament, was famously defeated, and the celebrations of 5 November established.