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King James I of England and VI of Scotland

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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King James I of England and VI of Scotland

after John De Critz the Elder
oil on panel, early 17th century, based on a work of circa 1606
22 1/2 in. x 16 1/2 in. (572 mm x 419 mm)
Transferred from British Museum, 1879
Primary Collection
NPG 548

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

De Critz, who painted the original of this portrait, was James's 'Serjeant Painter', with special responsibility for producing decorative paintings and portraits of the King.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Bayly, Christopher, The Raj: India and the British 1600-1947, 1990 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 19 October 1990 - 17 March 1991)
  • Cannadine, Sir David (Introduction); Cooper, Tarnya; Stewart, Louise; MacGibbon, Rab; Cox, Paul; Peltz, Lucy; Moorhouse, Paul; Broadley, Rosie; Jascot-Gill, Sabina, Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, 2018 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA, 7 October 2018 -3 February 2019. Bendigo Art Gallery, Australia, 16 March - 14 July 2019.), p. 122 Read entry

    James VI of Scotland's claim to the English throne stemmed from his descent from Henry VII. The Tudor king was James's great-great grandfather, Henry VII’s daughter Margaret having married the Scottish King James IV. From 1601, James engaged in secret correspondence about the succession with Robert Cecil, Elizabeth I's chief minister. On the death of Elizabeth, the English Privy Council immediately offered him the throne and the new king travelled to London with much ceremony. Although he promised to return to Scotland every three years, he did so only once, in 1617. James's reliance on close favourites at court and his belief in the absolute rule of kings, together with financial difficulties, led to conflict with Parliament. His commitment to peace and reconciliation, however, balanced religious divisions and he successfully held the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland together under one ruler for the first time.

    This portrait is based on an original by the king's Serjeant Painter, John de Critz, produced shortly after James had inherited the English throne. The numerous surviving versions are testament to the demand for images of the new king. In this portrait he wears a jewel called the 'Feather of Great Britain' in his fashionable hat.

  • Charles Nicholl, Shakespeare and his Contemporaries, 2015, p. 19
  • Clare Gittings, The National Portrait Gallery Book of Elizabeth I, 2006, p. 27
  • Cooper, Tarnya, Elizabeth I & Her People, 2013 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 10 October 2013 - 5 January 2014), p. 213
  • Cooper, Tarnya; Fraser, Antonia (foreword), A Guide to Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 2012, p. 35 Read entry

    As with portraits of Elizabeth I, most of the portraits of her successor James I were not painted from life but were based on a pattern taken from one of the few sittings the King had with favoured artists. This portrait is a version of a popular portrait type of James and shows him soon after his accession to the throne of England and Wales. It was painted after a design by the King’s ‘Serjeant’ or official painter who was responsible for producing both decorative works and portraits for the King. James is shown wearing an elaborate hat jewel, set with huge diamonds, known as the ‘feather’.

  • MacLeod, Catherine, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection at Montacute House, 1999, p. 28
  • Nicholl, Charles, Insights: Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, 2005, p. 17
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 332
  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 177

Events of 1606back to top

Current affairs

The Lord Chief Justice Sir John Popham sentences Guy Fawkes to be hanged, drawn and quartered in the Old Palace Yard opposite Parliament.
Creation of a union flag of England and Scotland prompts complaints from Scottish shipowners that the St. George cross obscures the saltire of St. Andrew.

Art and science

The Stationers' Company Register, which allowed publishers to register their rights to produce printed works, notes a performance of William Shakespeare's tragedy King Lear, possibly the play's first appearance.
Benjamin Johnson comic masterpiece, Volpone, premiers at the Globe Theatre.


Three ships belonging to The London Company set sail from London, to establish colonial settlements in North America. Richard Bancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury, enlists Robert Hunt as chaplain for the expedition. Hunt probably conducted the first known holy communion service in North America.

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