KING JAMES VI AND I by Antonia Fraser
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Lady Antonia Fraser, biographer of Cromwell and Mary Queen of Scots, appraises, in a singularly shrewd and elegant study, Mary's son James, king of Scotland at thirteen months, king of England at 36. He had a decidedly traumatic upbringing -- his mother left forever in his first year; a succession of regents and tutors hammered learning or dogma or both into what they assumed would be malleable material; and a powerful interrelated Scots nobility ""surrounded the throne like wolves circling a long traveller."" It is not surprising that James developed a useful ""deep and canny reserve,"" a watchfulness, a habit of politic delay, which helped him to maintain, particularly in the last years of his Scots reign, a kind of balance between extreme political and religious sectors. But then came England -- Fraser leans toward the theory that his successsion as James I was courted and planned for long before Mary's death -- where he expected to enjoy Elizabeth's authority. But England's Parliament had been too long ""reined in,"" and James' insistence on divine royal prerogatives -- which had been a reasonable counterweight to Scots radicalism -- was not appropriate in the English setting. Further, James' bias toward Catholicism and Spain, plus his homosexual attachments (probably the product of a love-starved childhood) fed the fires of future rebellion. But Fraser's James was ahead of his times in his conviction that peace was desirable, and learning was exciting for a king. With many illustrations (some in color), contemporary letters (including some respectable royal efforts), investigations of landmark events of large and small import -- this is a handsome and stylish work.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1975
Publisher: Knopf