Court politics and the kingship of James VI & I, c. 1615-c. 1622

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Courtney, Alexander 

This study, focused upon government and politics within the royal court, reassesses James VI & I's practice of kingship in England during the period of George Villiers's rise as royal favourite (c. 1615-c. 1622). In the first chapter, a new account of James's thinking on the nature and duties of kingship is presented. The practical significance of these ideals - in helping us to understand both the king's actions and those of the courtiers and counsellors who sought to persuade him to act in particular ways - is shown at several points throughout the ensuing analysis. The relationship between court and government is treated next, through detailed studies of petitioning and procurement of the sign manual, and of the changing structure of James' s counsels. Court-political episodes in which physical access to the king is said to have weighed heavily are then closely re-examined. Finally, contemporary critical perceptions of James and his court are analysed.

Previous political studies of the Jacobean court, especially during these latter years of the reign, have emphasised factional rivalries, competition for patronage, and the importance in these of access to the royal apartments. Such accounts present the king as listless and, because of his supposed predilection for informality, easily manipulated by his entourage into favouring their private interests. On the other hand, the last three decades have simultaneously witnessed a positive re-evaluation of James' s political abilities. This study puts forward a different view of the politics of James's kingship and court. The Bedchamber's role in administration and policy­making is reconsidered, as are the extent and nature of the king and his favourite's personal involvement in government. Ultimately, James emerges as an active but (by his own and his contemporaries' standards) failed king whose regime could reasonably be denounced as private-spirited and even tyrannical.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge