Chapter 22 : The Last Years
With Europe descending into war, James, although still desperate to maintain peace, summoned Parliament once again. He sought a subsidy that would allow him to send forces to the Protestant armies, but Parliament was unimpressed with his continued courting of Spain, and voted only £145,000 rather than the £500,000 requested. In return, the Commons flexed their muscles with the impeachment of Sir France Bacon.
They also demanded that Prince Charles should be married to ‘one of our own religion’, rather than a Spanish bride.
Foreign policy was a matter for the government, not Parliament (as is still, theoretically, the case today). James was furious at the Commons’ temerity in seeking to dictate policy, and he threatened to punish offenders. The Commons, provoked by this attack on their right of free-speech, drew up a ‘Protestation’, which was presented to James on 18th December 1621. James responded by immediately adjourning the house till the following February, and tore the Protestation from the Commons’ Journal. He also ordered the imprisonment of Sir Edward Coke, the Lord Chief Justice, who had been its principal author.
Insanity now seemed to be springing up at the English court – Buckingham and Prince Charles cooked up a scheme for Charles to cross-war torn Europe to court his Spanish bride in person. James, at first resistant, was talked into approving the plan, hopeful that the match would result in the return of the Palatinate to Frederick and Elizabeth, and the two men left in disguise, to appear in Madrid in March 1623. The next months saw the men dancing attendance on the Spanish court, and given negotiation terms that were nothing less than outrageous. The Infanta was not only to be allowed to practise her religion, her children were to be brought up in it, and all penal laws against Catholics relaxed.
All this was agreed to, although Charles adamantly refused to change his own faith, but then the Spanish demands went too far. They wanted the Elector’s oldest son to be married to the Emperor’s daughter and brought up a Catholic. It was obvious that there had never been any intention on Spain’s part to release the Palatinate from their grasp.
Outraged, Charles and Buckingham combined to persuade James to break off negotiations, and to call Parliament to vote supplies for armed intervention in the Palatinate. Eventually, James did so, and the final Parliament of his reign was considerably more amicable. Funds for war were voted (to be paid into a special treasury, to prevent leakage to courtiers) and the Commons’ demands for the reduction of monopolies were accepted and the Lord Treasurer, a supporter of the Spanish match was impeached and dismissed from office. James’ own financial position was not remedied, but, before further business could be contracted the King died.
He had been ailing for some time, and it was probably a stroke, aggravated by malaria, that carried him off, although there was the usual talk of poisoning.
James VI & I was a man of huge intellect and lofty ideals. His aims throughout his life were entirely laudable – peace at home and abroad, reconciliation in religion (he even advocated a General Council of the Church) and good government at home. Unfortunately, his personal characteristics of trying to please everyone, being rather shifty about the truth, having an inflated view of his own brilliance and ability to convince others, and, most dangerous of all in a King, his lack of resolution to follow a policy through, meant that his reign was not so successful as it might have been. Nevertheless, he brought England and Scotland together in peace, promoted a Church that the majority of his subjects could accept, and left an adult male heir – more than many of his predecessors had achieved.
Listen to our interview with Renaissance English History Podcast on James VI & I here