The Cradle King: A Life of James VI and I by Alan Stewart - review by Frank McLynn

Frank McLynn

The Wisest Fool in Christendom

The Cradle King: A Life of James VI and I


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JAMES I OF England (and V1 of Scotland) was probably the most complex of the Stuarts who actually reigned. If his three successors were, in broadbrush terms, a despot, a womaniser and a fool, James managed to avoid all these traps; but as a person he was the least attractive of them all. His complexity and ambiguity is what makes his biographer's task so difficult: almost any proposition advanced about him has to be hedged with qualifications. Was he a scholar-monarch? Up to a point: he was learned, though not as erudite or as acute as he thought he was. Was he a master politician? In the technical sense, yes; but by his trimming and prevarication he bequeathed a mountain of problems to his luckless son. Did he believe in anything? He seems to have been conventionally devout and certainly preached the divine right of kings - that ideological poisoned chalice of the Stuart dynasty. But the closer one gets to James, the more doubts accumulate. It would be possible, having read Alan Stewart's careful and accomplished biography, to conclude that James was at root a cynical nihilist.

All royal childhoods tend to be disturbed - largely because of the dismal apologies for human beings who usually occupy thrones, particularly in England - but James's was more dysfunctional than most. His mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, was widely thought to have murdered his father, Lord Darnley, and, because

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