British Unionism: The Union of the Crowns, 24th March

March 24, 2020

 

This  painting called  "The Union of the Crowns" is part of a series by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, on the ceiling of the Banqueting House, Whitehall, which are all dedicated to James VI. It depicts James looking on as two women representing Scotland and England hold a new born baby representing Great Britain being crowned by the Goddess Minerva. Below them are artifacts of war symbolising Great Britain's birth out of internal conflict. The Banqueting House is a Royal Palace situated on the corner of Horse Guards Avenue and Whitehall, immediately opposite Horse Guards Parade, and normally open to the public. We took the photograph after we spoke about the importance of James VI, in our Speech in London here. Copyright AFFG 7-6-18.

 

On this day, 24 March in 1603, an important event in the calendar of British Unionists – the Regal Union – the Union of the Crowns.

 

James VI of Scots was proclaimed also to be the King of England, after the death of Elizabeth I, earlier this morning. James, was the son of Mary Queen of Scots.

 

He always wanted to be styled, "James King of Great Britain."

 

He believed in the ideal of spiritual and monarchical British Union: "I desire a perfect union of laws and persons and such a naturalising as may make one body of both kingdoms".

 

He was an ardent Unionist and one of the first advocates for British Political Union.

 

As he said: "Hath He not made us all in One Island compassed with One Sea and of itself by Nature so indivisible?"

 

He often used colourful, poetic, almost carnal, language to communicate his desire.

 

For example:

 

"What God hath conjoined then, let no Man separate. I am the Husband, and all the whole Isle is My lawful Wife: I am the Head, and it is My Body: I am the Shepherd, and it is My Flock, I hope therefore, no Man will be so unreasonable, as to think that I, that am a Christian King under-the Gospel, should be a Polygamist, and Husband to Two Wives; that I, being the Head, should have a divided and monstrous Body; or that, being the Shepherd to so fair a Flock, whose Fold hath no Wall to hedge it, but the Four Seas, should have my Flock parted in Two."

 

He also believed that the Union of the Crowns created a new political situation:

 

"Whereby, the memory of all former mutual injuries being abolished, and the wealth of this country joined to its valour, that we may be enabled better to maintain our estate against all foreign power, and transmit the Imperial Crown of Britain composed of the happy connection of two so mighty nations abundant in wealth and flourishing in peace...to our posterity."

 

Note he refers to the "Imperial Crown of Britain" and not the separate Crowns of Scotland and England.

 

He goes on to express the hope that no one will disagree with the benefits of the Union:

 

"except some contentious spirits who (without regard to the honour of their Nations and the welfare of themselves and their posterities) would foster dissention, testify their hate of peace, and give proof of their disloyal intentions against all our Royal designs".

 

(Sounds familiar!)

 

He also sought Parliamentary Union for England and Scotland – 100 years before it happened – but was rebuffed by the English Parliament.

 

In that regard, he was also one of the few monarchs in our history to write extensively on politics.

 

He also invented the Union Jack Flag! Some say the word "Jack" is named after him.

 

He also began both the settlement of Ulster, and the settlement of America.

 

He produced "the King James Bible", wherein he is described in the Frontispiece as "King of Great Britain".

 

JAMES

By the Grace of God

King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland

Defender of the Faith

 

 

James VI, King of Great Britain

On the 20 October 1604 he issued a Royal Proclamation declaring:

 

"Wherefore we have thought good to discontinue the divided names of England and Scotland out of our Regal Style, and do intend and resolve to take and assume unto Us, in manner and form hereafter expressed, the Name and Style of KING OF GREAT BRITAIN".

 

This Proclamation, declaring the King's intention to "assume...the name and stile of King of Great Brittaine, France and Ireland" was published on 24 October 1604 and can be read here.

 

The style "King of Great Britain" (MAGNAE BRITANNIAE REX) appears on all Great Seals in 1625-1627, 1640-1649, 1660-1689, 1695-1707.

 

Coins of James VI and his successors used MAGNAE BRITANNIAE REX.

 

Yet, despite this, he is often referred to by historians in the clumsy fashion of "James VI and I"; meaning the sixth of Scotland and the first of England.

 

However, it is clear that he really wanted to be thought of, and referred to, as King of Great Britain – not numbered separately and, as he stated, "divided" for Scotland and England!

 

Therefore, we believe that because he was the sixth James in the territory which became the realm of Great Britain, then he should be termed as James VI of Great Britain (even though England never had a James before).

 

That is the styling we at A Force For Good use.

 

That is what we call him – just as we call Queen Elizabeth "the second" of the United Kingdom, because she is the second Elizabeth in the territory which became the realm of the United Kingdom (even though Scotland never had an Elizabeth before).

 

 

Ancestry and Burial

James was born on 19 June 1566, in Edinburgh Castle to Mary Queen of Scots. He died on 27 March 1625 at Theobald's Park in Hertfordshire and his funeral took place at Westminster Abbey on 17 May.

 

He is buried in the vault beneath Henry VII's monument and lies next to Henry's wife, Elizabeth of York.

 

There is a reason for this.

 

It was Henry (Tudor) who united the warring houses of Lancaster and York via his marriage to Elizabeth of York. It was their daughter, Margaret Tudor who was to marry James IV of Scots. Their son, James V was to have the child Mary Queen of Scots, James VI's mother.

 

David Harris Willson writes of James VI: "He went out of his way to remind the English Commons that Henry VII had united the houses of York and Lancaster and that he, as Henry's descendant, perpetuated that union. Of Henry he spoke often as a symbol of union between England and Scotland, for Henry had arranged the Scottish marriage upon which Stuart claims to England rested."

 

James VI also named his first son Henry and appropriated Henry's Chapel in Westminster Abbey as a burial place for Stuart royalty, where he is laid to rest.

 

According to Wikipedia: "The position of the tomb was lost for many years until his lead coffin was found in the Henry VII vault in the 19th century, during an excavation."

 

Only a simple modern inscription at the east end of Henry VII's tomb grille, marks his grave.

 

References:

1. 'I desire a perfect union' quoted in Nick Groom, The Union Jack: The Story of the British Flag, Atlantic Books (2006) at p.125, from a speech to the Houses of Parliament, 19 March 1604 (New Style).

 

2. 'Hath He not made us' and 'What God hath conjoined' from his Maiden speech to Parliament 22 March 1604 at www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol1/pp142-149

Note: The text in the pages of the House of Commons Journal which is displayed at this link, is dated "1603". This is the old-style Julian calendar which saw the New Year begin on 25 March. However the text on the website itself has converted the date to the new-style Gregorian calendar, 1604.

 

3. 'Imperial Crown' quote and 'contentious spirits' quote from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scotland/scottish-politics/10775380/Letter-written-by-first-king-of-Great-Britain-mirrors-current-campaign-for-the-Union.html

 

4. David Harris Willson, King James VI & 1, (London: Jonathan Cape, 1971 reprint), p.250.

 

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On the Mercat Cross, Edinburgh, the central plaque is James VI's Coat of Arms. He created this Coat of Arms to represent the joining of Scotland and England within his Regal Union. The English Lion represents strength and the Scottish Unicorn represents wisdom and imagination. Together these two powerful figures represent Scotland and England in harmonious Unity. And it is the ideal of that harmonious Unity which we stand for and which we don't want to see broken!

 

 

 

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