32. James I, A.D. 1602—1625
After Queen Elizabeth's death, the next heir was James, the son of Mary of Scotland, and had reigned there ever since his mother had been driven away. He had been brought up very strictly by the Scottish Reformers, who had made him very learned, and kept him under great restraint; and all that he had undergone had tended to make him awkward and strange in his manners. He was timid, and could not bear to see a drawn sword; and he was so much afraid of being murdered, that he used to wear a dress padded and stuffed out all over with wool, which made him look even more clumsy than he was by nature.
The English did not much admire their new king, though it really was a great blessing that England and Scotland should be under the same king at last, so as to end all the long and bloody wars that had gone on for so many years. Still, the Puritans thought that, as James had been brought up in their way of thinking, they would be allowed to make all the changes that Queen Elizabeth had stopped; and the Roman Catholics recollected that he was Queen Mary's son, and that his Reformed tutors had not made his life very pleasant to him as a boy, so they had hopes from him.
But they both were wrong. James had really read and thought much, and was a much wiser man at the bottom than anyone would have thought who had seen his disagreeable ways, and heard his silly way of talking. He thought the English Church was much more in the right than either of them, and he only wished that things should go on the same in England, and that the Scots should be brought to have bishops, and to use the prayers that Christians had used from the very old times, instead of each minister praying out of his own head, as had become the custom. But though he could not change the ways of the Scots at once, he caused all the best scholars and clergymen in his kingdom to go to work to make the translation of the Bible as right and good as it could be.
Long before this was finished, however, some of the Roman Catholics had formed a conspiracy for getting rid of all the chief people in the kingdom; and so, as they hoped, bringing the rest back to the pope. There were good men among the Roman Catholics who knew such an act would be horrible; but there were some among them who had learnt to hate everyone that they did not reckon as of the right religion, and to believe that everything was right that was done for the cause of their Church. So these men agreed that on the day of the meeting of Parliament, when the king, with the queen and Prince of Wales, would all be meeting the lords and commons, they would blow the whole of them up with gunpowder; and, while the country was all in confusion, the king dead, and almost all his lords and the chief country squires, they would take the king's younger children—Elizabeth or Charles, who were both quite little—and bring one up as a Roman Catholic to govern England.
They hired some cellars under the Houses of Parliament, and stored them with barrels of gunpowder, hidden by faggots; and the time was nearly come, when one of the lords called Monteagle, received a letter that puzzled him very much, advising him not to attend the meeting of Parliament, since a sudden destruction, would come upon all who would there be present, and yet so that they would not know the doer of it. No one knows who wrote the letter, but most likely it was one of the gentlemen who had been asked to join in the plot, and, though he would not betray his friends, could not bear that Lord Monteagle should perish. Lord Monteagle took the letter to the council, and there, after puzzling over it and wondering if it were a joke, the king said gunpowder was a means of sudden destruction; and it was agreed that, at any rate, it would be safer to look into the vaults. A party was sent to search, and there they found all the powder ready prepared, and, moreover, a man with a lantern, one Guy Fawkes, who had undertaken to be the one to set fire to the train of gunpowder, hoping to escape before the explosion. However he was seized in time, and was forced to make confession. Most of the gentlemen concerned fled into the country, and shut themselves up in a fortified house; but there, strange to say, a barrel of gunpowder chanced to get lighted, and thus many were much hurt in the very way that meant to hurt others.
There was a great thanksgiving all over the country, and it became the custom that, on the 5th of November—the day when the gunpowder plot was to have taken effect—there should be bonfires and fireworks, and Guy Fawkes' figure burnt, but people are getting wiser now, and think it better not to keep up the memory old crimes and hatreds.
Henry, Prince of Wales, was a fine lad, fond of all that was good, but a little too apt to talk of wars, and of being like Henry V. He was very fond of ships and sailors, and delighted in watching the building of a grand vessel that was to take his sister Elizabeth across the sea, when she was to marry the Count Palatine of the Rhine. Before the wedding, however, Prince Henry fell suddenly ill and died.
King James was a fond of favorites as ever Elizabeth had been, though not of the same persons. One of the worst things he ever did was the keeping Sir Walter Raleigh in the Tower for many years, and a last cutting off his head. It was asserted that Sir Walter had tried, when first James came, to set up a lady named Arabella Stuart to be queen; but if he was to be punished for that, it ought to have been directly, instead of keeping the sentence hanging over his head for years. The truth was that Sir Walter had been a great enemy to the Spaniards, and James wanted to please them, for he wished his son Charles to marry the daughter of the King of Spain. Charles wanted to see her first, and set off for Spain, in disguise, with the Duke of Buckingham, who was his friend, and his father's greatest favorite. But when reached he Madrid, he found that the princesses were not allowed to speak to any gentleman, nor to show their faces; and though he climbed over a wall to speak to her when she was walking in the garden, an attendant begged him to go away, or all her train would be punished. Charles went back disappointed, and, on his way through Paris, saw Henrietta Maria, the bright-eyed sister of the King of France, and set his heart on marrying her.
Before this was settled, however, King James was seized with an ague and died, in the year 1625. He was the first king of the family of Stuart, and a very strange person he was—wonderfully learned and exceedingly conceited; indeed, he like nothing better than to be called the English Solomon. The worst of him was that, like Elizabeth, he thought kings and rulers might tell falsehoods and deceive. He called this kingcraft, and took this very bad sort of cunning for wisdom.