King James VI of Scotland ascended to the throne of England as King James I amid high treachery, global warfare and religious turmoil on this day in history, March 24, 1603.
His reign shaped the world we live in today. It had a direct impact on New World colonization, English-language art and culture, Christianity and the rise of an independent United States of America.
Among other transformative events during the reign of King James I (1603-1625) are the following.
Explorers, entrepreneurs and religious separatists left England to establish the first permanent British colonies in Virginia and Massachusetts; he supported contemporary playwright William Shakespeare and other artists; and the poetic English-language version of the Bible he commissioned sparked a transformative moment in the history of Christianity.
“He supported the Virginia Company of London’s establishment in 1607 of the first permanent English colony in North America, the first settlement of which was named Jamestown in his honor,” writes Encyclopedia Virginia in its online account of the monarch’s impact on American history.
“James was renowned for his intellectual abilities, his flamboyant generosity and his passion for hunting.”
He entered the world in Scotland amid extraordinary circumstances even by royal standards.
“James was renowned for his intellectual abilities, his flamboyant generosity and his passion for hunting.” — Encyclopedia Virginia
“Born in Edinburgh Castle on 19 June 1566, James was the only son of Mary, Queen of Scots and her second husband, Lord Darnley,” states History Scotland magazine.
“James inherited the throne at the age of 13 months, after his mother was forced to abdicate in his favor. His reign [over Scotland] totaled 57 years and 246 days — longer than any of his predecessors.”
The path that led him to the throne of England was paved by one of the most notorious incidents in the sordid history of the British monarchy.
Mary, Queen of Scots found refuge in England from her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, after being forced to flee Scotland in 1567.
Queen Elizabeth ordered Mary beheaded by an axeman in 1587, upon suspicion she was plotting a coup.
Her blood-soaked dog famously refused to leave the top of her torso where her head sat moments earlier, as the executioners cleaned up the gore of her brutal death.
His mother’s execution put the King of Scotland in position to succeed his cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England, upon her death in 1603.
Religious conflict swept over continental Europe with the outbreak of the Thirty Years War in 1618.
England avoided direct involvement, but the nation simmered with internal religious tension.
“James himself was fairly tolerant in terms of religious faith, but the Gunpowder Plot (an attempt by Guy Fawkes and other Roman Catholic conspirators to blow up the Houses of Parliament) in 1605 resulted in the reimposition of strict penalties on Roman Catholics,” states the official website of the British Royal Family.
Protestant reformists who opposed the Anglican Church also faced persecution and sought freedom to practice their faith elsewhere during the reign of King James I.
“The most influential version of the most influential book in the world, in what is now its most influential language.” — The Times on the King James Bible
The religious puritans we now call the Pilgrims left England for Holland in 1608, before finding refuge and laying the foundation of a new Christian society in the Plymouth Colony in 1620. Other Puritans followed them to America after James’ rule, establishing the nearby Massachusetts Colony in 1630.
King James commissioned an English-language Bible in 1604.
It was published in 1611.
“The most influential version of the most influential book in the world, in what is now its most influential language,” The Times of London enthused in 2011, in its celebration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.
Praised for its beautiful translation of previous Greek and Hebrew texts, the King James Bible made the stories of the Old and New Testaments widely available to common English speakers for the first time — and on both sides of the Atlantic.
The King James Bible played a powerful role in the spread of English as the world’s universal language and proved particularly popular in American Christianity, faith experts note.
James suffered a stroke and died at his hunting estate Theobalds on March 27, 1625. He was 58.
He was succeeded by his son, King Charles I, and is buried today at Westminster Abbey near both his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, and her executioner, Queen Elizabeth I.