In 1601, convinced that an uprising against Elizabeth’s unpopular government was imminent, James sent the Earl of Mar and diplomat Edward Bruce to assist the Earl of Essex in his revolt against Elizabeth. By the time Mar and Bruce reached England Essex was already dead. Bruce and Mar approached Cecil, who made it clear that he backed James as heir to the throne of England.
A secret correspondence was set up between James and Cecil, who insisted on absolute secrecy.
If Her Majesty had known all I did…..her age and orbity, joined to the jealousy of her sex, might have moved her to think ill of that which helped preserve her.’[i]James required that Cecil work with two Englishmen that he trusted; Lord Henry Howard[ii] and the Earl of Worcester[iii]. Cecil organised Worcester’s elevation to the Privy Council in the summer of 1601; alongside came the Earl of Shrewsbury[iv] and Sir John Stanhope[v].
Cecil worked to train James in the art of ruling England; while his mistress was declining. Elizabeth said of herself
‘I am not sick, I feel no pain and yet I pine away.’[vi]On 24th March 1603 Elizabeth died in her 70th year never having nominated a successor for fear that her people would worship the rising sun rather than the setting one. A scramble northwards on the part of politicians and courtiers began.
A Hard Act to FollowThree hundred knighthoods were sprinkled about those who had rushed north to inform the new king of Elizabeth’s death and James now travelled down to his new kingdom;
‘Like a poor man wandering about forty years in a wilderness and barren soil and now arrived at the land of promise.’[vii]James visited the mansions of the English nobility as he travelled south. He did not appreciate the crowds and his indifference to ceremonial and his impatience became subjects of public gossip. The contrast with Elizabeth, who was well aware that her subjects needed an object of devotion, was marked. Anne on the other hand was made for the cheering English;
‘With great mildness……never leaving [off] to bend her body this way and that, that men and women wept for joy.’[viii]James was able to indulge his taste for hunting in new surroundings and later in his reign would be accused of neglecting affairs of state to gratify this passion.
There was also the inevitable issue of money; the Crown was heavily in debt and James was not good with money. James was handing out pensions and grants of money with abandon; one recipient being Ludovic Stuart[ix], the second Duke of Lennox.The English parliament was a very different kettle of fish to the Scottish parliament that James was used to. Parliament laid claim to controlling the grants of money to the Crown. The Puritan members had already started flexing their muscles in the dying years of Elizabeth’s reign and the Millenary Petition[x], demanding a return to purer forms of religious ceremony, was handed to James en route for London[xi].
Plotting Against the KingJames did have one peerless servant; the incomparable Cecil who was made Baron Cecil on 20th August[xii]. Another servant was Lord Henry Howard[xiii], an exceptionally avaricious noble who joined with Cecil in intriguing against Sir Walter Ralegh[xiv] and Lord Cobham. Cecil had already blackened their names to James long before he became king of England. His antipathy was well known; Sir John Harington wrote to John Still, Bishop of Bath and Wells
‘I much fear for my Lord Grey[xv] and Ralegh……..Cecil doth bear no love to Ralegh as you well understand.’[xvi]
In July 1603 Ralegh and Cobham were arrested for plotting to replace James with his cousin Arbella. The plot had been uncovered during the investigations into the Bye Plot, a Puritan and Catholic conspiracy aimed at increasing religious toleration and removal of some of the king’s ministers. The Bye plotters intended to kidnap James while he was still en route to London.The Bye plot was exposed by three of the plotters John Gerard and Henry Garnet[xvii] and George Blackwell[xviii]. Cecil was already aware of the plotting and the main conspirators were arrested and questioned and tried under the auspices of Sir John Popham[xix]. Ralegh and Cobham’s fall from grace ended with a thirteen year stay in the Tower of London; a number of the Bye plotters were executed. And by an edict on 22nd January 1604 James ordered that all Roman Catholic clergy leave the kingdom by 19th March.
Church and StateAt the Hampton Court Conference, convened in January 1604, James met with leading Anglican clerics and Puritans. Always one for the middle way, James was pleased to be able to agree with all but the more extreme Catholics and Puritans. The most significant result of the conference was the commissioning by James of an authorised version of the bible, known as the King James’ Version[xx].
The conference ended without the extreme Puritans getting what they wanted and James declared;
‘I shall make them conform themselves, or I will harry them out of the land.’[xxi]And thereafter the Puritans came to be identified with the party of dissent, even as James’ political opponents leaned towards Puritanism.
Not long after the conference the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift died and James appointed the anti-Puritan Richard Bancroft[xxii] in his place. It was Bancroft who oversaw the production of James’ new bible.James was not anti-Catholic and told Cecil that;
‘I will never allow in my conscience that the blood of any man shall be shed for diversity of opinions in religion.’[xxiii]
Cecil was not prepared to allow the relaxation of the laws that the Catholics were expecting from James. Instead stricter measures were enacted against priests and recusants.Remember, Remember the Fifth of November
Despite its resonance down the ages, the Gunpowder Plot was hardly a well planned conspiracy. The plotters wanted England ruled by a Catholic monarch but were unable to gain the interest or support of Philip III of Spain, nor of the Governors of the Spanish Netherlands, Philip’s daughter Isabella and her husband Albert.
|Earl of Northumberland|
From relatively early on Cecil was aware of the plotting and he planned to use it to ensure that he remained essential to James, to crush Jesuit activity in England and to bring down the Earl of Northumberland[xxiv], a Catholic sympathiser[xxv].The plot was organised by the charismatic Robert Catesby, who decided that the best way to rid the world of the moderate James was to blow up parliament when it met. James was to be replaced by his infant daughter Elizabeth. Catesby’s tool, the not so bright Guido Fawkes, was tasked with the mechanics of the projected explosion.
The anonymous note sent to Lord Monteagle, warning him to stay away from the opening of parliament, was probably written at Cecil’s direction by forger Thomas Phelippes[xxvi]. The search of the undercroft at the palace of Westminster produced Guido Fawkes.
James reaction to the plot was one of a man who in youth had worn padded doublets to foil an assassin’s knife; he compared this plot with the Gowrie conspiracy;
‘I may justly compare these two great and fearful doomsdays[xxvii] werewith God threatened to destroy me…….thereby to teach me that it was the same devil that still persecuted me, so it was one and the same God that still mightily delivered me.’[xxviii]Once James had calmed down he demanded an Oath of Allegiance, which required that all Catholics who attended Anglican services should also take the sacrament. But he was more interested in the power secular and that the Catholics should recognise him as their sovereign and repudiate the right of the Pope to depose heretical monarchs.
The Early Stuarts – Godfrey Davies, Oxford University Press 1987The Gunpowder Plot – Antonia Fraser, BCA 1996
King James – Antonia Fraser, BCA 1974Robert Cecil – Alan Haynes, Peter Owen Publishers 1989
After Elizabeth – Leanda de Lisle, Harper Perennial 2006www.wikipedia.en
[i] After Elizabeth – de Lisle
[iii] Leader of the English Catholics
[iv] Arbella Stuart’s uncle
[vi] King James - Fraser
[vii] King James - Fraser
[ix] Son of James’ reputed lover Esmé Stuart
[x] Allegedly signed by 1,000 members of the clergy
[xii] The following year he was made Viscount Cranborne and in 1605 was made Earl of Salisbury
[xiii] Made Earl of Northampton the following year
[xiv] Cecil’s brother-in-law
[xv] Involved in the Bye plot
[xvi] After Elizabeth – de Lisle
[xvii] Both Jesuits; Garnet was a major player in the Gunpowder Plot
[xxi] King James - Fraser
[xxii] Formerly Bishop of London
[xxiii] Robert Cecil - Haynes
[xxiv] The aristocratic Henry Percy looked down on the nouveau riche Cecil; suspected of being a plotter Percy was imprisoned in the Tower for 17 years and was fined £30,000, to compare the value of a £30,000 0s 0d Income or Wealth , in 2011 the relative historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £5,404,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £156,800,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £1,124,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[xxv] It was fairly standard practise in Elizabethan times for the government to assist plotters on to their destruction
[xxvii] Both taking place on Tuesday and the 5th of the month
[xxviii] King James - Fraser