- The Making of the Jacobean Regime: James VI and I and the Government of England, 1603–1605
King James VI and I has never suffered from a lack of scrutiny. His handling of religious conflict, understanding of English law, reliance of local authority, and desire for peace with Spain have been copiously analyzed and profusely celebrated. James, once seen as an aloof and often reckless monarch, is now understood as a superbly skilled and pragmatic monarch whose education and Scottish reign prepared him well for governing England.
While Diana Newton does not take issue with this portrayal, she believes a better understanding of James's rule is attainable by broadening the context of his early years. This means that traditional methods of examining James's reign — the preoccupation with particular events, most notably the Gunpowder Plot — must be rejected in favor of an "holistic" (146) treatment of his first two years in England. This approach allows her to effectively read James's governing style as "responses" to events, from which she concludes he was a quick study, one who skillfully governed in the "grey areas" (141).
Crucial to Newton's thesis is that James's approach to England was based on his Scottish rule, especially when it came to handling Puritan ministers and Catholic recusants. His modus operandi was to navigate between extremes by never promising too much, thus avoiding any lessening of his options. This method of "ruling through the art of the possible" (110) combined with personal attention to policy, often led to misunderstandings of his intentions, even if it guided him [End Page 261] through Puritan and Catholic criticisms of the Canons of 1604. For instance, Puritans believed that James's refusal to persecute Catholics was the first step to full toleration. This fear was exacerbated by James's suspension of penal statutes against recusants as one of his first acts in England. This anxiety was a direct effect of James's style. His experience in Scotland taught him that Catholicism was not, as Elizabeth believed, an international political system aimed at internal rebellion. Rather, Catholics were simply misguided, but not disloyal. Therefore, he preferred to dangle enough hope in front Catholics and Puritans to bolster his own power.
Newton also insists that James's dogged insistence on detailed information and personal handling of affairs shortened the learning curve. This was especially evident in 1604, the eventful year that saw James propose a union of kingdoms, oversee the Hampton Court Conference, and direct the Treaty of London. In all of these matters, James faced considerable opposition but managed, in most cases, to turn risk into reward. One common response was to empower local magistrates in order to shore up support and retain order. Relying on assize judges to gather information about local affairs and requiring constables and justices of the peace to ensure accountability, James made his authority felt in the localities. In February 1605, James used the Northamptonshire Petition to tighten his grip on local power, claiming that his realm was threatened by any who declared the deprivations illegal, petitioned the king on their behalf, or questioned his authority. Despite (or because of) his resentment, James culled the advice of his judges and established a legal basis for local agents to ensure tranquility.
One of the values of The Making of the Jacobean Regime is its emphasis on James as both student and ultimately near master of English rule. By 1605, Newton argues, James had learned to govern his kingdom through pragmatism and circumspection, consistently and cleverly turning religious conflict and border disputes into opportunities to strengthen and improve his authority. His naïveté of English rule in 1603 had morphed into political capital.
While Newton effectively compresses a variety of issues in a rather short work, she gives, unfortunately, short shrift to James's proposed union of kingdoms and makes only oblique references to multi...