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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Early Modern Period

16th - 18th century


The smooth transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age is conventionally fixed on such events as the Reformation and the discovery of the "New World," which brought about the emergence of a new image of man and his world. Humanism, which spread out of Italy, also made an essential contribution to this with its promotion of a critical awareness of Christianity and the Church. The Reformation eventually broke the all-embracing power of the Church. After the Thirty Years' War, the concept of a universal empire was also nullified. The era of the nation-state began, bringing with it the desire to build up political and economic power far beyond Europe. The Americas, Africa, and Asia provided regions of expansion for the Europeans.

Proportions of the Human Figure by Leonardo da Vinci (drawing, ca. 1490)
is a prime example of the new approach of Renaissance
artists and scientists to the anatomy of the human body.



The Rise of England



The House of Stuart produced six English monarchs

King James I (1603 to 1625).
King Charles I (1625 to 1649).
King Charles II (1660 to 1685).
King James II (1685 to 1688).
Queen Mary II (1689 to 1702). Reigned with William III of House of Orange-Nassau.
Queen Anne (1702 to 1714)

The Reign of the Stuarts

The personal union of the crowns of England and Scotland was brought about by James I, the son of Mary Stuart, in 1603. He and his son Charles I failed with their idea of an absolute monarchy, and Charles was executed.


When the House of Tudor died out with Elizabeth I in 1603, King James VI of the Scottish 5 Stuarts succeeded in England as James I.

5 Holyrood Palace, the residence of the Scottish kings, construction begun in 1528

James's mother, 1 Mary Stuart, known as Mary Queen of Scots, a granddaughter of Henry VII and a Scottish queen since birth, had raised a claim to the English throne in 1558.

The Catholic queen saw in Elizabeth only the illegitimate child of Henry VIII and not a rightful claimant to the throne.

During her reign in Scotland, a Calvinistic Reformation took place under 3 John Knox that combined with civil wars and acts of violence even in the immediate surroundings of the queen.

In 1578 Mary was deposed by a rebellion of Protestant nobles and imprisoned. She managed to escape to England, but was held captive there as well.

When her intimate friends and England's Catholics tried to set her free, Queen Elizabeth had her charged with high treason and, in 1587, 6 executed.

Mary I of Scotland by Rowland Lockley

3 John Knox, copper engraving

6 The execution of Mary Stuart, on February 8, 1587 in Fotheringhay
6 The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots by Abel de Pujol Alexandre-Denis

2 James I tried to bring about a reconciliation between the faiths.

He wanted to establish royal absolutism in England after the union of the two kingdoms, but failed due to the resistance of Parliament. The dispute over royal rights continued, but James adopted the Anglican state church model, which disappointed the Catholics. He insisted on the principle of the Divine Right of Kings to rule.

James's second son 4 Charles I, who took over the throne from his father in 1625, also tended toward absolutism and approached Spain against the will of Parliament.

2 James I of England from the period 1603–1613,
by Paul van Somer

4 The Stuart king Charles I from three perspectives,
painting by
Antony van Dyck, ca. 1635

Up until 1640, he reacted to the resistance of the members of Parliament by repeatedly dissolving Parliament or not calling it into session, which inflamed the temper of the country. His unfortunate ecclesiastical policies led to revolts in Scotland and his permanent financial crisis forced him to summon the so-called Long Parliament, which ousted the king's favorites and leading ministers, and stayed in session until 1653. The parliamentary majority led by John Pym allied itself with the Scots, and in 1642 a civil war broke out, with the king and the royalist minority opposing the parliamentary majority, whose troops were commanded by Oliver Cromwell. After several defeats, in 1644-45 the king fled to Scotland but was handed over to the English Parliament in 1646.

In 1647 he escaped and war broke out again, but in 1648 Charles I was recaptured and, after a trial before the Lower House, 7 executed for high treason in London in 1649.


7 Execution of Charles I


Sir Antony van Dyck
Charles I painted in April 1634

see collection:

Antony v
an Dyck


Sir Antony van Dyck
Charles I on Horseback


Sir Antony van Dyck
Equestrian Portrait of Charles I, King of England




Mary Stuart

Mary Queen of Scots in a official portrait

Queen of Scotland
byname Mary Queen of Scots, original name Mary Stuart or Mary Stewart
born December 8, 1542, Linlithgow Palace, West Lothian, Scotland
died February 8, 1587, Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, England

queen of Scotland (1542–67) and queen consort of France (1559–60). Her unwise marital and political actions provoked rebellion among the Scottish nobles, forcing her to flee to England, where she was eventually beheaded as a Roman Catholic threat to the English throne.

Mary Queen of Scots when she was 13

Early life
Mary Stuart was the only child of King James V of Scotland and his French wife, Mary of Guise. The death of her father six days after her birth left Mary as queen of Scotland in her own right. Although Mary’s great-uncle King Henry VIII of England made an unsuccessful effort to secure control of her (Mary inherited Tudor blood through her grandmother, a sister of Henry VIII), the regency of the kingdom was settled in favour of her mother.

Her mother saw to it that Mary was sent to France at age five. There she was brought up at the court of King Henry II and his queen Catherine de Médicis with their own large family, assisted by relations on her mother’s side, the powerful Guises. Despite a charmed childhood of much luxury, including frequent hunting and dancing (at both of which she excelled), Mary’s education was not neglected, and she was taught Latin, Italian, Spanish, and some Greek. French now became her first language, and indeed in every other way Mary grew into a Frenchwoman rather than a Scot.

Mary, Queen of Scots in "white mourning" by François Clouet


By her remarkable beauty, with her tall, slender figure (she was about 5 feet 11 inches), her red-gold hair and amber-coloured eyes, and her taste for music and poetry, Mary summed up the contemporary ideal of the Renaissance princess at the time of her marriage to Francis, eldest son of Henry and Catherine, in April 1558. Although it was a political match aimed at the union of France and Scotland, Mary was sincerely fond of her boy husband, though the marriage was probably never consummated.

The accession of Elizabeth Tudor to the throne of England in November 1558 meant that Mary was, by virtue of her Tudor blood, next in line to the English throne. Those Roman Catholics who considered Elizabeth illegitimate because they regarded Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn invalid even looked upon Mary as the lawful queen. Mary’s father-in-law, Henry II of France, thus claimed the English throne on her behalf. The death of Henry in 1559 brought Francis to the French throne and made Mary a glittering queen consort of France, until Francis’s premature death in December 1560 made her a widow at the age of 18.

King Frances II of France and his wife Mary Stuart,
Queen of France and Queen of Scotland, Francois II and
Mary Stewart, Queen of Scotland, his wife c. 1558.
Mary (age 17) and Francis (age 15)

Mary, around the time of her wedding to Francis in 1558

Queen of Scotland
Returning to Scotland in August 1561, Mary discovered that her sheltered French upbringing had made her ill-equipped to cope with the series of problems now facing her. Mary’s former pretensions to the English throne had incurred Elizabeth’s hostility. She refused to acknowledge Mary as her heiress, however much Mary, nothing if not royal by temperament, prized her English rights. While Mary herself was a Roman Catholic, the official religion of Scotland had been reformed to Protestantism in her absence, and she thus represented to many, including the leading Calvinist preacher John Knox, a foreign queen of an alien religion. Most difficult of all were the Scottish nobles; factious and turbulent after a series of royal minorities, they cared more for private feuds and self-aggrandizement than support of the crown. Nevertheless, for the first years of her rule, Mary managed well, with the aid of her bastard half-brother James, earl of Moray, and helped in particular by her policy of religious tolerance. Nor were all the Scots averse to the spectacle of a pretty young queen creating a graceful court life and enjoying her progresses round the country.

Mary with her second husband, Darnley

It was Mary’s second marriage in July 1565 to her cousin Henry Stewart (Stuart), earl of Darnley, son of Matthew Stewart, 4th earl of Lennox, that started the fatal train of events culminating in her destruction. Mary married the handsome Darnley recklessly for love. It was a disastrous choice because by her marriage she antagonized all the elements interested in the power structure of Scotland, including Elizabeth, who disapproved of Mary marrying another Tudor descendant, and her half brother James, who, jealous of the Lennox family’s rise to power, promptly rebelled. Nor did Darnley’s character measure up to the promise of his appearance—he was weak, vicious, and yet ambitious. The callous butchery of her secretary and confidant, David Riccio (Rizzio), in front of her own eyes, in March 1566, by Darnley and a group of nobles, convinced Mary that her husband had aimed at her own life. The birth of their son James in June did nothing to reconcile the couple, and Mary, armed now with the heir she had craved, looked for some means to relieve an intolerable situation.

Mary, Queen of Scots, by Nicholas Hilliard

The next eight months constitute the most tangled and controversial period of Mary’s career. According to Mary’s detractors, it was during this period that she developed an adulterous liaison with James Hepburn, 4th earl of Bothwell, and planned with him the death of Darnley and their own following marriage. There is, however, no contemporary evidence of this love affair, before Darnley’s death, except the highly dubious so-called Casket Letters, poems and letters supposedly written by Mary to Bothwell but now generally considered to be inadmissible evidence by historians. But Mary did undoubtedly consider the question of a divorce from Darnley, after a serious illness in October 1566, which left her health wrecked and her spirits low. On the night of February 9, 1567, the house at Kirk o’ Field on the outskirts of Edinburgh where Darnley lay recovering from illness was blown up, and Darnley himself was strangled while trying to escape. Many theories have been put forward to explain conflicting accounts of the crime, including the possibility that Darnley, plotting to blow up Mary, was caught in his own trap. Nevertheless, the most obvious explanation—that those responsible were the nobles who hated Darnley—is the most likely one.

Whatever Mary’s foreknowledge of the crime, her conduct thereafter was fatally unwise and showed how much she lacked wise counselors in Scotland. After three months, she allowed herself to be married off to Bothwell, the chief suspect, after he abducted and ravished her. If passion is rejected as the motive, Mary’s behaviour can be ascribed to her increasing despair, exacerbated by ill health, at her inability to manage the affairs of tempestuous Scotland without a strong arm to support her. But in fact Bothwell as a consort proved no more acceptable to the jealous Scottish nobility than Darnley had been. Mary and Bothwell were parted forever at Carberry Hill on June 15, 1567, Bothwell to exile and imprisonment where he died in 1578, and Mary to incarceration on the tiny island of Loch Leven, where she was formally deposed in favour of her one-year-old son James. After a brief fling of liberty the following year, defeat of her supporters at a battle at Langside put her once more to flight. Impulsively, Mary sought refuge in England with her cousin Elizabeth. But Elizabeth, with all the political cunning Mary lacked, employed a series of excuses connected with the murder of Darnley to hold Mary in English captivity in a series of prisons for the next 18 years of her life. In the meantime, Mary’s brother Moray flourished as regent of Scotland.

Mary in captivity, c. 1580

Captivity in England
Mary’s captivity was long and wearisome, only partly allayed by the consolations of religion and, on a more mundane level, her skill at embroidery and her love of such little pets as lap dogs and singing birds. Her health suffered from the lack of physical exercise, her figure thickened, and her beauty diminished, as can be seen in the best-known pictures of her in black velvet and white veil, dating from 1578. Naturally, she concentrated her energies on procuring release from an imprisonment she considered unjustified, at first by pleas, and later by conspiracy. Unfortunately for her survival, Mary as a Catholic was the natural focus for the hopes of those English Catholics who wished to replace the Protestant queen Elizabeth on the throne. It was the discovery in 1586 of a plot to assassinate Elizabeth and bring about a Roman Catholic uprising that convinced Queen Elizabeth that, while she lived, Mary would always constitute too dangerous a threat to her own position.

The execution of Mary Stuart

Despite the fact that she was the sovereign queen of another country, Mary was tried by an English court and condemned; her son, James, who had not seen his mother since infancy and now had his sights fixed on succeeding to the English throne, raised no objections. Mary was executed in 1587 in the great hall at Fotheringhay Castle, near Peterborough; she was 44 years old. It was a chilling scene, redeemed by the great personal dignity with which Mary met her fate. Her body ultimately came to rest in Westminster Abbey in a magnificent monument James I raised to his mother, after he finally ascended the throne of England.

A romantic and tragic figure to her supporters, a scheming adulteress if not murderess to her political enemies, Mary aroused furious controversy in her own lifetime, during which her cousin Queen Elizabeth aptly termed her “the daughter of debate.” Her dramatic story has continued to provoke argument among historians ever since, while the public interest in this 16th-century femme fatale remains unabated.

Lady Antonia Fraser

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Tomb of Mary, Queen of Scots in Westminster Abbey, London, by Bernard Gagnon




John Knox

Scottish religious leader

born c. 1514, near Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland
died November 24, 1572, Edinburgh

foremost leader of the Scottish Reformation, who set the austere moral tone of the Church of Scotland and shaped the democratic form of government it adopted. He was influenced by George Wishart, who was burned for heresy in 1546, and the following year Knox became the spokesman for the Reformation in Scotland. After a period of intermittent imprisonment and exile in England and on the European continent, in 1559 he returned to Scotland, where he supervised the preparation of the constitution and liturgy of the Reformed Church. His most important literary work was his History of the Reformation in Scotland.

Early life
Almost nothing is known of Knox’s life before 1540, the accounts given by his earlier biographers being mostly fanciful. Of his parentage it is known only that his mother’s name was Sinclair (Knox used the name John Sinclair as an incognito in times of danger), that his father’s name was William, and that he and both Knox’s grandfathers had fought, and two of them had died—perhaps at the Battle of Flodden against Henry VIII’s troops. The family may have been farmers.

It is supposed that Knox trained for the priesthood under the scholar John Major, most probably at the University of St. Andrews. Knox did not take a master’s degree, however, but he ended his training with a mind imbued with that delight in abstract thought and dialectical disputation which, even in that age, was recognized throughout Europe as typical of Scottish scholarship. He was in priest’s orders by 1540, and in 1543 he was known to be also practicing as an apostolic notary in the Haddington area, which would seem to indicate that he was in good standing with the ecclesiastical authorities.

Two years later, however, Knox was in more equivocal company as tutor to the sons of two gentlemen of East Lothian who were deeply involved in the intrigues of political Protestantism. Under their protection, George Wishart, a Scottish Reformation leader who was to become an early martyr for the cause, began a preaching tour in the Lothians in December 1545. Knox was much in his company, and Knox’s complete conversion to the Reformed faith dates from his contact with Wishart, whose memory he cherished ever afterward. Wishart was burned for heresy in March 1546 by Cardinal David Beaton, archbishop of St. Andrews, who, rather than the weak governor, was the real ruler of Scotland. Wishart’s execution began a chain of events that profoundly altered Knox’s life. Three months later, Beaton was murdered by Protestant conspirators who fortified themselves in St. Andrews castle.

Meantime, Knox, accompanied by his pupils, was moving from place to place to escape persecution and arrest. His desire was to go to Germany to study there at the Protestant seats of learning, but his employers sent word to him to take their sons to St. Andrews and continue their education under the protection of the castle. Thus, in April 1547, less than a year after the cardinal’s murder and against his own desire, Knox arrived with his pupils in St. Andrews—still an unknown man. The three months that he spent there transformed him, against his own predisposition, into the acknowledged spokesman and protagonist of the Reformation movement in Scotland. The Protestants in the castle had become involved in controversy with the university; several of them, becoming aware that a man of uncommon gifts had joined them, pressed upon Knox’s conscience the duty of taking up “the public office and charge of preaching.” Knox’s inclination was for the quiet of the study and the schoolroom, not for the responsibilities and perils of the life of a preacher of a proscribed and persecuted faith. He resisted the call with tears, and only after great hesitation was he persuaded to preach in the town of St. Andrews a sermon that convinced friend and foe alike that the great spokesman of Scottish Protestantism had been found. This was the turning point of Knox’s life; from this time forward he regarded himself as called to preaching by God, and he was the more certain of the divine origin and compulsion of the call in that it ran counter to every inclination of his own.

At the end of June 1547, French assistance reached the governor of Scotland. The garrison of St. Andrews castle, bombarded from without and assailed by plague within, capitulated on terms that were not kept; Knox and others were carried off to slavery in the French galleys. English intervention secured his release 19 months later, though with permanently broken health.

In England the Protestant government of Edward VI was endeavouring to hurry clergy and people into the Reformation faster, if anything, than most of them were willing to go. For this program preachers and propagandists were urgently required; and because a return to a Scotland under Roman Catholic rule was impossible for Knox at this time, the English government promptly made him one of a select corps of licensed preachers and sent him north to propagate the Reformation in the turbulent garrison town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. He brought order to the town and established a congregation on Puritan lines, and there he met Marjorie Bowes, who was to become his wife. Early in 1551 he was given a new assignment in Newcastle and a little later was appointed to be one of the six royal chaplains whose duties included periodic residence at, and preaching before, the court as well as itinerant evangelism in areas where the regular clergy were lacking in Protestant zeal. He later refused to accept the bishopric of Rochester and the vicarage of Allhallows, London, but continued, under the patronage of the government, to exercise an itinerant ministry, mainly, but not exclusively, in Buckinghamshire, Kent, and London.

In three respects Knox left his mark on the Church of England: he took part in the shaping of its articles; he secured the insertion into The Book of Common Prayer of the so-called black rubric, which denies the corporal presence of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine used in Holy Communion and explains that kneeling at communion implies no adoration of the elements; and he was one of the chief foster fathers of English Puritanism, a reform movement started within the state church with a view to the more rigorous application of Reformation principles in doctrine and worship.

Escape to the Continent
On the accession of Mary Tudor, a Roman Catholic, to the throne in 1553, Knox was one of the last of the Protestant leaders to flee the country. He escaped to the Continent disturbed by the realization that the fate of “true religion” in England had turned on the religious opinions of one woman. He could see no security for the Reformation anywhere if the personal whim of a sovereign was permitted to settle the religion of a nation. Might it not be legitimate for Protestant subjects, in such circumstances, to resist—if necessary by force—the subversion of their religion by a Roman Catholic ruler? Knox formulated his fateful conclusion, later to be applied in Scotland, that God-fearing magistrates and nobility have both the right and the duty to resist, if necessary by force, a ruler who threatens the safety of true religion. Also in 1554 Knox published his Faithful Admonition to the Protestants who remained in England. Its extremism and intemperate language served to increase the sufferings of those to whom it was addressed; and, coming as it did from one who was in comparative safety, it alienated many in England from him.

In the same year, on the insistence of John Calvin, Knox became minister of a congregation of English refugees, mainly Puritan, in Frankfurt am Main; but he remained there for only a few months. He then became minister of the growing congregation of English exiles in Geneva, a pastorate that lasted until his final return to Scotland in 1559, but was interrupted at the outset by a visit (1555–56) to Berwick and a nine-month sojourn in Scotland, in the course of which he married Marjorie Bowes. She died, having borne him two sons, in 1560.

In Edinburgh Knox was astounded by the progress made by the Reformed cause and by the eager reception given to him by all classes in the community. To the nobility, in visits to their country houses, he propounded his doctrine of “justifiable resistance” to Roman Catholic rulers who attacked the faith of Protestant subjects and urged them to withdraw from all the rites and ceremonies of the Roman Church and to band themselves together for the defense of Protestantism in case that should prove necessary. A peremptory summons from his congregation called him back to Geneva; but he left to the faithful in Scotland an important Letter of Wholesome Counsel (1556) enjoining not only private family worship but also weekly meetings of believers for corporate Bible study and discussion. From these weekly meetings, Reformed congregations grew apace, and from the leaders of these congregations came the elders of the Reformed Church.

Geneva was to Knox a beloved city in which he spent the happiest years of his life, highly esteemed, in peace, and among kindred souls. From this period (1556–58) dates his elaborate and rather tedious treatise on Predestination as well as his first blast of the trumpet against the monstruous regiment [rule] of women, in which he states with uncurbed vehemence the common belief of his day that the exercise of authority by women is contrary to both natural law and revealed religion. The pamphlet was aimed at the three women who were holding the reins of government in England, France, and Scotland and were oppressing Protestantism; but, unfortunately for Knox, publication coincided with the accession in England of the Protestant Elizabeth I, who indignantly and permanently debarred the rash author from her realm.

Recall to Scotland
In Scotland, matters reached a crisis in the spring of 1559. Two years earlier the Protestant lords had signed a “band,” or covenant, on Knox’s advice, pledging themselves to foster and defend “the Congregation of the Lord” and its ministers (hence their name “Lords of the Congregation”). The queen regent, the French-born Mary of Guise, had deemed it politic to make concessions to them. But when hostilities between Spain and France ended early in 1559, opening the possibility of stronger French intervention in Scotland, the queen regent felt that the time had come to call a final halt to the expansion of Protestantism. To this end she summoned the Protestant preachers, as ringleaders of the growing Protestant insubordination, to appear before her on May 10 at Stirling. The Protestants replied by recalling Knox from Geneva, and the Protestant lords, lairds, and commoners mustered at Dundee. On May 4, Knox joined them and they advanced to Perth, where, after a vehement sermon by Knox, the friaries were sacked.

By the end of June, Edinburgh was temporarily in Protestant hands and Knox was preaching in St. Giles’s; but the triumph was illusory and Knox knew it. The voluntary army of Protestants could not keep the field for more than a few weeks; the mercenary army of the queen regent could keep the field indefinitely and strike a crushing blow as Protestant strength declined. At this juncture Henry II of France died and power fell into the hands of the Guises, the brothers of the queen regent and uncles of the young queen of France—Mary, Queen of Scots and consort of Francis II, the new king of France. Strong French intervention in Scotland was now assured in furtherance of the Guise plan to displace Queen Elizabeth of England and to unite France, Scotland, and England under Francis II, of France, and Mary. Thus a political issue of critical international importance cut athwart the religious issue in Scotland. A French victory in Scotland would place Elizabeth and England in peril. It therefore behooved England to make common cause with the Scottish Protestants. Knox lost no opportunity to drive this fact home to Elizabeth. The autumn and winter of 1559 saw the Scottish Protestants in desperate plight. Only Knox’s superhuman exertions and indomitable spirit kept the cause in being. In the blackest hour Knox put fresh heart into the despairing Protestant leaders and staved off defeat at the hands of the government’s French mercenaries. On Knox’s resolution alone in these months hung the fate not only of Scottish Protestantism but of Elizabeth’s England as well.

In the spring of 1560, Elizabeth at last consented to English action. In April, 10,000 English troops joined the Scottish Protestants, the queen regent died in Edinburgh castle, and the disheartened French gave up. By treaty, French and English troops were then withdrawn, leaving the victorious Scottish Protestants to set their own house in order. Queen Mary was a Roman Catholic and an absentee in France, and all her sympathies were with the defeated side. The Scottish Parliament had never exercised much power, but now, meeting in August without royal authority, it proceeded to grapple with the religious issue. The Scots Confession (hurriedly prepared by Knox and three others) was adopted, and papal jurisdiction was abolished.

Shaping the Reformed Church
Knox, aided by a committee of distinguished churchmen, laid before the Scottish Parliament the First Book of Discipline containing proposals for the constitution and finance of the Reformed Church. Worship was to be regulated by the Book of Common Order (also called Knox’s Liturgy), according to which congregations were to be governed by elders elected annually by the people and the elders were to aid the minister to maintain firm moral discipline among the people. Ministers were to be elected by the people but to be appointed only after rigorous examination of life and doctrine by their ministerial brethren. The ablest ministers were to be appointed superintendents of areas roughly corresponding to the old dioceses; they were to supervise the ministers and congregations in the area and were to be assisted by provincial synods of ministers and elders. In the high place given to the laity, Knox’s system contains the most essential element of later Presbyterianism.

The Book of Discipline proceeds to outline a most elaborate educational scheme and plans for a much-needed scheme of systematic aid of the poor. Finally it urges that the endowments of the old church should be made available for the financing of these admittedly costly schemes of the new church. But the proposals thus outlined foundered on the rock of finance. The endowments of the old church were plunder in a poor land for the nobility, who had scant sympathy with Knox’s “devout imaginings.” Parliament shelved the financial problem by the temporary expedient of granting to the remaining Roman Catholic clergy the life-rent of their benefices, provided they contributed to the maintenance of the Reformed Church out of their revenues. Knox was deeply embittered by the enforced abandonment of his schemes for education and poor relief and by the scant provision for the Reformed Church.

Mary arrived in Scotland in 1561 already persuaded that Knox was to be her archenemy and that the country could not hold them both. Knox, who hoped at first that the young queen would prove pliable, soon reached a similar conviction. The first three of his audiences with Mary were polite skirmishes; in the fourth, battle was joined in grim earnest. Hearing that Mary was contemplating marriage with Don Carlos of Spain, a match that would have had fatal consequences for the Scottish Reformation and probably for England as well, Knox sounded the Protestant alarm. Mary, enraged at this intervention by a heretic preacher and commoner in affairs of state, berated Knox with hysterical fury and charged him with treason, but the Privy Council refused to convict him. Knox filled Mary’s cup of bitterness in 1564 by marrying, without the royal assent, Margaret Stewart, a 17-year-old distant relative of the queen.

In 1564 Mary dismissed her Protestant advisers and undertook the mismanagement of her own affairs. For a time the Reformed Church was in real danger, but in 1567 came Mary’s ruin and abdication, and Knox’s old friend James Stewart, earl of Moray, became regent. In him the Reformed Church would have found a powerful patron, but he was murdered and the country plunged into a struggle between the supporters of the queen and those of the regency. Knox was involved in the turmoil, but he suffered a paralytic stroke. When Edinburgh became a battleground between the factions in 1571, the leaders on both sides insisted on his removal to safety in St. Andrews, from where he returned in 1572 to die. When the news of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of French Protestants reached Scotland, Knox dragged himself to his pulpit in St. Giles’s and drove home the lesson of that tragedy. He stood one last time in the pulpit of St. Giles’s, to introduce his successor.

Knox was a controversial figure, and his influence will always be variously assessed by men of differing religious and political views. Certainly his conviction that the Reformation was God’s cause and must triumph, a conviction he had a remarkable power of impressing upon other minds, was the rock upon which the Reformed Church in Scotland was built. His power as a preacher lay in his capacity to fuse reason with emotion and to be a passionate logician in the pulpit. Intolerant he undoubtedly was, but his Calvinism was a good deal more moderate than that of a later age. He was more temperate in action than in speech, and his private letters reveal an unexpected tenderness. His single-minded, lifelong, and incorruptible devotion to what he believed to be his duty must command respect. There is ample historical testimony that his moral life was in keeping with his rigorous creed.

The Rev. James Stevenson McEwen

Encyclopaedia Britannica




James I

Portrait of James
by John de Critz, c. 1606

Portrait of Anne of Denmark, queen of Scotland,
by John de Critz, c. 1605

king of England and Scotland

born June 19, 1566, Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scot.
died March 27, 1625, Theobalds, Hertfordshire, Eng.

king of Scotland (as James VI) from 1567 to 1625 and first Stuart king of England from 1603 to 1625, who styled himself “king of Great Britain.” James was a strong advocate of royal absolutism, and his conflicts with an increasingly self-assertive Parliament set the stage for the rebellion against his successor, Charles I.

James was the only son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her second husband, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley. Eight months after James’s birth his father died when his house was destroyed by an explosion. After her third marriage, to James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, Mary was defeated by rebel Scottish lords and abdicated the throne. James, one year old, became king of Scotland on July 24, 1567; Mary left the kingdom on May 16, 1568, and never saw her son again. During his minority James was surrounded by a small band of the great Scottish lords, from whom emerged the four successive regents, the earls of Moray, Lennox, Mar, and Morton. There did not exist in Scotland the great gulf between rulers and ruled that separated the Tudors and their subjects in England. For nine generations the Stuarts had in fact been merely the ruling family among many equals, and James all his life retained a feeling for those of the great Scottish lords who gained his confidence.

The young king was kept fairly isolated but was given a good education until the age of 14. He studied Greek, French, and Latin and made good use of a library of classical and religious writings that his tutors, George Buchanan and Peter Young, assembled for him. James’s education aroused in him literary ambitions rarely found in princes but which also tended to make him a pedant.

Before James was 12 he had taken the government nominally into his own hands when the Earl of Morton was driven from the regency in 1578. For several years more, however, James remained the puppet of contending intriguers and faction leaders. After falling under the influence of the Duke of Lennox, a Roman Catholic who schemed to win back Scotland for the imprisoned Queen Mary, James was kidnapped by William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie, in 1582 and was forced to denounce Lennox. The following year James escaped from his Protestant captors and began to pursue his own policies as king. His chief purposes were to escape from subservience to Scottish factions and to establish his claim to succeed the childless Elizabeth I upon the throne of England. Realizing that more was to be gained by cultivating Elizabeth’s goodwill than by allying himself with her enemies, James in 1585–86 concluded an alliance with England. Thenceforward, in his own unsteady fashion, he remained true to this policy, and even Elizabeth’s execution of his mother in 1587 drew from him only formal protests.

In 1589 James was married to Anne, the daughter of Frederick II of Denmark, who, in 1594, gave birth to their first son, Prince Henry. James’s rule of Scotland was basically successful. He was able to play off Protestant and Roman Catholic factions of Scottish nobles against each other, and through a group of commissioners known as the Octavians (1596–97), he was able to rule Scotland almost as absolutely as Elizabeth ruled England. The king was a convinced Presbyterian, but in 1584 he secured a series of acts that made him the head of the Presbyterian church in Scotland, with the power to appoint the church’s bishops.

When James at length succeeded to the English throne on the death of Elizabeth I (March 24, 1603), he was already, as he told the English Parliament, “an old and experienced king” and one with a clearly defined theory of royal government. Unfortunately, neither his experience nor his theory equipped him to solve the new problems facing him; and he lacked the qualities of mind and character to supply the deficiency. James hardly understood the rights or the temper of the English Parliament, and he thus came into conflict with it. He had little contact with the English middle classes, and he suffered from the narrowness of his horizons. His 22-year-long reign over England was to prove almost as unfortunate for the Stuart dynasty as his years before 1603 had been fortunate.

There was admittedly much that was sensible in his policies, and the opening years of his reign as king of Great Britain were a time of material prosperity for both England and Scotland. For one thing, he established peace by speedily ending England’s war with Spain in 1604. But the true test of his statesmanship lay in his handling of Parliament, which was claiming ever-wider rights to criticize and shape public policy. Moreover, Parliament’s established monopoly of granting taxes made its assent necessary for the improvement of the crown’s finances, which had been seriously undermined by the expense of the long war with Spain. James, who had so successfully divided and corrupted Scottish assemblies, never mastered the subtler art of managing an English Parliament. He kept few privy councillors in the House of Commons and thus allowed independent members there to seize the initiative. Moreover, his lavish creations of new peers and, later in his reign, his subservience to various recently ennobled favourites loosened his hold upon the House of Lords. His fondness for lecturing both houses of Parliament about his royal prerogatives offended them and drew forth such counterclaims as the Apology of the Commons (1604). To parliamentary statesmen used to Tudor dignity, James’s shambling gait, restless garrulity, and dribbling mouth ill-befitted his exalted claims to power and privilege.

When Parliament refused to grant him a special fund to pay for his extravagances, James placed new customs duties on merchants without Parliament’s consent, thereby threatening its control of governmental finance. Moreover, by getting the law courts to proclaim these actions as law (1608) after Parliament had refused to enact them, James struck at the houses’ legislative supremacy. In four years of peace, James practically doubled the debt left by Elizabeth, and it was hardly surprising that when his chief minister, Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, tried in 1610–11 to exchange the king’s feudal revenues for a fixed annual sum from Parliament, the negotiations over this so-called Great Contract came to nothing. James dissolved Parliament in 1611.

The abortive Great Contract, and the death of Cecil in 1612, marked the turning point of James’s reign; he was never to have another chief minister who was so experienced and so powerful. During the ensuing 10 years the king summoned only the brief Addled Parliament of 1614. Deprived of parliamentary grants, the crown was forced to adopt unpopular expedients, such as the sale of monopolies, to raise funds. Moreover, during these years the king succumbed to the influence of the incompetent Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset. Carr was succeeded as the king’s favourite by George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, who showed more ability as chief minister but who was even more hated for his arrogance and his monopoly of royal favour.

In his later years the king’s judgment faltered. He embarked on a foreign policy that fused discontent into a formidable opposition. The king felt a sympathy, which his countrymen found inexplicable, for the Spanish ambassador, Diego Sarmiento de Acuña, Count of Gondomar. When Sir Walter Raleigh, who had gone to Guiana in search of gold, came into conflict with the Spaniards, who were then at peace with England, Gondomar persuaded James to have Raleigh beheaded. With Gondomar’s encouragement, James developed a plan to marry his second son and heir Charles to a Spanish princess, along with a concurrent plan to join with Spain in mediating the Thirty Years’ War in Germany. The plan, though plausible in the abstract, showed an astonishing disregard for English public opinion, which solidly supported James’s son-in-law, Frederick, the Protestant elector of the Palatinate, whose lands were then occupied by Spain. When James called a third Parliament in 1621 to raise funds for his designs, that body was bitterly critical of his attempts to ally England with Spain. James in a fury tore the record of the offending Protestations from the House of Commons’ journal and dissolved the Parliament.

The Duke of Buckingham had begun in enmity with Prince Charles, who became the heir when his brother Prince Henry died in 1612, but in the course of time the two formed an alliance from which the king was quite excluded. James was now aging rapidly, and in the last 18 months of his reign he, in effect, exercised no power; Charles and Buckingham decided most issues. James died at his favourite country residence, Theobalds, in Hertfordshire.

Besides the political problems that he bequeathed to his son Charles, James left a body of writings which, though of mediocre quality as literature, entitle him to a unique place among English kings since the time of Alfred. Chief among these writings are two political treatises, The True Lawe of Free Monarchies (1598) and Basilikon Doron (1599), in which he expounded his own views on the divine right of kings. The Poems of James VI of Scotland, 2 vol., were edited by James Craigie (1955–58). The 1616 edition of The Political Works of James I was edited by Charles Howard McIlwain (1918).

The Most Rev. David Mathew

Encyclopaedia Britannica




Charles I

King Charles I, by Sir Antony van Dyck

king of Great Britain and Ireland

born November 19, 1600, Dunfermline Palace, Fife, Scotland
died January 30, 1649, London

king of Great Britain and Ireland (1625–49), whose authoritarian rule and quarrels with Parliament provoked a civil war that led to his execution.

Charles was the second surviving son of James VI of Scotland and Anne of Denmark. He was a sickly child, and, when his father became king of England in March 1603, he was temporarily left behind in Scotland because of the risks of the journey. Devoted to his elder brother, Henry, and to his sister, Elizabeth, he became lonely when Henry died (1612) and his sister left England in 1613 to marry Frederick V, elector of the Rhine Palatinate (see James I).

All his life Charles had a Scots accent and a slight stammer. Small in stature, he was less dignified than his portraits by the Flemish painter Sir Anthony Van Dyck suggest. He was always shy and struck observers as being silent and reserved. His excellent temper, courteous manners, and lack of vices impressed all those who met him, but he lacked the common touch, travelled about little, and never mixed with ordinary people. A patron of the arts (notably of painting and tapestry; he brought both Van Dyck and another famous Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens, to England), he was, like all the Stuarts, also a lover of horses and hunting. He was sincerely religious, and the character of the court became less coarse as soon as he became king. From his father he acquired a stubborn belief that kings are intended by God to rule, and his earliest surviving letters reveal a distrust of the unruly House of Commons with which he proved incapable of coming to terms. Lacking flexibility or imagination, he was unable to understand that those political deceits that he always practiced in increasingly vain attempts to uphold his authority eventually impugned his honour and damaged his credit.

In 1623, before succeeding to the throne, Charles, accompanied by the Duke of Buckingham, King James I’s favourite, made an incognito visit to Spain in order to conclude a marriage treaty with the daughter of King Philip III. When the mission failed, largely because of Buckingham’s arrogance and the Spanish court’s insistence that Charles become a Roman Catholic, he joined Buckingham in pressing his father for war against Spain. In the meantime a marriage treaty was arranged on his behalf with Henrietta Maria, sister of the French king, Louis XIII.

Conflict with Parliament
In March 1625, Charles I became king and married Henrietta Maria soon afterward. When his first Parliament met in June, trouble immediately arose because of the general distrust of Buckingham, who had retained his ascendancy over the new king. The Spanish war was proving a failure and Charles offered Parliament no explanations of his foreign policy or its costs. Moreover, the Puritans, who advocated extemporaneous prayer and preaching in the Church of England, predominated in the House of Commons, whereas the sympathies of the King were with what came to be known as the High Church Party, which stressed the value of the prayer book and the maintenance of ritual. Thus antagonism soon arose between the new king and the Commons, and Parliament refused to vote him the right to levy tonnage and poundage (customs duties) except on conditions that increased its powers, though this right had been granted to previous monarchs for life.

The second Parliament of the reign, meeting in February 1626, proved even more critical of the King’s government, though some of the former leaders of the Commons were kept away because Charles had ingeniously appointed them sheriffs in their counties. The failure of a naval expedition against the Spanish port of Cádiz in the previous autumn was blamed on Buckingham and the Commons tried to impeach him for treason. To prevent this, Charles dissolved Parliament in June. Largely through the incompetence of Buckingham, the country now became involved in a war with France as well as with Spain and, in desperate need of funds, the King imposed a forced loan, which his judges declared illegal. He dismissed the chief justice and ordered the arrest of more than 70 knights and gentlemen who refused to contribute. His high-handed actions added to the sense of grievance that was widely discussed in the next Parliament.

By the time Charles’s third Parliament met (March 1628), Buckingham’s expedition to aid the French Protestants at La Rochelle had been decisively repelled and the King’s government was throughly discredited. The House of Commons at once passed resolutions condemning arbitrary taxation and arbitrary imprisonment and then set out its complaints in the Petition of Right, which sought recognition of four principles—no taxes without consent of Parliament; no imprisonment without cause; no quartering of soldiers on subjects; no martial law in peacetime. The King, despite his efforts to avoid approving this petition, was compelled to give his formal consent. By the time the fourth Parliament met in January 1629, Buckingham had been assassinated. The House of Commons now objected both to what it called the revival of “popish practices” in the churches and to the levying of tonnage and poundage by the King’s officers without its consent. The King ordered the adjournment of Parliament on March 2, 1629, but before that the speaker was held down in his chair and three resolutions were passed condemning the King’s conduct. Charles realized that such behaviour was revolutionary. For the next 11 years he ruled his kingdom without calling a Parliament.

In order that he might no longer be dependent upon parliamentary grants, he now made peace with both France and Spain, for, although the royal debt amounted to more than £1,000,000, the proceeds of the customs duties at a time of expanding trade and the exaction of traditional crown dues combined to produce a revenue that was just adequate in time of peace. The King also tried to economize in the expenditure of his household. To pay for the Royal Navy, so-called ship money was levied, first in 1634 on ports and later on inland towns as well. The demands for ship money aroused obstinate and widespread resistance by 1638, even though a majority of the judges of the court of Exchequer found in a test case that the levy was legal.

These in fact were the happiest years of Charles’s life. At first he and Henrietta Maria had not been happy, and in July 1626 he peremptorily ordered all of her French entourage to quit Whitehall. After the death of Buckingham, however, he fell in love with his wife and came to value her counsel. Though the King regarded himself as responsible for his actions—not to his people or Parliament but to God alone according to the doctrine of the divine right of kings—he recognized his duty to his subjects as “an indulgent nursing father.” If he was often indolent, he exhibited spasmodic bursts of energy, principally in ordering administrative reforms, although little impression was made upon the elaborate network of private interests in the armed services and at court. On the whole, the kingdom seems to have enjoyed some degree of prosperity until 1639, when Charles became involved in a war against the Scots.

The early Stuarts neglected Scotland. At the beginning of his reign Charles alienated the Scottish nobility by an act of revocation whereby lands claimed by the crown or the church were subject to forfeiture. His decision in 1637 to impose upon his northern kingdom a new liturgy, based on the English Book of Common Prayer, although approved by the Scottish bishops, met with concerted resistance. When many Scots signed a national covenant to defend their Presbyterian religion, the King decided to enforce his ecclesiastical policy with the sword. He was outmanoeuvred by a well-organized Scottish covenanting army, and by the time he reached York in March 1639 the first of the so-called Bishops’ Wars was already lost. A truce was signed at Berwick-upon-Tweed on June 18.

On the advice of the two men who had replaced Buckingham as the closest advisers of the King—William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury, and the Earl of Strafford, his able lord deputy in Ireland—Charles summoned a Parliament that met in April 1640—later known as the Short Parliament—in order to raise money for the war against Scotland. The House insisted first on discussing grievances against the government and showed itself opposed to a renewal of the war; so, on May 5, the King dissolved Parliament again. The collection of ship money was continued and so was the war. A Scottish army crossed the border in August and the King’s troops panicked before a cannonade at Newburn. Charles, deeply perturbed at his second defeat, convened a council of peers on whose advice he summoned another Parliament, the Long Parliament, which met at Westminster in November 1640.

The new House of Commons, proving to be just as uncooperative as the last, condemned Charles’s recent actions and made preparations to impeach Strafford and other ministers for treason. The King adopted a conciliatory attitude—he agreed to the Triennial Act that ensured the meeting of Parliament once every three years—but expressed his resolve to save Strafford, to whom he promised protection. He was unsuccessful even in this, however. Strafford was beheaded on May 12, 1641.

Charles was forced to agree to a measure whereby the existing Parliament could not be dissolved without its own consent. He also accepted bills declaring ship money and other arbitrary fiscal measures illegal, and in general condemning his methods of government during the previous 11 years. But while making these concessions, he visited Scotland in August to try to enlist anti-parliamentary support there. He agreed to the full establishment of Presbyterianism in his northern kingdom and allowed the Scottish estates to nominate royal officials.

Meanwhile, Parliament reassembled in London after a recess, and, on Nov. 22, 1641, the Commons passed by 159 to 148 votes the Grand Remonstrance to the King, setting out all that had gone wrong since his accession. At the same time news of a rebellion in Ireland had reached Westminster. Leaders of the Commons, fearing that if any army were raised to repress the Irish rebellion it might be used against them, planned to gain control of the army by forcing the King to agree to a militia bill. When asked to surrender his command of the army, Charles exclaimed “By God, not for an hour.” Now fearing an impeachment of his Catholic queen, he prepared to take desperate action. He ordered the arrest of one member of the House of Lords and five of the Commons for treason and went with about 400 men to enforce the order himself. The accused members escaped, however, and hid in the City. After this rebuff the King left London on January 10, this time for the north of England. The Queen went to Holland in February to raise funds for her husband by pawning the crown jewels.

A lull followed, during which both Royalists and Parliamentarians enlisted troops and collected arms, although Charles had not completely given up hopes of peace. After a vain attempt to secure the arsenal at Hull, in April the King settled in York, where he ordered the courts of justice to assemble and where royalist members of both houses gradually joined him. In June the majority of the members remaining in London sent the King the Nineteen Propositions, which included demands that no ministers should be appointed without parliamentary approval, that the army should be put under parliamentary control, and that Parliament should decide about the future of the church. Charles realized that these proposals were an ultimatum; yet he returned a careful answer in which he gave recognition to the idea that his was a “mixed government” and not an autocracy. But in July both sides were urgently making ready for war. The King formally raised the royal standard at Nottingham on August 22 and sporadic fighting soon broke out all over the kingdom.

Civil War
In September 1642 the Earl of Essex, in command of the Parliamentarian forces, left London for the midlands, while Charles moved his headquarters to Shrewsbury to recruit and train an army on the Welsh marches. During a drawn battle fought at Edgehill near Warwick on October 23, the King addressed his troops in these words: “Your king is both your cause, your quarrel, and your captain. The foe is in sight. The best encouragement I can give you is that, come life or death, your king will bear you company, and ever keep this field, this place, and this day’s service in his grateful remembrance.” Charles I was a brave man but no general, and he was deeply perturbed by the slaughter on the battlefield.

In 1643 the royal cause prospered, particularly in Yorkshire and the southwest. At Oxford, where Charles had moved his court and military headquarters, he dwelt pleasantly enough in Christ Church College. The Queen, having sold some of her jewels and bought a shipload of arms from Holland, landed in Yorkshire in February and joined her husband in Oxford in mid-July. Both by letters and by personal appeal she roused him to action and warned him against indecision; “delays have always ruined you,” she observed. The King seems to have assented to a scheme for a three-pronged attack on London—from the west, from Oxford, and from Yorkshire—but neither the westerners nor the Yorkshiremen were anxious to leave their own districts.

In the course of 1643 a peace party of the Parliamentarian side made some approaches to Charles in Oxford, but these failed and the Parliamentarians concluded an alliance with the Scottish covenanters. The entry of a Scottish army into England in January 1644 thrust the King’s armies upon the defensive and the plan for a converging movement on London was abandoned. Charles successfully held his inner lines at Oxford and throughout the west and southwest of England, while he dispatched his nephew, Prince Rupert, on cavalry raids elsewhere. For about a year the King’s forces had the upper hand; yet eventually he put out a number of peace feelers. These came to nothing, but he was cheered by reports that his opponents were beginning to quarrel among themselves.

The year 1645 proved to be one of decision. Charles may have had some foreboding of what was to come, for in the spring he sent his eldest son, Charles, into the west, whence he escaped to France and rejoined his mother, who had arrived there the previous year. On June 14 the highly disciplined and professionally led New Model Army organized and commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax with Oliver Cromwell as his second in command, defeated the King and Prince Rupert at the Battle of Naseby. This was the first of a long row of defeats the King’s forces suffered through the summer and fall. Charles returned to Oxford on November 5, and by the spring of 1646 Oxford was surrounded. Charles left the city in disguise with two companions late in April and arrived at the camp of the Scottish covenanters at Newark on May 5. But when the covenanters came to terms with the victorious English Parliament in January 1647, they left for home, handing over Charles I to parliamentary commissioners. He was held in Northamptonshire, where he lived a placid, healthy existence and, learning of the quarrels between the New Model Army and Parliament, hoped to come to a treaty with one or the other and regain his power. In June, however, a junior officer with a force of some 500 men seized the King and carried him away to the army headquarters at Newmarket.

After the army marched on London in August, the King was moved to Hampton Court, where he was reunited with two of his children, Henry and Elizabeth. He escaped on November 11, but his friends’ plans to take him to Jersey and thence to France went astray and instead Charles found himself in the Isle of Wight, where the governor was loyal to Parliament and kept him under surveillance at Carisbrooke Castle. There Charles conducted complicated negotiations with the army leaders, with the English Parliament, and with the Scots; he did not scruple to promise one thing to one side and the opposite to the other. He came to a secret understanding with the Scots on Dec. 26, 1647, whereby the Scots offered to support the King’s restoration to power in return for his acceptance of Presbyterianism in Scotland and its establishment in England for three years. Charles then twice refused the terms offered by the English Parliament and was put under closer guard, from which he vainly tried again to escape.

In August 1648 the last of Charles’s Scottish supporters were defeated at the Battle of Preston and the second Civil War ended. The army now began to demand that the King should be put on trial for treason as “the grand author of our troubles” and the cause of bloodshed. He was removed to Hurst Castle in Hampshire at the end of 1648 and thence taken to Windsor Castle for Christmas. On Jan. 20, 1649, he was brought before a specially constituted high court of justice in Westminster Hall.

Execution of the King Charles I

Execution of the King
Charles I was charged with high treason and “other high crimes against the realm of England.” He at once refused to recognize the legality of the court because “a king cannot be tried by any superior jurisdiction on earth.” He therefore refused to plead but maintained that he stood for “the liberty of the people of England.” The sentence of death was read on January 27; his execution was ordered as a tyrant, traitor, murderer, and public enemy. The sentence was carried out on a scaffold erected outside the banqueting hall of Whitehall on the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 30, 1649. The King went bravely to his death, still claiming that he was “a martyr for the people.” A week later he was buried at Windsor.

Maurice Ashley

Encyclopaedia Britannica



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