King James VI of Scotland and I of England & Ireland (1566–1625) is a figure often overshadowed by his more famous relatives - his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, and his son Charles I. In this feature curator Kate Anderson looks at a selection of objects from the collections of the National Galleries of Scotland and other UK museums and galleries to shed light on the life and reign of King James.
The feature explores how the royal family and members of the court exploited the power of art, luxury objects, dress and performance to promote messages of identity, status and dynasty. The objects and artworks below also reveal the extraordinary skill of the artists and craftspeople who worked in Scotland and England in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
James was born at Edinburgh Castle on 19 June 1566, the only son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her second husband Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. He was born into one of the most turbulent periods of Scottish history, a time which was dominated by religious upheaval, political turmoil, and violent power struggles between noble families. Within a year of his birth, James’s father had been murdered, his mother had been forced to abdicate, and he was crowned King of Scots at just thirteen months old on 29 July 1567.
Despite this initial period of turmoil, the young king received a classical education and he became an accomplished poet, theologian and writer. He was also a patron of the arts with a particular passion for jewellery and fine clothes.
As James’s reign progressed, and with the influence of his queen consort Anna of Denmark, rich cultural activity flourished at the Jacobean court. The court attracted a wealth of artists, craftspeople, writers and performers from Scotland and aboard all seeking royal patronage. Following his accession to the English throne in 1603 he, his family and the court moved to London and many of these individuals followed hoping to retain royal favour once in England.
King James VI & I in images
These objects are drawn from the National Galleries of Scotland collection and related public and private collections in the UK.