'No Scot, No English Now':

Literary and Cultural Responses to James VI and I's Policies on Union



  1. On James's accession to the English throne in 1603, the King had a subtle understanding of the importance of culture in creating and maintaining monarchical authority. In Scotland, as he took power from his regents in his late teens, James surrounded himself with supportive and influential poet-courtiers, and presented himself as a powerful, untouchable, and peacable monarch, intimately concerned with the development of the Scottish nation. In 1584 he published his first collection of poetry, The Essayes of a Prentise in the Divine Art of Poesie, which included 'Ane Schort Treatise' on Scottish poetry, positioning James as a 'poetic lawgiver' (Shire 1969, 99); the preface to this treatise comments on the difference between Scottish and English poetry connecting the King with Scotland's vernacular and culture. James's Scottish cultural policy was successful in connecting the King with Scotland perhaps too successful, for in 1603 many of his English subjects perceived James all too unequivocally as a Scottish king. James needed to introduce himself to his new subjects, to incorporate himself into English traditions and mythology, and to highlight his English heritage; he needed to counter English fears and dislikes, and to develop a union based on unities. Looking back on the union in 1641, George Lauder wrote: 'For to make both one as was his ayme / Hee laboured to make them both the same' ('Caledonia's Covenant or Ane Panegyrick to the World'). I am specifically interested in the differences between the representations of union James proffered, and the ones developed by poets and courtiers who welcomed James to England.

  2. Many English poets and courtiers were eager to garner the King's favour by reproducing and reinforcing his authority. James had, however, learned the difficulties associated with representation in Scotland: the problems of shaping, limiting and controlling cultural productions. James's prefaces to a number of his writings in Scotland attempted to circumscribe interpretation, and courtier-poets were not always willing to follow James's rules, poetic or otherwise. At his accession to the English throne, the poetry and processions which welcomed the new King displayed the perimeters of the public's acceptance of his authority and self-representation. While there were plenty of union tracts and poems which voiced English fears of a Scottish invasion or their dislike of the King's notions of unity, I will focus on a few of the celebratory responses which, despite their affirmative nature, did not always re-present James's portrayal of himself and the union as he might have wished.

  3. To dispel English fears of a Scottish invasion, James tended to de-emphasize, even erase, his nationality. 1 James recalled his English heritage; he insisted on the similarities in Scotland's and England's religion, laws and customs, and on their shared histories. In effect, he attempted to rename himself not King of Scotland and England, but King of Great Britain. This negation of his nationality would preclude any allegations that he favoured Scots to the detriment of the English, and would nullify the criticisms associated with Scottish stereotyping. The downplaying of his Scottish nationality would assure the King's English subjects that as a British man he was working in their best interests.

  4. Though James stated his desire to create himself as a British monarch, his policies on union are often more directed to subsuming his Scottishness into his past and present Englishness. At one level, union meant a unity in which differences disappeared and similarities were highlighted. In his Royal Proclamation of 20 October 1604, which dealt with the King's style of 'Great Brittaine', James referred to the similarities between the nations, and used an extended geographical image to naturalize the union:

    the Isle within it selfe hath almost none but imaginarie bounds of separation without, but one common limit or rather Gard of the Ocean Sea, making the whole a little world with it selfe [. . .] A community of Language, the principall means of Civil societie, An unitie of Religion, the chiefest bond of heartie Union, and the surest knot of lasting Peace. (Larkin and Hughes 1973, 95)

    God and prophecy were also called upon to acknowledge the propriety of the union: 'King of Great Brittaine [. . .] the true and ancient Name, which God and Time have imposed upon this Isle' (Larkin and Hughes 1973, 97).

  5. James's desire for a unified Great Britain created fears in both the English and Scottish that their customs and laws would be extinguished or at least weakened by such a union. In his Royal Proclamation of 5 April 1603, James stated in parentheses that the government of England would continue '[u]ntil it shall please his Highnesse to give other commaundement and direction [. . .] reserving unto his owne judgement hereafter the refermation and redresse of any abuses in misgovernement upon better knowledge taken thereof, in his due time' (Larkin and Hughes 1973, 5). To allay English fears created by such open and ambiguous statements, James assured them that any concessions required to create an even closer unity would be made almost exclusively on the side of the Scots. His speech of 19 March 1604 divided his rule into halves, yet one half had primacy over the other: 'God hath made Scotland the one half of this Isle to enjoy my birth, and the first and most unperfect halfe of my life, and you heere to enjoy the perfect and the last halfe thereof' (McIlwain 1965, 273). 2 A later speech of 1607 again used the analogy of unequal halves; James claimed that the English 'are to be the husband [. . .] [the Scottish] the wife: you the conquerours, they as conquered, though not by the sword, but by the sweet and sure bond' (McIlwain 1965, 294). No matter how sweet the bond, the analogy of the marriage union carried with it the implicit hierarchy of the male-English and female-Scottish partners, a hierarchy more explicitly stated in the second analogy of conqueror and conquered.

  6. James also claimed that Scotland's influence would lessen as his reign continued. In a 1607 speech, Scotland was portrayed not as a nation, but as a distant county of little interest. Scotland would 'with time become but as Cumberland and Northumberland, and those other remote and Northern Shires'; 'they as other Northerne Countreys will be seldome seen and saluted by their King, and that as it were but in a posting or hunting journey' (McIlwain 1965, 294). Scotland's status would be reduced beyond that of a conquered partner to that of an inconsequential outpost rarely visited. 3 Despite the English fears of a Scottish invasion at the union, Scotland appeared, to the new King, to be less the colonizer than the colonized.

  7. Basilikon Doron, reprinted in 1603, also assured its southern readership that James would not unsettle English laws and customs. In this treatise, he advised his son Henry 'to allure piece and piece, the rest of your kingdomes, to follow the fashions of that kingdome of yours, that yee finde most civill, easiest to be ruled, and most obedient to the Lawes' (McIlwain 1965, 51); that kingdom was England. Earlier in the tract, James supported the anglicizing of Scottish law, 'preassing, with time, to draw it to the laudable custome of England: which ye may the easilier doe, being King of both' (McIlwain 1965, 26). Despite the fact that in 1599 James was writing in the context of his position as the King of Scotland, and most of Basilikon Doron remains in that context, he obviously had his eye on his future role as King of England.

  8. James's overlooked tract A Counterblaste to Tobacco, published in 1604, presents the King as more English than the English themselves, who were succumbing to a foreign invasion of a completely different kind: the dreaded tobacco. In this short tract, James outlines how English civility and customs are being undermined by the people's fascination with tobacco:

    Have you not reason then to bee ashamed, and to forbeare this filthie noveltie, so basely grounded, so foolishly received and so grossely mistaken in the right use thereof? In your abuse thereof sinning against God, harming your selves both in persons and goods, and raking also thereby the markes and notes of vanitie upon you: by the custome thereof making your selves to be wondered at by all forraine civill Nations, and by all strangers that come among you, to be scorned and contemned. (Craigie 1982, 99)

    It is not the supposedly barbarous Scottish, but the English themselves who threaten to turn England into a nation of savages. As the physician to his body politic and to English bodies themselves, the King can both berate his new subjects, and reassert the civility and superiority of English customs at the same time.

  9. Despite the King's claims that he was 'an universall and equall Sovereigne' (Larkin and Hughes 1973, 19; 19 May 1603) to both countries, that 'in [. . . [his] mind there is not a thought of partialitie towards either of them' (Larkin and Hughes 1973, 40; 8 July 1603), James's treatises, speeches and proclamations developed a union that was not based on an equal partnership. He desired to unite the two nations by anglicizing the Scots, and he presented himself as a King of Great Britain in which his Scottish past was negated in favour of his English-British heritage and English-British future.

  10. The encomiastic reception of James's early years on the throne was part of James's desire for 'outward marks' of union. Poets expounded upon the ancient name of Britain, James's English genealogy and legitimate right to the throne, the natural and divine signs of union, and the many similarities between the two nations. There were, however, a variety of opinions on the nature and consequences of the union, and not all followed James's policies of emphasizing the English half. Samuel Daniel's A Panegyric Congratulatory to his Majesty of 1603 came closest to the King's desire to promote union while foregrounding English customs and superiority. Daniel stressed the name Great Britain to erase boundaries and differences:

    now in peace therefore
    Shake hands with Union, O thou mighty State,
    Now thou art all Great-Britaine and no more,
    No Scot, no English now, nor no debate;
    No borders but the Ocean and the Shore.
    (Daniel 1885, st.2)

    Daniel here employs the natural, geographical imagery found in James's proclamation on Great Britain. He favours a union of Scots and English whose differences are dissolved under one king, and thus reiterates James's desire to de-emphasize and even erase the Scottish partner in the union; perhaps problematically here, he also erases the English. In a later stanza, Daniel accentuates the superiority of English practices, and states or perhaps advises or warns that Britain will be England writ large:

    We shall continue and remaine all one,
    In Law, in Justice, and in Magistrate;
    Thou wilt not alter the foundation
    Thy Ancestors have laid of this Estate.
    (st. 30)

    James's ancestors, Daniel points out, were English as well as Scottish. The daughter of 'thy great Grandfather / Henry the seventh' (st. 41), Margaret the 'Mother, Author, Plotter, Counseller / Of union' (st. 49) married James IV of Scotland. This ancestry legitimized the King's right to the English throne, and created James himself as a symbol of the union. But despite Daniel's reference to James's English ancestors and the superiority of English customs, Daniel still could not completely leave out references to James's Scottish past, the 'subjects' broils' (st. 43) that James encountered in Scotland, and the less than felicitous past relationship of the two nations: 'A King of England now most graciouslie / Remits the injuries that have beene done / T'a King of Scots' (st. 31). Daniel seems to take advantage of James's desire to emphasize his Englishness; as King of England, James must now forgive himself for attacking Scotland!

  11. The poetic collection Sorrowes Joy, published in 1603 to mourn the death of Elizabeth and celebrate the arrival of James, 4 attempted to portray an unbroken continuity between the two monarchs. A strong and virtuous queen is replaced by a strong and virtuous king. A mother is replaced by a father, a sister by a brother. 5 James rises phoenix-like out of the ashes of Elizabeth; 6 James the sun rises as Elizabeth sets. 7 The very general nature of these descriptions is highlighted by Thomas Goodrick, who begins his poem 'Illustrious, puissant, and renowned Prince, / Mirrour of learning; Nature's quintessence, &c.' (Nichols 1828, 1: 6). The rather surprising 'et cetera' underlines that these are praises applicable to any sovereign, and indeed this type of panegyric is scattered thickly throughout the collection. However, the seemingly innocuous imagery occasionally contained specific modifiers which emphasized James's Scottish heritage. In 'England's Farewell', Richard Parker uses the sun imagery to show a continuum, while also pointing to the King's geographical origin: 'A wonder 'tis: our sunne is set, and yet there is no night; / Darke storms were feared around about, and yet all over bright. / [. . .] Thou sentst from North, past all our hopes, King James his glorious sunshine' (Nichols 1828, 1: 4). 8 Similarly, Thomas Walkington states 'I saw a glorious Sunne set in the South / [. . .] In th'North there rise another glorious Sunne' (Nichols 1828, 1: 24).

  12. Unlike a number of union tracts, which voiced fears of an invasion of barbarous Scottish hordes, the work of celebratory courtiers and poets such as the authors of Sorrowes Joy appear to have felt that a reliable route to patronage would be to praise the Scottish heritage of the King. Ironically, then, while the King attempted to emphasize his own Englishness, many of the poets welcoming James to England were eager to emphasize the King's Scottishness and Scotland's equal role in the union. James's Progress to London was full of imagery which presented Scotland as a full half of the equation, an equal or even more-than-equal partner. During James's procession through London, a portrait above the Exchange revealed a 'double ship, that being two, was so cunningly made as it seem'de but one, which figured Scotland and England in one' (Nichols 1828, 1: 417). At another point along the route, there appeared on horseback Saint George and Saint Andrew 'hand in hand [. . .] to testify their leagued combination, and newe sworne brotherhood' (Nichols 1828, 1: 339), a kin relationship of equals. William Hubbocke 9 gave 'An Oration Congratulatory' to James at the Tower of London, where he also focused on similarities and kin relationships of the two countries:

    This neighbour nation to our native country, not our halfe but full sister, even as it were a twinne of the same mother, most neere of al other to one another in Religion, in blood, in soile, in right of crowne, in language, in common services, and common hazardes, surrounded with one sea as one wall, I meane England and Scotland. (Nichols 1828, 1: 331)

    Despite following the order 'England and Scotland' rather than 'Scotland and England', Hubbocke's choice of metaphors serves to emphasize the equality of the two countries. Some representations during the progress even went so far as to portray Scotland as the dominant partner. Thomas Dekker's account of James's procession notes that the Recorder's speech presents the King as the 'glorious bridegroom' to his bride England, reversing James's earlier presentation of England as the husband in the partnership (Nichols 1828, 1: 360). At one of the triumphal arches, the 'stately and princely beastes the Lyons (couchant) of England [did] bow down to the Lyon (rampant) of Scotland' (Nichols 1828, 1: 326). While these literary and visual representations supported the union and celebrated James as monarch, they did not simply re-present James's English-British portrayal of himself; instead, they foregrounded the King's Scottish past and present.

  13. If the celebratory poetry and pageantry which welcomed James to England provides what some might consider a 'lighter' counterpart to the prose tracts and treatises on the union, it is important to remember the weighty role poetry played in James's Scottish court. These types of cultural celebrations were important in communicating ideas of the union to wider audiences, literate and non-literate alike. Speaking to Parliament on 19 March 1604, James recalled the early enthusiasm which greeted him at his first entry into England:

    shall it ever bee blotted out of my minde, how [. . .] the people of all sorts rid and ran, nay rather flew to meet mee? Their eyes flaming nothing but sparkles of affection, their mouthes and tongues uttering nothing but sounds of joy, their hands, feete, and all the rest of their members in their gestures discovering a passionate longing, and earnestnesse to meete and embrace their new Soveraigne. (McIlwain 1965, 269)

    Speaking on the first day of the first Parliament, by which time anti-union tracts were flourishing, the King undoubtedly wished to restimulate such early enthusiasm, 10 and so glossed over the frequent reminders of his otherness. Despite the early, general relief at having a Protestant, male monarch, with an heir and a spare, neither England nor Scotland seemed willing to subsume itself into Great Britain: some voiced this opposition loudly, with overt criticism of specific union policies, and others such as these poetic panegyrists more subtly, with approving reminders of James's Scottish past and present.


  1. In a similar way, Elizabeth had attempted to counter antagonism to her sex and virginity by representing herself as both masculine and fertile. Unlike James, she could not draw on historians and politicians to support that representation as fact.


  2. This sounds similar to James's claim in the preface to his poetic treatise, where he states that, at the same time as the King, poetry has 'come to mannis age and perfectioun, quhair as then [earlier], it was bot in the infancie and chyldheid' (Craigie 1955-58, 1: 67).


  3. In a speech to the Star Chamber in 1616, James stated, 'my intention was alwayes to effect union by uniting Scotland to England, and not England to Scotland'; 'when I endeavored most an Union reall, as well already in my person, my desire was to conform the Lawes of Scotland to the Law of England, and not the Law of England to the Law of Scotland' (McIlwain 1965, 329).


  4. The full title is Sorrowes Joy; or, A Lamentation for our late deceased Soveraigne Elizabeth, with a Triumph for the prosperous Succession of our gratious King James, &c. It is reprinted in Nichols 1828, 1: 1-24.


  5. 'Th'Almightie King hath raised in her place, / A puissant Soveraigne Prince us to defend; / And eke this island to adorne with blisse, / As he with vertues all adorned is'; 'Your Mother gon, he shall your Father hight' (Thomas Byng in Nichols 1828, 1: 7, 8). 'Til James our King take up the rod, / And with great grace his Sister's seate' (L.G. in Nichols 1828, 1: 13).


  6. 'Thus is a Phoenix of her ashes bred' (Theophilus Feild in Nichols 1828, 1: 11). 'Phaenix [sic] for Phoenix' (Thomas Cecill in Nichols 1828, 1: 16).


  7. 'For Phoebe gone, a Phoebus now doth shine' (Henrie Campion in Nichols 1828, 1: 12).


  8. In some of the poems, 'North' appears to refer to England itself, but here the North is clearly somewhere other than England. James was also 'the bright starre of the North' (Richard Martin in Nichols 1828, 1: 129).


  9. William Hubbocke's Oration to the King at the Tower, 1603-4, was published in Latin with an English translation by Hubbocke.


  10. The new subjects certainly sound enthusiastic, but the flaming eyes and gesticulating members sound positively apocalyptic.


List of Works Cited

Craigie, James. Ed. 1955-58. The Poems of James VI of Scotland. 2 vols. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood. Reprint 1966. Amsterdam: Da Capo Press.

Craigie, James. Ed. 1982. Minor Prose Works of King James VI and I. Edinburgh: Scottish Text Society.

Daniel, Samuel. 1885; repr. 1963. The Complete Works in Verse and Prose of Samuel Daniel. 5 vols, edited by Rev. Alexander B. Grossart. New York: Russell and Russell.

Larkin, James F. and Hughes, Paul L. Eds. 1973. Stuart Royal Proclamations. Vol. 1. Royal Proclamations of King James I, 1603-1625. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

McIlwain, Charles Howard. Ed. 1965. The Political Works of James. New York: Russell and Russell.

Nichols, John. Ed. 1828; reprint n.d. The Progresses, Processions and Magnificent Festivities of King James the First. 4 vols. New York: Burt Franklin.

Shire, Helena Mennie. 1969. Song, Dance and Poetry in the Court of Scotland under King James VI. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Contents © Copyright 2004 Sandra Bell.
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