In a way, King James I of England is lucky. His predecessor Elizabeth was one of the most powerful and infamous monarchs in history, and his successor Charles got his head chopped off. Between those two, people tend to forget about the absolute hot mess that was King James. From his dark family history to his train-wreck marriage to his infamous boy-toys, it’s about time we brought King James’s dirty secrets to light.
1. His Parents Were A Mess
For James, the family drama started even before he was born. His parents were Mary, Queen of Scots, and her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Both of them could trace their history back to King Henry VII, so not only were they cousins, but they also happened to inherit his penchant for scheming and scandals. Sorry James, a nice, peaceful childhood was never an option.
2. His Dad Was Suspicious
Mary and Henry’s marriage was no fairy tale—in fact, it was more like a horror story. Their union was rocky at the best of times, and it only got worse once Mary became pregnant with James. Henry thought Mary was having an affair with her secretary, David Rizzio (to his credit, he was probably right). So, Henry did what any concerned husband would do: He and his buddies ambushed the two of them at the dinner table and brutally stabbed Rizzio 57 times.
The pregnant Mary watched on in horror as her husband butchered her (maybe) lover—but she’d get her revenge in the end.
3. His Dad Met A Dark Fate
James never met his murderous father. Eight months after his birth, Henry Stuart and his valet turned up dead in an Edinburgh orchard. The demise of the King Consort sent shockwaves throughout the English Isles—and yet what Queen Mary did next was even more scandalous.
4. His Mom’s Next Marriage Was Scandalous
While James’s father met a gruesome end, you could argue his mother’s fate was even worse—though she kinda had it coming. Mere months after Henry’s body was found, Mary, Queen of Scots married once more. Oh, and the man she married also happened to be the same guy everyone assumed had offed her last husband!
We’ve got to admit, that’s a pretty bold move—but it would cost Mary dearly, and ensure James never got the chance to meet either of his parents.
5. Her Reign Was Cut Short
Within just a few weeks of her remarriage, rebels captured Queen Mary and locked her up in a secluded castle. They forced her to abdicate her throne to her son James, who was barely a year old at the time. From that day onward, James never saw his mother again. The Scots figured that with Mary gone and a child on the throne, regents could finally bring some manner of peace to Scotland.
They were wrong—there were some seriously wild years ahead.
6. He Was A Baby King
James officially became King James VI of Scotland on July 29, 1567. He was 13 months old. Since one-year-olds don’t generally know that much about politics, a council appointed the Earl of Moray to act as his regent. His job seemed pretty simple—hold down the fort until James was old enough to rule. Too bad his time as regent ended up being an utter disaster.
7. His Mother Wasn’t Done Yet
After a year’s imprisonment, James’s mother Mary managed to escape her confines and lead a rebellion to try and reclaim her throne. This meant the first few years of James’s reign were filled with bloody conflict and unrest. However, the Earl of Moray managed to defeat Mary’s forces once and for all at the Battle of Langside. Afterward, Mary had to flee to England to live with her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.
She hoped to one day return to Scotland and take back her throne—but instead, she ended up meeting an even worse fate than her late husband.
8. His Mother’s End Was Brutal
Mary, Queen of Scots, trusted Queen Elizabeth far too much. Though she hoped Elizabeth would help her reclaim the crown, the Virgin Queen had no such plans. Mary ended up spending the last two decades of her life as a prisoner in England before she was accused of plotting Elizabeth’s assassination. She was finally executed in 1587, a gruesome affair where it took three clumsy strikes to completely sever her head.
Mary, Queen of Scots was no more—but her son James had a whole scandalous life ahead of him.
9. He Had An Isolated Childhood
James eventually grew into a truly controversial and bizarre figure, with more enemies than he could shake a stick at. Maybe you can chalk some of that up to his incredibly lonely childhood. His father was gone, his mother was locked up, and his grandparents were all either dead or out of the picture. All the drama after his birth meant he had no siblings either.
The only people James had around him as a child were his tutors—and they made his life a living nightmare.
10. His Tutors Were Cruel
James’s regent wanted to mold him into the perfect little king, so he hired several men to act as the boy’s tutors—but their methods were absolutely brutal. To turn James into a good, god-fearing ruler, they subjected him to regular beatings. Well, in my experience, that kind of tough love often has the opposite effect, and James was no exception.
He was going to turn out to be exactly the kind of king his tutors feared.
11. His Regent Didn’t Last Long
The Earl of Moray didn’t last long as James’s regent. He made a laundry list of enemies during his short rule, and it was only a matter of time before one came for him. In the end, the one to step up to the plate was a man named James Hamilton, a staunch supporter of Queen Mary. Hamilton shot Moray in the streets with an early firearm, and Moray quite literally never saw it coming: No head of state had ever been assassinated with a firearm before in history.
Moray was the first, but definitely not the last. It was time to find James a new regent—but it soon became clear that anyone who took the job did so at their own peril.
12. His Regents Were Cursed
James’s next two regents both kicked the bucket within a year of taking over. The first took a fatal wound in battle, and the second came down with a mysterious illness shortly after a banquet. And who do you think threw that banquet? His name was James Douglas, the Earl of Morton, and he just so happened to become the next regent after that. Coincidence?
Morton would actually fare better than the rest. He managed to survive his first year as James’s regent! But he had one huge problem: James was growing up. Soon enough, it would be time for James to take power himself—and that meant huge trouble for anyone who got in his way.
13. He Fell In Love
Finally, after over a decade sequestered away with his brutal tutors, it was time for James to arrive. At age 13, King James VI of Scotland made his formal entry into Edinburgh to take his place on the throne. For the first time, James discovered court life and everything that came with it. Among all the new sights and experiences in the new city, one thing in particular caught the young king’s eye: His name was Esmé Stewart.
He was 37 years old, married, and the father of five children—yet James absolutely had to have him.
14. He Was Infatuated With An Older Man
If there’s one thing you need to know about King James I, it’s this: The guy liked his boy toys. For nearly his entire life, his male favorites dominated his court, and the first of these was Esmé Stewart. By the time James was 14 years old, he and Stewart basically never left each other’s side. Now, maybe you’re thinking: “Maybe James just looked up to this older man, seeing as he never knew his father.”
Well, wait until you hear a little more about their relationship…
15. He Didn’t Hide His Affection
King James was never the most discreet guy, and it didn’t take long before people started to talk about his, ahem, close relationship with Esmé Stewart. An English envoy once visited James’s court, and what he discovered absolutely shocked him. He wrote of how James was “in such love with [Stewart] as in the open sight of the people often he will clasp him about the neck with his arms and kiss him.”
Yeah, they were into each other alright—and that meant James’s regent, the Earl of Morton, was in some serious danger.
16. He Turned On His Regent
The Earl of Morton had served Scotland well in his years as regent, but some people still hated his guts. Esmé Stewart was chief among them. Well, soon enough, Stewart had the young King James in the palm of his hand, and that meant it was time to strike. Stewart had Morton accused of plotting—get this—the murder of James’s father. Remember that guy? Found dead in an orchard all those years ago?
There was next to no evidence for the accusation, but it’s not like Stewart needed a good reason. James, at Stewart’s urging, executed Morton with a gruesome instrument called “The Maiden.” From that day on, Stewart became the main voice whispering in James’s ear. But little did he know, his days were numbered too.
17. The People Hated His Favorite
King James was absolutely infatuated with Esmé Stewart—the rest of Scotland, not so much. His French origins made people suspicious, and Protestants thought he might secretly be Catholic. Plus, you know, he and James basically made out in public all the time. People had to notice that. Scottish Calvinists began to worry that Stewart might “draw the King to carnal lust.”
If you ask me, it seems like they were way past that point, but no one can say for sure. What we can say for sure is that those Calvinists decided to put an end to it.
18. He Lost His First Love
King James and Esmé Stewart’s Call Me By Your Name romance was at its end. In 1582, several Protestant earls captured James, locked him in a castle, and forced Stewart to leave Scotland forever. The two of them would never see each other again. But, as far as James’s male “companions” go, Stewart was only the beginning.
19. He Needed A Wife
Plenty of people in Scotland were willing to turn a blind eye to James’s particularly…intimate relationship with Esmé Stewart. In fact, many commended him on his remarkable chastity. What a good Christian boy, he hardly even looked at women! Even after Stewart left Scotland, James continued to surround himself with almost exclusively male company.
But James was a king, and a king needed a queen, so by 1589, the time came to find a match. Oh, that poor woman…
20. He Married A Danish Princess
After a long search, James’s advisors finally picked a suitable bride: Princess Anne of Denmark. Wasting no time, Anne set sail for Scotland and her new life. I’m sure she was excited—Queen of Scotland sounds like a pretty good gig. Little did she know, her royal marriage wasn’t going to be anything like those in the stories. But maybe she could have guessed that based on the catastrophic start to their relationship.
21. Their Marriage Started With A Bad Omen
Almost as soon as Anne set sail, powerful storms wracked her ship. She was barely able to make it ashore in Norway alive. If you believe in bad omens, you’d probably say that’s a pretty troubling way to start a marriage. But if this sign from God made Anne of Denmark nervous about her new husband, what he did next helped put her mind at ease.
22. He Made A Romantic Gesture
You could call King James I a lot of things, but “romantic” was not one of them—at least, not when women were involved. But something must have come over him when he heard his new wife was trapped in Norway. He personally led an expedition of 300 men to go fetch her himself. Anne must have thought she’d found her Prince Charming when James sailed over the horizon to rescue her.
Give it a few years Anne—James would show his true colors before long.
23. He Grew Obsessed With Witches
After their marriage, James and Anne went to Demark to attend Anne’s sister’s wedding. It was on that trip that James discovered one of his darkest obsessions: Witches. Though not yet too popular in Scotland, the Danes frequently performed witch hunts. It’s not like James had that much love for women to begin with, but after the trip to Denmark, he made it his mission to root out witches—and it led to some of the most horrific acts of his life.
24. He Took Personal Pleasure In The Work
James wasted no time in persecuting witches. When storms wracked his ships on his return to Scotland, he blamed witchcraft and ended up trying several women as witches as a result. He seemed to take a personal pleasure in this, and he’d personally supervise the “questioning” of witches, where confessions were brutally forced out of them.
How’s that for Prince Charming?
25. He Seemed To Love His Wife…At First
For obvious reasons, many historians assume King James was gay, but there’s one hole in that theory: At first, at least, James seemed completely infatuated with his new wife, Anne of Denmark. He doted on her and showed great affection for her in public. Honestly, the early years of their marriage seemed remarkably happy—except for one major problem.
26. People Started Getting Suspicious
James and Anne’s marriage was cause for excitement in Scotland, but the years began to pass, and no little princes or princesses appeared. That would lead to some rumors for most kings, but people had not yet forgotten about James’s PDA with Esmé Stewart. Questions about James’s manhood and Anne’s fertility were on everyone’s lips.
James and Anne needed a child, and they needed one quick.
27. He Finally Welcomed A Son
Finally, in 1594, five long years after their wedding, James and Anne welcomed a son, Henry. The lack of a child had been like a sword over their heads, and Henry’s birth should have been a massive sigh of relief. But with King James, there was always something. You see, by this point, his relationship with his wife had already started to show cracks—and it didn’t take long for James’s eye to begin to wander…
28. He Had An Affair
By 1594, the honeymoon period was officially over. Maybe it was the lack of children, or maybe King James simply grew tired of his blushing bride. Either way, the once-romantic James who swept Anne off her feet had disappeared a long time hence. By the time Anne became pregnant, it was too late to save their loving union.
While Anne carried their child, James took maybe the only female mistress he’d ever have: A minor Scottish noble named Anne Murray. When Anne of Denmark found out about James’s affair, she was obviously furious—but James’s next betrayal would be so much worse.
29. He Took His Son From Her
James ripped Prince Henry from his mother’s grasp essentially the moment he was born. Anne expected to raise the child herself, but the cold and callous James had other ideas. He sent the boy to live in Sterling Castle, miles away from Edinburgh. Like any mother, Anne was absolutely horrified, and she was willing to anything to get her son back.
The birth of a child should have solved James and Anne’s marital problems—instead, tore them even further apart.
30. He Kept The Boy From His Wife
Anne began a fierce campaign to regain custody of her son, recruiting as many allies in court as she could. When James got wind of this, his reaction was ice-cold. He wrote to the Earl of Mar, Henry’s guardian, and told him to never, under any circumstances, give up the prince unless James himself ordered it. He even made Mar promise not to give up Henry to Anne on the event of his death!
James and Anne’s fight kept on escalating—and it was about to take a tragic turn.
31. Their Fight Led To Tragedy
Somehow, between very public arguments and private outrage, James and Anne found time to conceive another child. You’d hope it would let them find common ground, but their fighting only got worse and worse until it finally hit its peak. They had several public screaming matches that left Anne in tears, and in July 1595, their latest fight left Anne so devastated that she miscarried.
The fighting stopped after that—Anne was simply too heartbroken to continue.
32. He Had Powerful Enemies
King James was a whole lot more popular than his mother Mary had been, but there were still many in Scotland who wanted his head on a platter. Chief among them was Clan Ruthven, a powerful Scottish House. Their leader, the Earl of Gowrie, was one of the men who had imprisoned James and forced Esmé Stewart to leave Scotland.
As James grew older, he grew more and more powerful, and it put him on a collision course with Clan Ruthven. It was about time James got some blood on his hands.
33. A Rival Attacked Him
In 1600, James and his entourage visited Gowrie House, the seat of Clan Ruthven. It was bound to be a tense dinner party. It ended up turning into a bloodbath. At some point in the evening, Alexander Ruthven threw himself at James, armed and ready to kill. However, James’s page acted quickly and managed to run Ruthven through with a sword.
That’s when chaos broke out.
34. The Night Turned Bloody
James’s guards and the Ruthvens erupted into a bloody melee, and by the time the fighting had stopped, the Earl of Gowrie, head of Clan Ruthven, lay cold. For many, it seemed a fitting end to a traitor whose family had attacked the king—but is that really how things went down? Turns out, there’s more to that night than meets the eye…
35. He May Have Planned The Whole Thing
Ever heard the phrase, “History is written by the winners?” Well, James was definitely the winner that night. His account claimed that Alexander Ruthven had attacked him, forcing his own men to retaliate. But what about James’s longstanding enmity with Clan Ruthven, or the fact that he happened to owe the Ruthvens a ton of money?
Many historians believe James planned the entire night to get rid of his biggest enemies. The Ruthvens had just learned the hard way that King James played the game of thrones with the best of them. And he was just getting started.
36. His Wife Took Drastic Measures
The Ruthven Affair had an unexpected side-effect: It ended up irreparably damaging James’s relationship with his wife. Two of Anne’s most beloved ladies-in-waiting were Ruthvens, and after the debacle at Gowrie House, he fired them both. Anne was absolutely livid, and despite the fact that she was five months pregnant, she went on a hunger strike until James reinstated them.
When he tried to command her to stop her protest, her reply was legendary.
37. She Stood Up For Herself
Anne looked her husband square in the eye and told him, “Take care in how you treat me—for I am not the Earl of Gowrie.” The implication was clear: James couldn’t simply get rid of Anne the way he had with the Earl. In the end, it ended up being one of the few victories of poor Anne of Denmark’s life. James didn’t rehire Anne’s ladies, but he gave Beatrix Ruthven a pension just to make Anne happy.
James needed this whole affair behind him anyway—he was on to much bigger things very soon.
38. He Added Another Crown
Here’s the thing about a Virgin Queen: It’s hard to leave behind an heir to the throne. So, when Queen Elizabeth I passed without any heirs, her northerly cousin King James VI of Scotland got the nod to succeed her. Elizabeth’s advisors had planned on this for years, and they proclaimed James the King of England on the very same day.
James had done pretty well for himself in Scotland, but he was about to enter a whole new world.
39. He Lied To His People
A couple of weeks later, James packed up and began his journey south. He promised his fellow Scots that he’d never forget where he came from and that he’d make sure to return at least every three years. They ate it up—but every word of it was a lie. Once James got a taste of England’s wealth, he pretty much forgot about Scotland completely. He only returned a single time in his 22-year reign.
40. His New Country Amazed Him
King James I of England got the first taste of his new life on the journey south to London. Every house he stopped at on his trip showered him with extravagant feasts and expensive gifts. James could hardly believe was he was seeing. He exclaimed that he was “swapping a stony couch for a deep feather bed.” It’s no wonder he put Scotland in the rearview!
But while England promised greater riches and luxuries for King James—it also promised far greater problems.
41. His Wife Made One Last Desperate Move
When James headed to London, his wife Anne saw her chance to take back her son once and for all. As soon as James left, Anne gathered her closest allies and bee-lined straight for Stirling Castle and her son, whom she had barely seen in five years. She planned to take her boy by force, but there was just one problem: The keepers of the castle wouldn’t let her men inside!
Anne was absolutely furious—she was the Queen of England now, after all!—but they wouldn’t budge. Sadly, this latest scheme ended tragically as well. The stress of the event caused her to have a second miscarriage. But this time, Anne had more fight in her yet.
42. She Held The Cards This Time
Once James settled in England, he wrote to his wife and told her to come join him—so Anne decided to shoot her shot. She refused to come to England unless James gave her custody of her son. She knew that this sign of tension between the king and queen would look bad to James’ new subjects. For James, it just wasn’t worth the hassle anymore.
He finally relented, but you can bet on one thing: Any love between husband and wife was now completely dead.
43. His New Country Was In Trouble
As if James’s marital problems didn’t take up enough of his time, the new King of England very quickly realized that he’d inherited a whole host of problems. Crippling taxation and ruthless monopolies meant his new people were on the brink of rebellion—and a £400,000 debt from a war with Ireland didn’t help things either.
No, it didn’t take long for the adoring crowds to remember just how miserable they were—and within the first year of his reign, people started to come for James’s head.
44. He Faced Multiple Plots On His Life
There were two major conspiracies to dethrone James in just his first 12 months as King of England: The Bye Plot and the Main Plot. Both came remarkably close to fruition but fell apart at the last moment. When authorities captured those who had conspired against him, it proved an early chance for James to prove what kind of king he would be—and his response shocked everyone.
45. His Reaction To Treason Was Surprising
Remember, there were still people alive who remembered the ax-happy Tudors like Henry VIII and Bloody Mary. So imagine the Londoners’ surprise when James actually pardoned all but one of the conspirators. He decided that he didn’t want his reign to begin with bloodshed, so he showed mercy. Unfortunately, if he’d known what was coming, he probably would have wished he’d been much, much harsher on anyone who tried to cross him.
46. He Enjoyed His Leisure Time
When King James arrived in London, he found a well-oiled machine. Several powerful politicians had been looking after the affairs of government in the final years of Elizabeth’s life, so James didn’t actually have to do much of anything at all. He was free to spend most of his time in leisure, mostly hunting while his advisors ran the show.
But while James mostly avoided the nitty-gritty of running a country, he did focus very hard on one thing in particular.
47. He Wanted To Be The First
The King of Scotland becoming the King of England presented a very unique opportunity. England and Scotland had fought each other for centuries, but now, for the first time ever, the same man ruled both nations. More than anything else, James dreamed of being the first-ever King of Great Britain. However, there’s one thing he didn’t count on.
Pretty much every single person in both England and Scotland absolutely hated that idea.
48. Everyone Despised His Idea
Opposition to the whole “King of Great Britain” thing flared up pretty much instantly. He tried to make it official, but the House of Commons refused his request. This is where things just got sad. Though Parliament made it very clear that England and Scotland were still very much separate countries and that “Great Britain” did not exist as a political entity, James still used the title at every chance he got.
It didn’t really mean anything, but hey, at least it made him feel better.
49. His Wife Stopped Sleeping With Him
James and Anne had eight children together, though only three of them survived to adulthood. The last was born in 1607, but by that time, the unhappy couple had long since begun living in separate palaces. Then, one final miscarriage led Anne to decide she didn’t want to get pregnant again. By that point, James pretty much only visited her to make more children. Without that, their marriage fell apart completely.
But that wasn’t the only thing that drove them apart. The pressures of being king started to change James, and Anne did not like what he became.
50. His Wife Gossiped About Him
When a French envoy visited the English court in 1604, they came looking for all the juiciest gossip—and Queen Anne was more than willing to dish. She complained about James’s ever-increasing drinking and made a grim prediction: “The King drinks so much, and conducts himself so ill in every respect, that I expect an early and evil result.”
Anne must have known the envoy would take that new back to France, but she spilled the beans anyway—though soon her husband’s drinking would be the last of her problems.
51. He Started Religious Turmoil
One of the reasons the English people liked James so much at first was that he was a Protestant. If it came out that James secretly had Catholic sympathies, it could be utter ruin for the new king. When one of his spies discovered his wife’s secret, he was furious: She had accepted a rosary from the Pope himself.
In a knee-jerk reaction, James publicly denounced the Catholic Church, something he’d avoided doing thus far. It made his Protestant supporters happy—but as you can imagine, it made many Catholics angry. And some of them even got angry enough to do something about it.
52. He Made A Lot Of Enemies With One Statement
English Catholics worried about James from the start. With Elizabeth childless, they held out hope that a Catholic monarch might succeed her. Then James came along, a staunch Protestant with two sons to carry on the line. Many Catholics felt like they were running out of time to put one of their own back on the throne, and James’s proclamation sealed those fears.
Tensions were getting high—and James’s next proclamation was the last straw.
53. He Pushed The Catholics Too Far
James denounced the Catholic Church, but that wasn’t a strong enough statement. Three days later, he ordered all Jesuit and Catholic priests to leave the country, and reinstated fines for anyone who refused to attend Anglican church services. Being Catholic was officially against the law in England. I’m sure James expected some pushback to this drastic measure—but I doubt he realized it would be so…explosive.
54. He Inspired The Gunpowder Plot
Catholic conspirators had had enough, and they hatched a now-infamous plan to assassinate James, destroy the Houses of Parliament, and install his daughter Elizabeth as a Catholic monarch. The Gunpowder Plot was bold and it was extremely dangerous—and yet it came remarkably close to coming to fruition.
55. The Conspirators Almost Got Him
You know the rest of the story: Guards found Guy Fawkes underneath the House of Lords guarding a whopping 36 barrels of gunpowder. The resulting explosion, intended to take place during the State Opening of Parliament, would have completely crippled the entire English Government. However, at the final hour, a mysterious whistleblower revealed the plot.
The plot foiled, all the remaining conspirators fled the city. If they thought they could escape James’s wrath, they were wrong.
56. He Showed No Mercy This Time
James’s forces eventually cornered the remaining conspirators at a country inn, leading to a deadly standoff. Two of them were shot in the fracas—but those two got off lucky. James’s men dragged the remaining traitors back to London, where they each received a very public and very gruesome execution. Executioners castrated and disemboweled several of them while they still breathed.
Guy Fawkes managed to escape that fate, at least. He jumped from the scaffold and broke his own neck. And the worst part is, each of them lost their lives knowing that their plot had not only failed, but that the vengeful King James would make life for English Catholics even worse. He had shown mercy before—but he wasn’t going to do it again.
57. He Was More Popular Than Ever
The Gunpowder Plot actually turned out great for King James I, all things considered. Though his popularity had already started to wane, the attempt on his life made the people love him again. The people’s renewed support also allowed his advisors to raise taxes higher than they’d been in years, and the relieved masses were happy to pony up!
The years that followed were probably the best of James’s entire English reign—but a devastating tragedy was just around the corner.
58. His Son Was A Brat
Remember all that fighting James and Anne had done over their son, Prince Henry? Well, that was a long time past, and now Henry was growing into a remarkably confident and popular young man. Actually, confident might not be the right word…arrogant was more like it. Maybe his mom turned him against his dad, but Henry showed absolutely no respect for his father, king or not.
Once, while out hunting, James called Henry out for his lack of enthusiasm. Henry lost it and almost struck his dad with a cane before riding off in a huff. Then, to salt the wound, most of the hunting party rode off with the prince, leaving James sitting there looking weak and embarrassed.
59. His Son Was A Problem
It was starting to look like Prince Henry might become a serious problem for James. The boy was probably even more popular than he was, and his blatant lack of respect was making James look bad. James was going to have to deal with this issue before it ballooned and threatened his rule. But then, in a twist of fate, the problem solved itself—though not in the way James ever would have wanted.
60. He Lost The Boy In The Prime Of His Life
In 1612, Henry, the Prince of Wales, suddenly fell ill with a violent fever. He passed in a matter of days. Queen Anne was particularly devastated, and visitors were told to never mention the Prince or to even offer condolences, “because she cannot bear to have it mentioned.” As if James and Anne’s relationship hadn’t been bad enough before, now he only reminded her of her lost son.
61. His Son’s Funeral Had An Uninvited Guest
The people of England adored the Prince of Wales and they shared in Queen Anne’s grief. Over a thousand mourners attended his funeral—though I bet none of them realized what they were in for. During the somber occasion, a crazed naked man sprinted through the mourners, screaming that he was Prince Henry’s ghost.
Now there’s a sight you wouldn’t soon forget—but one notable face wasn’t there to see it: James himself.
62. He Didn’t Even Bother To Show Up
King James allegedly hated funerals, and he refused to attend his son’s service for that reason. Now, might it also have had to do with his son’s total disrespect threatening James’s station? Who can say? Either way, James didn’t bother to show up to bid his son goodbye. He had a new boy-toy to keep him plenty busy anyway.
63. He Found A New Boy Toy
After James’s controversial relationship with Esmé Stewart in his youth, he’d mostly avoided showing too much fondness for any specific men in public. That all changed in 1607. Apparently, James figured now that he was the King of England, who was going to stop him? That year, he attended a jousting contest, and one particularly cute contestant happened to catch his eye.
64. He Fell For A Teenager
During the tournament, a 17-year-old page named Robert Carr fell from his horse and broke his leg. Evidently, it was love at first sight. James personally helped nurse Carr back to health, and just like that, King James had a new favorite to dote upon. He lavished Carr with gifts and titles, eventually making him the Earl of Somerset—but being the king’s favorite could be a double-edged sword.
65. His Favorite Wasn’t The Sharpest Tool In The Shed
Robert Carr was known for two things: He was absolutely gorgeous—and dumb as a rock. Apparently, that’s just how James I liked them. Over the next eight years, Carr enjoyed a meteoric rise. He went from being a nobody page (and a pretty bad jouster) to the King’s closest confidant and one of the most powerful men in England.
James gave him endless gifts, even his own castle, and let him have sway over important matters of government. Do you think Carr could handle any of this? Of course not! The King loved him for now, but he was bound to slip up eventually—and did he ever.
66. His Favorite Fell For A Girl
The relationship between King James and his favorites was always a little…unconventional. James let Carr have lovers of his own, so long as he always knew where his bread was buttered. Eventually, Carr began an affair with a young married woman named Frances Howard. He begged James to force the bishops to grant Howard a pretty shady divorce so that he could have her.
Since what James’s boy-toy wanted, he got, James did as Carr asked. Carr was totally unaware that he’d just sealed his own doom.
67. He Got Jealous
Robert Carr started spending a lot of time with his new wife—far too much for King James’s liking. In one angry letter, James wrote, “You have been creeping back and withdrawing yourself from lying in my chamber, notwithstanding my many hundred times earnest soliciting you to the contrary.” James had been the one to make Carr’s marriage happen, and now he started to regret it.
He’d regret it a whole lot more when Carr’s new wife killed a man.
68. His Favorite Got In Serious Trouble
Robert Carr made James’s court play out like a soap opera—so it’s fitting that his time as James’s favorite came to a ridiculously scandalous end. Carr’s best friend, Thomas Overbury, had opposed his marriage to Frances Howard. As revenge, Howard had Overbury poisoned. When news of this came to light, James was absolutely ruthless.
Seeing the chance to get rid of his fallen favorite and his troublesome wife, James had them both face trial.
69. He Turned On Carr Just Like That
James I wanted to teach Robert Carr a harsh lesson, but he flinched at the last moment. The courts sentenced both Carr and Howard to hang, but James couldn’t bear to see his longtime favorite meet such an end. He commuted both of their sentences, but left them to rot in the Tower of London for seven long years out of spite.
But just because James was done with Robert Carr didn’t mean he was done with male favorites. Right around the time his relationship with Carr fell apart, a new face entered the picture: The now-infamous George Villiers.
70. His Final Favorite Was Special
George Villiers was the whole package. He was allegedly extremely handsome and keenly intelligent—so definitely an upgrade from Carr in that regard. He was a commoner, but that didn’t matter to King James. Not long after they met, James made him a knight. A few years after that, he took it a step further: He made Villiers the Duke of Buckingham, the first commoner to become a duke in over a century.
Like Carr before him, Villiers soon became one of the most powerful men in England, all thanks to King James. He’d pay a heavy price for it in the end, but for now, he was living large.
71. His Lover And His Wife Got Along
George Villiers had one thing going for him that James’s other favorites didn’t: The Queen absolutely loved him. Though she and James basically never saw each other by this point, Anne and Villiers became remarkably close. She affectionately called him her “dog” (weird nickname, but OK) and beseeched him to always stay true to her husband.
And that he did. Unlike the fleeting relationships with Esmé Stewart and Robert Carr, James remained with George Villiers for the rest of his days—which by this point were growing fewer and fewer.
72. He Outlived His Poor Wife
At this point, King James and Queen Anne were husband and wife in name only. Each of them seemed to be waiting for the other to croak—and Anne went first. She suffered from painful gout and dropsy in her final years and became more and more reclusive as her condition grew worse. James knew of her illness, yet he was too busy with Villiers to be bothered to visit often.
James only saw his wife three times during her final illness, and he wasn’t there when she passed at age 44.
73. He Was Actually Heartbroken
Despite their incredibly difficult marriage, losing Anne hit James surprisingly hard. As with his son before her, James didn’t attend his wife’s funeral—but he had a pretty good reason this time. His own health was beginning to fail by now, and news of Anne’s passing left him suffering spells of “fainting, sighing, dread, incredible sadness…”
He’d never really treated her well and he’d spent far more time with his male favorites, but it seemed James still had some small place in his heart for Anne of Denmark.
74. His Wife Shot His Dog
Anne of Denmark got the short end of the stick in life. She lived as a powerless and marginalized queen who had to watch her husband flaunt his male lovers in front of the entire court, but she did win one victory over James: In 1613, she shot his favorite dog. This so-called “accident” took place during a 1613 hunting expedition.
James may have taken her son from her, ignored her, and cheated on her—but she went to her grave knowing she had also taken away something he loved.
75. His Body Started Falling Apart
In the years following Anne’s passing, James’s health grew worse and worse. Arthritis, gout, kidney stones, you name it, he had it. The fact that he drank constantly and lost all of his teeth definitely didn’t help matters either.
76. He Was A Shell Of His Former Self
Eventually, James grew too feeble to take part in government at all. He almost always stayed at country estates while Villiers and his son, the soon-to-be King Charles I, ran things in London. Finally, in 1625, he suffered a stroke, and that spelled the end. He held on for a few more weeks before a painful bout of dysentery claimed his life. He must have been a horrible sight, with no teeth, swollen appendages, and open sores, but still, his greatest love, George Villiers, was there by his side at the end.
77. He Sold His Mother Out For Power
King James died as the first ruler of both Scotland and England—but he had to betray his own mother to do it. All those years ago, when the English had Mary, Queen of Scots executed under shady circumstances, James publicly condemned the “preposterous and strange procedure” that led to her end. But while he talked a big game, he made no move against England for vengeance.
James knew he had to keep playing nice if he wanted to inherit the English throne one day, so that’s exactly what he did. Sorry, Mary, I guess you just weren’t worth it.
78. He Was Harsh On Sodomites
Historians have debated the truth about King James’s sexuality for centuries—and they’ll probably continue to do so for years to come. Those who claim he was straight point to the fact that he took an incredibly severe stance against sodomy, calling it one of those “horrible crimes which ye are bound in conscience never to forgive.”
Sorry James, but Shakespeare had already written Hamlet, so people knew the phrase, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
79. His Letters Are…Revealing
So King James was vehemently against sodomy—but the shocking letters he shared with George Villiers tell a different story. In one particularly, ahem, specific passage, Villiers wrote, “I entertained myself, your unworthy servant, with this dispute, whether you loved me now…better than at the time which I shall never forget at Farnham, where the bed’s head could not be found between the master and his dog.”
Sure, that’s not technically proof of anything, but…come on now.
80. His Lover Sent Him A Chilling “Gift”
After rebels forced Esmé Stewart to leave Scotland, James never laid eyes on him again—but their relationship didn’t end there. The two kept up a secret correspondence for years. Apparently, Stewart repaid James’ obsession in kind, writing, “The faithfulness which is engraved within my heart, which will last forever…Whatever might happen to me, I shall always be your faithful servant…You are alone in this world whom my heart is resolved to serve.”
But those letters are nothing compared to what Stewart did after he passed on. He had his own heart removed, embalmed, and sent to James. So…romantic?