“Pillars of the Authority of Princes”: Reflections on the Employment of Bishops in the British Isles in the Reign of James VI/I


“Pillars of the Authority of Princes”: Reflections on the Employment of Bishops in the British Isles in the Reign of James VI/I

Nicholls, Andrew D. (Buffalo State College)

Scottish Tradition, Vol.24 (1999) 

Abstract

This I must say for Scotland, and I may truly vaunt it, here I sit and govern it with my pen, I write and it is done, and by a Clerk of the Council I govern Scotland now, which others could not do by the sword.” So spoke James I to the English parliament in the spring of 1607, as his hopes for a comprehensive union between England and Scotland began to become hopelessly derailed. For a king whose accession to the English throne had been greeted as the harbinger of “…peace under one king, one law, one religion,…and the true happiness of Britain…”, such a boast seems almost sullen when we realize that it was probably an attempt to calm English fears of being over-run by poor, ignorant Scotsmen, should hostile laws between the two kingdoms be eliminated.



We know, of course, that James did not get his comprehensive union, and that England and Scotland were not formally joined as one state until 1707. Still, the challenge of ruling a “Multiple Kingdom” would entail a degree of executive harmonization, and where possible, the use of representatives or institutions which would be common to all of the king’s dominions. It is with this in mind that I propose some examples of the crown’s use of the bishops of the established churches as vehicles for extending central authority in several of the more remote regions of the British Isles after 1603. Initially, however, some background information will be required to establish a sense of the political landscape, and the limitations under which the early Stuart regime worked.

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