What Charles Dickens Wrote About James VI of Scotland – James I of England

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Here is just some of what Charles Dickens wrote in A Child’s History of England (1851-53) about James VI of Scotland, who became King James the First of England upon the death of Queen Elizabeth on March 24, 1603:

“’Our cousin of Scotland’ was ugly, awkward, and shuffling both in mind and person. His tongue was much too large for his mouth, his legs were much too weak for his body, and his dull goggle-eyes stared and rolled like an idiot’s.  He was cunning, covetous, wasteful, idle, drunken, greedy, dirty, cowardly, a great swearer, and the most conceited man on earth.

“His figure – what is commonly called rickety from birth – presented a most ridiculous appearance, dressed in thick padded clothes, as a safeguard against being stabbed (of which he lived in continual fear), of a grass-green color from head to foot, with a hunting-horn dangling at his side instead of a sword, and his hat and feather sticking over one eye, or hanging on the back of his head, as he happened to toss it on.

King James (1566-1625)

“He used to loll on the necks of his favorite courtiers, and slobber their faces, and kiss and pinch their cheeks; and the greatest favorite he ever had [Buckingham] used to sign himself in his letters to his royal master, His Majesty’s ‘dog and slave,’ and used to address his majesty as ‘his Sowship.’

“His majesty was the worst rider ever seen, and thought himself the best.  He was one of the most impertinent talkers (in the broadest Scotch) ever heard, and boasted of being unanswerable in all manner of argument.  He wrote some of the most wearisome treatises ever read – among others, a book upon witchcraft, in which he was a devout believer – and thought himself a prodigy of authorship.

King James

“He thought, and wrote, and said, that a king had a right to make and unmake what laws he pleased, and ought to be accountable to nobody on earth.

“This is the plain true character of the personage whom the greatest men about the Court praised and flattered to that degree, that I doubt if there be anything much more shameful in the annals of human nature.”

Well, you might say that Dickens had a less-than-favorable opinion of this monarch, whose occupation of the English throne was engineered by Secretary Robert Cecil during the final two years of Elizabeth’s reign (when Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton was imprisoned in the Tower of London).

Dickens concluded his history of the reign of King James (1603-1625) by writing:

“I know of nothing more abominable in history than the adulation that was lavished on this King and the vice and corruption that such a barefaced habit of lying produced in his Court … a creature like his Sowship set upon a throne is like the Plague, and everybody receives infection from him.”

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Hank! Do you suspect any reason for Dickens to write this way?


    • Hi Sandy – well, not sure. I probably should explain that a neighbor of mine gave me an entire set of Dickens intended for my son, who is not yet 10, and I started looking through them. I was startled to find this history, which I had no idea about. I may post more of his comments, especially about Elizabethan history, but the James comments stood out. Dickens obviously was a man who wrote what he felt, without holding muuch if anything back. I can only think this was his honest take.

      • Thanks! On the net I’ve found a quotation from Dickens: “As bloody Queen Mary this woman has become famous, and as Bloody Queen Mary she will ever be remembered with horror and detestation”. Given that James was her son, it’s perhaps not too far-fetched to think that Dickens’ hatred was inherited to a degree by James.

      • Perhaps I’ll quote more from Dickens, about Queen Elizabeth and the earlier reigns of the Tudors. Meanwhile you actually mean Mary Queen of Scots, who was mother of James, and of course she was also Catholic and was executed by Elizabeth in 1587. It gets confusing:-)

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