‘James VI and I and the ‘dark corners’ of his kingdoms’

Published on: Author: Megan Leave a comment

On 28 February, 2017, the Centre welcomed Alison Cathcart (University of Strathclyde) to discuss ‘James VI and I and the ‘dark corners’ of his kingdoms’. Alison is a senior lecturer in History at the University of Strathclyde, who described herself as “a historian of the peripheries.” Below is this listener’s summary of the lecture.

Alison began by discussing some of the issues with the nature of national histories. These tend to prioritise the study of government, law, and the church and how these affected and were implemented in the centre. This neglects the study of the periphery, where these same laws might not have been followed to the letter. She argued that by examining the evidence from the periphery, one might suggest that during the late 16th and early 17th centuries, processes of state formation consisted of efforts by crown to extend its power throughout the realm, although not through centralisation and uniformity. In this lecture, Alison aimed to examine regions that exhibited deviations from King James the VI and I’s ideal Britain, specifically focusing on the Channel Islands.

The Channel Islands had been a contested region until the Treaty of Paris in 1259 when Henry III of England formally retained the territory. Shortly thereafter, introduced the policy that allowed the Channel Islands to view the King of England as the Duke of Normandy. While this policy required the taking of hostages from the Channel Islands, intermarriage of the local elite and members of the Plantagenet, and the gifting of land to the faithful, the inhabitants were offered many benefits. They were allowed to maintain cultural and linguistic ties to France and Normandy, were free from taxation of goods, were considered subjects of the crown, and were allowed to remain neutral in times of warfare. Because the Channel Islands still had strong ties to France and Normandy, especially in terms of trade, the English crown believed that these concessions were worth the strategic advantages that the territory offered. These benefits were confirmed and sometimes extended by subsequent monarchs.

While a governor was appointed to the Channel Islands by the English Crown, the bailiff and local judges had to be local Islanders. When issues arose between the governor and the Islander elites, Elizabeth would often rule in favour of the Islanders to avoid unrest. During the rule of James VI and I, a dispute between the Bailiff of Jersey and Governor Peyton resulted in the curtailing of the Governor’s powers so that he became accountable to the bailiff.

While from Alison’s argument it is evident that James allowed a certain amount of divergence in the periphery, she also noted that this flexibility might not have been tolerated when looking at the Church. While it appears that there was a delay in James’s ecclesiastical reform in the Islands, Alison suggested that there might have been a long term plan for reforming the islands and that James’s appointment of Governor Peyton, an Anglican, was likely part of that plan. She argued that while it is important to identify the differences in the treatment of the periphery, it is equally important to acknowledge these moves towards centralization. In her future work she will explore the possibility that James had blanket policies towards the periphery, as her investigations have uncovered similar attitudes towards the Irish during this period.

Alison concluded by stating that governance is not one way, nor is there consistent uniformity across the different territories in this period. James the VI and I knew when to compromise and encouraged divergence in areas with different regional identities While it is important to identify the differences in the acceptance of royal authority in these regions, it is also important to acknowledge the trends towards centralization where they do occur.

Summary by Megan Kasten (PhD researcher)

Our seminar series continues next week on 7 March 2017 with Ewan Campbell and Adrián Maldonado (University of Glasgow), who will discuss ‘Rethinking the archaeology of early medieval Iona: reassessment and recent work.’ This lecture will be held on 7 March at 6pm in Room 202 3 University Gardens. (Please note the later time!) All welcome! 

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