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King James VI and I, peace policies


King James VI and I furnishes the example of an early modern monarch who pursued a policy of peace that worked to his disadvantage. This irenic policy arose more from circumstances than conviction. As king of Scotland, he had learned to distrust the violent and warlike members of the Scots nobility, and diplomacy and conciliation were the only instruments he had to deal with these ruffians. Despite aspersions upon his manhood, he led attempts to suppress their rebellion, and when he succeeded as king of England, he possessed more military experience than any English monarch since Henry VII. Those of his subjects who attributed his irenicism to cowardice or effeminacy drew upon a literary tradition that stretched back to classical antiquity. There were proponents of a more peaceful foreign and military policy in England, but the war party conducted the more effective propaganda campaign, which had many supporters among the Puritans in Church and Parliament. For all his great learning, James was ignorant of the politics of mainland Europe, and he undervalued the Dutch Republic as an ally of England against the very real danger of Spain. His reliance on diplomacy anticipated the means of resolving disputes in the future, but ignored the extent to which England’s enemies, the Hapsburg rulers of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, used diplomacy for dissimulation. James’s attempt to play the role of rex pacificus won him few supporters as did his failure to employ the martial talents of the nobility to defend the cause of European Protestantism. Moreover, his failure to maintain and improve the military resources of royal government and to reward the martial endeavors of the aristocracies of the Three Kingdoms left his son Charles I ill-prepared to deal with the rebellion of Parliament in the next reign.