Published to mark the 400th anniversary of King James I's accession to the throne of England in 1603, Alan Stewart's biography The Cradle King: A Life of James VI and I
offers a fascinating reassessment of one of England's most curiously neglected monarchs. As Stewart suggests, this unfair neglect masks a complex and highly intelligent monarch who achieved the feat of ruling England in peace from 1603 until his death of natural causes in 1625.
The strength of Stewart's biography lies in his exploration of James' other title: King James VI of Scotland. James was crowned king at the age of one "during one of the most bitter and bloody periods in Scottish history", which witnessed the expulsion and subsequent murder of his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, and repeated attempts upon the young king's life. Stewart has trawled a mass of neglected archival material to provide a compelling portrait of the "cradle king", who spent over 50 years as a king, and whose public life was defined by the febrile and violent world of Scottish politics.
In 1603, following the death of Queen Elizabeth I, James took the crown of England, and Stewart spends the second half of his biography unravelling James' labyrinthine financial, domestic and foreign policy, as well as his complex sexuality, and extraordinary relationship with the charismatic Duke of Buckingham.
This is an excellent biography that resituates James as one of England's most astute monarchs, while also comically underlining his faults and foibles. Stewart points out that James "mocked colonial exploration, fell asleep during England's most celebrated plays, and showed little interest in momentous scientific advances", all signs of how his public career was shaped in his infancy as a "cradle king". --Jerry Brotton
"A detailed and informative biography" (Peter Ackroyd The Times
"Stewart includes plenty of fascinating detail on every aspect of this controversial king's reign...And Stewart's scholarship is impeccable" (Frank McLynn Literary Review
"A timely new biography" (Antonia Fraser BBC History
"A sensitive, even tender, account of the formation of James's personality in the violence and savagery of Reformation Scotland" (James Buchan Guardian