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on 17 September 2013
I've read other reviews criticising this work as being rather heavy. It's certainly not a light read as it's scholarly and quotes from sources as it should. That makes a refeshing change and the reader will learn a great deal.
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on 28 September 2011
This is a well written biography and is very helpful indeed to those who have only a sketchy knowledge of the structures of politics and aristocracy in Scotland. The author leads you through the twists and turns of James's childhood but leaves perhaps certain questions unasked and unanswered particularly over the kings relations with his male favourites....
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on 9 October 2016
This is an informative absorbing account of James
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on 23 September 2003
The factors that render a book like this unputdownable are either relevations of how the principal figure influenced contemporary political developments or - preferably AND - what a colourful personality he or she was. In the last case an author's mischievous eye in bringing that personality to life is an essential requirement.
Having bought the book on the strenght of the above synopsis I had hopes that at least the second element would guarantee a few day's entertaining reading. As it turns out, Mr. Stewart has taken great pains never to appear even remotely tabloidsy or unduly humorous in his approach of James the private person and his treatment of the King's private foibles could be read out under the Christmas tree without causing any great scandal or merriment.
What remains then to make this book interesting to the non-British reader is the impact James made on political or other major developments in the European theater. Here however the reader will find that James'occasional efforts in this field were usually without much consequence. His efforts concentrated on Scottish issues such as bringing the Kirk to heel, his unsuccesful efforts to formally create a Great Britain in his lifetime and on his other efforts in the fields of politics, theology and poetry within England and Scotland.
The resulting book is certainly "popular history" that however style-wise fully earns the Irish Times'description as being "thoughtful and erudite" which as we know is not always equal to "gripping and unputdownable". It will no doubt be of considerable interest to serious students of Britain's history and the Stuart dynasty. Foreign - and/or more shallow - readers should however approach the book's synopsis with some caution as it suggests more entertainment than this book actually delivers.
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on 4 July 2015
don't know much about jamie but my friend says its ok
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on 24 March 2016
James reigned for virtually all of six decades. In this case length did not translate into impact. He was carried to the throne of Scotland as a baby in 1567 – one of the meanings of this biography’s title. Stewart follows his reign through to 1625, concentrating after 1603 on England. He argues that James never matured into a responsible monarch - the second sense of “cradle King”.

I read this for an academic programme. It is partly a political biography, partly an account of his personal life. It is a book to study rather than savour. Alan Stewart quotes often from original sources – the archaic English sometimes left me puzzled. The opinions of contemporaries are given prominence – ambassadors and courtiers, bishops and attendants. They veer from public flattery to private disquiet.

Much effort is spent in determining who said what to whom, rather than composing the broader picture. The marriage of Charles finally to Henrietta Maria [France] rather than the Infanta Maria [Spain] being a notable case in point. Likewise the long descriptions of royal pageantry. Comparisons are not really developed with his glorious predecessor or his disastrous successor. We do not really learn out Britain fitted into Europe, still less the new world.

It is more a study of a particular monarch than an important period of British and indeed European history. Not unlike a Shakespearean tragedy we are invited to judge James for his personal strengths and weaknesses. There were too many of the latter, not enough of the former, to make him a heroic figure.

James is judged for himself – as a failure. He failed to unify his two kingdoms, he failed to Anglicize the Kirk, his interventions on the Thirty Years War were inept, Parliament would not subsidize his lavish lifestyle, time was expended on personal favourites rather than family. He comes over as weak, conceited and vain. His final years were dogged by physical decline and probable senility – or at any rate a weariness with public responsibilities he had always shirked.

Had this not been a “required” read I would have struggled. Too much detail, even gossip, not enough analysis.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 16 October 2014
James (VI or I, depending on your perspective) was very much a King of two reigns - his first as King of Scotland and his second as King of a somewhat less-than-united England and Scotland. In the same vein this book is very much one of two halves. The first half of the book is almost entirely about events in Scotland; when Elizabeth dies and James becomes King of both England and Scotland the focus almost entirely shifts south and Scotland is scarcely mentioned again. Considering how disruptive and turbulent James' early years in Scotland were, I doubt things suddenly calmed down so dramatically once the King crossed the border, but you wouldn't get any other sense reading this book.

It must be said, when discussing the religious and political changes of the era, both in Scotland, England and Europe as a whole, this book is excellent. But again it falls down when looking at the more personal aspects of James' reign - important events such as the deaths of Prince Henry, Queen Anne and James himself are hardly dealt with, discussed in just a few sentences. I cannot be the only reader who is often more interested in the personal than the political - I realise the two can rarely be separated so easily when talking of monarchs, but this is after all a biography of James, not a history of the Jacobean era.

So an interesting read but overall, a disappointing one. I felt Stewart relied too heavily in places on quoting from original sources; again, I recognise the value of these from an historical perspective, but a little less regurgitation of arcane quotations and a little more analysis or discussion might have been welcome.
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on 18 October 2009
There are real problems in writing a biography of James VI and I - the first is implicit in those Latin numbers: Do we focus on the King of Scotland or the King of "Great Britain"? Another is that historiographers have, for 350 years, taken sides regarding James's contribution to the British state. Thirdly, many writers have been caught by the contemporary appraisal of James as "the wisest fool in Christendom" and have used it as their guiding principle in describing his reign.
So, this is the kind of book we really need when dealing with James. Yes it's stodgy. Yes it's lacking in verve. Yes it reads like a very long essay written for a PhD Thesis. And yes I put it down. Frequently. And Then I picked it up again. See, this is a biography of a complex figure in British history and it simply tells the story as it happened. It doesn't tell you what to think about it. I rather like that.
So, down a star for being a bit turgid. Down another star because what this book really needs is an extra two appendices. The writer constructs the latter part of James's life thematically (relations with Parliament, religious rows etc) so chapters overlap. A timeline would be helpful. So would a list of main figures (such as Bothwell and Carr) along with short biographies.
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on 18 May 2008
I'm a big fan of historical biographies, especially of England's monarchs, but this book was, as the other reviewers have said, frankly boring and dull. True, a historian should make ample use of primary sources and take quotations from them - which to his credit Stewart does - but he goes overboard. Every paragraph has a quotation, sometimes wholesale, leaving no room for the historian's other task of analysing the sources, discerning what is happening, and more importantly, why something has happened the way it did.

Similarly, the author merely produces a chronological account of James I & VI's life, there is little analysis, historical investigation and study of the socio-political themes of the period which the king faced. As a result the reader is left with a terse, dull read.

In summary, I can't recommend this book. I'm sure there are better biographies of James available. This one is for hardcore fans of James I & VI only.
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on 28 June 2004
If a review quoted on a book says, 'a very timely biography', beware! It means that there are not many new biographies on this subject and, if being, well, 'timely' is the best complement the book can get, that is not good enough.
If you are into a vivid, fast paced writing with a lot of personal detail (that of Alison Weir or Maureen Waller) you will be disappointed.
The book seems to be a bit inconsistent - the author tries to be very scholarly in some chapters, informal and personal in other and it just does not work.
If you're writing a paper on James I, you may find it useful. If you are into the King as a person and want to start with this book as an introduction into Stuart's England, don't bother.
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