On this day in 1603 James VI of Scotland also becomes James I of England, upon the death of Elizabeth I.
As Elizabeth I was the last of Henry VIII’s descendants, James was seen as the most likely heir to the English throne through his great-grandmother Margaret Tudor, who was Henry VIII’s oldest sister. From 1601, in the last years of Elizabeth I’s life, certain English politicians, notably her chief minister Sir Robert Cecil, maintained a secret correspondence with James to prepare in advance for a smooth succession.
In March 1603, with the Queen clearly dying, Cecil sent James a draft proclamation of his accession to the English throne. Elizabeth died in the early hours of 24 March, and James was proclaimed king in London later the same day. On 5 April, James left Edinburgh for London, promising to return every three years and progressed slowly southwards. His new subjects flocked to see him, relieved that the succession had triggered neither unrest nor invasion. When he entered London on 7 May, he was mobbed by a crowd of spectators.
His English coronation took place on 25 July, with elaborate allegories provided by dramatic poets such as Thomas Dekker and Ben Jonson. Even though an outbreak of plague restricted festivities, “the streets seemed paved with men,” wrote Dekker. “Stalls instead of rich wares were set out with children, open casements filled up with women.”
The kingdom to which James succeeded was, however, not without its problems. Monopolies and taxation had engendered a widespread sense of grievance, and the costs of war in Ireland had become a heavy burden on the government. By the time of his succession, England had incurred a debt of £400,000.