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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The first ruler of Britain, almost a capable plotter, January 19, 2006
This review is from: The Cradle King: The Life of James VI and I, the First Monarch of a United Great Britain (Hardcover)
What machinations! The court of the Tudors and Stuarts in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century were not easy places to navigate. For a young boy left by his mother to the in-fighting of Lairds and nobles it was an even more difficult place. It would be considered tragic now, that a boy like James should be used as a pawn for others gains, but for his time it was simply a game, and a game with huge wins and losses.

Alan Stewarts book is almost very very good but I felt it fell short on many points. It is a highly readable work, and it covers some excellent matieral I had never read about before - the plotting and constant scheming of the courts. It also, to my relief, treated the issues in context to the time. There was no moralising about what happened, but it was very much presentation of the facts and their consequences.

James VI of Scotland had grown up literally an orphan with his mother imprisoned in England and then beheaded. While he managed to manipulate the Scottish court, the intricacies of the British Court escaped him and his ability to rule England was often compromised. Perhaps too, in comparison to Elizabeth I he paled in significance in all aspects.

This is a pretty good presentation of the first of the Stuart Kings who lasted little more than a century - but in that time managed a huge amount of upheaval to the British landscape and temperament.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Scottish take over, June 16, 2007
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Mark Latchford (Sydney Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Cradle King: The Life of James VI and I, the First Monarch of a United Great Britain (Hardcover)
Often books about European royalty are so complex that the reader needs to have a finger forever on family trees as he/she wades though the chapters. This book about a critical leader in our Anglo-Saxon past is very easy to read and provides some important new information and highlights the critical bonds between England and Scotland at the end of the Tudor era. I highly recommend this very readable book
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvelous Book On A Forgotten King, April 13, 2009
This review is from: The Cradle King: The Life of James VI and I, the First Monarch of a United Great Britain (Hardcover)
It is an unfortunate fact of history that James VI and I has largely been passed over far too often when it comes to biographies. Worse yet, he has been greatly ignored by the film industry, and precious little is ever heard about him on TV as well. What mini-series has ever been made of his life and reign? Most people simply think of him as the son of Mary, Queen of Scots; a man who succeeded Elizabeth I on the throne and finally united the two kingdoms of England and Scotland.

In reading this book, I discovered why. Despite his obsession with witches (really not that uncommon for his time), he was actually a decent king who despised the thought of war and the high cost involved in waging battles on foreign soil.

The reasons for his reticence to be a warmonger may have been an abhorrence of violence in general, born of his early years filled with attempts at kidnapping and watching the rival Scottish Lords viciously fight over him in front of his young eyes. Seeing a man stomped to death just outside his bedroom seemed to have left a lasting impression on James, and intensified his hatred of fighting in any form.

Having been born with physical deformities, especially his malformed legs, he found great pleasure in hunting on horseback for hours at a time. This pursuit gave him the freedom and sense of normality that his stilted walk (he would often lean on others for support) could never provide. All in all, one comes to see James as a man one could relate to; an individual whose human side showed a peaceful, gentle character that had been sorely lacking in many of his predecessors.

Besides having an active part in producing the King James Version of the Bible, the one aspect of his reign was his self-proclaimed role as "peacemaker". And James certainly lived up to the title. By keeping the newly formed United Kingdom relatively free of costly wars, his reign created an equilibrium and sense of peace that was much appreciated by his subjects (and his Treasury).

Although his homosexual inclinations brought the usual problems associated with any man who showers money, gifts and lands on his favorites, it might be said that at least in choosing young men as bosom companions, he did not leave behind a string of bastard children. Indeed, his marriage with Anne of Denmark seemed quite amicable and she herself created no scandals during the reign of her husband. She truly did seem to accept him as he was, a fact that only stabilized and strengthened their relationship.

In summation, a king who was able to keep his country out of the often mad conflagrations going on across the channel, coupled with a relatively unsensational life at home, does not make for high drama. And therein lies what, in my opinion, is the greatness of his reign.

Perhaps if more works like "The Cradle King" are written, people will come to appreciate this king who has, unfortunately, all too often ends up as just a footnote in the wonderful and engrossing history of Great Britain.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cradle King review, March 3, 2009
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This review is from: The Cradle King: The Life of James VI and I, the First Monarch of a United Great Britain (Hardcover)
I hadn't read much about James I so decided I wanted to find a book that covered his early childhood as much as his adult life as a king, given the turbulent and traumatic childhood he experienced. This work helped me understand how his personality developed in that environment and shaped who he became and the legacy he left his son, Charles I.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine biography of a complex life, November 10, 2011
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This biography of James can be roughly divided into three sections. First is the incredibly complex web of intrigue and shifting political in-fighting that James faced in Scotland. Stewart does a very good job of giving the reader a mental map of who was fighting whom, the relationship of James to his mother Mary and how, as a child and then young adult, James managed to survive the chaos. Making sense of this without oversimplifying it is a challenge and Stewart deserves high praise for his clarity here. This background on James in the development of his personality and interests is essential to understanding the later life of the king.

The second part of the book is the first dozen years or so of James's reign in England. I found this the high point of the book. Stewart does a superb job of tying James's personality, interests and habits to the development of the English Reformation. I thought his lengthy and well-written description of James as religious thinker and religious mediator in England were exceptional. Likewise, James's habits of life as an adult are dealt with in an even-handed yet absorbing way. Stewart shows how James's thoughtful intelligence balanced his desires about his "favourites" and prevented the reign from becoming a 17th century version of Edward II. (James's insights and high intelligence in dialogue with his personal and political desires appears throughout the book.) I also liked Stewart's description of the love/threat relationship between James and his son Henry. Finally, what stood out for me in this section was how James's arguments and disagreements with Parliament laid the seed for future conflicts after his death. These chapters are the heart of the book.

The last third or so of the book is much more about James's relationships with other nations. The chapter called "Of Jack, and Tom" is about the curious and fascinating not-so-secret journey of his son Charles and James's favourite Buckingham to Spain under assumed names to prepare for a marriage between Charles and the Spanish Infanta. This is great stuff, part Monte Python and part a religious version of Secret Agent. But overall I found the last part of the book "rushed" in a way that the first two parts were not. Unlike the equally complex events in Scotland in the first part, here names and places are not as well-explained. I found the chapter called "The Peacemaker," which centers around James's desire to be the mediator of Europe's problems, the weakest in the book. Nevertheless, I do not mean to imply that this is a major issue. It was for me a minor blip in a strong biography.

The greatest strength of the book lies in the smooth transition throughout between James's personality and his kingship. This is a fine biography of one of England's most unusual and interesting kings.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent look at one of Britain's underreported kings, January 12, 2014
This review is from: The Cradle King: The Life of James VI and I, the First Monarch of a United Great Britain (Hardcover)
While most books about King James start at Elizabeth's death, this book provides a detailed look at his birth and upbringing too. Well worth the read!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The wisest fool in Christendom", February 13, 2010
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This review is from: The Cradle King: The Life of James VI and I, the First Monarch of a United Great Britain (Hardcover)
Poor James. That is how his contemporary Sir Anthony Weldon labeled him and it stuck, virtually forever. James, however, was no fool.

James I will never be as popular among English history buffs as the Tudors, and of course, he is totally over- shadowed and up-staged by his mother, Mary Queen of Scots. Yet this little known and understood Stuart king deserves more than the cursory glance he usually gets. He was a decent man, much more decent than Henry VIII, and unlike Henry capable of loyalty even if that loyalty was misplaced- ie to many male favorites. Alan Stewart's biography is sympathetic, balanced and well-written. James is not eulogized but he is not condemned, either but fleshed out in a fair manner.

Two facts are generally known about James: He was a homosexual (although his supporters vehemently deny this) and the King James version of the Bible, still in use today, was translated under his reign. But his tenure was a time of relative peace when he combined England and Scotland under one crown and modern historians are beginning to re-evaluate him as a man and as a king.

It was rather a miracle that James was able to grow up at all under one regent after another amid the incessant squabbling of the Scottish nobles. He was physically disabled in some way concerning his legs, often mentioned in the writings of his times but nobody seems to know what the affliction was, except that apparently he walked in a peculiar manner. He never saw his mother after he was about six months old and sources vary as to his reaction to her gruesome death, some saying that he was sorely distressed, others that he climbed right in the saddle when he heard the news and went hunting. When Elizabeth died in 1603 and he became King James I of England and Scotland, he had a velvet black shroud thrown over Mary's tomb at Peterborough and ten years after that had her remains exhumed and placed in a magnificent mausoleum in Westminster Abbey where she lies today opposite Elizabeth, her arch enemy.(James paid for Elizabeth's tomb, too, but Mary's is bigger).

James was said to be fearful of bloodshed and war, if not an outright coward, and he blamed his own fears on trauma he felt when he was still in his mother's womb! Since he was a fetus when Rizzio was stabbed to death right in front of Mary (and unavoidably he was present) the explanation perhaps isn't too far fetched!

As a personality James was virtually the antithesis of his predecessor Elizabeth, who loved crowds and the adulation she got from them and played to her audience. James hated crowds, avoiding them he could or if obliged to face groups did so with a scowl. He left a lot of the governing of the nation to his counselors and fled to the country where he spent most of his time hunting or with his nose in a book and writing books as well. His book "Basilikon Doron", penned in 1599, sold an incredible 16,000 copies, one of the "runaway best sellers of the Renaissance."

Flourishing under the reign of James I were William Shakespeare, John Donne, Ben Jonson and Sir Francis Bacon,the Golden Age of Elizabethan literature still alive and well

James' first male love was Esme Stuart, his cousin, who came to Scotland from France when James was about thirteen. The pattern of male favorites continued throughout James' life but he was happily married to Anna of Denmark and had seven children by her. His eldest son, Henry, was popular and talented and probably would have made a fine future king but he suddenly died as a teenager. The next son, Charles, inherited the throne, and like his father believed in the divine right of kings. That belief cost Charles his head.

During the last year of James' life, James' current favorite, the Duke of Buckingham, consolidated his control over Prince Charles to ensure his own future; however, Charles actually liked the Duke even though the Duke was much despised throughout the realm. The King was often seriously ill, leaving him increasingly feeble and rarely able to visit London. He died rather horribly:

"On the night of Friday 25th [1625] a stroke loosened the king's face muscles, so that his jaw dropped. His swollen tongue, combined with huge quantities of phlegm, constantly threatened to suffocate him: it was said his tongue was swollen so big in his mouth, that either he could not speak at all, or not be understood. He was also afflicted with severe dysentery, suffering, it is reported in filth and misery."

Alan Stewart's biography is detailed, turgid, and impeccably researched. It is a fine portrayal of the Jacobean age. Highly recommended.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars, July 28, 2014
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Interesting.
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