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But James’s dominant characteristics (not least his sexual preferences) resist glib classification. Drunk or sober, shallow or deep, gay or straight, there certainly was no other prince who felt so repeatedly compelled to theorize about his sovereignty and to do so on paper. James, of whom it was accurately said ‘he doth wondrously covet learned discourse’, published no fewer than ten treatises dealing with various matters he considered weighty, including the evils of witchcraft and tobacco. Two of them, the Basilikon Doron (the ‘Prince’s Gift’, written in 1598, but published in 1599, for his son Henry, and consisting for the most part, like its model, Charles V’s advice to Philip II, of practical advice on the conduct of kingship) and The True Law of Free Monarchies (published in 1598), appeared in the immediate period before his arrival in England.

A ban imposed by James on anti-English ballads, poems and pamphlets suggests (not surprisingly) that the affronted Scots gave as good as they got in the abuse department. But wounded feelings aside, Scotland – or rather, Lowland, Protestant Scotland – had little reason to feel disadvantaged by the ‘dual government’ set up by James as long as its religious independence remained unthreatened. In this last, crucial department the king moved, as was his wont, slowly and cannily, waiting until his deputy governors (the earls of Dunbar and Dunfermline) had demonstrated the benefits of cooperation thoroughly enough to large sections of the Scottish nobility.

For those who trade in thumbnail sketches of the British monarchy – blood-and-thunder Henry VIII, the Virgin Gloriana and the like – James I is bound to seem a baffling mixture of characteristics that have no business inhabiting the same personality: the hunt-mad scholar who would pursue Calvinist theologians and the stag with the same energetic determination; the slightly sloshed reveller, noisily demanding in the middle of an interminable masque and in his thick Scots accent to see the dancers, especially his queen ‘Annie’ (Anne of Denmark), who loved to perform in them; the long-winded, blustering master of disputation, battering preachers and parliamentarians over the head with his bibliography.

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