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James the Sixth, his Character, pp.108-115.

[Historical Works Contents – Companion]

THIS King’s character is much easier to take than his picture, for he could ever be hardly made to sit for the taking of that, which is the reason of so few good pieces of him; but his character was obvious to every eye. 

He was of a middle stature, more corpulent through his clothes than in his body, yet fat enough; his clothes ever being made large and easy, the doublets quilted [to be] stiletto-proof, his breeches in great pleats, and full stuffed. He was naturally of a timorous disposition, which was the gr4eatest reason of his quilted doublets. His eye [were] large, ever rolling after any stranger came in[to] his presence, in so much as many for shame have left the room, as being out of countenance. His beard was very thin; his tongue too large for his mouth, which ever made him speak full in the mouth, and made him drink very uncomely, as if eating his drink, which came out into the cup [from] each side of his mouth. His skin was as soft as taffeta [silk], which felt so because he never washed his hands, only rubbed his finger ends slightly with the wet end of a napkin. His legs were very weak, having had (as was thought) some foul play in his youth, or rather before he was born, that he was not able to stand at seven years of age; that weakness made him ever leaning on other men’s shoulders. His walk was ever circular, his fingers ever in that walk fiddling about his cod piece. He was very temperate in his exercises, and in his diet, and not intemperate in his drinking; however in his old age, and [at] Buckingham’s jovial suppers, when he had any turn to do with him, made him sometimes overtaken [drunk], which he would the very next day remember, and repent with tears. It is true he drank very often, which was rather out of a custom than any delight; and his drinks were of that kind for strength, as Frontignac, Canary [Malmsey], High Country wine, tent [?] and strong ale, that had he not had a very strong brain, might have daily been overtaken, although he seldom drank at any one time above four spoonfuls, many times not above one or two. He was very constant in all things, (his favourites excepted), in which he loved change; yet never cast down any (he once raised) from the height of greatness, though there wanted nearness and privacy, unless by their own fault, by opposing his change, as in [Robert Carr] Somerset’s case; yet had be not been in that foul poisoning business, and so cast down himself, I do verily believe, not him neither; for all his other favourites he left great in honour, great in fortune, and did much love [Alexander] Montgomerie, and trusted him more at the very last gasp, than at the first minute of his favouriteship. In his diet, apparel and journeys, he was very constant, in his apparel so constant, as by his good will he would never change his clothes, until almost worn out to rags; his fashion never; in so much as one bringing to him a hat of Spanish [make], he cast it from him, swearing he neither loved them not their fashions. Another time, bringing him roses on his shoes, he asked if they would make him a rough-footed dove, one yard of sixpenny ribbon served that turn. His diet and journeys were so constant, that the best observing courtier of our time was wont to say, Were he asleep seven years, and then awakened, he [could] tell where the King every day had been, and every dish he had had on his table. 

He was not very uxorious [loving with his wife], (though he had a very brave Queen) that never crossed his designs, nor intermeddled with state affairs; but ever complied with him, (even against the nature of any but of a mild spirit). In the change of favourites, he was ever best when furthest from his Queen; and that was thought to be the first grounds of his often [leaving], which afterwards proved habitual. He was unfortunate in the marriage of his daughter, and so was all christendom besides; but sure the daughter was more unfortunate in a father, than he in a daughter. He naturally loved not the sight of a soldier, nor of any valiant man; and it was an observation, that Sir Robert Mansell was the only valiant man he ever loved; and him he loved so entirely, that for all [George Villiers] Buckingham’s greatness with the King, and his hatred of Sir Robert Mansell, yet could not alienate the King’s affections from him; in so much as when, by the instigation of [Francis] Cottington, (then ambassador in Spain) by Buckingham’s procurement, the Spanish ambassador came with a great complaint against Sir Robert Mansell, then at Algiers to suppress the pirates; that he did support them; having never a friend there (though many) that [dared] speak in his defence, the King himself defended him in these words:- My Lord Ambassador, I cannot believe this, for I made choice myself of him, out of these reasons; I know him to be valiant, honest, and nobly descended, as most in my kingdom; and will never believe a man thus qualified will do so base an act. He naturally loved honest men, that were not over active; yet never loved any man heartily, until he had bound unto him, by giving him some suite, which he thought bound the others love to him again. But that argued no generous disposition in him, to believe that anything but a noble mind, seasoned with virtue, could make any firm love or union; for mercenary minds are carried away with a greater prize, but noble minds alienated with nothing but public disgrace. 

He was very witty, and had as many ready witty jests as any man living, at which he would not smile himself, but deliver them in a grave and serious manner. He was very liberal of what he had not in his own [possession], and would rather part with 100 [pounds] he never had in his keeping, than one shilling piece within his own custody. He spent much, and had much use of his subject’s purses, which bred some clashings with them in the parliament, yet would always come off, and end with a sweet and plausible close; and truly his bounty was not [deserving of disapproval], for his raising [of] favourites was the worst; rewarding old servants, and retaining his native countrymen, was infinitely more to be commended in him than condemned. His sending ambassadors were no less chargeable then dishonourable and unprofitable to him and his whole kingdom; for he was ever abused in all negotiations; yet he had rather spend one hundred thousand pounds on embassies, to keep or procure peace with dishonour, than ten thousand pounds on an army that would have forced peace with honour. He loved good laws, and had many made in his time; and in his last parliament, for the good of his subjects, and suppressing promoters and [begging] fellows, gave way to that Nullum Tempus [occurrit regi (no time runs against the king)], to be confined to sixty years, which was more beneficial to the subjects in respect of their [peace], than all the parliaments had given him during his whole reign. 

By his frequenting sermons, he appeared religious; yet his Tuesday sermons (if ye will believe his own countrymen, that lived in these times when they were erected, and well understood the cause of erecting them) were dedicated for a strange piece of devotion. 

He would make a great deal too bold with God in his passion, both in cursing and swearing, and one strain higher, verging on blasphemy, but would in his better temper say, he hoped God would not impute them as sins, and lay them to his charge, seeing they proceeded from passion. He had need of great assurance, rather than hopes, that would make [him] daily so bold with God. 

He was very crafty and cunning in petty things, as the circumventing any great man, the change of a favourite, &c.; in so much, as a very wise man was wont to say, he believed him the wisest fool in Christendom, meaning him wise in small things, but a fool in weighty affairs. 

He ever desired to prefer mean men in great places, that when he turned them out again, they should have no friends to [side] with them; and besides, they were so hated, by being raised from a mean estate to overtop all men, that everyone held it a pretty recreation to have them often turned out. There were living in this King’s time at one instant, two Treasurers, three Secretaries, two Lord Keepers, two Admirals, three Lord Chief Justices, yet but one in play. therefore this King had a pretty faculty in putting out and in. By this you may perceive in what his wisdom consisted; but in great and weighty affairs at his witts end. 

He had a trick to [cheat] himself with bargains underhand, by taking 1000 [pounds] or 10,000 [pounds] as a bribe, when his council was treating with his customers, to raise them to so much more yearly; this went into his privy purse, wherein he thought he had overreached the Lords, bus [cheated] himself; but would as easily break the bargain upon the next offer, saying he was mistaken and deceived; and therefore no reason he should keep the bargain. This was often the case with the [collectors] of the customs. He was infinity inclined to peace, but more out of fear than conscience, and this was the greatest blemish this King had through all his reign, otherwise [he] might have been ranked with the very best of our Kings; yet sometimes would he show pretty flashes of valour, which might easily [be decreed] to be forced, not natural; and being forced, could have withed rather it would have recoiled back into himself, than carried to the King it had concerned, least he might have been put to the trial, to maintain his seeming valour. 

In a word, he was, take him altogether, (and not in pieces) such a King, I wish this kingdom have never any worse, on the condition not any better; for he lived in peace, died in peace, and left all his kingdoms in a peaceable condition, with his own motto:- 

Beati pacifici [Blessed are the peacemakers].

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