What is the Jacobean Era?

by JoHarrington

It was the period when King James was on the throne of first Scotland, then England too. His reign straddled the turn of the 17th century. He wrote a Bible you know.

For centuries, the English had been attempting to conquer Scotland. In 1603, it happened the other way round.

The King of Scotland, James VI, was crowned King of England too, when Queen Elizabeth I died without having had children. The Scots could be forgiven for feeling very smug about this, but for the fact that James was an Anglophile.

The Jacobean period is notable for the foundation of English colonies in America; the Gunpowder Plot; Shakespearian plays; and religious war.

When Did the Jacobean Era Begin?

It depends which country you lived in at the time! There's a choice of three dates.

Image: King James VI and I

In Latin, the name James is rendered Jacobus.  It's from this root that we get Jacobean, meaning the reign of King James VI of Scotland, or I of England and Wales.

On July 24th 1567, Mary, Queen of Scots, was forced to abdicate the throne in favor of her baby son.  This is technically the very beginning of the Jacobean era, as it was the moment when King James became monarch of Scotland.

However, as he was only thirteen months old at the time, he didn't have much influence over events.  Unless we're counting the need to feed, clean and dress him.

It wasn't until June 1583, when James was seventeen, that he began to assume power over his realm.  That's really the true start of the Jacobean age in Scotland.

However, on March 24th 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died in England, leaving no Tudor heir.  James of Scotland was proclaimed King of England too on the same day.  This is the beginning of the English and Welsh Jacobean era.

We still haven't finished! Also on March 24th 1603, James had also been proclaimed King of Ireland, as Elizabeth claimed the crown there too.  Unfortunately, the Irish were having none of that.

On March 11th 1605, James found it necessary to issue a proclamation, throughout Ireland, stating that all Irish people were his direct subjects and not answerable to a local lord or clan chief.

Saying it and the Irish obeying it are two very different things, but some could argue that this was the Jacobean age in Ireland now too.  All done!  Pick your country and take your date!

Discover more Historic Eras

Do you want to write a history article for Wizzley, but don't know which sub-category to select? Help is at hand! This is your guide through the eras and ages there to explore.
At the beginning of the 20th century, this was the historical period when Edward VII was on the throne of Britain. A lot happened.

Read More about King James

The Cradle King: The Life of James VI and I, the First Monarch of a United Great Britain

As the son of Mary Queen of Scots, born into her 'bloody nest,' James had the most precarious of childhoods. Even before his birth, his life was threatened: it was rumored that ...

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Majestie: The King Behind the King James Bible

In the Beginning, James. Orphaned, bullied, lonely, and unloved as a boy, in time the young King of Scots overcame his troubled beginnings to ascend the English throne at the he...

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When Did the Jacobean Era End?

It ended upon the death of King James the Sixth and First in 1625.

This one is much easier.  The Jacobean age turned into the Stuart era on March 27th 1625, when King James died. It doesn't matter which country you were in at the time, it all still ended on that day.

James died in Theobalds House, in London, England, with his best friend (some say lover) George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, at his side. 

The king hadn't been well for a long time.  In the months leading up to his death, he'd suffered from arthritis, gout, ague and fainting fits.  Then he had a stroke.  What finally killed him was a bout of dysentery on top of all of that.

He was buried in Westminster Abbey, London.

Learn about Jacobean Fashion and Theater

This was a period when the leading playwright was William Shakespeare and everyone looked fabulous.

What was Life Like in Jacobean Times?

It was a time of deep religious feeling, with several Christian denominations vying for supremacy within the British Isles. 

The way that you said your prayers could mean the difference between life and death, freedom or persecution; often depending upon precisely where you were and who you were talking to at the time. As a rule of thumb, it wasn't a good age to be either a Catholic or a witch.  Or even supposed to be one of those. 

On the other hand, it was an age of relative peace, particularly in England and Wales.  The wars they had fought with Spain and Ireland, during much of Elizabeth's reign, came to an end when James came to the throne.  For Scotland, it was finally a time of stability, as so many of their former monarchs had been killed young.

For Ireland, and the First Natives of America and Newfoundland, it was an age of cultural genocide, dispossession of land, displacement and mass slaughter.  Not coincidentally, for groups of Lowland Scots and English Puritans, it was a time of emigration, into Ulster and the New World respectively.

The arts and intellectual pursuits flowered under Jacobean patronage too, particularly those in which his queen, Anne of Denmark, found interest.  The list of playwrights, artists and poets is huge, but the big name at the top there is William Shakespeare.


Jacobean History and Literature

Discover more about what life was like in Jacobean Britain; or pick up the King James version of the English Bible.

What Happened in the Jacobean Era (Scotland)?

Abdicated and decapitated queens; series of dead regents; civil war; earthquake; Danish princesses; and witches.
  • Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley is murdered in Edinburgh. (1567)
  • Mary, Queen of Scots, abdicated the throne. (1567)
  • Mary, Queen of Scots, escapes from Loch Leven Castle; is defeated at the Battle of Langside, by James Stewart, Earl of Moray; flees to England; and is arrested by Queen Elizabeth I. (1568)
  • James Stewart, Earl of Moray, is assassinated and Civil War begins in Scotland. (1570)
  • The Supernova SN 1572 is spotted in Cassiopeia. It will later be used as evidence that stars do not change. (1572)
  • Death of John Erskine, Earl of Mar, Regent of Scotland; and John Knox, religious reformer. (1572)
  • The Raid of the Redeswire (battle) ends as a decisive victory for Scotland over England.(1575)
  • A magnitude 5.8 earthquake in the Dover Straits causes damage throughout Britain and France.  The infant James VI is told that it was the work of the Devil and it terrified him. (1580)
  • Death of James Douglas, Earl of Morton, Regent of Scotland. (1581)
  • Start of the Gregorian calendar. (1582)
  • Tounis College (later the University of Edinburgh) is founded by royal charter. (1583)
  • Chocolate is introduced to Europe. (1585)
  • Mary, Queen of Scots, names Philip II of Spain as her heir. (1586)
  • The Treaty of Berwick was signed between England and Scotland. (1586)
  • Mary, Queen of Scots, is beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle, England. (1587)
  • Much of the Spanish Armada is destroyed by storms off the coasts of Scotland and Ireland. (1588)
  • James VI marries Anne of Denmark. (1589)
  • Anne is crowned Queen of Scotland. (1590)
  • Witch-hunts erupt all over Scotland after James VI questions Agnes Sampson. (1590)
  • The Nine Years War begins between Ireland and England. Scottish gallóglaigh (Anglocized as gallowglass) mercenaries rush across the sea to help the Irish.  (Not officially sanctioned by James VI!) (1594)
  • Famine hits Europe due to bad weather destroying the harvest. (1596)
  • Alexander Montgomerie (poet) becomes an outlaw after a failed Catholic plot. (1597)
  • January 1st is adopted as New Year's Day. (1600)

What Happened in the Jacobean Era (Great Britain and Ireland)?

Colonies; witch-hunts; the Gunpowder Plot; religious wars; Shakespeare; tobacco; and a Bible. Not in that order.
  • Queen Elizabeth I died; King James VI became James I of England and Wales; and the Nine Years War ended between England and Ireland.  All on the same day. (1603)
  • The Eighty Years War ends between England and Spain. No-one's religion was changed. (1604)
  • The King James Bible is commissioned. (1604)
  • The Witchcraft Act condemns to death any person found guilty of witchcraft. (1604)
  • William Shakespeare's company performs Othello for the first time. (1604)
  • The Gunpowder Plot is discovered in London. (1605)
  • The Welsh village of St Ismail is lost in a storm. (1606)
  • The Union Flag becomes the national flag of England, Scotland, Cornwall and Wales. (1606)
  • Shakespeare's Macbeth and King Lear are performed for the first time. (1606)
  • King James signs the Charter of Virginia to establish colonies in the Americas. (1606)
  • The colony of Jamestown is founded in Virginia. The first permanent British settlement in what was later the USA. (1607)
  • The Flight of the Earls signals the end of the Gaelic clan system in Ireland. (1607)
  • The Levellers protest the Enclosures Act in England. (1607)
  • Bermuda becomes a British colony. (1609)
  • The Plantation of Ulster seeks to make Gaelic Ireland British. (1610)
  • The British settlers in America begin killing the First Natives tribes. (1610)
  • The King James Bible is published. (1611)
  • Shakespeare's The Tempest is performed for the first time. (1611)
  • Edward Wightman, an Anabaptist, is burned at the stake in Lichfield, England, for heresy. It's the last time in British history that was done. (1612)
  • Five people are hanged for witchcraft in Northamptonshire. (1612)
  • The Pendle Witches are hanged in Lancashire. (1612)
  • Scottish mercenaries are killed at the Battle of Kringen, in Norway. (1612)
  • Tobacco finally arrives in Britain.  Thank you for that, John Rolfe. (1613)
  • The Globe Theatre burns down in London. (Not linked to the above.) (1613)
  • The first British-Canadian child is born in the Newfoundland colony. (1613)
  • Pocahontas is taken hostage by the British in Virginia. (1613)
  • John Napier publishes his book, in Scotland, introducing logarithms and the decimal point into mathematics. (1614)
  • Ben Jonson becomes poet laureate. (1616)
  • Hugh O'Neill dies in Rome, having failed to secure aid for the Irish in Catholic Europe. (1616)
  • The Gaelic language is banned in Scotland. (1616)
  • The first African slaves are taken to the Americas by the British. (1616)
  • Twelve women are hanged, in various parts of England, for witchcraft. (1616)
  • Sir Walter Raleigh is beheaded for treason. (1617)
  • A British outpost is established in India. (1619)
  • The Mayflower leaves Plymouth for the Americas. (1620)
  • Witch-hunts begin in earnest in Scotland. (1620)
  • King James dies and he is succeeded by his son, Charles I.

Jacobean Memorabilia on eBay

Updated: 04/23/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 11/24/2012

Beginning of April. Christmas Day was March 25th, hence all of those shepherds and lambs in the Nativity. It caused some uproar at the time, when it was changed.

kate on 11/24/2012

i'm intrigued when was new years day before it was Jan 1st?

JoHarrington on 11/20/2012

As a Wiccan, I'm very glad that I wasn't around then.

Ragtimelil on 11/20/2012

Sounds like a good time to have missed....

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