March 24 was a pivotal day in English and British monarchical history. Exactly 410 years ago, in 1603, Elizabeth I died and James VI of Scotland ascended to the English Throne as James I, creating Personal Union of Crowns of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland. A century later, on 1 May 1707, the Acts of Union were signed, officially uniting the Kingdoms of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain. The question of James VI’s accession will be discussed in this article, while the Act of Union – in a separate one to be published on May 1.
Elizabeth I’s death in 1603 marked the end of the House of Tudor which had ruled the Kingdom of England and its realms for 118 years, since Henry Tudor (Henry VII) defeated Richard III in the Battle of Bosworth Field. Elizabeth was childless and the last of Henry VIII’s legitimate children, so the line ended with her. She named as her successor her closest surviving male relative, James VI of Scotland. James VI was her second cousin once removed as both were descendants of Henry VII Tudor: Elizabeth was Henry VII’s granddaughter (Henry VII -> Henry VIII -> Elizabeth I), while James was his great-great-grandson through two lines (Henry VII -> Margaret Tudor -> James V of Scotland -> Mary, Queen of Scots -> James VI, and Henry VII -> Margaret Tudor -> Margaret Douglas -> Lord Darnley – James VI). James VI’s accession to the English Throne as James I met virtually no resistance, yet the interesting thins is the fact he wasn’t legally an Heir to the English Throne at all.