Shakespeare Solved ®

Shakespeare Solved ® is a forthcoming series of novels that covers the Bard's entire life and work.

These novels solve the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare by transporting us back in time, to walk in his shoes, and see his world through his eyes.

Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

This blog explains some of my ideas and discoveries, to prepare for this series of novels.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Shakespeare and King James's Coronation

On 29 July, 1567 King James was crowned King of Scotland.

He was 13 months old.

By the time that he was crowned, in the short time that he had lived, he had experienced a lifetime’s worth of danger and drama.

Even before was born, there were threats on his life. 

In the months before he was even conceived, his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots had rashly married Lord Darnley in July 1565.

This wedding plunged Scotland into civil war.

Darnley and Mary

And shortly after that her forces were joined by the Earl of Bothwell.

As she was trying to keep her country together, she became pregnant, in October 1565.

There are suspicions that the child was not Darnley’s but rather Bothwell’s. Even if there is no proof of such a claim, it is supported by her next actions against Darnley.

Mary and Bothwell

During the earliest months of her pregnancy, she was struggling to maintain power with her rebellious lords, while also fighting off Darnley who wanted more power.

She became fond of an Italian, David Rizzio, whom she made her personal secretary.

Darnley and others at court grew jealous of her attention to Rizzio and on 9 March 1566, they gathered to butcher him to death, stabbing him repeatedly — in front of the 5 months pregnant Mary!

The Murder of Rizzio
by John Opie 1787

The fact that she did not miscarry is remarkable. The emotional toll this took on her body, and the damage it may have done to her baby must have been significant.

Two days later, Mary convinced Darnley to join her, and they escaped from Edinburgh. As Alison Weir describes it, they “rode like the wind through the night for twenty-five miles.”

Whatever damage may have been done to her child, it must have been compounded by riding “like the wind.”

The fact that she did not miscarry again is even more remarkable.

Within days they were back in Edinburgh, and over the next months she continued to struggle to keep her country from civil war again.

On 19 June, baby James is born. 

Mary and baby James

He had bad legs, he suffered from rickets, and his health would never be quite robust for the rest of his life.

But after all of these events, it is a miracle that he was born at all.

Over the next few months it would be surprising at all if she had time for her child, as the country was falling apart.

The stress of all of this must have been terrible, and Mary became very ill in October. She was close to death, and it is another miracle perhaps that she recovered. 

She did recover her health, but she began to plan to address the problem of her husband, Darnley, and his demands for co-equal power.

February 1567, the problem of Darnley was gone, when he died under suspicious circumstances. He and his valet were found strangled outside his house at Kirk o' Field that had just been blown up by gunpowder!

Kirk o' Field crime scene sketch
Darnley's body and his valet Taylor's body top right

Many suspected Mary for killing her husband, with the help of Bothwell.

Even if they were not guilty, their immediate actions made the appearance of guilt even worse.

On 24 April she was either abducted by Bothwell, or ran off with him willingly. But it seems more likely that she was not taken against her will, because she married Bothwell on 15 May!

Right before she left with Bothwell, she had seen her baby boy, James. It would be the last time she saw him.

Her marriage with Bothwell plunged the country back into civil war, and before long she was captured.

But she was also pregnant by this time, with twins.

Sadly, she miscarried those children, days before she was forced to sign over her reign to her son, and abdicate, on 24 July, 1567.

Her baby boy immediately became King of Scotland and was crowned on the 29th.

King James when he was 8

We are all products of our past and our parents, and in many ways shapes our future.

King James of Scotland was the product of one of the most tempestuous monarchs in history, at one of the most dramatic and dangerous periods in Scotland’s history.

In his future lay his succession to the throne of England, and the union of the England and Scotland.

He would meet William Shakespeare in 1603 and make him a groom of the chamber, and the royal official court playwright.

What we read about King James in history books gives us only part of his story. 

But if we read Shakespeare’s plays written in the reign of King James, we may be able to learn more.

There is more than a little bit of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Darnley, and Bothwell and James himself in the plays from this period.

Plays like Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and King Lear were not merely entertainment, written to amuse the King. They were mirrors held up for him to see his past, and perhaps find a new, and better future.


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