Monarchs and the Court

Meet the Royal family and 4 of their courtiers who enjoyed being involved in masque productions!

The Royal Family

Born: 19th June 1566
Died: 27th March 1625
Reign in Scotland: 24th July 1567 – 27th March 1625
Reign in England: 1603 – 27th March 1625

James VI and I was the first Stuart King of England, the only son of Mary Queen of Scots. The idea of his divine right as King was something which he held as a strong belief, not seeing himself as beholden to the people for his power. He wrote his own theological works which emphasised this belief. He used a variety of art forms as a way of promoting his belief in divine rights. James was a patron of the arts and under him the masque flourished as the leading form of court entertainment; this was furthered through his wife, Anne of Denmark’s, love of masques. The masque, with the King sitting under a canopy at the head of the room, visually represented the divine nature of his kingship. He never performed in the masques. His “favourite”, George Villiers, spent a fortune producing masques and performing in them. Since his death, it has been suggested that they had a physical relationship, however James wrote books against sodomy, and no-one at the time appears to have accused them of this. James I had aims to unify England and maintain peace with foreign powers – this final aim often led to huge levels of conflict within the court and parliament; a conflict which continued throughout the reign of his son Charles I.

Read more here for a detailed look at James I’s reign…

Born: 19th February 1594
Died: 6th November 1612

The first son of Anne of Denmark and James I, Henry Stuart was groomed for the throne from a young age. He was intelligent, moral, an exceptional swordsman, a patron of many art forms and the pride of his parents.  He was the archetypal Renaissance Prince. Henry was an excellent dancer and participated in court masques from a relatively young age. He was a devout Protestant, refusing marriage to a Catholic woman and making himself the hope of the Protestant nation. He and his sister, Elizabeth, had a strong bond and he even asked after her on his deathbed. Greatly loved by many, his untimely death, presumed to be from typhoid fever, changed the future of the nation, putting it into the hands of the future Charles I.

Born: 19th November 1600
Died: 30th January 1649
Reign: 27th March 1625 – 30th January 1649

Unlike his brother, Charles suffered from slow physical development and difficulty in learning to speak, with a stammer throughout his life. Once he became heir to the throne he pushed through his physical difficulties to become a decent horseman and hunter. Charles was an intellectual – eventually excelling in languages and rhetoric. He was devoted to his older brother, whom he felt overshadowed by, and his death in 1612 sent Charles into deep mourning with his sister. The bond between brother and sister continued to influence English foreign policy throughout his life. On becoming the Prince of Wales, his father instructed him, leading to his strong belief in his own divine right as King and many  of the problems he faced with parliament. He had a strong attachment to his father’s favourite, the unpopular Duke of Buckingham, with whom he unfortunately entrusted his foreign policy. Parliament tried twice to impeach Buckingham, both times ending with Charles I dissolving them. In 1628, Charles’ opponents produced the Petition of Right, which argued against the King’s arbitrary use of his powers; Charles accepted this in the hope that Parliament would grant him financial subsidies, however he ignored the rules which they suggested. The Duke of Buckingham’s assassination sent Charles into an angry and deep mourning. His personal rule, from 1629 to 1640, was the height of his belief in his own divine right. His liking for Anglican ritual and marriage to a French Catholic made him unpopular amongst his many Protestant subjects. He only recalled parliament to fuel a war against the Scottish Presbyterian Church which would not accept his policies. In 1642, after Charles’ disastrous attempt to arrest five members of parliament, the Royal family fled London. This began the Civil War. In 1649, he was charged with high treason against his people, found guilty and sentenced to death. He was executed outside the Banqueting House, the main site of royal masques, to the shock of monarchs across Europe.

Click here to find out more about Charles’ time as King…


Born: 12th December 1574
Died: 2nd March 1619

Anne of Denmark was Queen consort to James VI and I. They were married in 1589, when she was only 15 years old. Although they had eight children, only three survived, Prince Henry (who died in 1612), Princess Elizabeth and the future King Charles I. Anne was bought up Lutheran, however she converted to Catholicism whilst Queen of Scotland, and this caused problems for James I who struggled to fend off Catholic plots and shake away the mistrust of parliament who despised Catholicism. Anne enjoyed court masques and spent a fortune on them, as well as participating as a masquer herself. She loved extravagance and regularly overspent, causing James financial problems.


Born: 19th August 1596
Died: 13th February 1662

Born whilst her father was King of Scotland, Princess Elizabeth was named after Elizabeth I of England. During her early years, she developed a close bond with her brother, Prince Henry. As part of the Gunpowder Plot, it had been planned that Elizabeth would be kidnapped and put on the throne as a Catholic monarch. She was very well educated for a woman at the time, and proficient in several languages. Her courtship with Frederick, Elector of Palatine seemed to be very positive on both sides. Her brother approved, and although he died before the wedding, this was important to Elizabeth. She saw Frederick as a leader for Protestant Germany. The wedding, in 1612, was extravagant, with huge festivities and 3 performances of masques. In 1619, Frederick was offered the crown of Bohemia, making her the Queen. Bohemia was a state which elected its King, and the election of Frederick was controversial and caused tension with the Habsburg Empire. In about a year the Holy Roman Emperor, of Habsburg descent, had defeated them. The length of the reign has given her the nickname of “The Winter Queen”. She was bereft upon hearing of Frederick’s death from infection in 1632. She lived to hear of her brother’s beheading, watch the interregnum from afar, and to just see the restoration of the Stuart line before her death in 1662.

Vorsterman, Johannes; Henrietta Maria (1609-1669); The Captain Christie Crawfurd English Civil War Collection;

Born: 25th November 1609
Died: 10th September 1666

The daughter of Henry IV of France and Marie de Médici, she was a Catholic Princess, and was only given in marriage to Charles with the condition that Catholics were exempt from penal laws. They were married by proxy (so they were not even in the same country as each other) and she began her journey to England in summer 1625, at the age of 15. The marriage did not start well, with Charles reneging on his promise, which offended Henrietta Maria; however, after the Duke of Buckingham’s death, their relationship strengthened dramatically. They had seven children, all of whom survived until adulthood. She enjoyed being involved in court entertainments, such as the court masques. She did not meddle much in politics, or even religious matters, until she alarmed the country with her diplomatic communication with Rome in 1637. From this point on she continued to meddle, encouraging Charles to stand against the House of Commons in favour of Catholics. In 1644, she left England for refuge in France, and never saw her husband again. Charles’ death was a blow to her. Following this, she attempted to raise her children as Catholics, although only her youngest daughter took to the faith. Such attempts caused familial tension, and most evidence points to some level of estrangement between her and the rest of the family. After the restoration she lived in England; she died near Paris in 1666 after seeking better air for her health.

The Courtiers


Born: 1st June 1563
Died: 24th May 1612

Robert Cecil, son of the stateman William Cecil, followed in his father’s footsteps as the Minister to Elizabeth I. He was invaluable as a statesman for the first nine years of James’ reign, keeping continuity and stability through the changing of monarch. It was Cecil who encouraged James I as a successor to Elizabeth, and he retained his role as Secretary of State. In 1604, he was the principal discoverer of the Gunpowder Plot. In 1605 he was given the title the Earl of Salisbury. In 1606, Cecil entertained James I and Christian IV of Denmark with a masque. It was, apparently, a festival of drunkeness, with one viewer stating “the entertainment and show went forward, and most of the players went backward, or fell down, wine did so occupy their upper chambers”. He was moderate in his religious policies, being anti-Catholic, Spanish and Puritan. He supported James’ peace policies, concluding the nineteen year war with Spain in 1604. He struggled to stop the Crown’s debt from increasing, even after he gained the role of Lord Treasurer. His proposal of the Great Contact of 1610, to attempt to prevent debt accumulating and allow the King to live well in exchange for some of the rights he enjoyed as King, failed to convince either King or parliament enough. It is thought that, following his death in 1612, James’ abilities as a ruler declined.


Born: 1587
Died: 17th July 1645

Robert Carr was the favourite of James I, and remained so until his fall from grace and the rise of George Villiers from 1614. His friendship with James started after he fell from a horse and broke his leg, and the King visited him. Robert Carr was seen as “handsome and full of life”, however he was not always popular with other courtiers. Robert Cecil’s death in 1612 had given him more power, for they had not been good friends in life, and Carr now had almost exclusive access to the King. He was made the Earl of Somerset in 1613. He became incredibly wealthy, and gifts from James only accentuated that. Carr fell in love with Frances Howard, a woman married to the Earl of Essex as a child, and James set up a commission which found in favour of an annulment of this match in order to please Carr. In doing this, James I undermined his own respectability for a favourite. For their marriage, several masques, written by prominent writers such as Campion and Jonson, were performed at Whitehall. The murder of Thomas Overbury, which Frances Howard was certainly involved in, also undermined Carr and James I was forced to distance himself. It was at this time which George Villiers began to replace Carr. In 1616 Frances and Carr were impeached and put on trial – they were found guilty, however James commuted the death sentence, pardoning them and, after six years imprisonment, they were free to love in obscurity.


Born: 28th August 1592
Died: 23rd August 1628

George Villiers was known for being a favourite of both James I and Charles I. He was educated to be a courtier in France and proved himself to be a fine dancer, sportsman and excellent student. Later in life, he became a great patron of the arts, commissioning many masques (often with strong political sentiments). Upon coming back to court in 1614, he caught the eye of James I, who had tired of his previous favourite, Robert Carr, who was seeking an alliance with Spain. Villiers was welcomed by the court faction opposing such an alliance, and in 1615 he was promoted to Gentleman of the Bedchamber. The Overbury Case, and downfall of Carr completed Villiers’ rise as favourite. During this time, Villiers showed off his skills as a dancer in masques and the revels, and he was renowned for his leaps and prowess. It was a way for him to show off his calves, an attractive trait for  a man, and gain power. By 1618 he had been made the Marquis of Buckingham, the second richest nobleman in the country. However, his marriage to a Roman Catholic complicated his political stance, and in 1622, Archbishop Laud had to persuade him out of declaring himself a Roman Catholic. He gained an unprecedented control over royal patronage and his family became extraordinarily wealthy; making him an object of jealousy. On a trip to Madrid in 1622 with Charles, at the time the Prince of Wales, his loyalties became tied with Charles over James. This trip aimed to sort a Spanish Match for the Prince – although both sides seemed to expect far too much from the other. Despite its failure, the trip proved fruitful for Buckingham, who now led the anti-Spanish faction at court, and became extraordinarily popular. However, his concessions to France to encourage the marriage of Charles and Henrietta Maria made him unpopular in parliament. For some time, he was considered to be the ruler of the King, and therefore England. When Charles took the throne in 1625, Buckingham remained in his strong position. He was held responsible for the failure of Count Mansfield’s expedition to recover the Palatinate and for a mismanaged attack on Cadiz in 1625. The threats of impeachment from parliament in both 1625 and 26 led Charles I to dissolve them early to avoid Villiers coming to trial. The failure of his attempt to relieve the Huguenots of La Rochelle in 1627 led to huge levels of unpopularity. He was stabbed by John Felton in August 1628, much to the pleasure of much of the country, and great sorrow of the King.


Born: 1575
Died: 25th September 1615

Arabella Stuart was the second lady of the court, with a strong claim to the throne. Some argued her claim was stronger than James’ as she had been born in England and not Scotland. However, she remained in favour under James I, despite being implicated in plots, and rumoured to have become engaged without the King’s permission. She danced in many court masques and was an active participant in other courtly activities. However, in 1610 she became engaged to William Seymour, without permission of the King who disliked and was jealous of Seymour, and they were summoned before the Privy Council. He declared they would not marry without permission, and although they were restored to favour, their private marriage in July put Arabella and her new husband in the Tower of London. Despite attempts to escape, Arabella died in the Tower, whereas her husband more successfully escaped to the continent.

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