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James I and Anne of Denmark

The first Stuart king of England and his queen

The first Stuart king of England and his queen

James I: a cruel sportsman and obsessed with witches, a keen patron of architecture and the arts, and an anti-smoking campaigner. 

Anne of Denmark: assertive and independent, a dynamic patron of the arts who constructed a magnificent court. 

A new royal family

James, son of Mary Queen of Scots, became James VI of Scotland on her death. He united the thrones of England and Scotland when he succeeded Elizabeth I in 1603.

At that time, James and Anne had young three children, Henry, heir apparent, who died in 1612, Elizabeth and Charles (later Charles I).

There had not been a royal family for the past 44 years. Spinster Elizabeth I had been dour and miserable in her old age, her palaces half empty and court had lost the shine of her youth. 

The arrival of the extravagant, fun-loving James, his cultured wife and his young family was eagerly anticipated.

Image: James I of England and VI of Scotland, © National Portrait Gallery, London 

A portrait of Anne of Denmark wearing an elaborate dress with her hand resting on a chair.

The Danish Princess

James and Anne were married in 1589, when she was just 15.

In their early life in Scotland, Anne showed an independent streak.

She was not afraid to challenge her husband and manipulated political factions to achieve her own ends.   

Once in England, she threw her energy into patronage of the arts, creating a cultural salon that attracted leading painters, writers and thinkers.

Image: Anne of Denmark by John De Critz the Elder, © National Portrait Gallery, London

James I surrounded by his royal descendants.

Unhappy family

James and Anna had five children in all; only three survived infancy. 

Further tragedy befell the royal family when Henry, Prince of Wales, died unexpectedly in 1612, leaving Charles as the heir to the throne.

From an apparently happy and loving relationship, the King and Queen drifted apart. James’s life was filled with a succession of male favourites and lovers, notably Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset (from 1607) and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham (from 1614).

Image: James I and his royal progeny, © National Portrait Gallery, London

The King's obsessions

James’s fixed and very strident views can’t have helped the royal relationship either.  He published a series of books and pamphlets, among them Daemonologies (1597) in which he shared his expertise on witchcraft.

His obsession with witches (who he believed acted in groups and were hell bent on murdering him) is thought to have led to hundreds of (mainly) women being put to death.  

He also disliked tobacco, especially tobacco smoking.  His Counterblaste to Tobacco (1606) was one of the first anti-smoking pamphlets.


Did you know?

The foiled gunpowder plot we commemorate every 5 November was meant to blow up James I and his Parliament.

The King’s cruel streak

The King stayed at the Tower of London after he arrived in his new kingdom in 1603. He was the last monarch to stay at the fortress and particularly enjoyed watching the cruel animal displays there.

He had the lion’s den refurbished, so that visitors could look down in to a semi-circular yard lined with dens and with a drinking trough at the centre. However, this was less out of a concern for their welfare as his favourite sport was to bait the lions with vicious mastiff dogs.

Aerial view of Hampton Court Palace

The King James Bible

On a more pleasant note, Hampton Court Palace was the setting for the religious conference of 1604 which led to the King James Bible.

It was here that Shakespeare’s acting company, The King’s Men, first performed for the King.

Mezzotint of James I and Anne of Denmark

Behind the Masque

Despite their differences, both James and Anne adored the masque. This was an extravagantly-costumed theatrical performance, blending poetry, propaganda, music and dance. One of their priorities when they succeeded to the throne was to commission a suitable venue for masques to be performed at Whitehall Palace. 

The existing Banqueting House at Whitehall had been constructed for Elizabeth I. It was only intended to be a temporary structure, built in 1591 and was now showing its age.

Image: Mezzotint of James I and Anne of Denmark, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017. Detail used as header image.

Royal disappointment

James commissioned a new banqueting house from architect Robert Stickells, but James was hugely disappointed with the finished building.  It was used for the first masque in 1608, but in 1619 it burnt down in a fire.

The calamity give James the chance to commission a building that properly suited his needs, and he turned to brilliant designer and friend of the Queen, Inigo Jones.


Did you know?

The banqueting house fire began when two cleaners let a candle fall against some scenery.

The Banqueting House is the only remaining complete building of Whitehall Palace, the sovereign's principal residence from 1530 until 1698 when it was destroyed by fire. Designed by Inigo Jones for King James I and completed in 1622, the Banqueting House was originally built for occasions of state, plays and masques. The Banqueting House later became the scene of King Charles I's execution, which took place on 30 January 1649.

A new banqueting house

Inigo Jones was already highly regarded at court as Anne’s set designer and architectural advisor. He was born in London in 1573, and while travelling Europe as a painter he worked for Anne’s brother, Christian IV of Denmark.

It is likely that this connection got Jones the dream job as Anne’s masque designer and ultimately, the commission to build a new banqueting house.

When it was finished in 1622, the new building stood out for miles around, then in contrasting layers of honey-coloured stone, a stunning sight for Londoners.

Image: The Banqueting House in London’s Whitehall today; the only building that survived the disastrous Whitehall Fire of 1698

James I presented as an imposing monarchical presence, the orb in his left hand and the sceptre in his right, crowned and sporting the collar and badge of the Order of the Garter. He stands in front of a window within Whitehall Palace with a direct view towards the Banqueting House.

The King is dead

Anne died at Hampton Court Palace in 1619 and James I died in March 1623, aged 58.

In his lifetime, James was known as a slobberer and semi-incoherent speaker. He may have suffered from mild cerebral palsy, and was known as the ‘wisest fool in Christendom’, but he was far wilier than his ‘fool’ tag suggests.

He united the thrones of Scotland and England, changing the direction of English history. As the instigator (along with his wife Anne) of Inigo Jones’s dazzling Banqueting House, he made an important contribution to English architecture.

Perhaps his finest legacy is the The King James Bible, published in English in 1611. This was the authorised version of the Bible in English, translated by bands of scholars. It was a hugely influential outcome of the 1604 Hampton Court conference, called by the King to debate differences in religion.

Image: James I and VI (1566-1625) c1620. The King's new Banqueting House can be glimpsed in the background, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

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A Live Interpreter dressed as a Tudor Yeoman of the Guard, wearing a red livery coat with HR and Tudor Rose, and holding a halberd.

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Photograph of visitors in the main hall of the Banqueting House

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Open Daily

Banqueting House

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View of the White Tower exterior

See the Line of Kings and the Chapel of St John the Evangelist after hours with a White Tower guide, at the Tower of London.

19 February and 12 March 2018

Tower of London

Member only

Doors open 18:15 for a 18:30 start.

Packed with fascinating history and colour photographs, ‘Discover the Banqueting House’ is the essential guide to your visit.

Official Banqueting House guidebook

Packed with fascinating history and colour photographs, ‘Discover the Banqueting House’ is the essential guide to your visit.


Unique hand stitched card featuring Banqueting House, Whitehall. Hand made in  England for Historic Royal Palaces.

Banqueting House cross stitch card

Unique hand stitched card featuring Banqueting House, Whitehall. Hand made in England for Historic Royal Palaces.


The history of tea seen through the visual and literary arts, from paintings and ceramics to poetry and song.

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