chapter  3
16 Pages

Crown, Court and Parliament

Keen to escape swarms of importunate suitors as well as the stench and crowds of the capital, James spent nearly half of each year at hunting lodges with only a small number of courtiers in attendance, leaving the rest, along with the Council, in London. Government business was then conducted by correspondence, which ministers neglected at their peril. The King's letters to his Secretary of State illustrate his capacity for shrewd, rapid judgements as well as an insensitivity that must have made their recipient wince. Five feet two in height, slightly malformed (and understandably sensitive about this) Robert Cecil was called 'fool', 'mouse', 'parrot-monger' or 'the little beagle that lies by the fire when all the good hounds are daily running on the fields'. The King's relentless pursuit of hare and deer has given him a reputation for laziness greatly stressed by his detractors, who ignore the political advantage of leaving some things well alone. The charge of idleness is a libel. One has only to contemplate the torrent of letters, instructions and enquiries from J ames concerning both secular and ecclesiastical affairs in England, Scotland and Ireland to appreciate the King's remarkable capacity for effectively despatching business in short, concentrated bursts of activity. As a courtier perceptively noted: 'For all his pleasure he forgets not business, but hath found the art of frustrating men's expectations and holding them in suspense'.