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James I and His Finance Policy

In: Historical Events

Submitted By alistairgould
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King James I can certainly be blamed for the financial issues during his reign as ultimately he had the most power and the most control in the country. However the problematic nature of the financial structure in this period cannot be underestimated as corruption was rife and many aspects of the financial system were outdated.
James didn’t inherit a very prosperous situation when he came to the English throne as the treasury was empty, the financial system was in dire need of reform and parliament were unwilling to contribute to major changes. The tax system was so outdated that people were paying four times under what they were supposed to be paying to the crown and only around 7% of the crowns income was generated by tax (4 times less than France). In addition to this, inflation was extortionate and the war with Spain and the Irish Rebellion conflict was costing the crown an unaffordable amount. For example, the Irish Rebellion had cost James £600,000 by the time it ended and money still had to be spent afterwards on maintaining border garrisons. James only made the situation worse with his extensive extravagance. A good illustration of is this is the £400,000 he gave to a Scottish favourite named James Hay (First Earl of Carlisle) throughout his reign. Although James had a lonely childhood and was keen to make close friends, he simply could not afford to spend as much as he did on his favourites; furthermore Hay dies penniless reflecting how James was not careful with money and it didn’t necessarily go to a good cause. James happily spent £20,000 on his coronation and a further £36,000 on his royal wardrobe when he came to the throne. He also spent £185,000 on jewels from 1603-16012, debt was piling up rapidly. The idea of a King ‘living by his own means’ was outdated but this could not excuse James’ folly spending.
James displayed half hearted support for his royal financiers and Lord Treasurers throughout his reign and had a lack of communication with parliament. A key example of this is the ‘Addled Parliament’ of 1614 where James proved not to be creditworthy. James didn’t always employ the most efficient Lord Treasurers as he usually chose candidates the he knew or because they were his favourites. His first Treasurer the Earl of Dorset was fraudulent as he pocketed large sums of money from the Great Farm of Customs. When Sackville died in 1608 the Treasury debt stood at £597,337. Even though Robert Cecil the Early of Salisbury did a better job as Lord Treasurer, the Great Contract failed in 1610 mainly due to the poor relationship between James and parliament. Parliament felt that James was asking for too much and they did not want to see his Scottish favourites benefit from the contracts; they had received enough patronage already. Yet again, although Cecil, James’ second Lord Treasurer made some improvements the situation was still similar and debt stood at £500,000.
James’ judgement was amiss again as Thomas Howard, ‘a plain honest gentleman’ but rather corrupt Lord Treasurer was appointed in 1612 and he also pocketed large sums of state money while in office and he even spent a ridiculous £80,000 on Audley End which James commented on saying that it was too grand for himself but fit for a Lord Treasurer, reflecting James’ low expectations of Howards honesty; he should have not appointed Howard in the first place. In 1614 James allowed Alderman William Cockayne and his project to nearly destroy the cloth industry reducing revenues. After Howard was eventually fired for embezzlement, James shockingly employed Henry Montagu as Lord Treasurer in return for £20,000, again showing how James wasn’t really concerned with who ran his finance. By this point in 1618 debt stood at £900,000. After it came to light that Montagu was useless, he was fired and commissioners were put in charge, and later Lionel Cranfield who proved to be James’ most talented Lord Treasurer; unfortunately James didn’t give him the support he should have and he was impeached in 1624 as he had made an enemy of many merchants and members of the gentry, and particularly James’ son Charles and James’ ultimate favourite, the Duke of Buckingham.
James played a key role in the financial problems of this period as he should have listened to his advisors such as Cesar, Cecil and Cranfield and tried to improve his relationship with parliament, however some problems were beyond his control. James inherited a financial system that large sums of money spent on it in order to reform it however parliament were unwilling to reform. Money that was spent resulted in debt due to the empty treasury that he also inherited and the idea that ‘a king should live by his own means’ was obsolete as I highlighted earlier. These meant parliaments were not concerned with James’ problems and they were unwilling to think about change as seen in the failing of ‘The Great Contract’ in 1610. James had a large family that he had to cater for along with the rest of the population; James had three children where as Elizabeth had none.
In James’ defence he was new to the English throne and Elizabeth had starved the noblemen of patronage and therefore he had to please them by giving gifts if he was to ensure that parliament and his court would be loyal to him or at least try to be. Also when he came to the throne he had to pay for Elizabeth’s funeral, which cost him £17,000. Due to inflation James was receiving as high subsidies as he should have been from parliament as they had failed to alter the amount so James had to ask for more subsidies. This made James look weak even though it wasn’t his fault and it worsened his financial situation. Additionally James was ripped off during his reign as nobles who valued crown lands said they were worth much less than they were so that when they were sold, the nobleman could pocket money from it.
James did try to help with finance during his reign by ending wars and employing Lord Treasurers, however he wasn’t interested enough and he was far too extravagant. In the face of high inflation and a poor relationship with parliament, a good monarch would have been able to find the best way of dealing with the situation. James couldn’t seem to do this and the financial issues of his reign can certainly be blamed on him to a sizable extent.

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