Was James I murdered?

As the Stuart king lay dying, rumours swirled that he had been poisoned – and that the perpetrator was his best friend. Alastair Bellany and Thomas Cogswell investigate…

A 1628 engraving of the Spanish siege of the Dutch city of Breda

This article was first published in the December 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine

James VI and I died at Theobalds Palace in Hertfordshire on 27 March 1625. In the weeks afterwards, the official line – from courtiers, preachers and poets alike – was that James had died well, confident in his salvation, firm in his Protestant faith, and surrounded by the men he treasured most: his son Charles, and his favourite, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. It was a comforting story, designed to enhance the monarchy’s prestige while easing the awkward transition from one reign to the next. But already in these early weeks, another, far less comforting, story of James I’s last days had begun to worm its way into contemporary imaginations. This secret history, the unauthorised version of James’s death, would take another 12 months to achieve a definitive form, but the anxious whispers around court in the early spring of 1625 were disturbing enough. Something untoward had happened in James’s sickroom. Someone had violated the strict protocols regulating who was to treat the king, and when.

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