The Stuart dynasty

The Stuart dynasty spanned one of the most tumultuous periods in British history - years of civil war, assassination attempts, usurpations, national disaster and revolution.

Elizabeth I, the last of the Tudor monarchs, died in 1603 and the thrones of England and Ireland passed to her cousin, James Stuart. Thus James VI of Scotland also became James I of England. The three separate kingdoms were united under a single ruler for the first time, and James I and VI, as he now became, entered upon his unique inheritance.

England, Scotland and Ireland were very different countries, with very different histories, and the memories of past conflict between those countries - and indeed, of past conflict between different ethnic groups within those countries - ran deep. To make matters trickier still, each kingdom favoured a different form of religion. Most Scots were Calvinists, most English favoured a more moderate form of Protestantism and most Irish remained stoutly Catholic. Yet each kingdom also contained strong religious minorities. In England, the chief such group were the Catholics, who initially believed that James would prove less severe to them than Elizabeth had been.

When these expectations were disappointed, Catholic conspirators hatched a plot to blow both the new king and his parliament sky-high. The discovery of the Gunpowder Plot served as a warning to James, if any were needed, of the very grave dangers religious divisions could pose, both to his own person and to the stability of his triple crown.