The Spanish Faction and the Exercise of Political Power in Jacobean England, 1612-1618

Peoples, Kenneth Morgan, Department of History, University of Virginia
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In any government, regardless of its form, factional and interpersonal rivalries and jealousies play a large role in the political process. This fact was even truer in the early seventeenth century, when the European attitude toward government, more medieval than modern, held the person of the monarch to be the embodiment of the state. As a result, the system tended to be personally rather than institutionally oriented.

These observations were true of James I and the nature of the political process in his reign. Thus, his own homosexual inclinations affected the exercise of political authority through the rivalry between his favorites, Somerset and Buckingham. Additionally, three definite factions arose at the Jacobean court during this period, two of which each attached themselves to one of the favorites.

Because James was Scottish, a Franco-Scottish faction arose around the Scottish councilors who accompanied the king to England. This faction avoided being embroiled in purely English matters, but they did support a French marriage for the Prince of Wales and a pro- France orientation in James's foreign policy.

Another faction, the0 so-called "Spanish" faction, centered around the Howard family, especially the Earls of Northampton and Suffolk, favored a policy of friendly relations with Spain and a marriage for the Prince of Wales with a Spanish princess. Because the House of Commons would adamently oppose such a course of action, the faction also opposed summoning Parliament to try to obtain the money to solve the pressing financial problems of the Crown. Instead, they argued that the dowry from a Spanish marriage alliance would suffice to deal with the Crown's debts. When they recruited Somerset, the royal favorite, they greatly increased their influence at court.

The third faction, a militant Protestant coalition, favored an aggressively anti-Catholic course both in foreign and domestic policy. They wanted Parliament summoned as a counter-weight to the influence of their bitter rivals, the "Spanish" faction. They favored a French marriage for the Prince of Wales, since James appeared determined to marry his son to a Catholic princess, and the French marriage they held to be the lesser of two evils. Additionally, they were responsible for furthering Buckingham's rise as royal favorite to counter Somerset and the "Spanish" faction.

James attempted to use all of these factions to his own advantage, playing them off against each other so as to follow several conflicting policy courses simultaneously. In dealing with problems of finance, the marriage of the Prince of Wales, the Overbury murder trial, and his relations with Parliament, his court, and foreign states, James used such manipulative methods as a means of keeping all of his options open until he could find one that was assured of success. Unfortunately for him, his policy lacked continuity, predictability, or momentum because of his own methods; consequently, none of his policy options proved successful.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Great Britain , Politics and government 1603-1625. , Court and courtiers
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