Family Story Walks: King James I

Artist Insight | 28 April 2023

Family Story Walks: King James VI and I. A painting of the first King of Great Britain

To celebrate our new season of Family Story Walks, artist Juwon Ogungbe explains the stories behind some of Greenwich’s most notorious residents…

King James I (1566 – 1625)

In 1603, King James VI of Scotland became the first King of Great Britain, uniting England, Scotland, and Ireland under one crown. He was the first monarch from the Stuart family to rule over England.

Born in Edinburgh Castle in 1566, he was crowned King of Scots in 1567. James was thirteen months old at the time.

In an era when there were disagreements about beliefs within the Catholic Church around the world, King James proved himself to be skilful in dealing effectively with Catholics and Protestants, to maintain control in Scotland.

A year after his coronation as King of Great Britain (in 1604), King James asked for a new version of The Bible to be translated to English from Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin and Greek. He wanted to bring an end to the disputes about Christian doctrine that emerged because of the establishment of the Church of England during the reign of King Henry VIII.

The King James Version of The Bible made it possible for millions of people to understand the central message of Christian beliefs. It also helped to spread the understanding of the English language all over the world.

King James ruled over Scotland for 58 years and over the United Kingdom for 22 years.

One of his major achievements was his smooth management of joining the Kingdoms of Scotland and England together, as these two countries used to see themselves as ‘auld enemies’.

Both England and Scotland were prosperous during King James’s reign, but he found the English Parliament trickier to deal with than the Scottish Assembly.

King James and Greenwich Park

When King James arrived in London as the King of Great Britain, Greenwich Palace was one of his homes. Greenwich Park was already used by the Royal Family for hunting, picnics, and fairs. In 1619, James decided to have a brick wall built around the park. The wall was 12 feet high, and it enclosed an area of about 183 acres.

The wall was built for several reasons. One was to protect the park from poachers and other trespassers; another was to create a more formal and elegant setting for the Royal Palace and other buildings in the park. A third reason was to symbolise the power and authority of the King.

King James was married to Queen Anne of Denmark, but their marriage was said to have been less than happy. Even so, the King commissioned Inigo Jones – a famous architect, to design a new house for his Queen in 1616. The Queen’s House was built in the Palladian style, which was a new and fashionable style of architecture at the time.

The Queen’s House is now one of the most famous buildings in Greenwich Park. It is a beautiful and elegant building that is a testament to the taste and sophistication of King James I.

Recommended reading: The British – The British Poem by Benjamin Zephaniah (

Recommended music:

Who's Who

Juwon Ogungbe. A head and shoulders photo of a man with no hair and dark skin. He is wearing a maroon tshirt and black jacket. We can see bunting in the background

Juwon Ogungbe

Juwon Ogungbe is a distinguished opera singer and composer, as well as a performer in a range of other genres. He has composed for the BBC, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Southbank Centre amongst many others.

Juwon’s operatic works have been in various stages of development at Opera North, Grimeborn Opera Festival (Arcola Theatre) and at the Dhow Countries Music Academy, Zanzibar.

King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba – Juwon’s most recent music theatre piece was premiered in 2019 and several of his new works have been publicly performed in 2020.

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