Chapter Two: Party Animal
James the First
King of England
King of Scotland
Prince of Wales
Lord Protector of Ireland
The King who would be Drunk
England was rocked by Henry's death. The rumours of his assassination spread first amongst the nobility, but eventually found their way down to even the simple peasants who, despite being ignorant of him and what he stood for, mourned the loss of their Lord and Protector.
When the late King's attendants came knocking upon the doors of a palace in Cornwall, they expected to be greeted and admitted to the audience of one Lord James, Duke of Cornwall, and brother to King Henry. Instead, they were told that "his Lordship is not feeling particularly well today and does not want any visitors." These words pass down in history for they are indicative of James' nature.
Barging in the following day, Henry's attendants, amongst them one John Neville, present commander of English forces in France, informed James that his brother had been killed by his own captains in a rebellion to end the war. James' first reaction, rather than rally his supporters and begin the reconquest of France, was instead to go on a binge of debauchery and drinking. Five days later, with the country still wondering what was to happen, the attendants tried again. James tried to beg them off by feigning a need for a little sip of whiskey, but Henry's attendants, realizing a pattern, refused to leave and instead demanded he travel to the capital for a coronation. At this, James realized that he might procure finer brews and spirits by taking his brother's throne and so agreed.
Thus, King James the First was crowned out of a desire for booze.
End of a War
As his first act as King, James I signed a treaty with France, ceding Calais. This angered John Neville, commander of the English troops in France who was actually favouring continued battle. Shortly after the treaty, he was ordered home. James was quoted as saying, "the French are dreadfully obnoxious at parties and their wine reeks of peasant feet and pig bottoms. I have no interest there." Upon returning home, Neville learned a second treaty had been signed, ceding Gascogne to France for a small handful of coins.
General Neville, sitting on his laurels in England
The Irish Love Him
As a King, James was ineffectual. More or less, anyway. But as a diplomat, he was unintentionally skilled. This stemmed from his love of partying and the fact that those who held land that would be beneficial to England ALSO loved partying. The Irish and the Scots.
The Irish discovered the first English King they had ever liked when James had been forced by his handlers to attend the funeral of a nobleman from Leinster ("You've got to get out of the castle, you look like death warmed over!")
At the wake, and subsequent hangovers and drinking contests, the nobility from Tyrone, Munster, and Leinster discovered that James was able to hold his alcohol better than most Irish! The result was a bizarre sort of respect that grew not from any stately skills but rather from the abilities that one would expect from a cobbler whose business was failing. Still, as history shows, James' impact in Ireland was staggering.
England began to grow up by itself, with some guidings from the court. James began spending his years in Ireland, throwing party after party. They cost him a pretty penny, which he took from the treasury, but the Irish warmed up to him, to England itself. At a party in Meath on the eve of 1460, James, believed to be quite intoxicated, proposed a question to one Hugh of Leinster. The answer has been recorded but few have been able to decipher it. I present it now:
"To beef amongsht the nople vasshals of the grape peefles in the klingdom of Englebrand woof be mah grapest connor." - Lord Hugh of Leinster, 1460
Modern historians believe this to be a sign of honour at being offered vassalship, but none have been able to actually translate anything a drunken Irish Noble has ever said.
Nevertheless, when everyone had sobered up, the Irish states of Munster and Leinster gladly agreed to be vassals of the English, a move they hoped would bring them greater respect and opportunity in the world. Tyrone, however, harboured suspicions and remained somewhat aloof and distant.
Vassalship of the Scots
On this matter, I will not spend much time. The Scots were also impressed by James drinking ability and love of parties, and were soon warmed up to the idea of uniting with England. They agreed to vassalship in 1462 and thusly James had nearly united the English Isles, despite being the least capable man for the job. England was, to say the least, slightly shocked.
Upon the vassalship, James dubbed himself James I, King of the Scots. Accepting of this, his new found "subjects" made little protest.
War with Tyrone
It has been mentioned that Tyrone was not as quick to jump on the "I Love England" bandwagon as her sister states. Meath was, after all, in the hands of the English and had been taken by less than amicable means.
In early 1464, Tyrone managed to secure a military alliance with Castile, a relative superpower at the time. Shortly thereafter, around the summer of 1464, Tyrone shocked England by declaring war. Emboldened by their friends to the South and across the sea, the Irish of Tyrone struck at Meath.
James was residing at his palace in Cornwall when he heard the news. His wife, one Mary of Wessex, urged him to put aside his lazy lifestyle for the time being and go to the aid of the English garrison at Meath:
"Should you go, it will be as if God is fighting alongside them and their spirits will be emboldened to strengths greater than iron or fire. Stay here and leave them to their devices, and they will think you do not care. Meath will surely fall if this is the case. - Queen Mary of Wessex, 1464
James was struck with the eloquence of his wife's words. He called together his greatest army, some 7,000 men who had returned from France under the command of John Neville. Relieving Neville of his command, James personally lead the army at Meath.
The battle itself was a short one. James had the advantage of numbers, and surprised friend and foe alike with his ability at command (when sober). The 3,000 odd Irish sieging Meath were quickly routed, and James lost no time in pursuing them to Ulster itself.
Meanwhile, on the Iberian peninsula, a much greater war was being waged. Portugal, longtime ally of England, was bravely striking deep into the heart of Castile. Several provinces had already fallen to them while the Catalans fought to regain their composure. The King of Portugal proved an adept commander, employing tactics that Napoleon himself would use more than 300 years later. The war was looking good on both fronts.
Unfortunately, James would not live to see the end of it, or the fruits of what his partying would get him. In April of 1465, during the final leg of the siege of Ulster, James I dipped into a cask of Irish Whiskey. His subsequent drunkeness brought on a feeling of invincibility, whereupon he acted by leading a charge of his finest footmen on an assault of the palace of the King of Tyrone. The ensuing fight actually lead to an English victory, but not before James was struck down. His body recovered, he died shortly after in his camp.
James the First was a man who never would have been King had Henry not attempted to lead his men back into battle. Upon first inspection, he was grizzled beyond his years. He was rarely sober. When he was, James was slow witted and unable to make any decisions of state without great assistance.
Against all odds though, the Drunken King sowed the seeds of a united Great Britain, bringing together three distinct cultures that had been at odds for as long as anyone could remember. Several years after his death, a successor would posthumously title him Lord Protector of Ireland for his deeds in the name of the Kingdom.
The question for now, however, is who shall succeed him?
A modern photo of the castle where James met his end