The ‘King of Peace’ off Track? The Provoking Strategies of James I’s Diplomats in Germany

freyer talk

Scholarship in recent decades has tended to emphasise King James I’s peacemaking skills. Historians of the 1970s stressed that the peace-loving English king acted neutrally and impartially. Maurice Lee Jr. was convinced that James wished to “mediate between two fairly clearly defined opposing camps, free to throw his weight in whatever direction would keep (or restore) the peace, and, when he was compelled to take sides, to do so as an auxiliary rather than a principal”. Similarly, Robert Zaller stated that “James saw himself (…) as a mediator impartial in the interests of peace”. Contemporary scholarship, particularly in the biographical vein, continues to subscribe to this appraisal of the first English Stuart king.

The paper will challenge this popular interpretation of James’ foreign policies as impartial and unprejudiced. It will rethink James’s role in European politics, and particularly his role in the politics of the Holy Roman Empire. I will begin by discussing the English involvement in the Imperial Diet of 1613 and by drawing a brief picture of the complex political crisis of the Old Empire at that time. In the second part of the paper, I will consider the (provoking) diplomatic strategies and means employed by the English diplomats, in order to explain the impact of English diplomacy and the response to it among the German estates. I shall therefore consider both action and reaction by examining the two sides of the Anglo-German relationship.