On his journey south from Scotland to his newly ascended throne of England James described himself as being ‘like a poor man wandering about forty years in wilderness and barren soil, and now arrived in the land of promise.’ Having made a success of governing Scotland, James couldn’t believe his luck in now being enthroned to this rich prosperous land, which should be much easier than the poor Scotland to govern. All through his journey south he was entertained in lavish style by the leaders of English society, trying to impress him with their generosity and wealth, surpassing anything he experienced in Scotland, leading James therefore to assume that this land would have vast amounts of wealth for his monarchy to tap into.
James’s extravagance was one of his greatest political and financial problems. What made his position worse was that he was succeeding Elizabeth who was seen to be the exception to the general rule of extravagant monarchs. She had learnt from experience how the mechanisms for tapping the English wealth effectively did not exist, and kept tight control over expenditure to avoid falling into debt. However Elizabeth’s tight fisted-ness with money meant that she was not very generous to her subjects and with the coming of the new king they were eager to welcome James’s open handedness with pensions given as rewards to courtiers rising from 50,000 to 80,000 a year. However when the King had to raise taxes to keep payments up they began to complain against his extravagance
During the beginning years of James’s reign the expenditure of the crown rose dramatically. Compared to Elizabeth, James had the hindrance of having to fund for a wife, Queen Anne, and his eldest son, Prince Henry. Expenditure on the household doubled by 1610, with the queen and Prince Henry having their own lavish households. The rise in expenditure was also much down to his extravagance. Between 1603 and 1612 he spent 185,000 on jewels, and expenditure on clothes for James and his royal servants went from 10,000 to 36,000. James also found it difficult to say ‘no’ and enjoyed being his generous to favourites. This was best demonstrated when in 1607, a time when royal debts were raising to alarming heights, James paid off the debts of three of his former favourites accumulating to 44,000. The Kings lack of interest in financial matters is made apparent here, with him failing to address his problems, and it clearly shows just how much James’s lack of control of his spending caused problems for the crown finances.
The ‘Book of Bounty’ was a measure brought in by the Lord treasurer Salisbury in 1608 as an attempt to cut down James’s willingness to give away crown lands and possessions. The book prohibited the giving away of land and major possessions of the crown, and was also meant to lower the courtiers expectations of gifts. This therefore can be seen as a very imposing measure implemented by the lord treasurer to try and prevent the crown falling into further needless debt. However the Book failed, James often just avoided it by giving away cash. The most notable example however of James bypassing the system with when initially he was intending to give a gift of 20,000 to his Scottish favourite Robert Carr, however Sailsbury was appalled by this suggestion and persuaded the Kings to give away the property of Sherbourne Manor, which had been forfeited by Sir Walter Ralegh. This significance of this is to show how that methods were implemented to attempt to reduce James’s spending, and help crown funds, but James’s is determined to find a way around so he can continue with his extravagant generous ways.
The income received by the King was called ordinary revenue. The main source of income from this was that received from the crown lands. However these had much depleted in value, as land had been sold off to get more money for the crown and also the lands pries had failed to raise with inflation and were now 60% below market price. The possibility for the crown to maximise revenue from lands however was not practical as extracting economic rents was unpopular and the crown lands were a convenient form of patronage. Therefore as the significance of crown lands depleted leading the King into further financial trouble, the revenue from customs became highly important. There were however also problems with the use of wardship, where the crown could take land where the owner had died and there was not suitable owner. The problems were that the courts often used these lands as rewards for courtiers, who would enrich themselves at the estates expense. The problem came because people began to turn against the system, because wardship for more than a generation could bring about ruin for the family who owned the land, and there were calls to an end of the system, which brought in 65,000 a year.
Not all of the financial troubles faced by James however were of his own making. Military expenditure was a case that could not be funded by the normal crown revenues. Even though the conflict with Spain had come to an end military expenditure continued, in Ireland between 1603 and 1608 600,000 was spent on the army.
The change to farming customs provided a much larger income for the King, and highlighted one of the major problems for the King, the corruption that existed. The scale of corruption in the old customs system can be seen in the way that they initially settled for a figure of 112,000 a year, which was more than the old system had brought them in, but by 1614 the fee had raised to 140,000 a year. Another example of the corruption is the case of the Lord Treasurer Salisbury. In 1609 Salisbury gained 1,400 off a wardship that gave the King 370, and James said of Salisbury’s estate that it was so grand only a Lord Treasurer could have afforded it.
The Great Contract proposed by Salisbury in 1610, was an attempt to stabilise crown finances. The proposal to parliament was that the courts would abolish purveyance and wardship in return for 200,000 a year. There was much debating over the issue in the first sessions of 1610 and parliament then offered the King and another bill, which legalized the impositions already in place, but said the King could make no more without agreement from parliament. All looked well until the break of parliament and the recall later in the year. New doubts surfaced with MP’s such as that the King would now no longer need to call parliament, and the bill was abolished. Thus showing a case of how James agreed to a measure to help his finances, rather than personally trying to exploit wardship and purveyance, but parliament had rejected the offer, making a fool of the King.
Another method to try and rejuvenate wealth for the crown was Cockayne’s Scheme. Before the scheme, cloth was exported by merchant adventurers to Holland, where they finished the cloth and sold it on to Europe and the East adding value. The idea of Cockayne was that they would finish the cloth in England and sell it on so that the English made the profit and Cockayne would monopolise the market, the King agreed to this scheme. The problem was that there was no instant market for the finished cloth, and England did not have the infrastructure to export the cloth. Also they did not have the resources to finish the cloth. The problem spiralled as the cloth industry was often reliant on pay at the end of each day, and they workers could not receive this. So when Cockayne tried to restore the other ways there was not the money to return. The consequence was a huge failure and riots, with large-scale social unrest in the cloth producing areas.
By 1614 the crown treasury was in bad debt, and they had to resort to new measures of increasing finance. One of these was the sale of honours, and the King invented the term baronetcy, and sold it, which gave a place in the House of Lords. However in the long term this presented problems in that the price people were willing to pay for titles fell as they were getting more common, and the genuine noblemen became offended. So once again a financial scheme of the courts bringing social problems for the King.