Bi­og­ra­phy

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The Prince Who Would Be King

Sarah Fraser (Wil­liam Collins, £25)

WHen James VI of Scot­land as­cended the throne of eng­land as James I in 1603, he solved in an in­stant one of the prob­lems that had be­set the coun­try for much of the pre­ced­ing two cen­turies. James brought with him to Lon­don the golden ticket, an heir and spare, and, with it, the prom­ise of a set­tled suc­ces­sion when he died. english­men, ac­cus­tomed to liv­ing in ter­ror of to­mor­row, were pre­pared to for­give a lot for this.

And there was a lot to for­give in their new sovereign, whose love of books, loathing of war, ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity and all-round Scot­tish­ness de­fied con­ven­tional ideas of what an english king should be.

The per­son to whom the pub­lic looked for fu­ture de­liv­er­ance was James’s el­dest son, Henry, the sub­ject of this com­pelling and lyri­cal new bi­og­ra­phy. Sarah Fraser shows how Henry came first to em­body the ex­pec­ta­tions of a na­tion and then shat­ter them by dy­ing sud­denly from ty­phoid in 1612, at the age of 18. She man­ages to dis­til from Henry’s short life a thor­ough case study of a crown prince com­ing of age.

Henry was born in Stir­ling Cas­tle in 1594. To en­cour­age el­iz­a­beth I to name the Stu­arts her heirs, James named the boy af­ter her fa­ther, Henry VIII (the name also hon­oured James’s fa­ther, Henry Darn­ley). The Queen, as al­ways, re­mained stub­bornly silent on the mat­ter of the suc­ces­sion, but, the choice of name proved un­canny, for Henry grew up to re­sem­ble his royal name­sake in sev­eral ways. Most no­tably, he de­vel­oped a pas­sion for war.

By the age of 16, he was spend­ing ‘ev­ery day five or six hours in ar­mour’; at St James’s Palace, he established a ‘mil­i­tary sa­lon’, to which young braves frus­trated with his fa­ther’s pol­icy of peace­mak­ing re­paired. Like Henry VIII, the young Prince dis­liked the rou­tine of the school­room, to James’s dis­may. ‘My pen does not work at all,’ he told his sis­ter in 1609.

The half-scot­tish, half-dan­ish boy on whom eng­land pinned its hopes was, in re­al­ity, a euro­pean prince. As the au­thor shows, the eyes of the ‘na­tion of europe’ were fixed on him from the mo­ment of his birth. His christ- en­ing, at a time when re­li­gious dif­fer­ences were so­lid­i­fy­ing, re­sem­bled a congress of Protes­tant na­tions. As Henry reached ado­les­cence, the ques­tion of whom he would marry be­came a mat­ter of sear­ing in­ter­na­tional con­cern.

At home, it did not take long for im­pa­tience with James’s regime to stir. From 1607, when Henry be­gan man­ag­ing his own house­hold at St James’s Palace, con­trary voices had a fo­cus. The au­thor demon­strates how, in the last five years of Henry’s life, his house­hold evolved into a kind of counter Court, a place of asy­lum for those de­nied prefer­ment by the King, alien­ated by the loose morals of his en­tourage or at odds with him over for­eign pol­icy.

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