26 March 1603 – James VI receives news of Elizabeth I’s death and his accession as James I

On this day in history, 26th March 1603, Sir Robert Carey arrived at Holyrood in Edinburgh, Scotland, to inform the Scottish king, King James VI, that Queen Elizabeth I had died on 24th March 1603 and that James was now King of England as well as Scotland.

Carey had ridden with haste, taking just two days to get from London to Edinburgh, and he’d even had an accident on the way – poor man!

Find out about his journey and what happened in this video, or read the transcript below:

On this day in history, late on 26th March 1603, two days after the death of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Robert Carey arrived at Holyrood in Edinburgh, Scotland, to inform 37-year-old King James VI, that England’s queen was dead and that James was now king. James was the son of the late Mary, Queen of Scots, and the great-great-grandson of King Henry VII.

Carey, youngest son of Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, who was the queen’s cousin, had prepared for this mission. As Elizabeth lay dying, he arranged for fast horses to be prepared at intervals between Richmond Palace and Edinburgh, and on the night of 23rd/24th March, as the queen’s condition worsened, he left word with a man in the cofferer’s chamber to call him if it was thought the queen would die and he also gave the porter an angel, a coin that is, to let him in at any time, so that he could ride off as soon as possible. As he explains in his memoirs, Carey’s livelihood depended on the queen and he was worried that he’d be left in what he described as “a wretched state”. He therefore wanted to make sure that he got into the new monarch’s good books. He’d already written to the king of Elizabeth’s condition and had assured him that he’d be the “first man that should bring him news” of her death.

Carey wasn’t able to leave straight after hearing news of Elizabeth’s death in the early hours of 24th as he was told to await orders from the council, but he did manage to get out of Richmond, thanks to his brother George’s intervention with the porter, and waited at Charing Cross for further news from the council. Between nine and ten o’clock on the morning of 24th March, he was finally given leave to begin his ride North. He spent that night at Doncaster and then the night of 25th at his property at Widdrington in Northumberland.

Poor Carey must have been a wreck after riding so far in just 2 days. I looked it up and it’s around 330 miles, as the crow flies, between London and Edinburgh. I can’t quite imagine doing that on horseback. And Carey had a nasty fall too. In his memoirs, he wrote of how he would have been with the king at suppertime if it hadn’t been for “a great fall by the way”. He describes how his “horse, with one of his heels, gave me a great blow on the head, that made me shed much blood”. As a result of his injury, he was forced to “ride a soft pace after” and so arrived much later than planned, just after the king had gone to bed.

When Carey arrived at Holyrood late on 26th March, James was in bed, but Carey was escorted to the king’s chamber where he knelt by him and, in Carey’s own words, “saluted him by his title of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland”. Carey also recorded that he gave the king a blue ring from a fair lady that he hoped would give the king reassurance that he was speaking the truth. The king looked at the ring and said “It is enough: I know by this you are a true messenger.” This sapphire ring had been sent to Carey’s sister, Philadelphia, Lady Scrope, one of the queen’s ladies, by King James with instructions to return it to him as a sign that the queen was really dead. After the king had heard Carey’s news, he ordered his physicians to attend the injured Carey and then said these reassuring words to him “I know you have lost a near kinswoman, and a loving mistress : but take here my hand, I will be as good a master to you, and will requite this service with honour and reward.” Carey’s mission had paid off!

King James I left Edinburgh on 4th April and arrived in London on 7th May. James had appointed Carey as one of his gentlemen of the bedchamber but Carey ended up being dismissed after the king’s arrival in London and being demoted to the position of gentleman of the privy chamber instead. However, Carey went on to govern the household of the king’s son, Prince Charles, the future Charles I, and he had a decent career under James and Charles, becoming Earl of Monmouth in 1626. A hard journey and a nasty accident seem to have been worth it.

Robert Carey’s memoirs can be read at https://archive.org/details/memoirsrobertca00orregoog/page/n11/mode/2up

Also on this day in Tudor history, 26th March 1609, John Dee, astrologer, mathematician, alchemist, spy, philosopher, geographer and adviser to Elizabeth I, died. Find out more about this fascinating man in this video:

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