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What Was the Jacobean Era?

Jessica Ellis
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Jacobean Era refers to the period of time in which James I ruled England and Scotland, from 1603-1625. The word "Jacobean" comes from the Hebrew name Jacob, from which the name James is derived. Following the illustrious reign of Queen Elizabeth I, this 22-year period is remarkable for its advances in literature and philosophy, and its dramatic changes to the nation as a result of imperialism. James I presided over a volatile time in British history, and the country emerged from his reign a changed nation.

James I was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and had become king of Scotland at one year old, after the death of his father and abdication of his mother. As Queen Elizabeth I of England’s nearest relative, James succeeded to the throne of England at her death. The young king was well-educated and wrote several books on law and the duties of kings, but he was not universally loved and survived several attempts on his life.

In 1605, a group of Catholics attempted to destroy the majority of the English government and the monarchy by blowing up the Houses of Parliament at the opening session on November 5th. A conspirator betrayed his fellows and sent warning shortly before the attack, leading to the capture and execution of the plotters. At the time, this large-scale attempt at domestic terrorism was a terrifying and unusual concept and a sign of the nation’s extreme civil unrest. In modern England, citizens celebrate the plot's discovery with bonfires and fireworks. The anniversary of the attack is called "Guy Fawkes Day" after one of the major conspirators.

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Literature and theater were of high importance in the Jacobean Era. William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, and The Tempest all within this period. Inigo Jones, who created elaborate scenery and costumes for court theater productions, is considered the father of modern stagecraft. In poetry, Jon Donne and Ben Jonson are credited with creating some of the most renowned works in the history of the genre. Frances Bacon, the great English philosopher, wrote his groundbreaking essays during this time period.

King James contributed one of the most significant works to the literature of the age. In 1604, the king ordered an English translation of the bible that would conform to Protestant ideals and theology. The result, The Authorized King James Bible, is still in use today as the primary bible of many Protestant churches.

Possibly the most significant event of the era was the founding of the first British colonies in America. The towns of Jamestown, Virginia, and Plymouth, Massachusetts, opened doors to enormous trade and financial potential in the New World. Because of North America's abundance of tobacco crops, this period also saw a sudden and enormous rise of tobacco use in England. By 1612, England had over 7,000 tobacconists and smoking houses.

After the grand and ambitious tone of Elizabeth’s reign, the Jacobean Era was a time of great difficulty and change for England. The constant skirmishes of the Elizabethan era left the treasury drained, and the religious struggles that had plagued the Tudor dynasty did not lessen under the staunchly Protestant James. Despite the newfound markets of North America, the era ended with England in a severe economic depression. Some experts believe that the rule of James and the explosive changes to the culture contributed greatly to the overthrow of the monarchy by Oliver Cromwell and the English Civil war that shortly followed.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for Historical Index. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By anon991878 — On Jul 25, 2015

Looking for advice:

The Royal Naval vessel Speedwell sank of Flushing in 1625. One of the passengers was a Captain Kyrke (information from contemporary newspapers and state papers). I'd like to identify this person. Do you have any suggestion for direction of this research?

By anon169364 — On Apr 20, 2011

Great work! this is fabulous information. -et

By anon154385 — On Feb 20, 2011

Thank you for sharing your knowledge! I am enrolled in an Introduction to Shakespeare class and for my final project, I need to pick a topic that impacted the Elizabethan/Jacobean period. Your information has helped me to begin formulating what topic I pick.

By anon152416 — On Feb 14, 2011

Your essay was very useful. thank you.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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