Ever since 1585 negotiations had been in progress for a marriage between James and Anne, the second daughter of Frederick II, king of Denmark. These negotiations had been hampered by the objections of Elizabeth; but James resolved to persevere, and the marriage was celebrated by proxy at Copenhagen on 20 Aug. 1589. The young queen was, however, driven by a storm to Norway, and James, impatient of delay, set sail from Leith on 22 Oct. to see what had become of her. He found her at Opslo, near the site of the modern Christiania, where the pair were married on 23 Nov. The winter was spent in Denmark, and on 21 April 1590 James and his queen sailed for Scotland, landing at Leith on 1 May [see Anne of Denmark ].
The old problem of dealing at the same time with the nobles and the clergy awaited James on his return, and it was perhaps the success with which he had tided over the danger from the Armada which threw him this time, to some extent, on the side of the clergy. In August 1590 he delivered a speech in the general assembly in which he praised the Scottish at the expense of other protestant churches (ib. v. 106). James was at this time thoroughly in accord with the clergy in matters of doctrine, but he was constantly bickering with them on account of their interference with his personal actions. Yet in 1592 he consented to an act of parliament, said to have been promoted by his chancellor, Maitland of Thirlestane, annulling the jurisdiction of bishops and establishing the presbyterian system of discipline in all its fulness. The lawyers, of whom Maitland was a fair representative, gave warm support to James's notions of establishing order through the royal authority, just as the French lawyers did when the French monarchy was struggling with feudal anarchy in the middle ages.
From the end of 1591 James suffered from personal attacks directed against him by Francis Stewart, a nephew of his mother's third husband, to whom he had given the title of Earl of Bothwell [see Hepburn, Francis Stewart]. James had no armed force at his disposal, and was at the mercy of any nobleman who could gather his followers, unless he could rouse other noblemen to take his part. How much unruliness this implied was seen when letters of fire and sword were given to the Earl of Huntly to suppress Bothwell after his attack on Holyrood House. He did not suppress Bothwell, but he used his powers to attack and slay the Earl of Moray, a personal enemy of his own. Popular rumour ascribed the contrivance of the slaughter to James, on the ground that ‘the bonny Earl of Moray’ was ‘the Queen's luve.’ For this scandal there appears to have been no foundation, but popular opinion in Edinburgh was much excited against the king, as Huntly was the leader of the catholic nobility, and regarded in the capital with deep suspicion. James had to send for some of the ministers, and to protest that he had no more to do with Moray's death than David had to do with the slaughter of Abner by Joab (ib. v. 145).
James was doubtless wise in refusing to levy war, as the clergy wished him to do, against Huntly and the other powerful Roman catholic nobles, whose strength was too great to be easily shaken, and who might, if pushed hard, throw themselves into the hands of foreign states; but he could hardly conceal the truth that he looked on these very Roman catholic nobles as useful allies against the clergy themselves. As to foreign affairs, James held, in opposition to the clergy, the opinion that it was wise to cultivate the civil friendship of Roman catholic governments; but partly because this opinion was obnoxious to the clergy, partly because he thought much more of his own private interest in the English succession than of any avowable broad course of policy, he had to carry out his ideas in this respect by secret intrigues, which whenever they came to light increased the general distrust of his character.
Such an intrigue there had lately been carried on with the king of Spain by Lord Semple and his cousin, Colonel Semple (Burton, Hist. of Scotland, vi. 54, n. 1), and in 1592 Scottish protestants were frightened by the so-called ‘Spanish blanks,’ or blank papers, signed by Huntly and others, apparently to be filled up with letters addressed to the king of Spain, inviting him, as was believed, to send an army to be used in an attack on England. Moreover, James himself in 1593 published certain letters of a dangerous tendency, addressed for the most part to the Duke of Parma (Pitcairn, Criminal Trials, i. 317), and, though he actually marched against the northern lords, the clergy complained that he did not push home the advantages which he gained.
James's difficulty with the clergy about the northern earls remained a cause of irritation. In 1594 he again marched against Huntly, and had pressed him so hard that on 19 March 1595 Huntly and other lords left Scotland [see Gordon, George, sixth Earl and first Marquis of Huntly]; but James did not proceed to declare the lands of Huntly and his allies forfeited, which was what the ministers wanted. James's financial condition was at the same time deplorable,