Jessica M. Otis (http://orcid.org/0000-0001-5519-8331)
In honor of the Scottish Independence Referendum coming up this Thursday, I thought it would be an appropriate time to look at the monarch who started England and Scotland down the path to union: King James VI of Scotland, who later also became King James I of England.
One of James’ main goals upon taking the throne of England was the political unification of England and Scotland. He assumed the style of King of Great Britain and introduced the Union Jack. But political unification would remain a distant dream in his lifetime and only be achieved during the reign of his great-granddaughter Queen Anne, in 1707.
Intriguingly, the disjunction between England and Scotland manifested in an early version of the SDFB network. Due to conventions in the historiography, James is a man of many names – King James, James Stewart, James Stuart, James VI, James I, and James VI and I. When the SDFB team ran Named Entity Recognition programs on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, this multiplicity of names led to a striking error: James was assigned to four different nodes. This, in turn, gave us distinct visualizations of the disjunction between the English and Scottish courts in the historical record.
Here is a network centered on the node of James Stewart, a name which encompasses both James the king as well as a number of his relatives, and which were disambiguated in a later version of the network. The visualization also includes all the people within one degree of separation – that is, the nodes are directly connected to the James Stewart node by a single edge. These edges indicate a high probability that James Stewart and these other people’s names will co-occur in biographical entries.
You can already see the other three nodes for James: James VI, James I, and King James. Aside from a few yellow-coded nodes that belong to members of the English court, most of James Stewart’s connections are to orange nodes. The density of these same-colored nodes is not a coincidence; it is a product of a clustering algorithm that groups nodes together based on their shared connections, and assigns a different color to major connected components. James Stewart is therefore primarily connected to this dense group of orange – Scottish – nodes, with a few outlying connections.
When we shift our focus to the James VI node, we maintain connections to two of the three other James nodes – historians, apparently, are unlikely to refer to James as both James I and James VI in a single biography. James VI maintains connections to many, though not all, of his original orange nodes, while picking up a large number of additional nodes in orange, yellow, and purple.
There are obviously further errors persisting in this dataset – James was dead long before the birth of his grandson, Charles II, not to mention William Pitt or Samuel Johnson. However, it is interesting to note that James VI, unlike James Stewart, appears in the same biographies as important members of the English court in both the sixteenth and the early seventeenth centuries (yellow and purple, respectively).
An even more striking shift appears when we look to the James I node. Here, James I has lost the vast majority of his connections to the orange-coded nodes and instead picked up a host of associations with very English purple nodes. Indeed his node itself has become purple, reflecting his ascension to the English throne in 1603 and thus his “rebirth” – according to NER, at least – as James I.
This dramatic shift has led the SDFB team to speculate about the disjunction between the English and Scottish courts. Did James’ transformation from James VI of Scotland to James I of England unify the two, or did they remain two relatively distinct social networks that were only joined by a few people who made the journey between Edinburgh and London? How much of this striking visualization reflects the realities of the early seventeenth century and how much the conventions of historians discussing the early modern period? We don’t yet know, but it is one of the many questions we’re hoping the SDFB network will eventually be able to answer.
The last image I want to show you is the King James node, stripped of any Roman numerals. Again there are a few obvious errors, as the NER cannot distinguish between James VI/I and James VII/II, however the majority of references to King James appear to have referred to the first (orange) James, not his (pink) grandson.
In this King James, unlike his Roman numeraled alter egos, we see the node colors shifting towards an equilibrium. He maintains connections with a large number of the orange nodes that were associated with James Stewart and James VI, while also keeping touch with the purple nodes of James I. There is one very prominent node missing, however: King James and Elizabeth I no longer have any connection.
What Thursday’s referendum will do to the connections between Edinburgh and London, however, we’ll have to wait to see.