SUMMARY

In 1604, King James I of England wrote a short tract against the smoking of tobacco, which had recently arrived in the country from America.

This episode is a short exploration of the significance of this book.

 

Show notes

In 1604, the recently crowned King James I of England wrote a tract which he titled ‘A Counterblaste to Tobacco’, which he intended as strong propaganda against what he called ‘this vile custome’ (i.e., habit).

James’ document is unusual and distinctive in two ways:

  1. It is a very early published criticism of the use of tobacco; and
  2. It was written by a reigning monarch, King James VI of Scotland and I of England.

It is not the earliest printed denouncement of tobacco and nor is it King James’ only publication, but it is still worth a quick read in itself.

The introduction of tobacco to England was a part of the process of Europe’s colonisation of the American subcontinent. Part of King James’ dislike of tobacco was the Spanish monopoly on the import of the commodity to Europe – and the heavy taxes that therefore had to be paid to England’s rival. In addition, for James the smoking of tobacco was associated with the indigenous people of America, who he considered rough and barbarous.

It is something of a paradox that James’ opposition to the ‘vile custome’ of tobacco smoking did not prevent England from successfully developing the product in its new colonies in Virginia. Indeed, the success of Jamestown, and much of the colonisation of north America by the English, depended on the cultivation of tobacco and the enslaved labour that was need for this.

A short book containing this introduction and my rendition of King James’ counter blast against tobacco is available on Amazon, in a style that is intended to make it more accessible to a contemporary readership.

For a full text version of this discussion see:

An introduction to ‘This Vile Habit: King James’ Counter Blast to Tobacco’

 

 

Useful links

A short book containing this introduction and my rendition of King James’ counter blast against tobacco is available on Amazon, in a style that is intended to make it more accessible to a contemporary readership.

For a full text version of this discussion see:

An introduction to ‘This Vile Habit: King James’ Counter Blast to Tobacco’

 

About the History's Ink Podcast

This is a podcast about history, the way in which we tell history and how we understand it.

ALSO BY MALORY NYE