A FAMOUS painting of James VI and I shows a huge hat decoration made of precious jewels which he said represented the countries he ruled with Scotland at the top.

His adviser at the court in London – whose mission was to “civilise” the Scots “barbarians” that had come to rule them – objected that it was England at the top as England provided all the wealth.

Unswayed, the King told Robert Cecil that while England might be richer, Scotland had all the brains.

“You could argue that’s still the case,” laughed Jean Findlay, whose book about the Scots jeweller who created the hat decoration is about to come out in paperback.

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Originally from Edinburgh, Findlay lived in London for 25 years before coming home in 2014 to take part in the independence referendum.

“I was determined that Scotland would not become independent without me in it so I came back and it was thrilling and fascinating,” she told the Sunday National.

On her return, she became interested in how the Union had come about, which led her to write The Queen’s Lender – a book that Scots artist Richard Demarco said every politician in the Scottish Parliament should read.

Centred on jeweller George Heriot, it details life in Edinburgh at the time of the Union of the Crowns and follows him as he moves to the London court when James VI of Scotland becomes king of Great Britain and Ireland.

“I realised it was 1603 that was the most important Union, as it paved the ground for 1707,” said Findlay (below).

The National:

Agreeing to the Union of the Crowns could be put down to a desire for power on James’s part but, according to Findlay, he really had no choice.

“He was bankrupt in Scotland but he had a Queen who had children and that was what they wanted in England because it was very difficult to have children in those days and keep them alive,” said Findlay.

“The jewel in his life was his Queen and he kept her happy with jewels.”

Heriot’s skill as a jeweller made him a favourite with Queen Anne and Findlay describes the clash of the Scottish and English attitudes through his eyes.

“The attitude of the English courtiers is that barbarians have come to rule them and they have got to somehow civilise them,” she said. “Cecil – who is sort of the founder of the beginnings of MI6 – was the man who was beside James, trying to change him from being Scots to English.

“At the beginning, the Scots all speak the Scots of David Lindsay, but in England, they are being corrected all the time, so they become more and more English as they go on.”

Cecil said every Scots nobleman should send his sons to England to be educated and that should be the law as they would then learn the ways of the state that governed them.

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“He said that would enable them to get good jobs at court and it would castrate a rebellion before it ever started – and of course, that is what has been happening ever since for the last 400 years,” said Findlay.

“The court fool even teases the King about this, saying things like by ‘grabbing their jewels you soften their balls’.”

Attitudes at the Scottish court were very different to the court in England where there was a huge hierarchy.

“In Scotland, it was a much more democratic system and the King was much closer to the people,” Findlay explained.

The National:

James only went back to Scotland once during his reign and although Heriot died in England, he was determined not to abandon his home country.

Having lost his two wives and his legitimate children, he left his fortune for the foundation of an Edinburgh school for children who had lost their fathers.

The impressive building in Edinburgh that bears Heriot’s name continues the education of children today and although it is fee-paying, there are still places for children who have lost a parent.

Asked if Heriot would approve of it being a fee-paying school, Findlay said: “I think he would be pleased it is still there educating children. Probably, if it wasn’t fee-paying, it would have been turned into something else long ago.”

Heriot’s will is still in the care of the National Records of Scotland and a portrait of him wearing the hat decoration – called the Mirror of Great Britain – is held by National Galleries Scotland.

The decoration features the 55-carat Sancy diamond, the largest known diamond at the time.

The decoration was eventually broken up but the Sancy was recovered and is now at the Louvre in Paris.

The Queen’s Lender by Jean Findlay will be published in paperback by Scotland Street Press on April 30