Studio of Gerrit Van Honthorst (1590-1656)
Portraits such as this played a vital role in keeping the Royalist cause alive on the continent following Charles’ defeat and the Interregnum, and this work would have been dispersed amongst family, close friends or other allies...
This captivating baroque portrait depicts Mary Stuart, eldest daughter of King Charles I, who later married William II of Orange and whose child was later crowned King William III of England, Scotland and Ireland.
This portrait-type was painted by the Dutch painter Gerrit van Honthorst in 1655, as evinced by the prime version which is signed and dated in the collection at Helmingham Hall, Suffolk (last recorded in 2000). Portraits such as this played a vital role in keeping the Royalist cause alive on the continent following Charles’s defeat and the subsequent Interregnum, and this work, which is a highly accomplished studio version, would have been produced and dispersed amongst family, close friends or other allies. The small dog, a King Charles spaniel, was a favourite breed of Charles II and his sister Henrietta Anne, and became almost symbolic of that generation of Stuarts.
Unlike many paintings from this period which were subsequently ‘re-lined’ (removed from original stretcher and attached with adhesives to newer canvas supports), this work has remarkably survived in its original unlined state.
At the age of just nine Mary was married to William II, Prince of Orange, a union engineered for political gain rather than matrimonial content. It was the Dutch who approached Charles in the first instance, as it was feared that an English alliance with Spain would provide difficulties for the Dutch Republic, and thus another union of sorts was needed. Charles initially offered William’s ambassadors the hand of his second daughter Elizabeth, and although this was accepted, the subsequent break-down of the English-Spanish relationship made Charles think twice, and decided to offer Mary’s hand instead on the assumption of a political treaty with the Dutch. After much debate, this offer was accepted with a number of additional conditions set out by Charles, regarding issues such as Mary’s freedom to practice her religion and also the size of annual payments and dowries.
Mary was wed to William in the Chapel Royal at Whitehall Palace on 2nd May 1641, and in March 1642 she went to the Netherlands to be with her new husband, escorted by her mother Henrietta Maria, who was at this point hurriedly gathering funds for her husband’s campaigns against Parliament back in England. In March 1647 William succeeded his father and Mary became Princess of Orange, an unnervingly powerful position considering that opposition to the match was quietly but consistently rife amongst the court.
Three years later Mary was to experience both joy and anguish; although considered barren by a number of her peers, Mary successfully gave birth to a boy in November 1650, however just one week before she lost her husband William who died of smallpox. Her son was named William and would later become William III of England, Scotland and Ireland following the glorious revolution of 1689, in which Mary’s Catholic brother James II was overthrown.
Despite her father’s defeat, Mary remained loyal to the Royalist cause, although by the end of the First Anglo-Dutch War in 1654, and the subsequent peace treaty, any enemies of England were not welcome in Holland, and her open support had to be muted. Her support never waned, although it was carried out under much greater secrecy, as the Dutch court were understandably nervous about being implicated by Cromwell for assisting, what was now in effect, their mutual enemy. This was all to change at the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, after which point Mary’s son William became fifth in line to the English throne. In September 1660 Mary travelled to England to see her brother, although by December it was clear that she was unwell, and in late December she died.
William was ten years old when his mother died, although his uncle Charles was asked to keep a watchful eye on his upbringing and interests. In 1676 William was appointed Stadtholder and the following year, in an attempt to solidify his position, he married his cousin Mary, daughter of Mary’s brother James, Duke of York, later King James II. However, James II was unable to remain king due to his Catholicism, and in 1689 William, who was a staunch Protestant, was invited to claim the throne of England, Scotland and Ireland, which he did with little resistance in an event known as the Glorious Revolution.