Attributed to Veronica Telli (1717-1801)
Telli was commissioned by Prince James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, to produce a number of miniatures for his family and supporters...
This unusual portrait miniature, mounted in a ring, is thought to be by the female artist Veronica Telli (née Stern) and depicts Henry Benedict Stuart, Cardinal York, second son of James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, and the Polish Princess Clementina, née Sobieska.
Just as his elder brother, Charles Edward, was known by Jacobite supporters as the ‘Prince of Wales’, Henry was called the ‘Duke of York’. As a child he had his mother’s love of music and was said to have inherited her short temper, however, he was an anxious child and spent vast amounts of time in mass and prayer.
In 1745 he joined his brother in the Jacobite invasion of Britain, spending the winter in Dunkirk. However, after hearing of his brother’s retreat, the mission was abandoned and Henry remained on the French coast until the Jacobite defeat at Culloden in 1746. After the safe return of Charles, the brothers’ relationship began to break down, as Charles struggled to come to terms with his defeat. Henry decided, with his father’s support, but to his brother’s disappointment, to pursue a vocation in the Catholic Church and received tonsure and his robes from Pope Benedict XIV, his godfather, in a service in the Sistine Chapel in 1747. He was made cardinal-deacon and then ordained as a priest on 1st September 1748.
Henry Benedict Stuart’s decision to become a Cardinal in the Catholic Church had a profound effect on the Jacobite cause. The Stuarts’ Catholicism had always been one of the main barriers against their return to the English and Scottish thrones, and Henry’s public declaration of faith confirmed in the popular mind that the Jacobites would seek to not only restore Catholicism, but also the power of the Popes as well.
Henry became a leading figure in Rome’s literary and artistic society and was appointed archpriest of the Vatican basilica in 1751. Seven years later in 1758 he was made Henry Cardinal Camerlingo, head of the papal treasury and organiser of the papal conclave – which he oversaw on the pope’s death. Clement XIII, on his accession as the new pope, made Henry archbishop of Corinth before he was enthroned as Bishop of Tusculum in 1761, at Frascati Cathedral. He was appointed vice-chancellor of the holy Roman church in 1763. After his brother’s death in 1788, Henry declared himself King Henry IX of Great Britain, however, much to his disappointment, the pope the following year decided to acknowledge George III as king.
With Napoleon’s invasion of Italy, Henry, along with several other cardinals, had to flee from Rome, leaving all of their possessions behind. They travelled to Naples and the Messina before finally fleeing to Venice. At seventy-five years of age and now penniless, Henry found himself in desperate need of assistance. He had, somewhat ironically, made friends with Sir John Coxe Hippisley, George III’s envoy to Rome. Learning of Henry’s troubles, Hippisley asked the British government if they could assist him. With no Jacobite threat to the English throne, and the British government owing Henry £1.5million, George III granted Henry an annual pension of £4000.
Henry was able to return to Rome in 1800 and resumed his duties as a senior member of the Catholic Church. On his death, on the forty-sixth anniversary of his enthronement at Frascati Cathedral, he left the royal jewels in his possession to George III as a token of his gratitude.
Veronica Telli was born in Rome in 1717. She was a member of the St. Luca Academy from 1742 until her death in 1801 and she was commissioned by Prince James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, to produce a number of miniatures for his family and supporters in the early 1740s. A set of four miniatures by Telli were sold by Sotheby’s in 2008 and depicted Cardinal York, alongside portraits of the Old Pretender, Maria Clementina Stuart (née Sobieska) and Charles Edward Stuart (the Young Pretender). Portraits were vitally important to the exiled Stuarts, and acted as a means of keeping the cause alive amongst their Jacobite adherents and supportive governments in Europe. Set into a ring, the wearer could choose to publicly, but subtly announce his or her allegiance.
 This debt was owed for the jointure of Mary of Modena, Henry’s grandmother.
 Sotheby’s London, 4th December 2008, lot 104.