Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723)
Three years after Godolphin had begun his studies at Cambridge – he received his MA in 1705 – he married Henrietta Churchill (1681-1733), daughter of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Malbrough (1650-1722), and his wife Sarah (1660-1744)..
This portrait shows the eminent politician and grandee of the Whig party, Francis Godolphin, 2nd Earl of Godolphin. It is closely related to the likeness of the earl, also by Kneller that forms part of the collection of portraits of members of the Kit-Cat Club that once hung in the house of publisher Jacob Tonson and is now shared between the National Portrait Gallery and Bessinborough House. Once recorded as having been dated to 1714, it is contemporaneous with the Kit-Cat portrait and, thus, marks an important moment in Godolphin’s iconography.
Godolphin’s early childhood was spent in the shadow of the tragedy of the death of his mother in childbirth. His parents had been married for only three years when he, their first son, was born. His father Sidney Godolphin (1645-1712), the first Earl of Godolphin, was devastated. In the words of his biographer, ‘Margaret's death was the most terrible personal experience of Godolphin's life’; in an age in which it was not uncommon for husbands to survive second and even third wives, the fact that he never remarried – despite later becoming the First Lord of the Treasury, then England’s most senior political office – is telling.
With his mother dead and his father largely occupied with the affairs of state, Francis was raised instead by a close friend of the family, John Evelyn (1620-1706). His education at the hands of this esteemed diarist and amateur of the sciences placed Godolphin in good stead to follow in his father’s footsteps in the offices of state. Evelyn prepared the young Godolphin for an elite education at both Eton and Cambridge that had been denied his father, who had learned statecraft through lifelong service to the court.
Three years after Godolphin had begun his studies at Cambridge – he received his MA in 1705 – he married Henrietta Churchill (1681-1733), daughter of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Malbrough (1650-1722), and his wife Sarah (1660-1744), Henrietta was possessed of the sharp mental acuity of her mother and had been awarded a dowry of some £5000 by her father, the hero of the Battle of Blenheim.
Godolphin had succeeded in marrying one of the most eligible young women in the kingdom. A marriage of such standing provided the perfect grounding for a political career. This he began in 1698, the year of his marriage, with his appointment as joint registrar of the court of chancery, the first in a long line of positions that he held, the apex of which came with his service in the royal household as lord of the bedchamber to both George I (1660-1727) and his son George II (1683-1760) in 1716-23 and 1727-35.
With the death of his wife in 1733, Godolphin began to retire from public office. He devoted himself instead to the breeding and racing of horses. Perhaps seeking comfort following the death of his wife – or even possessed of a new-found sense of freedom – Godolphin purchased in 1733 an Arabic stallion that had once been owned by the French king, Louis XV (1710-74). The horse was one of the three foundation sires of the modern thoroughbred.
Although it has long been suggested that this work was owned by Godolphin’s former tutor John Evelyn, this cannot be the case, as Evelyn had died before this work was painted. Recent provenance research has instead confirmed that it remained in the possession of the family and was only sold in 1928 to settle the gambling debts accrued by George Godolphin Osborne, 10th Duke of Leeds (1862-1927) who had died the year before.
 J. D. Stewart, 1983. Godfrey Kneller and the English Baroque Portrait. Oxford: Clarendon Press. no. 305, p. 107.
 R. Sundstrom,“Godolphin, Sidney, first earl of Godolphin (1645–1712)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn., 19th May 2011, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-10882.
 J. Ingamells, 2009. Later Stuart Portraits. London: National Portrait Gallery Publications. p.104, fn.1