Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of the Rt. Hon. Richard, 3rd Viscount Molesworth (1680-1758) 

Anthony Lee (d.1769)

Portrait of the Rt. Hon. Richard, 3rd Viscount Molesworth (1680-1758), Anthony Lee
Oil and Canvas
18th Century
50 x 40 inches, 127 x 102 cm
Italian Private Collection
Engraved: c.1740, mezzotint by John Brooks
Dublin Industrial Exhibition and Loan Museum of Art Treasures, 1872, no.441
This portrait shows Richard, third Viscount Molesworth, an Irish peer and general perhaps best known for saving the life of the Duke of Marlborough at the Battle of Ramillies in 1706. Molesworth is shown here in military dress associated with his role as General of the Horse in Ireland. The portrait was painted when he was also Master General of the Ordnance in Ireland, but he is not wearing the uniform of an artillery officer. The portrait can be dated to about 1740, the year Molesworth was appointed Master General, for the engraving of the portrait by John Brooks is inscribed with that office. The engraving also records the name of the artist, Anthony Lee of Dublin, thus allowing us to attribute a picture that was until recently known only as ‘English School’.

Molesworth, the second son of Robert, first Viscount Molesworth, joined the army as an ensign in 1702. He had originally been entered to study Law at the Middle Temple. In May 1706 he served as one of the Duke of Marlborough’s aides-de-camp, in which capacity he fought at the Battle of Ramillies. When Marlborough lost his horse and became trapped beneath a group of retreating Dutch cavalry, Molesworth, noticing his leader was in immediate danger of being captured, put the Duke on his own horse and persuaded him to flee. He later recovered Marlborough’s horse from a soldier and found the Duke in the village issuing orders. After the Duke’s death Molesworth attempted to write his biography but was thwarted by the Duchess of Marlborough, who not only refused access to her husband’s papers, but also refused to acknowledge Molesworth’s role in saving her husband at Ramillies. The Duchess’ attitude may partly account for the emphatic gesture in the present portrait. Here, Molesworth points towards a scene in the background in which a figure, possibly Marlborough, is seen lying prone on the floor as another mounted soldier approaches him.

When not engaged in military service Molesworth embarked on a series on unsuccessful attempts to rebuild a fortune decimated by the disastrous South Sea Bubble. His most notable scheme was an entry to win the prize for the invention of a machine to measure longitude. Molesworth’s creation gained the interest of Sir Isaac Newton, and saw him elected a fellow of the Royal Society, but was apparently abandoned due to lack of funds. On succeeding to the Viscountcy after his elder brother’s death in 1726 Molesworth gained a number of official positions, including a Lord Justice of Ireland, and Commander-in-chief in Ireland in 1751. He became a Field Marshal in 1757.

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