Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch (1649-1685), c.1670 

 Anglo-French School 

Portrait of James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch (1649-1685), c.1670,  Anglo-French School
Oil on canvas
17th Century
Oval, 30 x 23 ½ inches, 76 x 60 cm
Collection of J. T. D’Arcy Hutton; Christie’s, London, 6th October 1950, lot 157 (as Kneller); French Private Collection; Until sold 2010, as portrait of an unknown officer.
James, Duke of Monmouth was Charles II’s eldest son. He was born out of wedlock to Lucy Walter’s while Charles was in exile in Holland. Despite his illegitimacy, Monmouth was assured a life of preference and wealth, and the King treated him as his favourite. But from an early age Monmouth felt burdened by the disqualification of his birth, which ultimately led to his downfall and execution in 1685. This recently re-identified portrait shows him at the height of his success in the early 1670s.

Monmouth was born in Rotterdam in 1649, shortly after Charles II arrived in Holland to begin over a decade in exile. Monmouth’s mother appears to have been Charles’ first mistress-in-exile. But was she also Charles’ wife? Rumours persisted from an early date that Lucy and Charles had secretly married. The evidence, a marriage contract, was said to be hidden in a ‘black box’. Samuel Pepys tells us of a rumour in 1662 that “young Crofts [Monmouth’s former name] is lawful son to the king, the king being married to his mother”. Although historical opinion has tended to dismiss the claim, for Monmouth the implication that he might be legitimate greatly affected his life.

Monmouth was always officially recognised as the King’s natural son. He was raised to a Dukedom in 1662, installed as a Knight of the Garter a year later (he wears the bluse sash in this portrait), and even granted use of the King’s coat of arms. But he was not entitled to any part of his father’s inheritance, and never officially placed in succession to the throne. By nature petulant and obstreperous, the possibility that Monmouth might one day be king only encouraged his occasionally reckless arrogance. His father therefore gave him a number of roles designed in part to keep him away from the danger of conspiracy. He spent much of his father’s reign in useful employment abroad, such as service in the French army in the 1660s, or the Royal Navy in its war against the Dutch in the 1670s.

In one respect we can hardly blame Monmouth for what became a perpetual state of frustration. Even from the 1660s it seemed possible that the King might legitimise him. And the great hatred levelled against Catholics, such as Charles’ brother James, Duke of York, made the search for a protestant heir all the more urgent. However, at Charles’s death in 1685 Monmouth made the mistake of believing too much in his own claims to the throne, and overestimated the support on which he could rely in England. In June he landed in Dorset. His invasion force contained just eighty-three men, and the attempt to raise the West of England in a rising against James II was doomed to failure. Although James had always been unpopular at court – Nell Gwynn gave him the name ‘dismal Jimmy’ – he was at first a popular King in the country at large, which, as ever, took a more relaxed view of religious doctrinism than the governing class. Monmouth was defeated at the Battle of Sedgmoor and brought in supplication to his uncle. James, who had always been immune to the famous Monmouth charm, had little hesitation in ordering his execution. It is ironic that within three years James II was himself deposed, in a frenzy of unpopularity, by a foreigner, William of Orange, whose invasion force fired not a single shot. Monmouth had simply lacked patience.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.