Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Prince James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender (1688-1766), c.1702 

Alexis Simon Belle (1674–1734)

Portrait of Prince James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender (1688-1766), c.1702, Alexis Simon Belle
Oil and Canvas
18th Century
29 7/8 x 23¾ ins. (75.7 x 60.3 cm.)
Private Collection, UK.
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This exceptional portrait depicts the exiled James Francis Edward Stuart, one of the most emotive figures in British history, and was painted in around 1702 immediately after England declared war on France. It is the first known portrait-type to show the Old Pretender as ‘King’ and in full-armour, and can thus be interpreted as a bold visual warning of James’ ambitions, following England’s declaration of war against his guardian nation.

If there were ever a time to gather support for the Jacobite cause it was in those late months of 1701, when James II died and Louis XIV, much to the anger of the English, declared that France would formally recognise the young James as King James III of England, Scotland and Ireland. William III however was quick to reaffirm the English opinion of the exiled pretender prince, and in June 1701 Parliament passed an Act of Settlement which stated in the absence of issue from either William III or his successor Queen Anne, the throne would pass to Electress Sophia of Hanover, thus avoiding a Catholic monarchy returning to the British throne. Furthermore, on 8th March 1702, just before his death, William III issued a bill of attainder against James, stripping him of his judicial rights and denying any future Catholic Stuart heirs a claim to the throne. The next in line to the throne was Anne, who although was also a daughter of the Catholic James II of England (and thus half-sister to the exiled James III), was brought up in the Protestant faith, and proved to be very popular with the English public. Following the Act of Union in 1707 and the discontent within Scotland that soon followed, James and his French supporters saw the opportunity to pounce, and in March 1708 set sail to Scotland, where they planned to invade with over 4000 men and 25 vessels. Their invasion however was foiled by the English and Dutch fleet, and the French Admiral Claude Forbin, despite managing to reach the Firth of Forth, decided to abandon the mission to save his fleet from capture, much to the frustration of James.

When Queen Anne died in 1714 the throne passed to George I and the Tory government were quickly ousted in favour of the whigs, leading a number of former ministers to Queen Anne, including Lord Bolingbroke and the Duke of Ormonde, to flee to France and join the Jacobite cause. Just as James’ hopes for a future invasion were being to look more promising, Louis XIV died, and the new regency, although tolerated the Jacobite cause, showed little enthusiasm for its progression. Although French support was suppressed, supporters back in Scotland were beginning to take to arms, and in 1715 John Erskine, Earl of Mar and James Butler, 2nd Duke of Ormonde led separate rebellions, encouraging James to make haste to Scotland from France. James was well received on his arrival, although his lack of visual energy and mild countenance did little to inspire confidence in his supporters, and on the news of approaching government forces led by the John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll, the native supporters returned to the highlands and James, defeated once again, returned to France.

An alliance signed between Britain and France in January 1717 meant James had to relocate his court, and by 1719 he was in Rome, where Pope Clement XI allowed him use of the Palazzo Muti and gave him a large pension. The same year James married Maria Clementina Sobieska, granddaughter of the King of Poland, and they had two children together; Charles Edward (‘The Young Pretender’) who was born in 1720, and Henry Benedict, born 1725.

The next and most famous of the attempts to place James on the throne of Great Britain was the 1745 rebellion, led in person by the Pretender’s charismatic son, Charles Edward Stuart. Although James spent much of his papal pension in providing for the expedition, he seems to have had little immediate interest of enthusiasm for the venture. He cooled his son’s youthful enthusiasm by answering the latter's promise to lay three crowns at his feet: “Be careful, my dear boy, for I would not lose you for all the crowns in the world.”

In 1756 the Pope issued an order commanding all subjects to acknowledge and use James’ title to be King James III of England, but this was either ignored or ridiculed, the Romans delighted in referring to James as ‘the local king’, or ‘king here’ and to King George as ‘the king there’. For his supporters at home, James was referred to more romantically as the ‘king over the water’. James Edward Stuart died January 1st 1766, and was buried in St Peter’s, Rome. His two sons, having in turn taken the titles of Charles III (d.1788) and Henry IX (d.1807), were buried with him, and in 1819 a tomb designed by Canova was erected at the expense of King George III.

Alexis Simon Belle was born in Paris in 1674 and was the son of painter Jean-Baptiste Belle. Belle’s initially trained under his father’s watchful eye before, in c.1698, joining the studio of painter François de Troy, who by that point was heavily patronised by the exiled court of James II at Saint-Germaine-en-Laye. Demand in England for Jacobite portraiture was strong during this period, as the baton was soon to be passed over from the increasingly frail James II to his younger son. By 1701 Belle was describing himself as ‘Painter in Ordinary to the King of England’, and has thus taken over the reigns as principal painter at James’ court. Belle painted a number of portrait-types of James, both as ‘Prince of Wales’ and later as ‘King’, and this type, as suggested by the Jacobite scholar Edward Corp, is the first known type to show James following his ‘accession’ to the crown. Another version of this portrait type, which Corp dates to 1702, is in the collection of the Palazzo Doria Pamphilij, Rome.
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