Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Charles I and the Duke of York, c.1649 

Circle of Sir Peter Lely (1618-80)

Charles I and the Duke of York, c.1649, Circle of Sir Peter Lely
Oil on canvas
17th Century
52 x 59 in (132 x 149.8 cm)
Mrs A.K. Wheeler Dr T. Loveday, Williamscote House, 1960
To view portraits by Peter Lely for sale, please go to www.philipmould.com.

The story of this touching and melancholic portrayal of the doomed King Charles (1600 -1649) and his son, James Duke of York(1633 - 1701), has been the inspiration for the production of images and poetry since its commission in the autumn of 1647. Charles I, whose likeness was replicated by numerous artists, was to sit to Sir Peter Lely for his last portrait during his internment at Hampton Court Palace.

Significantly, as this was one of the King's last paintings, so it also was one of Lely's first in England. Here the artist depicts his subject as he appeared at the end of his life, his face marred by the lines of age and concern. Behind him storm clouds loom ominously, foretelling of troubled times. The King is accompanied by his son James, who has delivered to his father a letter addressed to ''Au Roy Monseigneur''. As an early work, the influence of Van Dyck's style is still apparent in Lely's portrait. The strong poses and gestures of his figures are modelled after those of his predecessor and differ noticeably from the languid touch he applied to his Stuart likenesses during his later career.

It is possible to date this poignant image of father and son to 1647 during the two and a half months in which the King was held as a prisoner and shortly before his calculated escape to the Isle of Wight. In August of that year, Charles, having suffered a defeat at Naseby was taken to Hampton Court and held under house arrest. Further down the river his children were being maintained in the care of the Earl of Northumberland at Syon House. Despite his incarceration, the King was permitted to lead a fairly regular existence. He dined in the Presence Chamber, was allowed to hunt in the park and play games of tennis (1). His captors also provided for visits both in and outside the confines of Hampton Court which enabled the King to see his children frequently. It is likely that on at least one of these occasions a sitting was granted to Lely.

Interestingly, it was the Earl of Northumberland, a noble convert to the parliamentarian cause rather than the King who was responsible for commissioning the primary work. Northumberland had long been a patron of Van Dyck and viewed Lely as his natural successor. This picture in addition to fifteen others by Lely were recorded as being among the Earl's collection in June 1671 where it remains today. It is believed that the poet Lovelace viewed it while it hung at Syon House and the implications of its subject matter moved him to write his famous eulogy, ''To my Worthy Friend Mr. Peter Lilly: on that excellent Picture of his Majesty, and the Duke of Yorke, drawne by him at Hampton-Court''. The verses which begin ''See what a clouded Majesty!'' have since become an alternative title for the portrait. The picture, popular for its romantic depiction of the martyred King was subsequently reproduced by Lely''s studio, particularly during the years of the Restoration. Our portrait is believed to date from this period. Similar works can be found at Grimsthorpe Castle and Helmingham Hall. Although the basic representation of this image remains consistent, the objects being passed between the King and his son vary. In our portrait the young Duke of York hands his father a silver pen. In other versions, the boy holds a pair of scissors or a feathered quill.

(1) E. Law, The History of Hampton Court Palace, Vol. II, (1888), p.134.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.