Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of James Francis Edward Stuart (1688-1766) 1720c.

Follower of Alexis Simone Belle (16741734)

Portrait of James Francis Edward Stuart (1688-1766), Follower of Alexis Simone Belle
Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches 76.2 x 63.5 cm
Scottish Private Collection
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The career of James Francis Edward Stuart, Chevalier de St George, titular King James III, is marked by the melancholy characteristic of exile and frustrated ambition. He lived long, as did his father and sons, which seems almost a cruelty, as he was able to see the defeat of his and his son's military enterprises and -with the succession in 1760 of the fruitful, and thoroughly English, George III- the extinction of any hope of a Jacobite restoration.

The prince's birth on June 10th 1688 came at a controversial moment. Five years had passed since Queen Mary of Modena had given birth, and none of her previous children had survived infancy. The protestant party were alarmed by the possibility that the Counter Reformation initiated by James might not, after all, expire with him, but be perpetuated by an heir. Their anxiety manifested itself in frenzied attempts to brand the child as spurious -the ''warming-pan baby''- and in the growing movement -led by peers, including Lord Wharton and the (then) Earl of Devonshire- to expel James in favour of his protestant daughter Mary.

Although it is said that there were compacts between Louis XIV and the William of Orange, that the Prince of Wales be recognised as the heir to the British throne, any agreement was conditional on James being reared in England as a Protestant, to which, unremarkably, James II could not consent. The stage was then set for the rest of James Stuart''s life, in which he would endure exile and the charity of foreign princes, and like his father and son, serve in fruitless campaigns in an attempt to regain his crown.

At the death of King James II in 1701 a Herald appeared at the gates of the Palace of St. Germains, who in Latin, French and England announced the succession of the young James Stuart to the titles of King James III of England and James VIII of Scotland. A remarkably bold attempt to make a similar proclamation in London resulted in the faux Heralds being pelted and chased away by the mob. The Act of Settlement 21st June 1701 had ensured that the male line of the Stuarts was forever removed from the succession. It is said that Queen Anne thought favourably of the restoration of her half-brother, but if there is any truth in this there is no evidence in any of her actions. The Pretender made an attempt in 1705 to land in Scotland with French assistance, but he was thwarted both by the weather and by the British Navy.

No Jacobite resistance prevented the succession of King George I, although the new dynasty was not universally popular, and both among disgruntled politicians thrown out of office and among the general population there was some enthusiasm for the Stuarts. Peers who had been Ministers of State to Queen Anne, such as Lord Bolingbroke and the Duke of Ormonde, joined the Jacobites on the Continent. Preparation began for a landing in Britain in 1715, but the death of Louis XIV in that year put an end to French support. The Regent declined to assist, but unwisely the expedition proceeded in any case. The Earl of Mar staged a rising in the Highlands, which involved the indecisive -but triumphantly reported- engagement of Sherrifmuir. Ormonde had, meanwhile, failed to land in Devon and the chances of any military enthusiasm for James Stuart in England were removed by the defeat at Preston.

James, meanwhile, buoyed up by the supposed victory of Sheriffmuir, travelled to Scotland, where he was rapturously received at Dundee, and then to Scone Palace where he was crowned King of Scotland. News of the advancing army of the Duke of Argyll threw the Jacobites into confusion. It was decided that the Highland contingent would retreat back to their native territory, and, for the safety of his followers, that James and the Earl of Mar would escape to the Continent.

By 1719 the Pretender was a resident in Rome; mounting British pressure on France had made that country increasingly inhospitable. A further attempt at a rising in 1719 failed on account of a storm which drove back Ormonde's fleet and on account of the defeat suffered at Glenshiels by a land force commanded by the Earl of Mar. James did not share personally in these reverses, but remained in Spain, before returning disconsolately to Rome. Against this disppointment James looked to the future of his dynasty, and in that year married Maria Clementina Sobieska, granddaughter of the King of Poland. Although unhappy -Maria Clementina's death in 1735 was a convenient resolution- the union produced two sons, Charles Edward ''The Young Pretender (born 1720) and Henry Benedict (born 1725).

The next and most famous of the attempts to place James III on the throne of Great Britain was the '45 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 we are told that the Pope issued an order commanding all subjects to acknowledge and use James's 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''. 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 expensive of King George III.

This portrait is a near-contemporary version after an original painted in 1717 by Alexis Simeon Belle, an artist best known for this composition, although he painted other members of the exiled court, including a three-quarter length of Lord Bolingbroke. The portrait shows James in a military cuirass, wearing the Order of the Garter. The image was extremely popular with the Pretender's supporters, and was reproduced in many formats. This version has descended from a Scottish collection, as the (erroneous) inscription verso ''James the 7'' testifies. The error highlights the strong resemblance between the Pretender and his father James II of England and VII of Scotland, which many contemporaries noted.
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