Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Sophia Bulkeley (d.1716), c.1675 

Henri Gascars (1634/51701)

Portrait of Sophia Bulkeley (d.1716), c.1675, Henri Gascars
Oil on canvas
17th Century
18 1/4 x 14 1/4 inches
French Private Collection
Sophia Bulkeley was born Sophia Stewart, daughter of Walter Stewart son of Lord Blantyre, and, as the inscription copied onto the back of the lining canvas attests, was the sister of Frances Stewart, ''La Belle Stewart'' the celebrated beauty who married the Duke of Richmond. Although she has never equalled her sister's reputation, Pepys records seeing her walking with her sister in St James's Park (Diary August 30th 1668) and describes her as very handsome.

Her marriage to Henry Bulkeley, Master of the Household to Charles II and James II placed her about the Court, and she was appointed a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Mary of Modena. In this capacity she is believed to have been present at the birth of Prince James Edward, since a verse from the Poems on Affairs of State iii 260-261 records:

Then painted B-ley early in the morn,
Came to St. James''s to see his highness born;
With all the haste she could she up did rise,
Soon dress''d, and came by nine a clock precise, &c.

The exact nature of any political activity in which, as a result of her position, she may have engaged is unclear. She followed James II to Versailles after the Glorious Revolution, although she is at one point believed to have been detained in the Bastille. This is supposedly due to a correspondence that she had been maintaining with Lord Godolphin. Whether this was politically or romantically motivated is unclear: it had been suggested as early as 1680 that Godolphin was enamoured of her. A report referred to in a line of a satire published in that year, Bulkeley Godolphin's only care, and an entry in the ''Treasury Order Book'' at the Customs, (D. 352, F. 303, under ''Buckley'') show some payment to her during a stay she was making in France. Godolphin was considered an unwavering supporter of James II, and was Chancellor of the Queen''s Household until 1688, but despite his correspondence with the Jacobite exiles he continued to serve in William''s and his successors' governments.

Mrs Bulkeley had six children. Of three of these nothing is recorded; of the others, James became a resident in France, and left a family there; Charlotte married Daniel, viscount Clare, of Ireland; and Ann married James, duke of Berwick, the natural son of James II.

Mrs Bulkeley was painted by Gascars in a now-lost three-quarter length portrait, whose appearance is preserved (reversed) in an anonymous contemporary engraving. The present version corresponds exactly to the head of the sitter, with slight modifications in the costume, which would appear to have been made even more elaborate and luxurious. The portrait demonstrates the particularly French elegance and grave that characterised his painting, and which proved a fashionable diversion for English patrons from the native Flemish-influenced manner. Datable to the 1670s, it may have been executed either during the artist's sojourn in England, or on one of the sitter''s visits to France. Gascars studied in Italy from 1659 until 1671. In the following year he travelled to England, where he executed portraits for the court circle until c.1677, when he returned to the continent. He was a frequent visitor to Italy during the remainder of his life, although his work took him as far afield as Poland in 1691. He died in Rome in January 1701.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.