Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of James Butler 2nd Duke of Ormond (1665 - 1745) 1700c.

Sir Godfrey Kneller Bt. (1646-1723)

Portrait of James Butler 2nd Duke of Ormond (1665 - 1745), Sir Godfrey Kneller Bt.
Oil on canvas
17th Century
50 x 40 inches 127 x 101.2 cm
Private Collection, Dorset
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This portrait is one of a number that Kneller painted of the Duke, who as a great – though encumbered – Irish magnate, soldier and courtier was an influential patron. His earliest portrait of the Duke is a full-length in Garter robes dated c.1695 which was presented to Oxford University – where it still hangs in the Examination Schools – of which the Duke was Chancellor. An engraved portrait in armour is presumed to date c.1700, the year before it was published by John Smith, and a portrait, again in armour in the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin is dated 1713.

This portrait is datable by style and by comparison with the portrait in Garter robes to the mid-1690s, and exhibits the highly Baroque character of Kneller’s painting at that date. The overriding sense of the painting is motion, and even with his dignified restraint, the figure of the Duke raising his baton of command echoes the swirling drama of the battlefield that the painter has suggested beyond his outstretched arm.

Curiously this portrait appears neither to have been engraved nor copied, which is remarkable for such an accomplished show-piece of painting and of such a prominent subject.

James Butler Duke of Ormond inherited his title from his grandfather, James Earl of Ormond, who had been raised for a Dukedom for his loyalty to King Charles I. The first Duke had been a remarkable man. The owner of vast estates in Ireland he had been Charles I’s chief minister in the country at the time of the outbreak of the Civil War in England, and it was due to his resource and popularity that the King’s party was able to retain a good footing in the country throughout the troubled times of the 1640s. This was as crucial as the military talents which enabled him to bring the rebellious Catholics to terms in 1646 and again two years later, as part of the long-running Irish rebellion that was by this date a curious sideshow to the events on the mainland. His grandson succeeded him at his death in 1688, and in an instant acquired whilst still a minor the luster of the Ormond title.

Ormond was educated in France and then at Christ Church, Oxford, where he took his degree in 1680. He soon took up a military career and was made a colonel of horse in 1683, and later served with the French army at the siege of Luxemburg in 1684. He supported William of Orange at the Glorious Revolution and was consequently attainted by King James II. He fought for William during the subsequent Irish campaign where he fought at the Boyne and then on the continent he was present at the Battle of Steinkirk and at Landen where he was captured. As a noble prisoner he could expect not only fair treatment but exchange, and very soon he was released in exchange for the Duke of Berwick, illegitimate son of King James II.

From 1703 to 1707 and then from 1710 to September 1713 he was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, but in the last year he entered into correspondence with the exiled Jacobites. On the accession of King George I in the following year he was deprived of his offices, including those of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and the Lord Lieutenancy of Norfolk. In June 1715 he was impeached and he retired to Richmond where he wrote to Prince James Stuart urging him to land without delay. The government sent soldiers to arrest him and so he fled to France the next month. He was attainted by the British Parliament in August, and was thus deprived of all his titles and honours. He had earlier been degraded from the Order of the Garter by the quaintly spiteful ceremony, in which Heralds threw down his crest and helm from above his stall in St George’s Chapel and then kicked them out of the chapel and out of the West Door.

Openly aligning himself with the Pretender’s party he was appointed General and Commander-in-chief in England and Ireland in October 1715 and in the following year James made him a Knight of the Thistle. Despite the failure, in the event or at the inception, of every Jacobite military enterprise with which he was associated James continued to favour him, and as late as 1732 he was appointed Regent of England and Ireland in James’s absence.

He lived a long life of quiet – and luxurious – exile, and died at Avignon in 1745 in his eightieth year.
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