Friday, 13 July 2018

Questions of Identity

One of the direct consequences of the homohoax called the Popish Plot, about which I wrote earlier this week, was to whip up anti-Catholic frenzy in England to such as extent that parliament banned Catholics from the House of Commons and House of Lords, and changed the laws of succession to the throne to exclude Catholics.

King James II of England (James VII of Scotland) was deemed to have abdicated when he fled the country during the Glorious Revolution on 1688 and he set up a court in exile in France. His Protestant daughter became Queen Mary II and her husband (and cousin, himself third in line of Protestant succession to the throne after her) became joint sovereign as King William III.

Supporters of the exiled King James II became known as Jacobites (after Jacobus, the Latin for James) and over the next 57 years aided James’ Catholic son and grandsons in their attempts to regain the British throne.

The most famous of the Jacobite claimants was Prince Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788), better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie. He was James II’s grandson. Bonnie Prince Charlie’s younger brother was Prince Henry Stuart (1725-1807) who later became a Catholic cardinal we have met before on this blog. He is generally known today as Cardinal York.

The first Question of Identity is the Jacobite belief that these two princes were the rightful kings of England under the titles Charles III and Henry IX. The second Question of Identity concerns the royal portrait shown below on the left.
The portrait is by the French artist Maurice Quentin de La Tour and was bought by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in 1994. It is a pastel portrait on paper of Bonnie Prince Charlie dating to about 1747. Or is it? It was the basis of several portraits of Bonnie Prince Charlie over the succeeding years, even being reproduced by the Scottish Gallery on postcards and souvenirs as being him. But ten years ago serious doubts about who the man really was began to make ripples in the art world.

Eminent art detective Dr. Bendor Grosvenor put forward the evidence to support his theory that the pastel portrait was actually of Cardinal York. Grosvenor’s original paper on the subject can be found here. Despite scepticism from the leading expert on Jacobite portraiture, who said in 1997 that there was no doubt that the portrait was of Bonnie Prince Charlie, it is now accepted that it depicts Cardinal York. The Jacobite expert has since agreed with this new identification.

How the portrait was re-identified involved (among other scientific methods) comparing the face to that of known portraits of both Bonnie Prince Charlie and Cardinal York. One portrait in particular was used for comparison, the one I’ve shown above on the right which depicts Cardinal York. The faces are identical. There is no doubt about the portrait on the right was painted from life, so one face cannot be that of someone else.

The next question to be answered is when was the portrait made? Scottish National Portrait Gallery originally put a date of 1746 or 1747 to it. At that time Cardinal York was living in Rome and was preparing to be created a cardinal in July 1747.

Michael Nevin, Chair of the 1745 Association, researched into the question of the date and, obviously, ruled out any date in or around July 1747. He also excluded the previous months in 1747 as it would have been very unlikely that Cardinal York would be portrayed in armour while preparing for entry the cardinalate.

In 1746 the Jacobite rebellion was effectively over. At the Battle of Culloden in 1745 Bonnie Prince Charlie was defeated and returned to France. His brother York was in France to help drum up support from the French king, but the Jacobites blamed York for not doing enough and he left France for Rome after serving in the French army for a few months.

So, if the Jacobite rebellion was over by 1745 and Cardinal York had returned to Rome in 1746 there would be little point in showing him in armour after that.

There is no record of the artist Maurice Quentin de La Tour travelling to Rome to carry out this portrait. It is most likely that it was done when York was in Paris in 1745 gathering support for his brother prior to the battle of Culloden.

Michael Nevin also came up with an interesting theory to explain why it was painted. When Bonnie Prince Charlie and his army were on their campaigns in England and Scotland during 1745 the Jacobites felt that the dynasty was on the verge of regaining the throne. There was much optimism and, perhaps, York had his portrait done during this time of optimism in anticipation of Bonnie Prince Charlie becoming king.

Whatever the reason, and whenever it was done, this portrait remained in Cardinal York’s possession. In 1842 his executors sold it to the Townley Balfour family. Whether they knew who the subject in the portrait was is not known, but between then and 1994 when it was bough by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery the man in armour became confused with similar portraits of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Happily, this portrait of Cardinal York, the last to show him in armour before him entering the Church, fills the gap in the pictorial representation of the last true Jacobite claimant to the throne.

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