Witness to an Execution

On 30th of January 1649, King Charles I of England stood on a temporary scaffold built outside the Banqueting House at Whitehall in London. He had been charged with treason by his enemies in Parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell, and now faced his own execution in front of a massed crowd in the street below.

The King’s death has been studied and discussed ever since, but it is not Charles that I wanted to look at on this sombre anniversary. Standing with him on the scaffold was the Bishop of London, William Juxon, who would become Archbishop of Canterbury at the Restoration in 1660. Juxon was respected and trusted by Charles I, who selected him to attend that day and administer the last rites.

There are a few known portraits of Juxon, although few that I’ve found are of high quality, or by known artists. Lambeth Palace has several, including the below from 1633, attributed only to the British (English) School:

Another, at the National Portrait Gallery in London, is said to be a copy of a 1640 original, both artists unknown:


Next is a copy after Van Dyck, from St John’s College, University of Oxford:


The final portrait, from the Captain Christie Crawfurd English Civil War Collection, has the curious attribution of ‘circle of Robert Walker’. I’m not convinced, but you can make up your own minds! Unlike all of the other portraits, which are oil on canvas, this one is oil on paper laid on panel, and as with most of the Christie Crawfurd Collection, no date is given.


Soon after the King’s death, Juxon was deprived of the bishopric by Cromwell, and went into retirement until recalled to public life by Charles II a decade later. He held the position of Archbishop of Canterbury until his death in 1663.

Charles I, the Bargain Bin King

Another gem found on Ebay!


This ‘Old Master’ portrait of King Charles I is currently the subject of a bidding war on Ebay. At last count, the high bid was an unprecedented…. £2.60p. Described as an ‘early and important study of the king on his throne’, it has nevertheless taken 4 bids to push the asking price to the cost of my local return bus fare.

A little embarrassing for a proud monarch, but I still like it, although ‘Old Master’ is stretching belief rather a lot. As usual there’s no information on provenance or condition. At least His Majesty can recover some of his lost dignity (and value) in the postage costs, which are a more respectable £22.

So, what do readers think? Is this worth £2.60? Is it even 17th century?

View the auction on Ebay

ETA 24th July: The asking price has gone up a bid to £5.50, with seven days still to go!

27th July: The bidding has now reached a far more respectable £700! In my humble opinion, the bidders are a little optimistic about the quality of their ‘find’, given the limited background information and rather average execution (no pun intended, Your Majesty….), and not forgetting this is actually a copy, but it’s not my £700, so I hope whoever wins the auction is very happy with their prize!

Kings and Queens

Royal portraiture was a tricky thing. In a world where an official painting (or an engraving of it) was, for many people, the only opportunity they had to lay eyes on their monarch, the portrayal of royalty had to show strength, power and confidence, not just to the people they ruled, but to relatives, friends and, most importantly, adversaries and enemies. Think of Henry VIII’s supremely arrogant, hands-on-hips ‘don’t mess with me’ poses. Even today that image gives us a sense of the character and reputation of the man, and adds colour and shape to what we know of him on paper.

The Stuarts, too, commissioned numerous portraits, although some were more reluctant than others. James I was said to be uncomfortable with the process, and this comes across in awkward and stiff poses. While he was merely unenthused by the whole idea, there is little suggestion that he was uncertain of his role as king, only that he wouldn’t have been the kind of ruler who liked pasting selfies all over Instagram. Compare this with the images we have of Charles I, trying his best to appear strong and capable, when he frequently appears uncertain and troubled, particularly during the conflict in the 1640s when chaos reigned rather than him. In such times we would expect his portraits to show a man absolutely confident and in control, a king who needed his people to get behind him, yet Dobson’s portraits give us a man who is far from confident or assured of victory, despite the haughty expression and rich clothes of state.

So here’s a look at how the Stuart kings and consorts showed us their game-faces, some with more success than others!

James I van Somer I
King James I of England, before 1621, by Paul van Somer
©Museo del Prado, Madrid

Anne of Denmark2
Queen Anne of Denmark, 1614, attrib. Marcus Gheerearts the Younger
©The Royal Collection

Charles I Hamptn Ct Dobson
King Charles I, c.1640-1646, by William Dobson
©The Royal Collection

Van Dyck Henrietta Maria em MN575 l
Queen Henrietta Maria, c. late 1630s, by Anthony Van Dyck
©Philip Mould Ltd

Charles II NPG
King Charles II, c. 1660-1665, by John Michael Wright
©National Portrait Gallery, London

Queen Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II, 1665, by Sir Peter Lely
©Philip Mould Ltd

James II Kneller
King James II, 1683, by Sir Godfrey Kneller
©Government Art Collection

Anne Hyde, Duchess of York  (first wife of the future King James II), c.1662, by Sir Peter Lely

Mary of Modena, second wife and Queen Consort of King James II, 1680, by Simon Petersz Verelst

Sir Anthony van Dyck

No discussion of 17th century portraiture in England would be complete without mentioning the great Sir Anthony van Dyck. A student of Rubens (who painted the ceiling of the Banqueting House in Whitehall, London, which still stands today), he came to England in the 1620s to work as court painter to King Charles I, and remained there until his own death in 1641.

Unlike his successor in Charles’ employ, William Dobson, Van Dyck was fortunate to have  worked in the studio of the great Master, Peter Paul Rubens, and to have employed his talent in Europe, painting for wealthy and influential patrons across the continent. In England he produced some of the most recognised works in the history of English portraiture, such as this one of King Charles:

Charles I three
Dated c.1635/1636, ©The Royal Collection, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

….and his own self-portrait, which was recently purchased by the National Portrait Gallery in London after a successful publicity campaign to save it from being sold abroad or into private hands.

Van Dyck self portrait
Painted c.1640, ©National Portrait Gallery, London

Van Dyck’s death in 1641, shortly before the King left London for the final time as the Civil War began, leaves us with an intriguing question. Had he lived, would he have followed the King, and continued painting portraits of what was left of the Royalist aristocracy in exile from London? Or would he have looked to his own comfort and self-preservation and fled back to the safety of Europe? I don’t know enough about him to be able to offer an answer, but the timing of his death seems oddly fitting, as if he was no longer needed by the times, with war and ugliness on the horizon, and was making way for someone else. Would his beautiful and elegant style have ‘fit’ in the middle of such a fight? I’d love to know how his work would, by necessity and austerity, have changed had he lived and remained by the King’s side to paint the Royalists at war, but then if he had, we wouldn’t have had Dobson, and the visual memory of the conflict that has been passed down to us would be strikingly different.


In my study of the English Civil War and its art, I’ve picked up a library of invaluable books, many now out of print, that are a goldmine of detail and images not always available in modern publications. I wanted to share some of the best ones, in case they may be of use to others in their own research. I’ve also found they’re very useful in establishing provenance, as they list past owners of paintings that may have since been sold. They’re not so out of print that they’re impossible to find, and you can probably source a cheap copy somewhere like http://www.abebooks.com or Ebay.

  • A History of British Painting – Ernest Short –  What it says on the tin, with a good section on the Stuarts and mid-17th century art.
  • British Portraits – Royal Academy of Arts – Produced for an exhibition at the RA, 1956-7. A good catalogue with many black and white plates, and a small selection from Charles I’s reign.
  • Endymion Porter and William Dobson – William Vaughan, for The Tate Gallery – Published for an exhibition of the same name at the Tate Gallery, 1970. Dobson’s portrait of Porter is one of his most recognised paintings, and can today be viewed (hopefully, unless it’s been stored) at the Tate Britain in London. Includes biographical sections on both Porter and Dobson, many pictures, maps and illustrations, and a section about the conflict itself.
  • The Age of Charles I – Tate Gallery – Published for an exhibition in 1972-3. Many illustrations, including William Dobson, Robert Walker, John Hayls, and other lesser known painters. Unusually, it includes ECW miniatures as well.
  • An Illustrated Souvenir of the Exhibition of 17th Century Art in Europe, 1938 – Royal Academy of Arts. Again, what it says! Mostly black and white plates, with a few from the ECW period.
  • The Life and Times of Charles I – D.R.Watson – not strictly an art book, but full of paintings, maps, illustrations and a guide to the ECW.
  •  Last but not least, an essential book on the subject  (and my ‘bible’) – William Dobson, 1611-1646 – National Portrait Gallery, 1983. As well as both colour and black and white images of Dobson’s works from the exhibition, including detailed provenance and biographies of the sitters,  there’s an excellent biographical section that forms the most extensive research on Dobson published to date.*

Let me know if you have any other recommendations!


*A new biography of William Dobson is due for publication in 2016. More details soon.


We had a civil war?

It’s long been a frustration of mine that people know so little about the English Civil War (or ‘wars’, if we’re to be entirely accurate). Some don’t even know there WAS a civil war in the 17th century, or its massive consequences that we live with to this day. Everyone and their dog knows the Americans had a civil war, but ask about this particular one in Britain  and you’re likely to get either blank faces, or a comment such as ‘wasn’t that the one with Oliver Cromwell in it?’ The fact that a) we executed our king, b) the conflict changed forever the political and monarchical system in the country, and c) killed so many people that it is claimed a higher percentage of the population died in this conflict than were lost in WWI, seems to be lost between the education system and the publishing industry that makes an awful lot of money every year pushing out book after book on Anne Boleyn.  Yes, the Tudor period was important, and yes,  with the Reformation and Henry VIII splitting from Rome it was an incredibly important and turbulent century also, but it sometimes feel as if the Tudors were the ONLY royal family we ever had, that fat Henry was the only King of England, and that British history effectively stopped with the death of Elizabeth I.

But why? The 17th century was arguably as conflicted as the 16th, and I think the dissolution of the monasteries and Henry VIII’s quarrel with the Pope were just as devastating for the British Isles as Charles I’s quarrel with his Parliament and the consequences of regicide and Commonwealth that followed. Maybe the Tudors just tap into a more modern sense of voyeurism than the Stuarts do?  Henry VIII’s antics, from  wife-swapping  to wife-chopping, not to mention his tantrums and violent retributions, would seem far more appealing to the Game of Thrones generation than the complicated political and religious arguments that went on a century later under Charles, yet for my money the mid-17th century conflict is as much an essential part of our historical education as the Tudors are.


What I love about 17th century portraiture is that you can watch its artistic development changing as the decades pass,  from the end of the Tudors to the beginning of the Stuarts, through the Civil War and on into the Restoration.  Beginning with the likes of William Peake and John de Critz in the opening years of the century, to Daniel Mytens, Peter Paul Rubens, Antony Van Dyck, William Dobson, Godfrey Kneller and Peter Lely, each decade seems to have its own illustrator to tell its story.

You can also chart the events of the period through its art, from the death of Elizabeth and the end of the Tudor dynasty in 1603, through King James’s court to the unsettled and nervous reign of Charles I, into the austere war years, and on to the glamour of Charles II’s restored monarchy. For me, no other period in British history can be so well-defined by those that painted it.

There were many memorable artists  working in England during the 17th century, but my favourite of them all is William Dobson.

William Dobson
“Portrait of the Artist”, possibly c.1645/6, ©National Portrait Gallery, London

Dobson was an Englishman, born in St Albans in 1611 and trained in London with what seems to have been an ordinary painter’s apprenticeship. What is remarkable about him is that he wasn’t famous or well-travelled like Sir Antony Van Dyck or Rubens, both of whom worked for the most prestigious and influential people across Europe, nor did he have a distinguished education or career to recommend him, yet somehow, by the end of 1642, he had left London and was living in Oxford as the court painter to King Charles I. We have no idea how he got the job, but the works he produced of the Royalist supporters during four years of civil war became the eye-witness images of the conflict that we recognise today.  The Parliamentarian side had their own painter, Robert Walker, whose work we know by his many portraits of Oliver Cromwell, and other artists were also present during the period, but no name is as closely associated with the tragedy of the English Civil War as William Dobson. His ability to portray ‘real’ people, with their flaws and vulnerabilities,  is what makes his work so poignant and moving. Take this painting of the troubled King Charles, for example. I’ve not seen any other royal picture, of any king or queen, painted more honestly than this.

Charles I
“Charles I” c. 1642-1646, ©HistoricalPortraits.com/Philip Mould Ltd
Neil Jeffares

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