Friday, 2 November 2012

The Lost Prince: Henry Stuart, National Portrait Gallery, London

27th October 2012

I visited this exhibition on a Saturday afternoon after the monthly talk at the National Gallery on a painting by Ingres.  Having done the father at the NPG talk on 25th October, I thought it was time to find out more about the son, elder brother to Charles I and also brother of Elizabeth Stuart- Winter Queen of Bohemia ( 

I had heard one enthusiastic review on Radio 4 and a friend who had gone had said it was OK, some nice pictures but… I decided to go nonetheless and asked a friend to go round with me.  With a concession, the ticket cost £10 for the pair of us.

The NPG has “gathered” a lot of material on the subject and short life of Henry Stuart, heir to the Scottish and English thrones and son of King James VI/I.  Some objects have been loaned by the Royal Collection, British Library and British Museum.  The exhibition has many large paintings by Robert Peake the Elder, of Prince Henry as he grew up and there is a well crafted portrait by Isaac Oliver, which was copied by others. 

The prince was born in Stirling and brought up there until after his father James VI ascended the English throne.  In moving to London the King had been careful to ensure that the son was trained in kingship and learned about arts and science, as it was deemed expedient for both a renaissance and warrior prince within his European peer group.  King James was no renaissance man, unlike King James IV of Scotland and even his grandfather King James V.  James VI/I is nevertheless credited with keeping the peace between Spain and England while ensuring that war was avoided at all costs. 

The Scottish Reformation had wiped out much of nascent art in a process which made the Bonfire of the Vanities seem like a Teddy Bears’ Picnic.  The exhibition has detailed examples of Prince Henry’s education and training to be a king and also fostering links with other states in Europe.  Through his sister there were close links with the Elector Palatine and the House of Orange with the warrior prince Maurits van Nassau (Maurice of Nassau) in the Northern Netherlands.  His mother was Anne of Denmark, the sister to King Christian.  For a teenager, he seems to have been precocious and his achievements, such as they were, have been imbued with those who die young- he died short of his 19th birthday in 1612.  

Some of the exhibition panels have been quite well crafted and some of the documents and covers are “blown” up on the walls.  His wooden effigy is on display (minus the head) with a setting illustrating the Westminster Abbey life-size configuration on the wall above.  That said, many of the walls are otherwise bare.  In this regard, this exhibition compares unfavourably with the use of exhibition wall space as at, for example, the Catherine the Great Exhibition in Edinburgh, which included many representational devices as decorative panels.  While this show has more large scale enlargements than the British Library Illumination exhibition, there is no audio and the only video screen which I encountered appeared not to be working. 

In making these comparisons with two other exhibitions, I should add that I had the catalogues before I visited these two; I bought the Prince Henry catalogue in the shop after my visit and have had part of the essays read out.  There has been some debunking of a rather “over the top” book by Roy Strong and an essay by Malcolm Smuts suggests a more academic approach to the exhibition rather than seeing it as a showstopper.  (Catalogue details are as follows: The Lost Prince – the Life and Death of Henry Stuart by Catherine MacLeod, National Portrait Gallery, London, 2012 ISBN 978-1-85514-458-3)

The background music is a bit monotonous and given Henry’s support for the Arts and Masques, some more interesting music from the masques or composers at the time could have been played.  The displays of his armour and the sketches of the barriers and masques arranged by Inigo Jones are discernible on viewing. 
The pictures by Peake may not reach critical acclaim but they are simple enough to make out with some limited vision.  I lost a bit of the horse when Henry is shown with Robert Devereux in a stag hunt.  Otherwise the Peake portraits are brightly coloured and of the right size to be enjoyable.  Manuscripts are a possible problem area and you need someone to read out the content and labels. My friend was just about able to read some of the correspondence from the originals, though there are printed panels of some of the texts.  There seemed to be nothing to handle though if you are interested in his suits of armour (he was 14 at the time), the Wallace Museum has a handling area.

The merchandise is, however, worth a browse.  There are quill ballpoint pens for £1.50 and some of the knick knacks are worth handling, perhaps even buying for Christmas: velvet scarves, jewellery, pewter tankards and candlesticks, books and cards. 

If you are interested in Jacobean life, then this is a very good exhibition and adds much to what’s currently on offer on the topic in London such as the Shakespeare Exhibition at the British Museum and Timon of Athens at the National Theatre.  There is a beautiful bronze of a horse said to be coveted (Good King James Bible word) by his brother Charles.  The Letters Patent of his creation as Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester are on show and this is a timely reminder that not all Princes of Wales ever keep, let alone ascend, the throne. There is much to enjoy and doubtless this will launch many historical novels of the “What if Henry had become King?” type

The labels appear to be numberless and my friend wrote down some items of interest and has later matched them with the catalogue.  The catalogue numbers are not followed in the exhibition.  My viewing notes of the exhibition as it presented itself have had the catalogue number of the book (£25) added.  The order of the exhibition is not clear though the themes of the exhibition show the time line from birth to death, funeral and Henry being quickly forgotten.  The notes are as follows:

Cat 1. Prince Henry Frederick
Unidentified artist, 1596

Cat 11 Basilikon Doron
James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) , c1598
Ink on paper, bound in velvet with gold clasps

Cat 7 Prince Henry
Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger
c1603, oil on canvas
Portrait, age 9

Cat. 3 James VI of Scotland and I of England
John de Critz, the Elder

Cat 8 Princess Elizabeth, later Queen of Bohemia
Robert Peake, the Elder

Cat 9 Charles I, when Duke of York and Albany, 1600-1649
Robert Peake, the Elder

Cat 15 David Murray of Gorthy
Unidentified artist, 1603
Cat 14 Prince Henry with Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex
Robert Peake, the Elder, c1605

Cat 27 Letters Patent of James I creating his son Henry Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester
Attributed to Isaac Oliver and two other unidentified hands, 1610
Cat 28 Prince Henry on Horseback
Robert Peake, the Elder
(on loan from Parham House, Pulbourough, West Sussex)

Set and costume designs for Prince Henry’s Barriers
Inigo Jones, 1610

Cat 29 Prince Henry’s Armour for the Field, Tilt, Tourney and Barriers
Royal Armoury, Greenwich, under Jacob Halder
Suit of Armour at age 14

Cat 30 Prince Henry’s Armour
Dutch, c1608
Suit of Armour showing thistles, rose and fleur di lis

Cat 33 Henry, Prince of Wales
Isaac Oliver,
portrait used in exhibition’s flyer

Cat 47 Thomas, 2nd Baron Vaux of Harrowden
Hans Holbein the Younger

Cat 48 Elizabeth Cheney, Lady Vaux
Hans Holbein the Younger

Cat 45 Henry, Prince of Wales
Robert Peake, the Elder
Portrait showing Henry not in martial pose
Can see hilt and rapier, left arm on hip

Cat 49 Boy Looking Through a Casement Window
Unknown Netherlandish artist, c1550-60

Cat 50 A Bearded Old Man with a Shell
Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt
oil on panel, c1606

Cat 58 Astronomiae Instaurate Mechanica
Tycho Brahe

Cat 53 Pacing Horse, bronze
Pietro Tacca, after Giambologna (Jean Boulogne), c1600

Cat 52 Cesarine Venus
17th Centry cast after a model by after Giambologna (Jean Boulogne)

Cat 65 John Smith’s map of Virginia
William Hole, 1612

Cat 60 Prince Henry
Robert Peake, the Elder
foot on shield.  This is the most interesting picture and shows a character emerging with a sense of movement. 

Wall panel of elegies
Very vivid
Ich di fn
(ich dien on coat of arms)

Cat 80 Charles I, Duke of York
Robert Peake, the Elder

Cat 74 The Effigy of Henry, Prince of Wales
Richard Norris, 1612

Cat 82 Henry, Prince of Wales
Daniel Mytens after Isaac Oliver, 1628


On reviewing the catalogue at home, I managed a cross-check with William Drummond of Hawthornden who wrote an elegy in 1613.  It was included in the show but I hadn’t noted it specifically.  Drummond wrote an elegy for Prince Henry titled “Tears of Meliades” (Teares on the Death of Moeliades).  This was one of the items in a case below the large expansion I noted.  However, I hadn’t noted Drummond’s work specifically, which according to the catalogue, was a 3rd edition, printed by Andro Hart in Edinburgh in 1614.

The catalogue and the exhibition have proved useful in linking both portrait galleries in London and Edinburgh.  I was searching in the Scottish Portrait Gallery picture labels which Meg Faragher kindly sent me after my visit and there is a portrait of Drummond in Edinburgh.  The details are:

William Drummond of Hawthornden (1585 – 1649)

attributed to Abraham van Blijenberch
oil on panel, painted in 1612

This sensitive portrayal of the poet and historian William Drummond of Hawthornden is attributed to the little-known Netherlandish artist Abraham van Blijenberch. It is possibly one of only a few portraits he painted during a four-year stay in London.  Van Blijenberch painted other Scots, such as Charles I and Robert Kerr, 1st Earl of Ancram.  This portrait shows the young and pensive Drummond in a fashionable black doublet and lace-edged standing collar.  It was painted in 1612, around the time Drummond wrote his famous elegy Tears on the Death of Meliades, which commemorated the death of King James’s elder son and heir, Henry, Prince of Wales.

PG 1096 bought in 1928