A Tale of Two Kings

Buckingham Palace in the snowLast week, on a cold and snowy morning, I went up to Buckingham Palace to visit an exhibition in the Queen’s Gallery. It was a brisk walk across Green Park (I hadn’t seen London in the snow for years) and I pitied the poor little green parakeets that live there. London isn’t exactly prime parakeet climate at the best of times and I imagine they are shivering at the moment.

There was a big crowd at Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard, but we were heading around the side to the gallery entrance to see “Charles II: Art and Power.” This was a companion exhibition to the one I had seen a couple of weeks earlier at the Royal Academy which focussed on King Charles I.

I’ve always been fascinated by the way in which monarchs have used art, architecture and other Charles II visual media to re-inforce a particular message, whether it was Elizabeth I with her rather creepy (in my opinion) gown covered in eyes, or the portrait of Charles II that I saw this week where he lounges on the throne, regalia in hand, looking both manly and authoritative at the same time, saying: “The Stuarts are back.”

But first to Charles’ father, the ill-fated Charles I. I do have a soft spot for the Stuart dynasty despite the fondness some of them had for the divine right of kings.  The Charles I exhibition focussed very much on the establishment of the dynasty and how at first it was Henry, Prince of Wales, who was the great future hope of the Stuarts before his untimely death at the age of 18. There were also some gorgeous family portraits featuring my personal heroine Elizabeth, the Winter Queen, Charles I’s sister. 

King_Charles_I_by_Gerrit_van_Honthorst (1)During the years of his reign Charles I amassed an extraordinarily fine collection of art works that fostered a visual culture in England on a scale that hadn’t been seen before. Sadly, after his execution, his collection was sold off and scattered across the UK and Europe in an event called “The Commonwealth Sale” organised to pay off debts and raise finance for Cromwell’s New Model Army. (Some of the artworks were also given as gifts: The royal plumber was given a painting called “The Flood” and the royal draper was given some tapestries).  Although Charles II subsequently tried to recover as many works as possible, he was unable to reclaim it all. This exhibition was the first occasion on which some of these paintings had been in the same room since the 17th century, which I found fairly mind-blowing.

As we know, Charles I was short (five foot three) and had suffered from rickets as a child, and the most famous portraits of him are the imposing ones that show him on horseback, dressed in fine silks and looking every inch the king. However my favourite one was a much younger, more natural looking picture in which Charles looks rather handsome and rather endearing.

The Charles II exhibition started where the Charles I finished, with the execution of the king in 1649 and his son’s exile. During that Charles and Sophiaperiod the Royalists kept their cause alive partly through the print media, by circulating pictures of the young prince as a king-in-exile, clad in armour and surrounded by symbols of royalty. I particularly liked an image of him with all the symbolism of a phoenix rising from the ashes, the rising sun, and the bright star overhead which was reported to have been seen in the heavens at the time of his birth.  A similar picture of Charles at the age of 19 was included in the exhibition as part of a courtship gift he gave to Princess Sophia, the daughter of the Winter Queen, with whom a marriage had been discussed. There was also a beautiful little miniature of her in the exhibition.

Charles salt potOnce Charles had been restored to the throne in 1660 there was a great deal of emphasis on legitimacy and power through his portraits, his architecture and the richness of the bling with which he surrounded himself! Whether it was with silver mirrors or gold salt pots, he certainly managed to make a statement.  In one of the galleries there were pictures of Charles and his brother James in all their finery, surrounded by various ladies of the court, wives and mistresses. There was a definite fashionable “look” amongst Charles’ mistresses! Louise de Keroualle looked very pretty, I thought, and I loved the rich colours of her portrait.

Two other interesting exhibits I especially liked were a painting of Hampton Court Palace, which Charles renovated after his Restoration and which I thought was lovely. He had a big plan to rebuild the royal palaces as part of his re-establishment of the royal power but he ran out of money and only Windsor Palace was completed! Also there was a rather nice plate of the famous oak tree at Boscobel House where Charles hid from the Roundheads after the Battle of Worcester. We visited Boscobel a few years ago and sadly the oak tree was no more because over the years so many tourists had taken twigs as souvenirs. HOwever, his "great escape" was much celebrated in ceramics and medals and the oak tree became something of a heroic monument.

The other painting that really caught my eye was quite different. It was a picture of a servant, which was in itself very unusual. Bridget holmes  Bridget Holmes was what was known as a “necessary woman” responsible for cleaning and preparing the royal bedchamber. She served Charles I, Charles II, James II and William III before dying at the grand old age of 100 and she was buried in Westminster Abbey.

We left Buckingham Palace having had a wonderful experience and with a cuddly corgi from the royal shop under our arms! It would be impossible to choose a favourite between the two exhibitions; they complemented each other and told a fascinating story of two Stuart kings and the way in which they used their art to enhance their power and prestige, but they also gave a different slant on well known history and told the human tale of two men, one of whom lost his throne and his life, the other who came back to claim his patrimony.

100 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Kings”

  1. I am totally in love with Bridget Holmes. The fact she served — what is it? — four kings tells me she must have been a remarkable and well-respected woman.
    That’s a biography somebody should write.

    Reply
  2. I am totally in love with Bridget Holmes. The fact she served — what is it? — four kings tells me she must have been a remarkable and well-respected woman.
    That’s a biography somebody should write.

    Reply
  3. I am totally in love with Bridget Holmes. The fact she served — what is it? — four kings tells me she must have been a remarkable and well-respected woman.
    That’s a biography somebody should write.

    Reply
  4. I am totally in love with Bridget Holmes. The fact she served — what is it? — four kings tells me she must have been a remarkable and well-respected woman.
    That’s a biography somebody should write.

    Reply
  5. I am totally in love with Bridget Holmes. The fact she served — what is it? — four kings tells me she must have been a remarkable and well-respected woman.
    That’s a biography somebody should write.

    Reply
  6. There’s something very interesting about those paintings. They look more “human” or something.
    I am trying to research those parakeets, but apparently they are a mystery to everyone! They don’t *quite* look like the green parrots here in Australia…
    ‘I hadn’t seen London in the snow for years.’
    You know what’s really annoying? I lived in London for years, and only saw snow about twice. The year I left, London had record snow. I wanted a fairy tale white Christmas – it never happened!
    And now England is again having snow everywhere. I was in London this time last year, and it was almost WARM! My next visit is September, so I am guessing no snow then, either!

    Reply
  7. There’s something very interesting about those paintings. They look more “human” or something.
    I am trying to research those parakeets, but apparently they are a mystery to everyone! They don’t *quite* look like the green parrots here in Australia…
    ‘I hadn’t seen London in the snow for years.’
    You know what’s really annoying? I lived in London for years, and only saw snow about twice. The year I left, London had record snow. I wanted a fairy tale white Christmas – it never happened!
    And now England is again having snow everywhere. I was in London this time last year, and it was almost WARM! My next visit is September, so I am guessing no snow then, either!

    Reply
  8. There’s something very interesting about those paintings. They look more “human” or something.
    I am trying to research those parakeets, but apparently they are a mystery to everyone! They don’t *quite* look like the green parrots here in Australia…
    ‘I hadn’t seen London in the snow for years.’
    You know what’s really annoying? I lived in London for years, and only saw snow about twice. The year I left, London had record snow. I wanted a fairy tale white Christmas – it never happened!
    And now England is again having snow everywhere. I was in London this time last year, and it was almost WARM! My next visit is September, so I am guessing no snow then, either!

    Reply
  9. There’s something very interesting about those paintings. They look more “human” or something.
    I am trying to research those parakeets, but apparently they are a mystery to everyone! They don’t *quite* look like the green parrots here in Australia…
    ‘I hadn’t seen London in the snow for years.’
    You know what’s really annoying? I lived in London for years, and only saw snow about twice. The year I left, London had record snow. I wanted a fairy tale white Christmas – it never happened!
    And now England is again having snow everywhere. I was in London this time last year, and it was almost WARM! My next visit is September, so I am guessing no snow then, either!

    Reply
  10. There’s something very interesting about those paintings. They look more “human” or something.
    I am trying to research those parakeets, but apparently they are a mystery to everyone! They don’t *quite* look like the green parrots here in Australia…
    ‘I hadn’t seen London in the snow for years.’
    You know what’s really annoying? I lived in London for years, and only saw snow about twice. The year I left, London had record snow. I wanted a fairy tale white Christmas – it never happened!
    And now England is again having snow everywhere. I was in London this time last year, and it was almost WARM! My next visit is September, so I am guessing no snow then, either!

    Reply
  11. I second Keira…love your posts about the exhibits and historical houses in England. Actually, anywhere..
    Thank you very much for every one you have done and will be doing… As well as the ones Anne Gracie has done of exhibits that turn up in Australia and the ones that come through the US and Canada… It is all fascinating.

    Reply
  12. I second Keira…love your posts about the exhibits and historical houses in England. Actually, anywhere..
    Thank you very much for every one you have done and will be doing… As well as the ones Anne Gracie has done of exhibits that turn up in Australia and the ones that come through the US and Canada… It is all fascinating.

    Reply
  13. I second Keira…love your posts about the exhibits and historical houses in England. Actually, anywhere..
    Thank you very much for every one you have done and will be doing… As well as the ones Anne Gracie has done of exhibits that turn up in Australia and the ones that come through the US and Canada… It is all fascinating.

    Reply
  14. I second Keira…love your posts about the exhibits and historical houses in England. Actually, anywhere..
    Thank you very much for every one you have done and will be doing… As well as the ones Anne Gracie has done of exhibits that turn up in Australia and the ones that come through the US and Canada… It is all fascinating.

    Reply
  15. I second Keira…love your posts about the exhibits and historical houses in England. Actually, anywhere..
    Thank you very much for every one you have done and will be doing… As well as the ones Anne Gracie has done of exhibits that turn up in Australia and the ones that come through the US and Canada… It is all fascinating.

    Reply
  16. Call me a peasant, but Brigit Holmes interests me more than either of those annoying Stuarts! Going from life as a chambermaid to being buried in Westminster Abbey–now there’s a fascinating journey!

    Reply
  17. Call me a peasant, but Brigit Holmes interests me more than either of those annoying Stuarts! Going from life as a chambermaid to being buried in Westminster Abbey–now there’s a fascinating journey!

    Reply
  18. Call me a peasant, but Brigit Holmes interests me more than either of those annoying Stuarts! Going from life as a chambermaid to being buried in Westminster Abbey–now there’s a fascinating journey!

    Reply
  19. Call me a peasant, but Brigit Holmes interests me more than either of those annoying Stuarts! Going from life as a chambermaid to being buried in Westminster Abbey–now there’s a fascinating journey!

    Reply
  20. Call me a peasant, but Brigit Holmes interests me more than either of those annoying Stuarts! Going from life as a chambermaid to being buried in Westminster Abbey–now there’s a fascinating journey!

    Reply
  21. The two exhibitions were marvellous, weren’t they? What I got from Charles II was a) the value of art during Cromwell, b) the shape of Whitehall because it indicated where Charles II positioned the paintings, and c) the woodcut print was the collectible of the day. The other thing that struck me was that Charles II who is better known for his extravagance was the small collection of books and sponsorship of scientific inquiry. As you said, I left with a picture of a complex man, not only a ruler. (The same came through with the curio room at Charles I. I just wonder how/why two Charles exhibitions were scheduled to complement each other.

    Reply
  22. The two exhibitions were marvellous, weren’t they? What I got from Charles II was a) the value of art during Cromwell, b) the shape of Whitehall because it indicated where Charles II positioned the paintings, and c) the woodcut print was the collectible of the day. The other thing that struck me was that Charles II who is better known for his extravagance was the small collection of books and sponsorship of scientific inquiry. As you said, I left with a picture of a complex man, not only a ruler. (The same came through with the curio room at Charles I. I just wonder how/why two Charles exhibitions were scheduled to complement each other.

    Reply
  23. The two exhibitions were marvellous, weren’t they? What I got from Charles II was a) the value of art during Cromwell, b) the shape of Whitehall because it indicated where Charles II positioned the paintings, and c) the woodcut print was the collectible of the day. The other thing that struck me was that Charles II who is better known for his extravagance was the small collection of books and sponsorship of scientific inquiry. As you said, I left with a picture of a complex man, not only a ruler. (The same came through with the curio room at Charles I. I just wonder how/why two Charles exhibitions were scheduled to complement each other.

    Reply
  24. The two exhibitions were marvellous, weren’t they? What I got from Charles II was a) the value of art during Cromwell, b) the shape of Whitehall because it indicated where Charles II positioned the paintings, and c) the woodcut print was the collectible of the day. The other thing that struck me was that Charles II who is better known for his extravagance was the small collection of books and sponsorship of scientific inquiry. As you said, I left with a picture of a complex man, not only a ruler. (The same came through with the curio room at Charles I. I just wonder how/why two Charles exhibitions were scheduled to complement each other.

    Reply
  25. The two exhibitions were marvellous, weren’t they? What I got from Charles II was a) the value of art during Cromwell, b) the shape of Whitehall because it indicated where Charles II positioned the paintings, and c) the woodcut print was the collectible of the day. The other thing that struck me was that Charles II who is better known for his extravagance was the small collection of books and sponsorship of scientific inquiry. As you said, I left with a picture of a complex man, not only a ruler. (The same came through with the curio room at Charles I. I just wonder how/why two Charles exhibitions were scheduled to complement each other.

    Reply
  26. How I envy you seeing the two exhibits. I’ve always had a soft spot for Charles II, the Merry Monarch. He managed to outwit Louis XIV. He took money from France for years in exchange for a promise to turn Catholic, but the time was always off. He kept his promise, on his deathbed!

    Reply
  27. How I envy you seeing the two exhibits. I’ve always had a soft spot for Charles II, the Merry Monarch. He managed to outwit Louis XIV. He took money from France for years in exchange for a promise to turn Catholic, but the time was always off. He kept his promise, on his deathbed!

    Reply
  28. How I envy you seeing the two exhibits. I’ve always had a soft spot for Charles II, the Merry Monarch. He managed to outwit Louis XIV. He took money from France for years in exchange for a promise to turn Catholic, but the time was always off. He kept his promise, on his deathbed!

    Reply
  29. How I envy you seeing the two exhibits. I’ve always had a soft spot for Charles II, the Merry Monarch. He managed to outwit Louis XIV. He took money from France for years in exchange for a promise to turn Catholic, but the time was always off. He kept his promise, on his deathbed!

    Reply
  30. How I envy you seeing the two exhibits. I’ve always had a soft spot for Charles II, the Merry Monarch. He managed to outwit Louis XIV. He took money from France for years in exchange for a promise to turn Catholic, but the time was always off. He kept his promise, on his deathbed!

    Reply
  31. Yes, wouldn’t that be a fascinating biography? I’d love to research her. I’ve only ever seen two paintings of servants that were commissioned by their employers and this was a particularly interesting one since it was painted in the aristocratic “style” but with a broom!

    Reply
  32. Yes, wouldn’t that be a fascinating biography? I’d love to research her. I’ve only ever seen two paintings of servants that were commissioned by their employers and this was a particularly interesting one since it was painted in the aristocratic “style” but with a broom!

    Reply
  33. Yes, wouldn’t that be a fascinating biography? I’d love to research her. I’ve only ever seen two paintings of servants that were commissioned by their employers and this was a particularly interesting one since it was painted in the aristocratic “style” but with a broom!

    Reply
  34. Yes, wouldn’t that be a fascinating biography? I’d love to research her. I’ve only ever seen two paintings of servants that were commissioned by their employers and this was a particularly interesting one since it was painted in the aristocratic “style” but with a broom!

    Reply
  35. Yes, wouldn’t that be a fascinating biography? I’d love to research her. I’ve only ever seen two paintings of servants that were commissioned by their employers and this was a particularly interesting one since it was painted in the aristocratic “style” but with a broom!

    Reply
  36. I thought there was a very human quality to a lot of the portraits, Sonya, although others were rather stylised. I much prefer the natural ones. There were some by Holbein that looked like the sort of person you could meet in the street to this day.
    I think the parakeets were escapees from an aviary but I don’t know much about them. They have started to spread out from London along the Thames, apparently. They looked very cold, but we all were! I’d not seen snow like that in London for years. The weather here is all over the place at the moment – who knows what September will bring!

    Reply
  37. I thought there was a very human quality to a lot of the portraits, Sonya, although others were rather stylised. I much prefer the natural ones. There were some by Holbein that looked like the sort of person you could meet in the street to this day.
    I think the parakeets were escapees from an aviary but I don’t know much about them. They have started to spread out from London along the Thames, apparently. They looked very cold, but we all were! I’d not seen snow like that in London for years. The weather here is all over the place at the moment – who knows what September will bring!

    Reply
  38. I thought there was a very human quality to a lot of the portraits, Sonya, although others were rather stylised. I much prefer the natural ones. There were some by Holbein that looked like the sort of person you could meet in the street to this day.
    I think the parakeets were escapees from an aviary but I don’t know much about them. They have started to spread out from London along the Thames, apparently. They looked very cold, but we all were! I’d not seen snow like that in London for years. The weather here is all over the place at the moment – who knows what September will bring!

    Reply
  39. I thought there was a very human quality to a lot of the portraits, Sonya, although others were rather stylised. I much prefer the natural ones. There were some by Holbein that looked like the sort of person you could meet in the street to this day.
    I think the parakeets were escapees from an aviary but I don’t know much about them. They have started to spread out from London along the Thames, apparently. They looked very cold, but we all were! I’d not seen snow like that in London for years. The weather here is all over the place at the moment – who knows what September will bring!

    Reply
  40. I thought there was a very human quality to a lot of the portraits, Sonya, although others were rather stylised. I much prefer the natural ones. There were some by Holbein that looked like the sort of person you could meet in the street to this day.
    I think the parakeets were escapees from an aviary but I don’t know much about them. They have started to spread out from London along the Thames, apparently. They looked very cold, but we all were! I’d not seen snow like that in London for years. The weather here is all over the place at the moment – who knows what September will bring!

    Reply
  41. Thank you so much, Keira, I am so delighted you enjoy the posts. I often wonder if trips are interesting to anyone other than the person taking them, but I enjoy reading about other people’s travels so I’m glad that you enjoy these!

    Reply
  42. Thank you so much, Keira, I am so delighted you enjoy the posts. I often wonder if trips are interesting to anyone other than the person taking them, but I enjoy reading about other people’s travels so I’m glad that you enjoy these!

    Reply
  43. Thank you so much, Keira, I am so delighted you enjoy the posts. I often wonder if trips are interesting to anyone other than the person taking them, but I enjoy reading about other people’s travels so I’m glad that you enjoy these!

    Reply
  44. Thank you so much, Keira, I am so delighted you enjoy the posts. I often wonder if trips are interesting to anyone other than the person taking them, but I enjoy reading about other people’s travels so I’m glad that you enjoy these!

    Reply
  45. Thank you so much, Keira, I am so delighted you enjoy the posts. I often wonder if trips are interesting to anyone other than the person taking them, but I enjoy reading about other people’s travels so I’m glad that you enjoy these!

    Reply
  46. I’m so pleased you had the chance to see them both, Shannon. I wondered about the two exhibitions taking place at the same time too, and whether it was a co-incidence or not. It worked very well. There was so much of fascination in them both; I’m saving up to get the books that accompany them.

    Reply
  47. I’m so pleased you had the chance to see them both, Shannon. I wondered about the two exhibitions taking place at the same time too, and whether it was a co-incidence or not. It worked very well. There was so much of fascination in them both; I’m saving up to get the books that accompany them.

    Reply
  48. I’m so pleased you had the chance to see them both, Shannon. I wondered about the two exhibitions taking place at the same time too, and whether it was a co-incidence or not. It worked very well. There was so much of fascination in them both; I’m saving up to get the books that accompany them.

    Reply
  49. I’m so pleased you had the chance to see them both, Shannon. I wondered about the two exhibitions taking place at the same time too, and whether it was a co-incidence or not. It worked very well. There was so much of fascination in them both; I’m saving up to get the books that accompany them.

    Reply
  50. I’m so pleased you had the chance to see them both, Shannon. I wondered about the two exhibitions taking place at the same time too, and whether it was a co-incidence or not. It worked very well. There was so much of fascination in them both; I’m saving up to get the books that accompany them.

    Reply
  51. I love all the places you visit Nicola and appreciate you sharing them here. I go to all the places I can here in Ireland and I love the history. Would love to be able to visit all the places of historical interest in England. I guess this is the next best thing.

    Reply
  52. I love all the places you visit Nicola and appreciate you sharing them here. I go to all the places I can here in Ireland and I love the history. Would love to be able to visit all the places of historical interest in England. I guess this is the next best thing.

    Reply
  53. I love all the places you visit Nicola and appreciate you sharing them here. I go to all the places I can here in Ireland and I love the history. Would love to be able to visit all the places of historical interest in England. I guess this is the next best thing.

    Reply
  54. I love all the places you visit Nicola and appreciate you sharing them here. I go to all the places I can here in Ireland and I love the history. Would love to be able to visit all the places of historical interest in England. I guess this is the next best thing.

    Reply
  55. I love all the places you visit Nicola and appreciate you sharing them here. I go to all the places I can here in Ireland and I love the history. Would love to be able to visit all the places of historical interest in England. I guess this is the next best thing.

    Reply
  56. I too love all the places you visit and describe for us. The older I get the more my travel options narrow. So the virtual trips you and the other wenches describe are becoming my only travel venues.

    Reply
  57. I too love all the places you visit and describe for us. The older I get the more my travel options narrow. So the virtual trips you and the other wenches describe are becoming my only travel venues.

    Reply
  58. I too love all the places you visit and describe for us. The older I get the more my travel options narrow. So the virtual trips you and the other wenches describe are becoming my only travel venues.

    Reply
  59. I too love all the places you visit and describe for us. The older I get the more my travel options narrow. So the virtual trips you and the other wenches describe are becoming my only travel venues.

    Reply
  60. I too love all the places you visit and describe for us. The older I get the more my travel options narrow. So the virtual trips you and the other wenches describe are becoming my only travel venues.

    Reply
  61. After I found I needed to consult, Colour, from the Fitzwilliam exhibition on medieval manuscripts, I looked for a copy. What sold for £60 is now going for $400 on most sites like Abebooks, Amazon and Ebay. I now buy the catalog because I have no idea when I’m going to need it for writing posts or working on a project.

    Reply
  62. After I found I needed to consult, Colour, from the Fitzwilliam exhibition on medieval manuscripts, I looked for a copy. What sold for £60 is now going for $400 on most sites like Abebooks, Amazon and Ebay. I now buy the catalog because I have no idea when I’m going to need it for writing posts or working on a project.

    Reply
  63. After I found I needed to consult, Colour, from the Fitzwilliam exhibition on medieval manuscripts, I looked for a copy. What sold for £60 is now going for $400 on most sites like Abebooks, Amazon and Ebay. I now buy the catalog because I have no idea when I’m going to need it for writing posts or working on a project.

    Reply
  64. After I found I needed to consult, Colour, from the Fitzwilliam exhibition on medieval manuscripts, I looked for a copy. What sold for £60 is now going for $400 on most sites like Abebooks, Amazon and Ebay. I now buy the catalog because I have no idea when I’m going to need it for writing posts or working on a project.

    Reply
  65. After I found I needed to consult, Colour, from the Fitzwilliam exhibition on medieval manuscripts, I looked for a copy. What sold for £60 is now going for $400 on most sites like Abebooks, Amazon and Ebay. I now buy the catalog because I have no idea when I’m going to need it for writing posts or working on a project.

    Reply

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