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Portrait of the Duke of Monmouth, Last Quarter 17th C

Period oil on canvas portrait depicting James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, in armor with a sash, lace collar, and bow; in long flowing wig. Painted in an oval border on rectangular canvas and mounted in an antique carved gilded frame. Unsigned. Canvas size approx. 16" x 13", 20 ½" x 17" framed. Numerous paintings were done of the Duke and many period copies were made. This depiction is different from any I have seen before, but shows some similarities to the famous portrait by Willem Wissing (a student of Peter Lely), now in the National Portrait Gallery.

The tragic tale of the Duke and his il-fated Monmouth Rebellion of 1685 are an integral part of British History, having been the pre-cursor to the eventual overthrow of James II and the crowning of William of Orange in 1688. Largely a pawn in his own rebellion, the Duke was the illegitimate son of Charles II and mistress Lucy Walter, though he later claimed his parents had married. As a protestant, many in Britain preferred him to his Catholic uncle, King James II, and he was encouraged to leave his exile in the Dutch United Provinces and seize the throne. After landing in June, 1685 with three ships in Dorset, his following grew quickly, but his army lacked the training and equipment of the regular army of King James II. After some early successes, Monmouth was soundly defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor on July 6th, 1685. Monmouth escaped the battlefield, but was captured shortly thereafter in Hampshire and executed on July 15th.

Legends abound about Monmouth and his beheading by executioner Jack Ketch, which are far too numerous to list here. According to Lord McCauly, in his "History of England", "....the Duke tipped the headsman with the words, "Here are six guineas for you and do not hack me as you did my Lord Russell. I have heard you struck him four or five times; If you strike me twice, I cannot promise you not to stir." The first blow inflicted only a slight wound. The Duke struggled, rose from the block, and looked reproachfully at the executioner. The head sank down once more. The stroke was repeated again and again; but still the neck was not severed, and the body continued to move. Yells of rage and horror rose from the crowd. Ketch flung down the axe with a curse. ‘‘I cannot do it,’’ he said; ‘‘my heart fails me.’’ ‘‘Take up the axe, man,’’ cried the sheriff. ‘‘Fling him over the rails,’’ roared the mob. At length the axe was taken up. Two more blows extinguished the last remains of life; but a knife was used to separate the head from the shoulders. The crowd was wrought up to such an ecstasy of rage that the executioner was in danger of being torn in pieces, and was conveyed away under a strong guard." 

Another interesting legend is that a portrait was painted of Monmouth after his execution. The tradition states that it was realized after the execution that there was no official portrait of the Duke, so his body was exhumed, the head stitched back on the body, and it was sat for its portrait to be painted. It is said that all the known portraits of the Duke have the neck covered by a bow or scarf to hide the wound. This legend is highly unlikely, however, since several portraits of the Duke are  thought to have been  painted before his execution, including two in the National Portrait Gallery.

This is an original period painting of a famous British historical figure in very good condition, without the whopping price tag often carried by antique paintings.

M1124 $3995

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