Portrait of James Francis Edward Stuart, “The Old Pretender"
Anonymous artist, active in England around 1710/15.
Mezzotint. Size of plate: 21.5 x 16 cm. Size of sheet: 22.2 x 16.8 cm.
Literature: Unrecorded to our knowledge.
Very fine proof impression, with heavy plate tone and stipple marks. With small margins around. Mounted on a late 18th century album sheet.
If the print would have been signed John Smith, one would have never doubted the attribution to him. The print might very well be by him (John Smith 1652 Daventry, Northamptonshire – 1743 Northampton) or by a close associate. We could not trace an image of this print and we are very thankful to Philip Marston, (Sanders of Oxford) for his very convincing suggestion of the identity of the sitter as James Francis Edward Stuart. Philip Marston kindly consulted the Christopher Lennox-Boyd database, it seems that an impression of that print was not in his collection. Christopher Lennox-Boyd formed what is internationally famous as the greatest private collection of British mezzotints of which The British Museum has acquired 7,250 prints.
The story of our sitter, James Francis Edward Stuart, is a fascinating one about which you can read more below.
We know of comparable images of our sitter in paintings, however this lifetime print is probably quite unique.
The print might have been intended to be published around 1710, to announce the restoration of James to the English, Irish and Scottish thrones. Likely it was not used because he did not convert to Protestantism and therefore did not take the thrones.
Our online exhibitions are frequented by a wide audience, who may well reveal yet more mysteries about this print.
James Francis Edward Stuart (10 June 1688 – 1 January 1766), nicknamed The Old Pretender by the Whigs, was the son of King James (II of England and Ireland and VII of Scotland), and his second wife, Mary of Modena. He was Prince of Wales from July 1688 until, just months after his birth, his Catholic father was deposed and exiled in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. James II's Protestant elder daughter, Mary II, and her husband, William III, became co-monarchs. The Bill of Rights 1689 and Act of Settlement 1701 excluded Catholics from the English then, subsequently, British throne.
When the young prince was born, rumours immediately began to spread that he was an impostor baby, smuggled into the royal birth chamber in a warming pan and that the true child of James and Mary was allegedly stillborn. In an attempt to scotch this myth, James II published the testimonies of over seventy witnesses to the birth.
James Francis Edward was raised in Europe. Mary of Modena, disguised as a laundress, took the infant James to France, where he was brought up at the Palace of St. Germain’s.
On his father's death in 1701, James was recognised by King Louis XIV of France, as the rightful heir to the English and Scottish thrones. Spain, the Papal States and Modena also recognized him as King James III of England and VIII of Scotland and refused to recognise William III, Mary II or Queen Anne as legitimate sovereigns. As a result of his claiming his father's lost thrones, James was attainted for treason in London on 2 March 1702, and his titles were forfeited under English law.
Though delayed in France by an attack of measles, James attempted invasion (an episode in the Jacobite rising), trying to land at the Firth of Forth on 23 March 1708. The fleet of Admiral Sir George Byng intercepted the French ships, which combined with bad weather prevented a landing.
James served for a time after in the French army, as had done his father during the interregnum. Between August and September 1710 Queen Anne appointed a new Tory administration led by Robert Harley, who entered into a secret correspondence with de Torcy, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, in which he claimed to desire James's restoration to the throne should James convert to Protestantism. A year later however the British government pushed for James's expulsion from France as a precondition for a peace treaty with France. In accordance with the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), Harley and Lord Bolingbroke, the Secretary of State, colluded with the French in exiling James to the Duchy of Lorraine.
Queen Anne became severely ill at Christmas 1713 and seemed close to death. In January 1714 she recovered but clearly did not have much longer to live. Through de Torcy and his London agent, Abbe Francois Gaultier, Harley kept up the correspondence with James, and Bolingbroke had also entered into a separate correspondence with him. They both stated to James that his conversion to Protestantism would facilitate his restoration. However James, a devout Catholic, replied to de Torcy: "I have chosen my own course, therefore it is for others to change their sentiments". In March came James's refusal to convert, following which Harley and Bolingbroke reached the opinion that James's restoration as not feasible, though they maintained their correspondence with him.
As a result, in August 1714, James's second cousin, the Elector of Hanover, George of Hanover, a German-speaking Protestant became King of the recently created Kingdom of Great Britain as George I.
In the following year Scottish Jacobites started "The 'Fifteen" Jacobite rising in Scotland, aimed at putting "James III and VIII" on the throne. On 22 December 1715, James reached Scotland after the Jacobite defeats at the Battle of Sheriffmuir (13 November 1715) and Preston. He landed at Peterhead and soon fell ill with fever, his illness made more severe by the icy Scottish winter. In January 1716 he set up court at Scone Palace, but learning of the approach of government forces, returned to France, sailing from Montrose on 5 February 1716. The abandonment of his rebel allies caused ill-feeling against him in Scotland; nor was he welcomed on his return to France. His patron, Louis XIV, had died on 1 September 1715 and the French government found him a political embarrassment. After the unsuccessful invasion James lived at Avignon, then Papal territory.