Friday, May 26, 2017

The Poster Boys of 17th Century England

by Anna Belfrage

Whenever people talk about those handsome Stuarts, chances are they’ll come dragging with Prince Rupert, nephew to king Charles I, valiant royalist commander, owner of a famous dog, and yes,  he was good-looking as can be seen in the attached portrait. So were his brothers – especially Maurice, but a friend of mine says there’s no point in expending much affection on a man who got lost on his ways to the West Indies (What can one say? Big, big sea, no GPS – plus there was a hurricane involved) which is why said friend remains devoted to Rupert.

Lord John and Lord Bernard Stuart

Good looks bred true among the Stuart men – as can be seen in this portrait by Anthony van Dyck of Lord John and Lord Bernard Stuart. This is a fascinating portrait. Arrogant and endearingly young at the same time, the two brothers are depicted in the late 1630s, sixteen and eighteen years old respectively. Lord Bernard, the younger, sports blue and silver, and if one looks closely, one can see he’s wearing pattens over his dashing boots, reluctant to sully those beauties in the mud and grime to be found on your average 17th century street. Long, flowing hair, rich clothes, that cape worn with flair – behold two men intent on making their mark on the world. It was 1639, the young men were presently on their European tour, and who could have thought they would soon be embroiled in the vicious fighting of the English Civil War?

The first Esmé, James VI's favourite
John and Bernard were the youngest sons of Esmé Stuart, 3rd Duke of Lennox. Their father, in turn, was the son and namesake of James VI’s favourite Esmé Stuart, a very frenchified Scotsman who to the dismay of other, more rugged Scottish nobles, exerted considerable influence over the young James VI. Our dashing Esmé Sr. was the cousin of James’ father, the murdered Henry Darnley – and had lived in France for the first twelve years or so of James VI’s life. In short order, he became first the earl, then the duke of Lennox – but he had to convert to Presbyterianism before he could succeed to those titles, as his Calvinistic countrymen would have no papist in such a position of power.

James loved his cousin. Given his singularly affection-free childhood, what with his mother being imprisoned in England and he himself being brought up in the strictest Calvinist environment possible, it is no wonder he was attracted to this new relation of his. Further to this, Esmé was elegant and handsome, carrying with him a whiff of a world outside the somewhat dreary confines of Scotland.

The other Scottish grandees did not much care for Lennox, and one who positively disliked him was James Douglas, the Earl of Morton and one of James’ former regents. Very few liked Morton, who does not seem to have believed much in silk gloves. It was therefore a rather easy matter for Esmé to rid himself of Morton by accusing him of being party to the murder of the king’s father. Morton was guillotined – a fancy novelty at the time.  Morte a la Francaise, as Esmé may very well have said.

Even with Morton gone, the Scottish Kirk remained suspicious of Lennox, as did most of the Scottish noblemen. Some months later, things had turned and James was forced to exile his cousin. Esmé returned to France where he shortly died, his heart being carried back to James as a little gift. I’m not quite sure how James reacted to this present—a man raised by Calvinists would have little time for any sort of relics, even if it was the heart of a beloved relative—but he was delighted to welcome Esmé’s nine-year-old son, Ludovic, now the 2nd Duke of Lennox.

Ludovic would go on to be quite the man about court, entrusted with one high office after the other. As can be seen, he wasn’t bad-looking, even if the beard is perhaps a bit too much for my taste. Whether Ludovic’s genes would have carried through to the next generation we will never know, as he died in 1624 leaving no legitimate heir. Instead, his title passed to his younger brother Esmé Jr., but this gentleman expired of spotted fever some six months later.

However, in difference to Ludovic, Esmé had plenty of children. Five of these were sons who survived to adulthood, among them the two handsome boys van Dyck immortalised in the portrait at the beginning of this post.

Both John and Bernard died fighting for their king. John was only twenty-two when he died at the Battle of Cheriton in 1644, and Bernard was to die a year later of injuries sustained at the Battle of Rowton Heath.

The dashing John and Bernard Stuart had an equally dashing older brother, Lord George. He has also been painted by van Dyck, but in a somewhat more pastoral surrounding. It is thought the painting was made to commemorate his marriage and includes a Latin inscription “love is stronger than I”. The reason for this was that George had been naughty and married on the sly, without either the bride’s parents, or, more importantly, King Charles I’s permission. For some time there, George was consigned to the dog house, but war came swooping, and just like his younger brothers, George hastened to place his sword at the king’s service. Just like his brothers, George died – at the battle of Edgehill in 1642. His little son was four…

By the end of 1645, only two of Esmé’s five sons remained alive. His eldest son and heir, James Stuart, was as handsome as his brothers – almost more, actually. Yet again, we owe van Dyck for having conserved this handsome man to posterity.

James Stuart

James Stuart, 4th Duke of Lennox and 1st Duke of Richmond, stands before us resplendent in his finery – and yes, the Order of the Garter is most prominently displayed. As loyal to his king as his brothers, James was to invest most of his fortune in shoring up the royalist cause. A brave fighter, he also accompanied the king during his confinement at Hampton Court, and after the king’s execution, James was one of the four noblemen who carried the remains of the king to his final resting place at St George's Chapel. He died some years later, leaving his titles to his very young son – who in his turn died in 1660.

The fifth brother, Ludovic, seems to have retired to the relative peace and tranquillity of his lands in France. A wise move, as he was the only one of the five brothers to remain alive when the Wheel of Fortune turned, thereby reinstating the monarchy in England. Once again, a Stuart sat on the English throne, and while Charles II may not have been quite as gorgeous as his distant cousins, he definitely had his share of the Stuart looks.

Charles Stewart, George's son
Seeing as Ludovic was a Catholic priest, he left no legitimate heirs, and so it was that all the titles, all the extensive landholdings, came to Charles Stewart, son of George, the brother who had died at Edgehill. Charles had his fair share of the Stuart looks, and could afford to spend lavishly on clothes and accessories. He married several times, the third time to his distant cousin the very gorgeous Frances Stewart (so gorgeous was Frances she was used as the model for Britannia on the coins minted to commemorate the war against the Dutch thereby proving good looks was not only the prerogative of the Stuart men) despite knowing Charles II had quite a tendresse for the lady in question.

Frances, La Belle Stuart
Apparently, Charles II had it in him to forgive the happy couple, and our Charles rose to become one of Charles II’s most trusted men, and it was in this capacity he was dispatched to Denmark in 1671, there to attempt to convince Denmark to join England in making war on the Dutch. While there, Charles drowned in Elsinore, and just like that, the Stuart Dukes of Lennox and Richmond had ceased to be. Or?

Charles Lennox
Some years later, the titles were resuscitated and given to Charles II’s son with Louise de Kérouiaille, Charles Lennox. At the time, the new duke was a boy of three, but over time he grew up to be a competent enough man and a great fan of cricket. And just like so many of the Stuart men, this little Charles had his fair share of good looks. No wonder, given his father and his pretty, pretty mother…

A handsome bunch, all those Stuart men. Personally, it is the portrait of James Stuart and his dog that I find the most compelling. Such a handsome, confident man – a good man, as expressed by the devotion in his greyhound’s eyes, as testified by how he placed his entire fortune at the disposal of his king. Ultimately, it would not help: King Charles I lost his war against Parliament, and men like James, like his brothers John, Bernard and George, paid the price for their loyalty. But once, those five Stuart brothers had it all. For a very brief period of time, the world was their oyster, there to be enjoyed in full. I hope they did!

All pictures in public domain and/or licensed under Wikimedia Creative Commons

Had Anna Belfrage been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. And yes, Edmund of Woodstock appears quite frequently. The first book, In The Shadow of the Storm was published in 2015, the second, Days of Sun and Glory, was published in July 2016, and the third, Under the Approaching Dark, was published in April 2017.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, she's probably visiting in the 17th century, specifically with Alex(andra) and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him.

More about Anna on her website or on her blog!


  1. They were all heartthrobs! Sadly, cursed as well. Great post!

    1. Thank you - and yes, it's all rather sad, isn't it?

  2. We owe a lot to van Dyck! Without him, how would we ever have known what these attractive young men looked like?

    On Some Visual(King)Arthurs

    1. I agree. To paraphrase: "Thank heavens, for Mr van Dyck, without him what would history nerds do?"

  3. Is it just me or does James Stuart vaguely resemble David Wenham?


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