Thursday, 23 December 2010

Season's Greetings from the Ashdown House Blog!

The Ashdown House Blog thanks you for visiting us this year and wishes you a very happy holiday! Join us in the New Year for more pictures, news of Ashdown and insights into the history of this beautiful seventeenth century hunting lodge.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Sotheby's Sale Part 2 - A Couple of Family Portraits

The Ashdown House portrait collection contains a number of paintings of Elizabeth of Bohemia's family but with the exception of a portrait of her eldest son Frederick Henry in his teens (painted by his sister, Louise Hollandine) there are none of her children at a young age. It was particularly nice therefore to see these two family portraits in the Sotheby's exhibition.

A Portrait of a boy and a girl, said to be the children of Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, from the circle of Sir Anthony Van Dyck is said to represent Edward, Count Palatine and his sister Henrietta Maria. Edward was born in 1625 and Henrietta Maria, named for her aunt, the wife of Charles I, was born in 1626 so they were close in age. The other portrait of Edward is by Van Honthorst and was painted in 1638 when he was thirteen years old.

Princess Henrietta Maria is frequently described as gentle and sweet-tempered in the biographies of her mother, which also record that she was "happy in the kitchen," an odd place to find a princess. She was talented at embroidery, preserve-making and confectionery. The only blonde daughter, she was also considered the beauty of the family with a complexion of lilies and roses, so said her sister Sophie in her memoirs. At the age of twenty four Henrietta Maria received an offer of marriage from Prince Siegmund Rakoczy of Siebenbergen in Transylvania, who had apparently fallen in love with her portrait, spurning a wealthier match in order to make her an offer. He wooed her with a diamond watch and ardent love letters. Elizabeth was delighted; her eldest surviving son Charles Louis, newly restored to the Palatinate lands, less so. Reassured that Prince Siegmund's title was recognised by the Emperor and that he kept 200 men at arms and 50 gentlemen in attendance, and that the family ate off silver plate, Charles Louis eventually gave his consent.

The couple were married by proxy on May 14th 1651 and Henrietta Maria set off to meet her huband with a meagre trousseau. Fortunately when the couple met they liked each other; Henrietta Maria wrote that Prince Siegmund was stately, kind and generous and drove always with six horses. There was only one more letter from Henrietta Maria reporting how happy she was in her married life. Within five months of the marriage she had died, to her husband's great despair. He had her buried in her wedding gown, wearing the string of pearls that had been one strand of her mother's famous eight strand pearl necklace. Over 200 years later when Queen Victoria inherited the remaining seven strands she wished to complete the necklace. The suggestion that Henrietta Maria's grave should be opened and her strand removed was refused however; the necklace remains a seven strand one in the possession of The Queen.

Prince Edward, Count Palatinate of Simmern, to give him his full title was born in October 1625 at Prince Henry of Nassau's country house two hours from The Hague, where the family had withdrawn to avoid the plague in the city. He was said to be exceptionally good looking, with black hair and black eyes. Elizabeth sent three of her sons, Maurice, Philip and Edward, to France when they were in their early twenties in order to achieve some polish and address. Where good manners and charm were not the trademark of either Maurice or Philip, Edward excelled.

At the age of twenty one Edward married a French Catholic bride eight years his senior. Anne de Gonzague, daughter of the Duke of Nevers, was celebrated in Parisian society for her wit, beauty and wealth. Her affairs were well known but after she fell in love with Edward her only intrigues were political and she became a well known writer. Edward also seemed very happy in the shadow of his wife, turning up for all the fashionable events and certainly enjoying a rich lifestyle after a youth in straitened circumstances. Edward and his wife had three daughters. Eventually Elizabeth forgave him his conversion to Catholicism and received the family in the Hague. There is a portrait of Edward in the Ashdown collection that was painted at this time. According to the records, there was also a matching portrait of his wife Anne, painted in masquing costume. This is interesting because this portrait, originally in the Craven collection, is not at Ashdown. But there is a picture of a lady in masque costume painted by Van Honthorst which is said to be Princess Elizabeth. A case of mistaken identity, perhaps!