Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The Who's Who of Ashdown House

One of the highlights of a visit to Ashdown House is the opportunity to view the portrait collection that adorns the walls of the hallway and stair. The portraits are a small part of the collection that Elizabeth the Winter Queen bequeathed to William Craven on her death. If every picture tells a story then these have a whole host of tales to tell. They are members of Elizabeth's family and her court, the people who formed an important part of her daily life, each with a story of their own.

The hallway itself is dominated by a large picture of William Craven, painted in
full armour, flanked by Frederick of Bohemia on the left and Elizabeth on the right. Also featured in the hall are Elizabeth's daughter Princess Louise Hollandine (pictured), the artist of two of the paintings in the collection, and her cousin Mary, Princess Royal, the daughter of Charles I. Mary married the Dutch ruler William of Orange and went to live in The Hague with her mother Henrietta Maria in the 1640s. To complete this family ensemble, there is also a portrait of Mary's mother-in-law Amelia, who was at one time Elizabeth of Bohemia's lady in waiting!

The first flight of steps introduces us to three of Elizabeth and Frederick's sons; Charles Louis, the heir to Frederick's princedom, the dashing Prince Rupert of the Rhine (pictured), whose life Craven saved in battle, and Edward, who made an advantageous marriage to one of the richest women in France. There is also an early portrait of their cousin Charles II, painted when he was only nineteen.

On the first landing are portraits of three of Elizabeth and Frederick's daughters; Elizabeth, the eldest, the "philosophical princess," a great scholar, Henrietta Maria, the tragic bride of Prince Sigismund of Transylvania, and Sophie,the mother of King George I, "the best queen we never had."

As you climb higher you pass soldiers and statesmen, Prince Christian of Anhalt, Elizabeth's cousin, who rode into battle with her glove as his talisman, and Frances Coke, the runaway bride.

The huge painting on the second landing of Prince Rupert, Colonel Murray and Colonel Russell is a story in itself, painted by William Dobson, court painter to Charles I, and richly decorated with symbols of loyalty. I've blogged about the Dobson painting before - like all the others in the collection it is well worth a view. Come and take a tour of Ashdown and step into the history of the house and the people connected to it!