Embarkation of the Elector Palatine in the 'Prince Royal' at Margate, 25 April 1613

This is one of a series of paintings produced to record the marriage of Frederick, Elector Palatine, to Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I and Anne of Denmark, in 1613. After elaborate celebrations, the couple and their retinue processed to the coast at Margate, via Greenwich, Rochester and Canterbury. There they boarded the 'Prince Royal' and eventually set sail for the Continent on 25 April 1613. The Prince, later King of Bohemia, was seen as one of the champions of Protestantism in Germany but after only one year as king he lost Bohemia and the Palatine, at the start of the Thirty Years War, 1618-48. The political aim of the marriage, which was to gain support from James I for the South German Protestant Alliance, therefore failed and Frederick and Elizabeth went into exile as the ill-fated 'Winter King and Queen'. In 1661, nine months before her death, Elizabeth returned to England and it was her grandson, the Elector of Hanover, who in 1714 succeeded to the English throne as George I, on the failure of the direct Stuart line.

The painting documents their departure from Margate aboard the English flagship, 'Prince Royal'. This was the pride of the fleet and was built in 1610 under the auspices of Henry, Prince of Wales, by Phineas Pett. Henry's initials 'H.P.' appeared on the side with a liberal decoration of his Prince of Wales's feathers and a figurehead representing St George, England's patron saint. Sadly Henry died shortly before his sister's wedding and the ship was subsequently completed under the direction of Sir Allen Apsley, Victualler of the Navy. The 'Prince' was the only ship of importance built during the reign of King James I. She is shown flying the Royal Standard of the Stuarts, 1603-89, at the main and a white pennant and the Union flag at the fore, mizzen and the stern. She is firing a salute and her deck and rigging are crowded with people and crew, carefully observed by the artist. The little ship on the right, which also bears the Prince of Wales's feathers, may be the 'Phoenix' a small vessel laid down in June 1612 as a 'pinnace to the great ship, the "Prince" in which the Prince's Highness did purpose to solace himself sometimes into the Narrow Seas'. There were other ships present at the event, also shown in other versions of the painting and others related, and identified by flags, coats of arms and inscriptions.

This is not an eyewitness account, being painted nine years after the event, but the artist has captured the moment when the couple have already embarked and the fleet is preparing to set sail. This narrative differs from one by Willarts's son, Abraham, in the Royal Collection, in which the royal couple can be seen on the jetty about to be taken out to their ship in the bay. Here the bay behind is crowded with warships together with a variety of small craft including barges and fishing vessels. A variety of social types are ranged along the shore on the right to watch the departure. They an affluent couple standing with several children. An elderly hatless man is seated on the shore and another man reclines on a small boat on the shoreline, with his back to the action. The buildings of Margate are shown in the distance on the right, indicated by roofs, windmills and wisps of smoke trailing upwards. The white cliffs are carefully shown to reaffirm that that this is an English departure scene.

Arrivals and departures formed a popular artistic theme in the Dutch Republic. When of important people, they made strong political statements and this series of paintings was use by the United Provinces to proclaim loyalty to the Protestant cause. Who commissioned the various treatments by Willarts of the marriage voyage of the Elector and his bride is not known, although Frederick and Elizabeth both owned paintings by him. A larger version of the same event by Willarts, but with a different grouping of the ships, was purchased by Queen Victoria and is in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle.

Willaerts (occasionally Willarts, Willers) was born in 1577 in London to Flemish parents who had fled from Antwerp for religious reasons. A leading marine painter, he settled in inland Utrecht, aged 23, in 1604, where he lived for the rest of his life. Here he knew Roelandt Savery, whose influence can be seen in his landscapes, and he was almost certainly influenced by the Brueghel family since he also painted genre subjects. He had three sons who were also marine painters. He produced at least three versions of this painting, each dealing with a different viewpoint of the embarkation and a fourth showing the arrival at Flushing. The painting is signed and dated 1622 on piece of drift wood bottom right. See also BHC4176.

Object Details

ID: BHC0266
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Willaerts, Adam
Vessels: Prince Royal (1610)
Date made: 1622
People: Frederick V, Elector Palatine
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Measurements: Frame: 1010 mm x 1640 mm x 80 mm; Overall: 37 kg; Painting: 775 mm x 1372 mm

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