James II 1633-1701

(Updated, September 2020) A half-length portrait to right in a feigned oval. He wears gold embossed armour and red, silver edged material appears beneath the pouldrons with red silk bows beneath his lace neck cloth. He wears a brown full-bottomed wig in the French style and the ribbon of the Garter.

The portrait is believed to have been painted shortly after James's accession to the throne of Great Britain and Ireland in 1685. This is reflected in the depiction of the armour that incorporates the rose of England and the lily of France. As Duke of York during his exile in the Commonwealth period, James was a professional soldier in Europe and won a reputation for bravery. When his elder brother Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 he became his Lord High Admiral until excluded from office as a Catholic under the Test Act of 1673. Like Charles he was interested and skilled in naval matters. He commanded the fleet that routed the Dutch at the Battle of Lowestoft in 1665, the first action of the Second Dutch War, and with less success at the indecisive action at Solebay in 1672. This was the last time that a prince and future monarch directed a fleet in action, and the occasion when his flag-captain, Sir John Narborough recorded his belief that 'no prince upon the whole earth can compare with His Royal Highness in gallant resolution in fighting his enemy...he is general, soldier, pilot, master, seaman [and] to say all , he is everything that a man can be, and most pleasant when the great shot are thundering about his ears.'

As both Duke of York and king, James was a constant supporter of Pepys in his efforts to reorganise naval administration but his political skills after his accession did not equal his military virtues. His own open Catholicism, and his moves to reinstate Catholic power in England, were seen as a major threat to the Restoration settlement between the Crown and Parliament. In 1688 he was unceremoniously deposed and exiled in the largely bloodless 'Glorious Revolution' that put his Protestant daughter Mary (by Anne Hyde, his first wife) and her Dutch husband Prince William of Orange on the throne, as the joint-monarchs William III and Mary II.

The portrait is one of a matched pair: the whereabouts of the other, of Mary of Modena, James's second wife and queen, are no longer known. Both, however, were engraved in mezzotint by John Smith in 1686. The print of James (NMM PAF3274) is in reverse to the original oil, which suggests that the print of Mary (NMM PAF 3174) probably was as well. Largillière was an important French artist who learnt portraiture in Sir Peter Lely's London studio from 1675, working with him for four years before returning to France and becoming one of Louis XIV's court artists. He returned to England specially to make these portraits.

Object Details

ID: BHC2798
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - QH
Creator: Largilliere, Nicolas de
Events: Second Anglo-Dutch War: Battle of Lowestoft, 1665; Second Anglo-Dutch War; 1665-1667
Date made: circa 1686
People: King James II and VII
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Caird Fund.
Measurements: Frame: 960 mm x 850 mm x 110 mm;Painting: 762 mm x 641 mm

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