(By Sir Peter Lely, after Van Dyck)

Charles I of England was the second king of the Stuart dynasty, whose despotic tendencies made the seventeenth century a memorable period in history. He ascended the throne at the age of twenty-five, and began at once to assert his belief in the divine right of kings. Indignant at the restraints which Parliament set upon his power, he dissolved this body and ruled alone.

For more than ten years he governed England in his own way, and during this time his court was conducted with great magnificence. The palace at Whitehall was the scene of many brilliant entertainments and lavish hospitalities.

Charles was an ardent lover of music, literature, and painting, and in his gallery was a collection of pictures remarkable for his time. He was particularly proud of the ceiling decorations of his Banqueting Hall, furnished by Rubens. He interested himself also in the manufacture of tapestries, and secured for England Raphael's cartoons for the Vatican tapestries, hoping thereby to raise the artistic standard of the home production.[7]

[7] See Chapter III. of volume on Raphael in the Riverside Art Series.

It was a crowning proof of his good taste that early in his reign he appointed Van Dyck the court painter. The Flemish painter was thereupon made Sir Anthony Van Dyck, and remained in the royal service until his death in 1641. It was the king's intention to have the walls of the Banqueting Hall decorated by Van Dyck, but this plan was never carried out. As it was, however, the court painter is said to have made, during his nine years' residence in England, no less than thirty-six portraits of the king, and twenty-five of the queen, Henrietta Maria, besides many pictures of their children, singly or in groups. His studio was a favorite resort of the royal pair, who used to come in their barge, by the way of the Thames, to his house at Blackfriars. The painter would receive them with the manners of a prince. Musicians played for their entertainment, and the conversation turned on questions of art.

In this constant intercourse, Van Dyck came to know well the face of his royal patron. It was not really a handsome face, as we see when we analyze the features in our illustration. The forehead is high but not broad, the nose large and not classically modelled, and the thick lips and weak curves of the mouth are not hidden by the upturned mustache. The shape of the face is long and narrow beyond good proportion, but this defect is relieved by the chestnut hair, which falls in long waving locks over the shoulders, and makes a broad frame for the face.

Dresden Gallery

All these details, however, escape our attention when we look at the portrait for the first time. We are chiefly impressed by the kingly presence of the man. There is an indefinable suggestion of nobility in his bearing, an expression of grave dignity in his countenance. The eyes are almost melancholy, the glance is averted and remote. The consciousness of his royal birthright gives an air of aloofness to the figure.

The king stands beside a table, resting one hand on the broad rim of the hat which lies there, and holding his gloves in the other. He wears the mantle of the Order of the Garter, ornamented on the left side with the six-pointed silver star, in the centre of which is the red cross of St. George. From a broad blue ribbon about the neck is suspended a gold medallion. This is the "George," the image of the warrior saint, represented on horse-back in his encounter with the dragon.

The attempt of Charles to govern England without a Parliament proved a sad failure. He set his own authority above all laws, and persistently disregarded the rights of the people. At last he became involved in so many difficulties that he was obliged to reassemble the two houses. Then followed the long struggle between the king and the Parliament, which resulted in the Civil War. The supporters of the Crown represented chiefly the upper classes, and were called Cavaliers. The Parliamentarians were for the most part Puritans, and were men of fervent piety.

There were six years of fighting, beginning with the battle of Edgehill, and culminating in the Parliamentary victory at Naseby. Charles was tried and condemned as a "tyrant, traitor, murderer, and public enemy." On the 30th of January, 1649, he was executed in front of Whitehall Palace, walking to the scaffold with the same kingly dignity which he had shown throughout his life. "I go," said he, "from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown, where no disturbance can take place." His body was laid among others of England's royal dead at Windsor.

The picture reproduced in our illustration is not thought to be the original work of Van Dyck's hand, for that precious painting was destroyed by a fire in the Palace of Whitehall. It was a fortunate circumstance that while it was still in existence, Sir Peter Lely, court painter to Charles II., made a fine copy of it, which is now in the Dresden Gallery. A competent critic (Lionel Cust) tells us that the Dresden picture is so excellent that "it is difficult to believe it to be other than an original by Van Dyck."

Authorities.—Green: A Short History of the English People; D'Israeli: Commentaries on the Life and Reign of Charles I.