Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Henry Prince of Wales

Four hundred years ago today, on November 6th 1612, Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, died of typhoid at Richmond Palace. The heir to King James I and VI he was a few months short of his nineteenth birthday, and he was widely mourned.

the lost prince henry stuart isaac oliver

Henry, Prince of Wales by Isaac Oliver, c.1610-12
Miniature in the Royal Collection


To mark the quartercentenary the National Portrait Gallery has mounted a major exhibition The Lost Prince about his life and death, as well as his artistic patronage. It is not insignificant how many portraits survive of the young prince. The exhibition website can be viewed here.

There are illustrated reviews of the exhibition from the Daily Telegraph here, from the Guardian, which features the remains of the Prince's funeral effigy from Westminster Abbey, where he was buried on December 7th 1612 here, and from the Observer  here.
I hope to get to visit the exhibition with friends over the New Year, and want to try and read Roy Strong's 1986 biography of Henry beforehand.
There is an illustrated online biography here  and the one by James M Sutton  in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography can be read online here.
The Hearse of Henry, Prince of Wales by William Hole, 1612  The British Museum Photo: © The Trustees of the British Museum
The Hearse of Henry, Prince of Wales
 Engraving by William Hole, 1612

Image: The British Museum Photo: © The Trustees of the British Museum
NPG Exhibition site

As Prince of Wales Henry demonstrated a great potential as a future monarch and attracted great approbation from contemporaries. The widespread grief at his death was genuine and heartfelt.

The considerable number of portraits which survive, by Robert Peake and others, show his transition from an energetic and enthusiastic sporting teenager to the gracious handsome prince of the portraits from the end of his life by Isaac Oliver.

His death raises one of the great what-ifs or might-have-beens of British history: Had he lived and succeeded his father as King Henry IX in 1625 rather than his younger brother King Charles I what might have ensued?

Such questions are often pointless to try to answer, but with this one it is tempting to try.

Although some have suggested Henry was not favourable to Charles this appears to be based on one incident when Henry was 15 and Charles 9, and looks like fraternal teasing and nothing more. On his part Charles was concerned during his brother's illness for him and after his death commissioned a portrait which hung thereafter in his bedroom. Henry may well be responsible for encouraging Charles' interest in the visual arts, and I wonder if King Charles I spent the rest of his life mentally looking over his shoulder to what his more dashing brother might have done. On his last walk across St James' Park to the scaffold in 1649 he pointed out a tree which his brother had planted, suggesting Henry's continuing presence in his mind.

Henry had been clearly raised on Calvinistic lines, and was adevout, serious young man - and in that he was followed by hios brother. How he might have responded to the emergence of Arminianism in the years following his death - it was only then that it did so I think - is unknowable. However, like Charles he was the son of the King who famously declared "No Bishop, No King." It was not until 1618 that King James produced the Five Articles of Perth, suggesting a movement in those years which reflected a more Arminian position by the monarch himself. Henry had set his face against a Catholic marriage - his comment about not having two religions in his bed was conceivably a pointed reference to his parents' marriage - and had he maintained that argument when he did marry he might have avoided thereby the hostility brought upon Queen Henrietta Maria. Nevertheless for all his Calvinistic background (and King James had had plenty of that) the Prince refused to tolerate comments hostile to the Pope - did he see it as monarchs standing side by side in solidarity?

Henry's enthusiam for martial exploits might have tempted to intervene on bhalf of his beloved sister Elizabeth and her husband in the Thirty Years War after 1618, but King james I pursued, and stressed, a peace policy, and the financial situation of the Crown might well have precluded it. However Henry's interest in the Royal Navy was followed by his brother, with his building of ships such as the Sovereign of the Seas - and the consequent problem of paying for them with Ship Money.

Their father's concept of Divine Right Kingship would doubtless have been imbibed and inherited by the elder as well as the younger son, and Absolutism was very much a dominant political idea in seventeenth century Europe. It is perhaps worth noting the fact that it was in 1660, the year of Henry's nephew King Charles II' s Restoration in Britain, that his cousin King Frederick III established in Denmark the absolute monarchy that remainedin place until 1848.

As King Henry IX he would have faced many of the same problems as did King Charles I - a governmental system lacking finances to meet its anbitions and in need of modernisation, the economic, social and intellectual changes that increasingly thtreatene dteh seeming tranquility of King James' vision of peaceful governance. Henry might not have exacerbated the religious tensions as his brother's support for High Church ideas did, but then, again, he might well have moved on those lines as well. Such issues and challenges might have been met by a different response from King Henry IX, and the consequences might have been very different, but that is incalculable. He might have created a Danish style absolute monarchy on Protestant lines, or he might have found himself in a position very like that which engulfed his brother. We can never know.

Prince Henry Frederick (1594–1612), Prince of Wales

Henry, Prince of Wales
Portrait by Isaac Oliver

Image: BBC/National Trust

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