Two Royal Brothers

Portrait tiles of Stuart monarchs

Four tiles, two portraits, the English King Charles II (1630-1685), whose marriage remained childless, and his younger brother Prince James (1633-1701), who was most of his life first in line to take the crown. Why were these English monarchs by the end of the 17th century placed in a Dutch wall?

These tiles are quite rare to find, but these came out of a wall with about 10 others of the same design, from a house at the Herestraat in Groningen. Besides these tiles, the Ceramics Museum Princessehof in Leeuwarden and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge have a set in their collection. Due to the Dutch find and comparison with other Dutch tiles, the tiles are now attributed to the tile workshop of Sijvrand Pieter Feijtama at the Zoutsloot in Harlingen, circa 1670-1685.

Remarkable is that of this series only these two portraits are known. Other tile series with royal portraits have most of the time 10 to 15 different portraits, most of the time of important figures around the heir of the House of Orange. Oddly enough, he’s missing here while there were close family relations between them, albeit not entirely smooth. 

Charles and Jacob were the sons of Charles the First, the king who fell during the English civil and religious wars. Charged with high treason by a part of the parliament and beheaded in 1649, an unheard-of event. Lingering disputes over the balance of power between the king and parliament had become intertwined with religious disputes about the direction in which the Anglican Church should develop.

The oldest sister of Charles and James, Princess Royal Mary Henrietta (1631-1660), was wed to stadtholder William II, and when her brothers sought refuge during the war, they were welcome to stay in the court in The Hague. Prince William III was their nephew, but this did not prevent his marriage in 1676 to his cousin Maria, the daughter of Jacobus, (who was raised in a protestant way), who therefore became not only his uncle but also his father-in-law. At that time, it was already known that James had officially converted to the Catholic Church, causing a movement in parliament to exclude him from the succession to the throne. Three years after when he had become king after the death of his brother Charles II, the parliament invited his son-in-law and daughter to take over the crown: The Glorious Revolution (1688). 

Despite the family ties between the House of Stuart and the House of Orange, state relations were not so smooth. The continuous struggle on the world stage for trade monopolies and personal envy eventually lead to war. The Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–1667) was started by English attempts to muscle in on Dutch possessions in Africa and North America. The conflict began well for the English, with the capture of New Amsterdam (renamed New York in honour of Charles’s brother James, Duke of York) and a victory at the Battle of Lowestoft, but in 1667 the Dutch launched a surprise attack on England, the Raid on the Medway, when they sailed up the river Thames to where a major part of the English fleet was docked. Almost all of the ships were sunk except for the flagship, Royal Charles, which was taken back to the Netherlands as a prize. Then also the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672-1674) where Charles supported the French to restore the damage to his prestige caused by the 1667 raid. By 1674, England had gained nothing from the Anglo-Dutch War, and the Cavalier Parliament refused to provide further funds, forcing Charles to make peace.

An interesting question in this context is who in the Netherlands around 1670-1680 could have been interested in a wall or hearth with only these two English monarchs? Sworn Orangists and convinced Calvinists must have felt uneasy about it. It is more likely that the tiles were specially made to order for the English market, after which a remainder of the production was installed in a Dutch wall.

A striking detail is that the tile painter based his painting of James on a portrait made around 1653 of his two-year-old nephew Willem III. That portrait was soon used as an example for a woodcut titled The Young Prince of Orange. This print was reprinted for generations, whenever there was a new prince. And the tile painter in Harlingen apparently couldn’t think of a better example for his portrait of a middle-aged English heir to the throne than this print of the perky toddler.

Liturature and with thanks to: Johan Kamermans, Twee koninklijke broers, Vind Magazine 51, 2023.