Darnley, famous for being handsome – and murdered


Hans Eworth, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, 1555 © Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.

Some people in History are notorious because of their violent deaths, some are famous for having married a celebrity and some are prominent by reason of a magnificently painted portrait. Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, cumulates all these three.

His portrait in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery shows a blond boy of nine or ten, dressed in an expensive dark doublet trimmed with gold ornaments. The fashionable sword at his side is an early rapier, a gilded weapon probably worn at court as a symbol of his status. Descending from both English and Scottish royalty, Henry Stuart is well aware of his status, and so are his parents. He surely had a good education, which for a noble boy in the 16th century means fencing, riding, maybe jousting, dancing, singing, and composing poetry or theatre. The magnificence of Henry’s clothes, his white skin and proud presence are greatly enhanced by the skills of Hans Ewouts. The Netherlandish painter born about 1515 and trained in Antwerp had come with his brother Nicolas to England, were his Flemish family name was anglicized to Eworth. By 1553 he was working at the court of Queen Mary I Tudor, who’s austere wedding portrait he painted a year later. By chosing the English sovereign’s painter for the portrait of their son, the Earl of Lennox and his wife Margaret Douglas, Henry’s Scottish parents, made a clear statement of loyalty towards England. But all his parents’ gold, his privileged life, a splendid portrait at only ten and his prestigious birth did not succeed in making him a valuable person.

In 1565, Henry Stuart came to Scotland and met his cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. His education – mostly his dancing – and his pretty face helped seducing the young queen, and Mary decided to marry the boy three years younger than herself. But soon after the wedding, Henry was showing a less pretty face: immature, selfish, vain, unreliable, jealous and even violent are the terms used to describe his behaviour. Henry’s involvement in the murder of Mary’s secretary David Riccio in 1566, in the presence of his pregnant wife and queen, is the dark counterpart to the blond boy of the Eworth painting. On his second portrait, also held in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, Henry Stuart is dressed in white instead of the fashionable black of his childhood:

Henry Stuart, lord Darnley. NPG

Unknown painter, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, about 1564 © Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.

Neither the unknown painter’s skills, nor the young man’s gorgeous clothing can hide the vain stare of Henry Stuart, who lost his childish naïvety of the Eworth portrait. In 1567, Lord Darnley was murdered at Kirk o’Field in Edinburgh.

Bibliography : Roy Strong, ‘Hans Eworth: A Tudor Artist and his Circle’ and ‘Hans Eworth Reconsidered’, The Tudor and Stuart Monarch Pageantry, Painting, Iconography I. Tudor, The Boydell Press, 1995, pp. 135-145 and pp. 147-152.


2 Commentaires

  1. Wilfried Van Gaver · · Réponse

    Why use the overly ambiguous term ‘Netherlandish’? In its ambiguity it seems to refer to the Netherlands, whereas a painter trained in Antwerp was Flemish, for Flanders -or Brabant if one wants to he very precise- but never ever Dutch.
    Moreover there never was a political unity in the Low Lands by the Sea until 1815 and then only for 15 years, so stop playing the card of Amsterdam marketeers.
    (The Valois-Burgondian and Habsburg dynasties had achieved personal unions between several feudal territories, but they never went further than personal unities, so never formed a state)

    1. Thank you for commenting and getting things straight. However, I don’t know any Amsterdam marketeer (who are these anyway?) and don’t think starting a controversy is of much use here. In my humble opinion, « Netherlands » (Pays-Bas in French, Low Country in English) is a geographical and not a political term.

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