Whilst immersed in research for my English Civil War novel, I came across an article that featured this portrait, and it struck me how history is always close, and weaves links into all aspects of modern life.
This painting of Princess Mary in a silver-laced gown and pearl headdress was painted by Anthony Van Dyck in 1637, when Mary was six, and once hung in Hampton Court. Mary, Princess Royal, Princess of Orange was born in 1631 to Charles I and Henrietta Maria, the daughter of King Henri IV of France. The queen wished to imitate the way the eldest daughter of the French king was styled as Madame Royale, so Charles I designated Mary 'Princess Royal' in 1642, and since then the eldest daughter of the British Sovereign bears this title.
While Charles I was under house arrest at Hampton Court Palace in August 1647, he was confined in relative comfort, occupying a suite of royal rooms overlooking the Privy Garden, and allowed his own servants. The palace furnishings were improved for him, and paintings were brought down from Whitehall for his pleasure.
On the evening of 11th November 1647, the King tricked his jailers and escaped to a boat waiting to ferry him to supposed asylum on the Isle of Wight. In fact he swapped a comfortable prison for a less salubrious one. He left behind a note to the palace’s commander, Colonel Edward Whalley, thanking him for his kindnesses and asking that this painting, "the Original of My Eldest Daughter [which] hangs in this chamber over the board next the Chimney which you must send to my Lady Aubigny."
Lady Aubigny, an active Royalist supporter, fled to The Hague after the King’s execution in 1649. The painting was sent to her there and is recorded in a Dutch inventory in 1654, remaining in various continental collections through the years. In 1967, it appeared on the London art market and was bought by Van Dyck expert Sir Oliver Millar, from whose estate it has now been accepted in lieu of tax.
Princes Mary died of smallpox in 1660 at the age of 29, but her portrait is now back at Hampton Court after 360 years.