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Introduction

Detail from a print, showing the execution of Charles I at Whitehall in 1649 ©

In January 1649, Charles I, King of England, Scotland and Ireland, was convicted of treason and publicly beheaded outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall. After years of civil war, the nation became a Commonwealth (a republic), led by the Parliamentarian General, Oliver Cromwell and strongly influenced by Puritan beliefs. Charles’s family were forced into exile, the royal regalia were destroyed and the valuable contents of the palaces were sold.

The Commonwealth was short-lived, however, and on 8 May 1660 Parliament proclaimed Charles I’s eldest son – Charles II – king. The monarchy and the Stuart dynasty were restored, to the great joy of the nation. This exhibition explores the art, architecture and furnishings of Charles II’s magnificent court.

It demonstrates how art in all its forms played a crucial role in expressing and legitimising the authority of the restored monarchy following a period of extreme social and political upheaval. It also looks at the patronage and public perception of Charles’s ill-fated, Catholic brother James, Duke of York who briefly succeeded him in 1685 as James II.

At the Restoration court, art and power were inseparable. Neither Charles nor James wielded the absolutist power of their European counterparts and fears over Catholic tyranny were rife. Yet, the magnificence of the palaces, the display of significant art, the perpetuation of the king’s image, royal ceremony and tradition were central to the re-establishment of a powerful and, for a time, a much-loved monarchy.

Edward Bower (d. 1667)

Charles I at his Trial

Francoys van Beusekom (active 1642-65)

The execution of Charles I