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Those gorgeous Stuart men – meet some 17th century hotties

Prince Rupert of the Rhine

Whenever people talk about ”those handsome Stuarts”, chances are they’ll come dragging with oh, so dashing Prince Rupert, nephew to king Charles I, valiant royalist commander, owner of a famous dog, and yes – he was good-looking as can be seen in the attached portrait.

Maurice of the Palatinate

So were his brothers – especially Maurice, but a friend of mine says there’s no point in expending much affection on a man who got lost on his way to the West Indies (What can one say? Big, big sea, no GPS – plus there was a hurricane involved) which is why said friend remains devoted to Rupert. Her loss…

A van Dyck, Lord John Stuart and his brother Lord Bernard

Good looks bred true among the Stuart men – as can be seen by this portrait by Anthony van Dyck. Allow me to introduce you to Lord John and Lord Bernard Stuart, somewhat more distant kin to Charles I, but definitely of the long-faced, elegant Stuart ilk. This is, IMO, a fascinating portrait. Arrogant and endearingly young at the same time, the two brothers are depicted in the late 1630s, sixteen and eighteen respectively. Lord Bernard, the younger, sports blue and silver, and if one looks closely, one can see he’s wearing some sort of pattens over his dashing boots. I wouldn’t mind a pair like those boots myself, actually. Long, flowing hair, rich clothes, boot hose, that cape worn with flair – behold two men intent on making their mark on a world they most definitely considered their oyster.
John and Bernard were the youngest sons of Esmé Stuart, 3rd Duke of Lennox. Their father, in turn, was the son and namesake of James VI’s (soon to be James I of England) favourite Esmé Stuart, a somewhat frenchified Scotsman who to the dismay of others, more rugged Scottish nobles, exerted considerable influence over the young James. Esmé was the cousin of James’ father, the murdered Henry Darnley – and had lived in France for the first twelve years or so of James VI’s life. In short order, he became first the earl, then the duke of Lennox – but he had to convert to Presbyterianism before he could succeed to those titles, as his Calvinistic countrymen would have no papist in such a position of power.

Esmé, 1st Duke of Lennox. Not bad…

James VI loved his cousin. Given his singularly affection-free childhood, what with his mother being imprisoned in England and he himself being brought up in the strictest Calvinist environment possible, it is not to wonder he was attracted to this new relation of his. Further to this, Esmé was dashing and handsome, carried with him a whiff of a world outside the somewhat dreary confines of Scotland.
The other Scottish grandees did not much care for Lennox, and one who positively disliked him was James Douglas, the Earl of Morton and one of James’ former regents. Very few liked Morton, who does not seem to have believed much in silk gloves. It was therefore a rather easy matter for Esmé to rid himself of Morton – by accusing him of being party to the murder of the king’s father. Morton was guillotined – a fancy new invention at the time.
The Scottish Kirk remained suspicious of Lennox – as did most of the Scottish noblemen. Some months later, things had turned and poor James was forced to exile his cousin. Esmé returned to France where he shortly died. His heart was carried back to James as a little gift, and it was this man’s grandsons who pose for the portrait above. It was 1639, the young men were presently on their European tour, and who could have thought they would both be dead six years later, two of the many casualties claimed by the English Civil War?

A Van Dyck, Lord George Stuart

The dashing brothers had a dashing older brother, Lord George. He has also been painted by van Dyck, but in a somewhat more pastoral surrounding. It is thought the painting was made to commemorate his marriage – and the reason for the Latin inscription on the stone, “love is stronger than I”, was that George had been naughty and married on the sly, without either the bride’s father, or, more importantly, King Charles’ permission.
For some time there, George was consigned to the dog house, but war came swooping, and George was yet another of those young noblemen who hastened to place their sword at the king’s service. Just like his brothers. George also died – at the battle of Edgehill. His little son, Charles, was four…
Esmé Stuart the younger had been blessed with six sons. He himself died already in the 1620s, so he never had to live the loss of four of them – one to illness, three to war. His eldest son and heir, James Stuart, was as handsome as his brothers – almost more, actually. Yet again, we owe van Dyck for having conserved this handsome man to posterity.

James Stuart-Anthonis_van_Dyck_027
A van Dyck, Lord James Stuart

James Stuart, 4th Duke of Lennox and 1st Duke of Richmond, stands before us resplendent in his finery – and yes, the Order of the Garter is most prominently displayed. As loyal to his king as his brothers, James was to invest most of his fortune in shoring up the royalist cause. A brave fighter, he was also one of those who accompanied the king during his confinement at Hampton Court, and after the king’s execution, James was one of the four noblemen who carried the remains of their king to his final resting place in St George’s Chapel. He died some years later, leaving his titles to his very young son – who in his turn died in 1660.

Charles Stuart, by Peter Lely (George’s son)

As we all know, after some years of Commonwealth rule Charles II was restored to his throne in 1660 – good for those who’d lost it all fighting for the royalist cause – such as Charles II’s distant Stuart cousins. Well, the ones left alive, that is.
The last Stuart brother, Ludovic, seems to have retired to the relative peace and tranquillity of his lands in France. He left no heir, and so it was that all the titles, all the extensive landholdings, came to Charles Stewart, son of George, the brother who had died at Edgehill.
Charles had his fair share of the Stuart looks, and could afford to spend lavishly on clothes and accessories. He quickly became one of Charles II’s most trusted men, and it was in this capacity he was dispatched to Denmark in 1671, there to negotiate a tricky little truce or something (probably to the detriment of us Swedes…) While there, Charles drowned in Elsinore, and just like that, the handsome Stuart Dukes of Lennox and Richmond had ceased to be. Or?

Charles Lennox, by Godfrey Kneller

Some years later, the titles were resuscitated and given to Charles II’s son with Louise de Kérouiaille, aptly named Charles Lennox. At the time, the new duke was a boy of three, but over time he grew up to be a competent enough man – and a great fan of cricket, which can either be considered a point in his favour or against him, depending on who you ask. And just like so many of the Stuart men, this little Charles had his fair share of good looks. No wonder, given his father and his pretty mother. I must hasten to add that this young man did not die inordinately young – nor did his line ever go extinct. At present, his genes are very much alive and kicking in Prince William, for example, who has a dollop or two of Stuart blood in his DNA.
A handsome bunch, all those Stuart men, don’t you think? Personally, it is the portrait of James Stuart and his dog that I find the most compelling. Such a handsome, confident man – a good man, I believe, as expressed by the devotion in his greyhound’s eyes, and by his devotion to his king.
(Note: In many cases, Stewart was used instead of Stuart for some of the gents above, but I’ve chosen to stick w Stuart throughout)

20 thoughts on “Those gorgeous Stuart men – meet some 17th century hotties”

    1. This is interesting. I am very late commenting I realise, but you managed to hit one of my pet peeves. It was Esmé Stewart, 3rd Duke of Lennox, not Stuart. The spelling Stuart was an affectation of the Frenchified Queen Mary which not all branches of the family adopted.

  1. christopher warwick

    A correction, if I may. The portrait of Lord James Stuart shows him wearing the dark green velvet robe, riband (or sash) and insignia of the Order of the Thistle, or to give it its full title ‘The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle’ which is Scotland’s equivalent of the Order of the Garter.

    1. Not as per the Metropolitan Muesum of Art: “Van Dyck probably painted this majestic portrait shortly after Stuart’s investiture into the Order of the Garter, in November 1633. The silver star, the “Lesser George” medal on a green ribbon, and the garter itself (below the left knee) are the order’s insignia.” I am no expert and will therefore not offer an opinion :)

  2. I am a Stewart and loved this piece as well as others you post. This is an awesome site with so much interesting information.
    My father was a handsome Stewart as well.
    Thank you for your hard work.
    Leah Stewart

  3. What a wonderful post! I’m a huge fan of Prince Rupert’s personally and plan to create my own version of him in my next historical fantasy series based on the English Civil War. Charles Spencer wrote a fairly recent and very interesting biography.
    They certainly were a good-looking bunch and I’m so glad van Dyck captured so many likeness. I too, love the James Stuart with dog. :-)

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