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George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham

1 of 49 portraits of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham

by studio of William Larkin
oil on canvas, circa 1616
81 in. x 47 in. (2057 mm x 1194 mm)
Given by Benjamin Seymour Guinness, 1952
Primary Collection
NPG 3840

On display in Room 3 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

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  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 75 Read entry

    Handsome and ambitious, George Villiers became the most notorious of James I's favourites. He was a younger son from a minor Leicestershire gentry family and caught the king's attention during a hunt at Apethorpe in Northamptonshire. Opponents of Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, saw an opportunity to replace him with Villiers in the king's favour and secured Villiers' appointment as Royal Cupbearer. He flourished and was elevated by the king with astonishing speed through the ranks of the aristocracy, being made Duke of Buckingham in 1623. He became one of the king's leading ministers but was widely regarded as corrupt and extravagant, and although his influence continued under Charles I, he was blamed for a number of military failures while serving as Lord High Admiral; he was assassinated in Portsmouth in 1628 by a soldier who had served under him in France. This portrait celebrates Villiers' installation as a Knight of the Garter and elevation to the peerage in the summer of 1616, which was an important indication of his intimacy with the king. His luxurious robes are drawn back to focus attention on his legs, and he wears the garter, bearing the Order's motto Honi soit qui mal y pense ('Shame be he who thinks evil of it'), below his left knee.

  • Cannadine, Sir David (Introduction); Cooper, Tarnya; Stewart, Louise; MacGibbon, Rab; Cox, Paul; Peltz, Lucy; Moorhouse, Paul; Broadley, Rosie; Jascot-Gill, Sabina, Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, 2018 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA, 7 October 2018 -3 February 2019. Bendigo Art Gallery, Australia, 16 March - 14 July 2019.), p. 106
  • Charles Nicholl, Shakespeare and his Contemporaries, 2015, p. 21
  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 30
  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 30 Read entry

    This splendid portrait has undergone some changes. Acquired by the Gallery with the background curtains painted green, it was so displayed until 1985, when close examination revealed fragments of paint of the present colour which under analysis proved to be the original. Skilfuly restored to its full glory, by removing the green paint and matching the garments, we can now enjoy the voluptuous splendour of its original colour scheme.

  • Nicholl, Charles, Insights: Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, 2005, p. 18
  • Piper, David, The English Face, 1992, p. 73
  • Piper, David, Catalogue of Seventeenth Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, 1625-1714, 1963, p. 39
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 86
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 71 Read entry

    George Villiers was the most notorious of James I’s favourites: men admired by the King, with whom he developed what some regarded as unhealthily close and dangerously dependent relationships. Handsome and charming, Villiers was promoted rapidly at court and as a duke and one of James’s leading ministers, he had considerable power. An effective administrator in some areas and a knowledgeable collector of art, he was widely regarded as corrupt and extravagant, and was blamed for various military failures. He was assassinated by a disenchanted soldier at the age of thirty-six.

    William Larkin (d.1619) was one of the most accomplished portrait artists of the Jacobean period. He and his studio painted a large number of dramatic full-length portraits, often including spectacular textiles, as well as more intensely focused head-and-shoulders portraits. Buckingham is depicted here in his lavish robes as a Knight of the Garter.

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Events of 1616back to top

Current affairs

Playwright, William Shakespeare, dies in Stratford-Upon-Avon on 23rd April, after he contracted a fever. He is buried days later inside Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.
James I's second son, Charles, is invested as Prince of Wales at a lavish ceremony at Whitehall.

Art and science

Poet and playwright Benjamin Jonson, is granted a royal pension effectively establishing him as the first poet laureate in all but name.
Queen Anne commissions Inigo Jones to design a pavilion at Greenwich, the Queen's House.


Sir Walter Ralegh, released from prison, begins planning an expedition to Guiana in search of El Dorado. With established Spanish settlements in the area, Ralegh's expedition unsettled the court which sought lasting peace with Spain.
The Catholic Church places Nicolaus Copernicus's De revolutionibus, 1543, on its list of prohibited books.

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Kristin Mills

02 April 2020, 16:10

I have been baffled by the rips in the sleeves in this portrait. Is there a message here? He had his portrait painted with rips in his clothing?

Laurie Pettitt

03 March 2017, 12:10

To say that he was assassinated by a fanatic is as far away from the truth possible.
He started out as King James' 'toy boy' and was responsible for the deaths of many brave Soldiers and Sailors. On one of his expeditions to assist Elizabeth and Frederick of the Palatinate, he failed to realise that a Protestant army would not be allowed to disembark into Catholic Ports, to fight a Catholic Emperor. The men starved to death on board ship and their bodies thrown onto the shores of Holland to be eaten by pigs.
Fenton was no fanatic and even though the Royals would like us to see George as misguided, Fenton did the World a favour by ridding it of Buckingham.