King Charles I by Daniel Mytens

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    King Charles I,    by Daniel Mytens,    1631,    NPG 1246,    © National Portrait Gallery, London
King Charles I, the only English monarch ever to be tried and executed for treason.
King Charles I
by Daniel Mytens
oil on canvas, 1631
85 in. x 53 in. (2159 mm x 1346 mm)
NPG 1246
© National Portrait Gallery, London
On display in Room 4 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Charles I (1600–49) was king of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1625 to 1649. 

He is best remembered for his wish to become an all-powerful ruler, which led to Civil war A war between groups of people in the same country. throughout Britain during the mid 1600s. After finally being defeated by Parliament The group of people who are elected to make and change the laws of a country. , he was found guilty of Treason The crime of doing something that could cause danger to your country, such as helping its enemies during a war. and executed in 1649. 

Charles was also a keen supporter of the arts and brought together the most extraordinary art collection of the time. It included works by celebrated artists of the past, such as Leonardo da Vinci, and new artists at the time, such as Anthony van Dyck, who became the most influential portrait painter to have ever worked in Britain.

Analysing the portrait

  • View larger image
    King Charles I,    by Daniel Mytens,    1631,    NPG 1246,    © National Portrait Gallery, London
King Charles I, by Daniel Mytens, 1631

Look carefully at the portrait. Take your time – look at it for at least a minute. What can you see?

    • Charles I is wearing a close-fitting padded jacket (called a Doublet A short, tightly fitting jacket worn by men from the 1300s to the 1600s. ) with matching blue-grey coloured breeches (trousers), with fringes at the knees.
    • He has knee-length leather boots and matching gloves, that appear to be trimmed with fur.
    • We can also see a lace collar and a light blue silk sash across his chest. The sash is the Order of the Garter The oldest and highest of the British orders of chivalry (i.e. an honour given to someone as a reward for doing something good or serving the country). , a symbol of great honour. It is still inherited by kings and queens. They can also choose to give this honour to a very small number of people for public service.
    • These were fashionable clothes, made from the finest materials. They show Charles as a wealthy man of high status.
    • Charles has long hair parted in the middle that reaches to his shoulders, a wispy moustache and pointed beard. 
    • Facial hair was a sign of Masculinity The qualities that are considered to be typical of men. . Charles made moustaches with a pointed beard fashionable in the mid 1600s. During the English Civil Wars A series of wars between King Charles I and his parliament from 1642–51. , many men had flowing hair and beards styled like the king.   
    • He is standing in a relaxed pose, resting his hand on a stick. He is looking straight at us, the viewer.
    • He appears confident, at ease and dignified.
    • In public the king’s manner often made him appear self-important and arrogant.
    • There is a crown, orb (ball with a cross on top) and Sceptre A decorated rod carried by a king or queen at ceremonies as a symbol of their power. (golden baton) resting on the table.
    • These are symbols associated with a king or queen. They often appear in Coronation A ceremony at which a crown is formally placed on the head of a new king or queen to mark them becoming king or queen. portraits, for example.
    • The crown and sceptre show he has the right to be king.
    • The orb represents the Christian religion. It shows us he is a Christian, and believed God gave him the power to be king.
    • He is wearing a sword by his side.
    • These objects help to show Charles’s authority as a ruler.
    • Charles is surrounded by rich, red velvet fabric trimmed with gold fringes. The velvet would have been coloured with cochineal – an expensive red dye.
    • In the background there is a large stone pillar and what appears to be a balcony. This gives the impression of him standing in the room of a grand building. The building is probably the Queen’s House, which can still be seen in London today.
    • Together these help to show Charles as a wealthy and powerful king.
I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown; where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world.
Charles I, minutes before being executed, 1649

Who was King Charles I?

  • Charles I became king in 1625.
  • Charles believed that kings and queens were chosen by God to rule the country and that his decisions as a leader should not be questioned.
  • In 1629, Charles decided to rule the country alone. This meant he could make all the decisions about the country’s laws without Parliament The group of people who are elected to make and change the laws of a country. .
  • Many of the decisions he made, such as changes to religion and raising taxes, were very unpopular.
  • This led to a war in Scotland in 1639 and a Rebellion An attempt by a person or people to resist someone else's power over them. in Ireland in 1641 against the king.
  • After years of bitter differences between Charles and Parliament, with the king refusing to agree to Parliament’s demands, war also broke out in England in 1642. This was the start of the English Civil Wars A series of wars between King Charles I and his parliament from 1642–51. .
  • In 1648, Charles and his supporters, the Royalist A person who supported Charles I during the English Civil Wars from 1642–51. , were finally defeated by the Parliamentarian A person who supported Parliament during the English Civil Wars from 1642–51. , who were led by Oliver Cromwell.
  • Charles was put on trial for Treason The crime of doing something that could cause danger to your country, such as helping its enemies during a war. by Parliament. He was found guilty and executed in front of a large crowd in 1649.
  • This was an extraordinary event. Charles I is the only English Monarch A person who rules a country, for example a king or a queen. ever to have been tried and executed for treason.
  • Parliament ruled the country for the next 11 years. They were led by Oliver Cromwell from 1653 until he died in 1658.
  • In 1660, the Monarchy A system of government with a king or a queen at the head. was restored and Charles’s son, Charles II, became king. It was now harder for a monarch to ignore Parliament.

Why is this portrait significant?

  • This portrait was painted during the time King Charles I decided to rule alone, without Parliament The group of people who are elected to make and change the laws of a country. . It appears to send a message of a successful and powerful king.
  • It was painted by the artist Daniel Mytens, who had migrated to England from what is now the Netherlands.
  • Mytens was the leading painter at Court The official place where kings and queens live and work. . He painted Charles many times. He also painted Charles's wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, and had painted his father, James I.
  • The year after this portrait was made, the painter Anthony van Dyck arrived in England. Charles I recognised his talent and ability as a painter. He gave him the job of ‘Principalle Paynter to the King’ and a big salary.
  • Like many artists, Mytens quickly felt the impact of Anthony van Dyck. Although he was an accomplished painter, his work was seen as more solid and still than Van Dyck’s expressive style. Mytens soon returned to the Netherlands.

Questions

  1. Why do you think Charles I wanted to rule alone?
  1. Find out more about the role of Britain’s current monarch. How is their role the same or different to that of Charles I?
  1. Do you think anyone should have the ultimate authority in Britain? Why?