This wonderful portrait shows the future Charles II (1630 – 1685), one of Britain’s most popular monarchs, when he was Prince of Wales. It was painted by William Dobson (1611 - 1646) in Oxford in 1642 or 1643, when the court was based there during the Civil War.
It was likely that Charles I commissioned Dobson to paint this picture to commemorate his twelve year old son having been present at the Battle of Edgehill (which can be seen in the background) on 23 October 1642. Prince Charles is shown holding a commander’s baton and wearing a breastplate from a suit of armour, so that he appears as if he is a military leader. Although he was nominally in control of 2000 troops during Edgehill, this was his first time on the battlefield, and he was totally inexperienced as an active soldier. In fact his presence at the battle was more of a hindrance than a help – in the confusion of the fighting, he rode straight into the Parliamentarian cavalry, shouting ‘I fear them not’ when he had to be saved by his own men.
Luckily, the portrait was not commissioned to display specific biographical details about the prince’s experience at Edgehill, but instead it served to convey the court’s belief in their political views and their optimism in believing they would win the Civil War. There was a necessity for the royalists to produce images that showed them as heroic and triumphant, and this portrait would also remind contemporary viewers that the Prince of Wales would carry on fighting for the monarchical system should anything happen to Charles I during the war.
Dobson’s depiction of the future Charles II was chosen as Portrait of the Month as 2010 is the 350th anniversary of the Restoration, when Charles was invited in 1660 to return from exile and rule as king, after eleven years of republicanism. Dobson’s portrait will be on display when the Scottish National Portrait Gallery reopens in November 2011.