Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
The Embarkation at Margate of the Elector Palatine and Princess Elizabeth
Adam Willaerts was born in London to Flemish parents; he had moved to the Netherlands by 1585 and by 1597 was settled in Utrecht, where he spent the remainder of his career. He was active in the Utrecht painters’ guild and contributed a painting to one of the local hospitals. Willaerts painted religious scenes involving ships as well as ceremonial arrivals and departures, all in a brightly coloured anecdotal style, resembling that of Jan Brueghel the Elder.
Princess Elizabeth, James I’s daughter, married Frederick, Elector Palatine, in London in 1613 and sailed from Margate on 25 April 1613 (Julian calendar). The couple were seen off by James I and Anne of Denmark in the foreground; rowed out by bargemen in livery and brought aboard the Prince Royal, which lies at anchor in the middle of the composition surrounded by a blaze of natural, but highly suggestive white light. The Prince Royal was built in 1610 by Phineas Pett for Henry Prince of Wales (1594–1612), which explains its HP monograms and feathers as well as a figurehead of St George on a horse. After a four-day transit Frederick and Elizabeth were greeted at Flushing (Vlissingen) in Zeeland by Frederick’s cousin, Prince Maurice, their arrival depicted in a companion painting by Willaerts dated 1623 (Private Collection). In 1619 Frederick accepted the crown of Bohemia and ruled in Prague for one winter (hence his name the ‘Winter King’) before being defeated in 1620 by the imperial army. The couple arrived as exiles in the Netherlands in 1622 and were formally deprived of the Palatinate by imperial edict in 1623.
This painting was presumably commissioned in the Netherlands in 1623, at the same time as other representations of the arrival in Flushing by Henrick Cornelisz. Vroom and Cornelis Claesz. van Wieringen (dated 1623 and 1628 respectively and both in the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem). These glorious naval pageants are clearly inspired by the arrival in the Netherlands of the newly deposed rather than the newly wed monarchs. Why gloat in this way on the contrast of former glory and present misery? The best explanation is that the Dutch audience wished simultaneously to celebrate and to shame the British navy. In 1621 James I summoned parliament to raise money for a European military campaign to restore Frederick V to his throne. Unfortunately nothing came of this commitment and from February to October 1623 the Prince of Wales (the future Charles I) was in Madrid courting the Princess Maria and consorting with the leaders of the Catholic faction. Could the Dutch be suggesting that these British warships, which made such a fine show in 1613, might now, ten years later, be put to the use for which they were designed?
Signed and date on the plank in the centre foreground: 'A Willarts. fe 1623.'
Text adapted from Dutch Landscapes, London, 2010