This distinguished portrait and its pair, of the sitter's older brother Prince Charles Edward Stuart, are arguably Blanchet's most memorable works. They combine exciting handling and colour with direct characterisation. They were part of a group of four portraits, the other pair depicting the brothers' parents, which was commissioned by William Hay, the Young Pretender's Groom of the Bedchamber, and were sent from Rome to Scotland in 1741, via James Edgar, the Prince's secretary. This portrait and its pair were acquired from Hay's descendants by HM The Queen in 1966.
Prince Henry Benedict was brought up in Rome at the court of his father, the exiled Prince James Francis Edward Stuart (the ‘Old Pretender’). At an early age he took orders in the Roman Catholic Church and pursued a successful ecclesiastical career, becoming bishop of Tusculum in 1761 and cardinal in 1747. After the death of his brother in 1788, Prince Henry was considered by the Jacobites to be the next claimant to the British throne, styling himself Henry IX. Napoleon’s occupation of Italy in 1799 resulted in the cardinal’s financial ruin, but he was awarded an annual pension of £4,000 by George III who took pity on him. His death in 1807 marked the extinction of the male line of the house of Stuart.
Commissioned in Rome by William Hay of Edington, Scotland; by descent to Lt.-Col. G.H. Hay (of Duns Castle, Berwickshire); his sale, Christie's, London, 25 March 1966 (82); Lord Woolton from whom purchased by HM Queen Elizabeth II