Sunday, 23 June 2013

"He Dyis Befoir Midnycht" The Vendetta Picture in 16th Century Scotland (Part 5)

Regent Moray

The Vendetta picture of Regent Moray is sadly lost, but it forms an important part of this story.

Despite the instability of the rule of Scotland in the 16th century, the elite in charge of the nation was a small group, as is underlined by the events following Mary, Queen of Scots' surrender at Carberry Hill in June 1567.

The confederate lords may have been in opposition to the Queen and her new husband, but the Stewart dynasty was in no danger of being replaced as, not only did rule pass nominally to Mary's son, but the Regent appointed to control the state during his minority was non other than Mary's half-brother, James Stewart, the first Earl of Moray. The young James VI was crowned by Moray and his followers in July to quell discontent over the Queen's arrest and it seems to have been an almost universally popular move. Moray himself, however, was not especially well liked. As a Protestant, his relations with Mary had always been rocky, and what support his regency had stemmed from his allegiance to the Prince and his status as avenger of the murder of Darnley.

The trials that followed the Regent's accession publicly righted some of the wrongs of the preceding era, but they also proved useful for the elimination of political rivals and Moray's authority was undermined by his reliance on the support of various lords who had themselves been implicated in Darnley's murder. When Moray himself was murdered at Linlithgow on January 23rd, 1570, Scotland was again thrown into political turmoil and instability.

Despite his lack of popular support, the pictorial record following his death (perhaps on his own instructions) explicitly restated the link between Darnley, James and himself, presumably due to the success with which his followers had used the Darnley Banner. Moray's regency had not been a tranquil period, but as with Darnley, his early, violent death (in Moray's case, at the age of forty) seems to have boosted his appeal and led to a posthumous image as 'The Good Regent.'

This newfound popularity was again captured by Edinburgh printer Robert Lekpreuik, who had published ballads mourning Darnley's murder. The series mourning Moray again stresses both the virtue of the man and the cruelty of his death, as in The Regentis Tragedie, which begins "James Erle of Murray, Regent of Renown/Now lyis dead and dulefullie put down". The various accounts of Moray's murder all agree on the main details, though not on the virtues of the man himself. The murderer was James Hamilton of Bothwelhaugh (aided by another Hamilton, the archbishop of St Andrews) whose family was aligned to the Marian cause, though typically through dynastic ambition, rather than loyalty to the Queen herself. The writer of the 16th Century Chronicle of the Kings of Scotland from Fergus I to James VI gives a typical report of the murder; "and as he be ryding throw the said towne [Linlithgow] he is schott with ane bouillat of lead ane little beneathe the naveill and to his renis, and also George Douglas being ryding with him, his horse is slayne undir him... The Regent sayis 'I am hurtt'... and on fute gangis to his ludging, and quhen he had commendit the Prince to the nobility, he dyis befoir midnycht..."

The fact that the Regent survived for some time after sustaining his wounds, in the knowledge that he would certainly die is horrible but also interesting, in that it suggests that he himself is likely to have made arrangements for the death picture that was painted shortly thereafter.

An extraordinary poem, entitled And Tragedie in Form of ane dialog Betwix Honour, Gude Fame and the Authour heirof in a Trance, published shortly after the murder took place, tells the story of the murder, describing the corpse in very accurate detail; "Paill of the face, baith blaiknit, blude and ble, / Deid eyit, dram lyke, disfigurit was he; / Nakit and bair, schot throw pudding and panche, / Abone the Navil, and out abone the hanche". The poet's vivid description is explained towards the end of the poem where he describes entering the palace at Linlithgow to view the corpse. As with the Darnley case it is apparent that the painting that was made was only one part of a wider campaign. The poet, apparently writing on the morning after the murder was probably a member of the Regent's household and it is likely that the artist was too. The poem fulfils a very similar function to the Vendetta picture, describing the horrific nature of the murder in detail, but ending with an exhortation: "Reuenge his deith, ye Lords! I say na moir." The poem also reminds us that the lying-in-state of the dead body was an important part of the death ritual, and the Vendetta pictures can be seen to some extent as an attempt to widen this experience to involve the largest possible number of witnesses.

Although the picture is lost, its description in a report to Cecil in London makes its relation to the poem, and to the Darnley Banner, clear: "There was hanged forth in the open street an ensign of black satin, on which was painted the King [Darnley] as he was found dead, the Regent in his bed as he died, with his wound open, the King [James VI] on his knees crying 'Judge and revenge my caus, Lord'" This painting was more than a call for revenge - it was also an attempt to firmly establish the dynastic importance of the young King and his Protestant credentials and thereby win followers to his cause.

The first Earl of Moray was, as befitted a son of James V, a highly cultured man, a collector of books and a patron of the arts. In 1561, he commissioned the Dutch artist Hans Eworth to paint portraits of himself and his wife Agnes Keith, probably to celebrate their marriage that year.

Eworth was a successful painter, employed extensively by the court of Elizabeth I in England for portraits and as a designer of fetes, by both the aristocracy and the gentry. He had in fact painted a portrait of Lord Darnley and his younger brother in 1554, and the extent to which such portraits were important social and political tools can be seen by the fact that he made a copy of the picture on cloth, probably to be sent to Mary, Queen of Scots in 1563, when the Lennox family were keen to attract Mary's attention with their handsome and eligible son.  The Moray portraits, painted in Scotland and still in the collection of the Earls of Moray are strong examples of his realistic style in which sitters are highly individualised, the portrait of the Earl in particular being a convincing portrayal of his determined and somewhat humourless character.

The death portrait, painted in Linlithgow at very short notice, was much more likely to be the work of a Scottish artist attached to the Earl's household or, as he was away from home, a local artist who typically would be a burgess, such as Walter Binning (fl. 1540-94). Binning was a Burgess of Edinburgh but is recorded as working at Linlithgow Palace several times during his long career. Although trained as a glasswright, Binning's work included such tasks as decorating the interior and exterior of houses as well as making 'ymages', probably portraits, painting coats of arms and banners for various guilds - the sort of wide-ranging duties in fact, that might well encompass such a special commission as a Vendetta picture, with its mixture of realistic representation, emblematic elements and decorative lettering. There is no evidence to directly link Binning's name to the Regent's portrait, but he seems to have worked for the Royal household through several successive reigns and is as plausible an artist as any. But whether or not the Vendetta portrait of Moray was his, Walter Binning's career is a classic example of the Scottish painter/craftsman of the 16th century and his work no doubt conformed with the clear, graphic style demanded by the Scottish nobility in domestic commissions.

The complexities of the political chaos (and indeed civil war) following Moray's death - rarely as simple as Catholic versus Protestant or Mary versus James - meant that the picture could never become the potent, iconic symbol that the Darnley Banner had been. The cause of revenge in the name of the King was hardly likely to be forgotten though, when, following Moray's death, Lord Darnley's father, the Earl of Lennox, was named Regent, partly on the advice of Elizabeth I of England. This did little for the stability of the realm, which remained unsettled until the Regency of the Earl of Morton in 1573. Morton, like Moray, Lennox and Mar before him, was a Protestant and leader of the King's party, but would ironically be executed by James VI in 1581 for his part in Darnley's murder.

Lennox, in his brief period as Regent ensured that the murder of his son was not forgotten, even into the period of the King's personal rule.  Though Regent Moray's death portrait remains untraced, it is unlikely to have been intentionally destroyed and it is not impossible that it was removed to one of his residences where, two decades later, it may have had an influence on the style and format of the now unique Vendetta portrait of his son-in-law, the second Earl, the most graphic and disturbing example of the genre.


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