studio of Louis Gabriel Blanchet, Henry Benedict Stuart, Cardinal York (1725–1807)

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All Rights Reserved)


Country House
Mells Manor
Henry Benedict Stuart, Cardinal York (1725–1807)
? c.late 1740s
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 61 cm, Overall width: 45.5 cm
studio of Louis Gabriel Blanchet (1705-1772)
Catalogue Number


Born in his father’s palazzo in Rome, and baptised by his godfather, Pope Benedict XIII, Henry Benedict Thomas Edward Maria Clement Francis Xavier Stuart was the younger son of James Francis Edward Stuart and the grandson of James II of England and VII of Scotland. Following a marginal role in the attempt by his elder brother, Charles Edward Stuart, to reclaim the English throne in the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, Benedict Stuart returned to Rome, where he spent the rest of his life as a high-ranking official in the Roman Catholic church, accruing considerable wealth, power and prestige. Rising steadily through the ranks of the papal hierarchy, Benedict was appointed a cardinal deacon in 1747, Cardinal Bishop of Frascati in 1761 and, in 1803, towards the end of his long life achieved the position of Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals. Styled Duke of York by his parents, in reference to his position as the second son of a titular English monarch, Benedict Stuart was during his clerical life known as Cardinal York. Following the death of his brother, he was also known to adherents of the Jacobite cause as King Henry IX and, while he himself had no serious interest in pursuing a claim to the English throne, he relished the title.

Despite his kudos within the Catholic Church, following the French Revolution much of Cardinal York’s property was stripped from him, including his bishopric of Frascati, and his ensuing poverty and temporary exile from Rome after Napoleon’s invasion prompted John Coxe Hippisley to intercede on his behalf and secure from George III a pension of £4000 per annum. In return for Hippisley’s support, the cardinal bequeathed to him various personal gifts of Stuart memorabilia, including the veil Mary Queen of Scots wore to her execution, some Plutarch incunabula and Bonnie Prince Charlie’s shoe buckles, which now form part of the collection at Mells. Cardinal York also gifted Hippisley the present portrait, as well as that of his father and two of his elder brother (MM47, MM48 and MM49). The last Stuart claimant to the English throne, Henry Benedict Stuart died in July 1807 and was buried alongside his brother and father in the crypt of the Basilica of St Peter, in the Vatican City, Rome.

The present portrait is one of a series of images made of Henry Benedict Stuart in his role as cardinal. The first such portrait was painted in 1747 by the Italian artist Domenico Corvi.1 Over the next few years he sat to a number of other artists of various nationalities, including the German Anton Raphael Mengs, the Scot Cosmo Alexander and the Frenchman Louis Gabriel Blanchet.2 Blanchet had first painted Henry Benedict Stuart as a teenage boy during the late 1730s.3 The present composition is one of several known versions from the studio of Blanchet, which portray Cardinal York in his cardinal’s cap and robes, within a feigned stone oval.4

by Martin Postle


  1. See Domenico Corvi (1721–1803), Portrait of Henry Stuart, Cardinal York, Historical Portraits,,-Cardinal-York-|-Domenico--Corvi (accessed 26 June 2020).

  2. For portraits by Mengs see the Musée Fabre, Montpelier and National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 129. A portrait of Cardinal York by Cosmo Alexander dated 1749 is at Sizergh Castle, Cumbria, National Trust NT 998719.

  3. Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, Royal Collection Trust RCIN 401209.

  4. See also Historical Portraits,,-Cardinal-York,-%27King-Henry-IX%27-|-Studio-of--Louis-Gabriel-Blanchet (accessed 26 June 2020).


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