Godfrey Kneller, King Charles II

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All rights reserved)


Country House
King Charles II
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 127 cm, Overall width: 101.6 cm
Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723)
Catalogue Number


This portrait of Charles II (1630–1685) presents the king as the head of state, wearing the robes of the Order of the Garter – the highest order of chivalry – and standing beside the royal orb and crown. It was made in the studio of Sir Godfrey Kneller, who trained under Ferdinand Bol in Amsterdam, before moving to England in c.1676. Through the employment of a large workshop of assistants, Kneller dominated British portraiture for the next forty years. He was joint Principal Painter with Riley until the latter’s death in 1691, when he assumed the post in his own right. Like the Principal Painters before him, Sir Anthony Van Dyck and Sir Peter Lely, Kneller was knighted. In 1715, he became the first painter in England to be made a baronet.1

The picture was recorded in James Boswell’s journal of a tour to Cornwall, during a visit to Sir Christopher Hawkins: ‘Friday 31 August 1792/ At Trewithen there is a very good picture of Charles the Second by ---. It belonged to the family of Granville Lord Lansdowne after the wreck of which their house was pulled to pieces, and every thing was sold.’2 Boswell’s reference was to Stowe, the Granville seat at Kilkhampton, Cornwall, built by John Granville around 1685. Granville had been created Earl of Bath by Charles II as a reward for his role in engineering the Restoration – hence his acquisition of the portrait. Stowe was pulled down in 1739 and its contents sold.3 An inventory of 1829 evidently records the portrait in the Saloon, albeit mistakenly as a portrait of Charles I.4 In the March 1928 inventory it was described as being on the Middle Staircase. It hangs presently in a prominent positon over the main staircase.

The portrait has gone through several changes in attribution of both artist and sitter. Previously attributed to the circle of Sir Peter Lely, the image may derive in part from Kneller’s ad vivum full-length portrait of Charles II in Garter robes (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool; fig. 1).5 The Walker picture is signed and dated ‘Gotfred Kneller/Ad vivum fecit/Ao 1685’, and is the last portrait Kneller made of Charles II before the king’s death later that year.6 An ‘autograph repetition’ of the Walker picture is in the National Trust Collection at Powis Castle and another version is at Moseley Old Hall.7 Trewithen’s owner, Michael Galsworthy, reported to the present author that Oliver Millar, who saw the portrait briefly on a visit to the house, indicated that in his opinion it was by Kneller. While the portrait is possibly autograph, it resembles closely a studio version at Kenwood House, London (fig. 2).

1685. Oil on canvas, 225 × 144.2 cm. Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (WAG 3023).

Figure 1.
Godfrey Kneller, Charles II, 1685. Oil on canvas, 225 × 144.2 cm. Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (WAG 3023).

Digital image courtesy of Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. (All rights reserved)

circa 1685. Oil on canvas, 128.6 × 100 cm. Kenwood House, London (88019186).

Figure 2.
Studio of Godfrey Kneller, Charles II, circa 1685. Oil on canvas, 128.6 × 100 cm. Kenwood House, London (88019186).

Digital image courtesy of Historic England Archive. (All rights reserved)

by Emily Burns


  1. J. Douglas Stewart, ‘Kneller, Sir Godfrey, baronet (1646–1723)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (2004); online, ed. David Cannadine, September 2010, (accessed 7 September 2017).

  2. James Boswell, ‘Journal of a jaunt to Cornwall’, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University: GEN MSS 89, Box 47, Folder 1028, f. 20. See also James Boswell, ‘Jaunt to Cornwall’, The Private Papers of James Boswell from Malahide Castle, William Edwin Rudge: the Viking Press, New York, 18 vols, 1928–34, vol. 18, p. 143.

  3. For further information see Jonathan Yarker, ‘Trewithen and its Cornish Context in the Early Eighteenth Century’, in this project.

  4. Inventory and Appraisment June 1829, Trewithen: ‘Saloon/ 2 Picture, Portrait, Charles 1st/ 3 Do, Charles 2nd, In Armour on Horseback’. Evidently the portrait of Charles II was listed as Charles I, while the equestrian portrait of Charles I (TN71) was listed as Charles II.

  5. Criddle & Smith Ltd, Truro, ‘Trewithen, Grampound Road, Cornwall, Inventory and Valuation’, March 1947, p. 65.

  6. Kneller painted Charles II from life at least three times, in 1677/8, 1681 and 1685, and from these sittings created four distinct portrait types, of which the Walker portrait is the last. Oliver Millar, The Tudor, Stuart and Early Georgian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, London: Phaidon, 1963, p. 141; J. Douglas Stewart, Sir Godfrey Kneller and the English Baroque Portrait, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983, p. 11, no. 27; Katherine M. B. Gibson, ‘“Best Belov’d of Kings”: The Iconography of King Charles II’, doctoral thesis, London University, 3 vols, 1997, vol. 1, pp. 138–40; vol. 2, p. 354; Alex Kidson, Earlier British Paintings in the Walker Art Gallery and Sudley House, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2012, p. 50, no. 27.

  7. John Douglas Stewart, Sir Godfrey Kneller, London: G. Bell and Sons, National Portrait Gallery, 1971, p. 50.


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