A portrait of Catherine de’ Medici, Queen of France, with four of her ten children, will be returned to Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham after it was acquired for the nation in lieu of tax.
The portrait was originally installed in the mansion built by Horace Walpole and was part of the collection of the son of Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first prime minister.
The portrait, an oil on canvas measuring 198 x 137.2cm, is an imposing group portrait of Catherine de’ Medici with her children. She is shown with her arm around and holding the hand of King Charles IX, her third son, who was crowned King of France in 1560, aged just 10, and for whom she acted as regent. An inscription at the bottom of the painting indicates that he was “in his eleventh year.” The others are his brother, the future King Henry III, then Duke of Anjou, his sister, Margaret of Valois, the future Queen of Navarre and France, and Francis, Duke of Anjou and Alençon.
Walpole bought it for £25 in Hertfordshire from the county’s then MP, Thomas Plumer Byde.
Dr Silvia Davoli, the curator at Strawberry Hill House, said: “Thomas was the grandson of the first Thomas Byde … who was a member of parliament under Charles II. I wonder whether Catherine’s painting came in the family with him. In fact, his name appears in a list of members of parliament who were bribed by Louis XIV to prevent a separate peace between England and the Dutch republic. The French ambassador describes Byde as ‘very rich and in great credit’, as well as the receiver of the sum of 300 guineas for his services to the king of France. Did Byde receive something else besides the money?”