St James’s Park, London SW1

Image: (Royal Parks): “The Blue Bridge offers spectacular views across St James’s Park Lake to Buckingham Palace to the west and Horse Guards Parade, Big Ben and the London Eye towards the east. The low-arched concrete bridge is the third to span the lake. The first was designed by John Nash which was replaced by an iron suspension bridge in 1857. The current bridge dates from 1957. As well as the spectacular views, The Blue Bridge is an excellent spot to view St James’s Park’s waterfowl.”

From: An Economic History of the English Garden (2019), by Roderick Floud:

On 29 May 1660, his thirtieth birthday, Charles II returned to London from his exile abroad to take up the throne, eleven years after his father, Charles I, had been executed outside the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall…not least, he had to pursue and put to death the men who had killed his father. Yet despite all these tasks, he still had time before the end of 1660 to begin work on another of his major priorities: renovating the royal gardens. In St James’s Park, only a few hundred yards from Whitehall, he made use of unemployed soldiers to dig a huge rectangular lake…It linked together a series of ponds that had been neglected under Cromwell’s Protectorate…

…the park became known for less innocent pleasures, indulged in by both Charles and his subjects, and (John) Evelyn also censoriously describes, on 1 March 1671, how he walked with the king through the park

to [Nell Gwyn’s] garden, where I both saw and heard a very familiar discourse between…[Charles] and Mrs Nelly [Nell Gwyn]…she looking out of her garden at the top of the wall and…[Charles] standing on the green walk under it. I was heartily sorry at this scene. Thence the King walked to the Duchess of Cleveland, another lady of pleasure, and curse of our nation…”

From the website of the National Portrait Gallery, London:

“Barbara Palmer (née Villiers), Duchess of Cleveland with her son, probably Charles FitzRoy, as the Virgin and Child

oil on canvas, circa 1664, by Sir Peter Lely

(The Dutch artist Peter Lely was trained in Haarlem and came to London in the 1640s. In the early part of his career, he painted Biblical and mythological scenes, but it was as a portraitist that he established his reputation, and he worked throughout the civil wars and Interregnum. At the Restoration he was appointed Principal Painter to King Charles II and he was knighted in 1680. By far the most fashionable and influential painter of his time, he also formed a celebrated collection of paintings and drawings. Samuel Pepys called him ‘a mighty proud man, and full of state’.)

Barbara Villiers was effectively Lely’s muse, her looks the inspiration for his type of female beauty. A contemporary commented that ‘he put something of Cleveland’s face as her Languishing Eyes into every one Picture, so that all his pictures had an Air one of another, all the Eyes were Sleepy alike’. Lely himself is said to have commented ‘that it was beyond the compass of art to give this lady her due, as to her sweetness and exquisite beauty’. Lely and Villiers had a mutually beneficial relationship, in which her prominence at court promoted his art and his art publicised her beauty and status. Probably dating from about 1664, the painting is a portrait historié, or a portrait showing a recognisable sitter posing in the role of a figure from history or mythology. This audacious portrait, of the King’s mistress and bastard as the Madonna and Child, represents the climax of his work in this genre. It could only have been produced at this time and in this place; thus it can be seen as a fitting representation of the values of Charles II’s court.”

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