Designing Dutch Princely Rule: The Cultural Diplomacy of ‘Mr Huggins’

In 1667, Thomas Sprat, the first official biographer of the Royal Society in London, praised the ingenuity and inventiveness of the Dutch, and stressed the importance for the development of their science and technology of the many intellectual migrants drawn to the Republic by its reputation for toleration. The hub of this activity, he reported, was at The Hague – equal to Sir Francis Bacon’s ‘New Atlantis’ as a catalyst for intellectual endeavour:

They have all things imaginable to stirr them up: they have the Examples of the greatest Wits of other Countreys, who have left their own homes, to retire thither, for the freedom of their Philosophical Studies: they have one place (I mean the Hague) which may be soon made the very Copy of a Town in the New Atlantis; which for its pleasantness, and for the concourse of men of all conditions to it, may be counted above all others (except London) the most advantagiously seated for this service.1

In the mid-seventeenth century, the elegant small town of The Hague on the north-west coast of Holland, a comparatively easy journey across the water from London (embarking from Gravesend), had indeed been for many years a destination for Englishmen fleeing persecution or simply civil unrest at home.

Furthermore, in the first half of the seventeenth century, at the end of Holland’s Golden Age (the high point of its financial power), it housed no fewer than three princely courts. Two of these were, as far as visitors from England were concerned, reassuringly English in culture and ambience. These were the court of Prince William II of Orange and his wife, Princess Mary Stuart (the Princess Royal), and the court of Mary’s aunt (Charles I’s sister), Elizabeth of Bohemia, Electress Palatine, the ill-fated ‘Winter Queen’.

The official focus of courtly activity at The Hague after 1625, however, was the residence in The Hague of the Orange Stadholder Frederik Hendrik himself. His wife Amalia van Solms, whose acute sensitivity to the shades and nuances of European courtly conventions had – like those of the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth Stuart – been strongly influenced by English tastes and court practice during her pre-marriage period as lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth of Bohemia, presided over a court designed in emulation of that of her former royal Stuart mistress. The Orange Stadholder’s court was thus as congenial for élite English visitors as the less politically powerful courts that flanked it (in all three, English and French were the languages of everyday use, alongside Dutch).2

Almost as soon as Frederik Hendrik assumed the Stadholdership in 1625, after the death of his half-brother Maurits, he and Amalia embarked on a programme of ostentatious expenditure on luxury objects and works of art, to create a cultural and artistic context which would put the house of Orange in the United Provinces on the European ‘royal’ map. Although the Orange court was small by the standards of the French, by the 1640s it was comparable with the courts of the German Princes, or that of the Elector Palatine at Heidelberg. The programme of expensive purchases and newly established courtly rituals and occasions was designed and put in place with the close guidance of the Stadholder’s trusted secretary, Sir Constantijn Huygens, in his capacity as art adviser (the cultivated and anglophile Sir Constantijn was particularly close to Amalia). The process of designing a princely milieu for the house of Orange paid homage to the Stuart court in London, whose tastes and social habits were self-consciously adopted. What made this strategy for glorifying the Orange house by ostentatious expenditure and design unusual was that the family in question were Stadholders (nominated officers) rather than a significant, dynastic royal line – in theory at least, the state could (and for a short time in mid-century did) overrule the appointment of the next in line to the position of head of state.

Descriptions of the grand sweep of aspirational purchasing and display by the Stadholder and his wife, however, do not do justice to the way Frederik Hendrik and Amalia were intimately involved in the process of building up the collection, with Amalia taking a particularly close interest in acquisition. Like collectors throughout the ages, she may have paid exorbitant sums for individual items, and accumulated art objects at a phenomenal speed, but she was nevertheless passionate about what she bought, and took lasting pleasure in paintings and decorations which it had taken time and effort for her adviser, Sir Constantijn, to acquire on her behalf.

Somewhere between 1625 and 1626, for example, shortly after her marriage, and at the very beginning of her activities as prominent patron and connoisseur, Amalia took a close interest in the purchasing of a painting by Rubens, depicting the marriage of Alexander the Great and Roxane – a nice compliment, perhaps, to her new husband, who like Alexander had raised a wife from among his imperial conquests to princely rank, while she had obediently complied with his royal command. The negotiator acting on Amalia’s behalf for the purchase was Sir Constantijn Huygens, the agent and intermediary was Michel le Blon, who was also responsible for commissioning and purchasing Rubens paintings for James I’s favourite the Duke of Buckingham. A memorandum in Rubens’s handwriting, found among Huygens’s papers, formed part of the negotiations leading to the purchase by Amalia, and reminds us how many decisions had to be taken, by her advisers, to ensure that she as patron was satisfied (financially and aesthetically) with the outcome.3

In 1632 Rubens’s Alexander Crowning Roxane hung in pride of place over the chimneypiece in Amalia van Solms’s private cabinet, or withdrawing room, in the Stadholder’s quarters in the Binnenhof (the seat of government) at The Hague. A surviving inventory of effects in the royal palaces at the time allows us to visualise the painting in its original, intimate setting – not just a great painting by a great Flemish artist, but a beloved possession of a Princess, memorialising an emotional crux in her own life. The cabinet was entirely hung with rich green velvet, braided with gold. The same braided green velvet covered the table in the centre of the room, and the three chairs and large couch. The swagged curtains were of matching green silk. The wooden over-mantel on which Alexander Crowning Roxane hung was gilt on a green ground.

As well as Alexander Crowning Roxane, the cabinet also contained an oblong painting by Rubens, placed ‘before’ the chimney, depicting ‘the courage of Cloelia’ – a young Roman woman taken captive by the Etruscans, who led other young girls to safety in a daring escape – along with portraits of Henry IV on horseback, the Winter Queen and the Count of Hanau. There was also a profile of the Princess herself, painted by the young Rembrandt.4

Frederik Hendrik and Amalia’s efforts to match the lavishness and grandeur of long-established royal households benefited, in its early stages, from a piece of sheer good fortune, in the form of a financial ‘windfall’ from the buoyant Dutch commercial sector. In September 1628, a Dutch West India Company fleet under the command of Admiral Piet Hein captured a Spanish convoy off the coast of present-day Cuba, in the Bay of Matanzas. To the amazement of the Dutch, the convoy turned out to be carrying a cargo of silver worth approximately twelve million guilders. This was a stroke of luck not only for the nineteen directors of the Dutch West India Company, but also for Frederik Hendrik and Amalia van Solms. Under Dutch plunder law, the Stadholder, in his position as both admiral and commander-in-chief of the fleet, could claim 10 per cent of the value of the cargo of captured enemy ships. In the account books recording disbursement of sums for the construction and embellishment of the Stadholder’s residences over the next ten years, the expenditure is often ordered to be taken from the seized cargo money. For instance: ‘to be paid from the Sea Prince’s monies to Gerard van Honthorst the sum of 6,800 carolus guilders for painting the large room at Huis ter Nieuburg in Rijswijk […] 16 May 1639’.5

The programme of deliberately extravagant expenditure was carried out with speed and efficiency. In the course of the 1630s, the house and garden of the Orange country estate at Honselaarsdijk were extended and the house lavishly refurnished. A new palace was built at Rijswijk, while the official residence of the Stadholder in the Binnenhof in The Hague was substantially added to and renovated. The castle of Buren was provided with handsome gardens in the 1630s and its interior modernised and refurbished. The Noordeinde palace in The Hague was almost entirely rebuilt during the same period. All these ‘royal’ houses were filled with paintings, tapestries, sculptures, hangings and other objets d’art in unprecedented quantities. Sir Constantijn Huygens saw to it that all of these were items of quality, guaranteed to provoke the admiration and envy of the more established crowned heads of Europe.6

The arrival of King Charles I’s daughter from London, as the child-bride of Frederik Hendrik and Amalia’s only son, was the occasion for a further round of expenditure, particularly since the match significantly enhanced the family’s ‘royal’ standing. From 1642, the court of Princess Mary Stuart and her husband Prince William II of Orange at The Hague rivalled that of William’s parents for its lavishness and conspicuous consumption of all and every available luxury. The adolescent Prince and Princess of Orange, having turned down their traditional quarters at the Binnenhof as insufficiently luxurious, settled into the newly renovated and refurbished Noordeinde palace, which Frederik Hendrik and Amalia decorated and equipped for them in a manner befitting a royal couple.7 Prince William and Princess Mary introduced a lifestyle and level of princely display at The Hague that deliberately emulated and sought to compete with established royal courts like those in London and Paris – developing her mother-in-law’s strategy for enhancing the standing of the house of Orange. The pampered pair rapidly acquired an international reputation for their extravagant lifestyle and the luxury and spectacle of their courtly entertainments.

The third court at The Hague was that of the ‘Winter Queen’, Elizabeth of Bohemia, and her husband, Frederick of Bohemia. The marriage of Charles I’s sister to Frederick, Count Palatine of the Rhine and Elector of the Holy Roman Empire, on 14 February 1613, had been celebrated enthusiastically across Protestant Europe. On the way to her new home in Heidelberg, the new Electress had been fêted in The Hague, with a series of banquets, ceremonial progresses and theatrical performances. To the Dutch the match symbolised the realisation of their hopes for a securely Protestant European royal dynasty. Elizabeth herself – elegant, expensively dressed and altogether glamorous – was their ‘Queen of hearts’, and retained their affection throughout her turbulent life.

Once they reached Heidelberg, the new Electress Palatine, whose large entourage of servants and retainers had accompanied her from England, insisted on living in Stuart style, filling the palace with her luxury possessions, including her small dogs and tame monkeys. Under her and Frederick’s influence, Heidelberg came to be clearly distinguished from other minor European princely courts by an altogether grander way of life, which while ostentatiously extravagant and frivolous, claimed nevertheless to be infused with the ideals of chivalry, humanism and committed Protestantism. From its fabulous gardens designed by Salomon de Caus, to the sumptuous decoration of its interiors, it set the tone for seventeenth-century court fashion across Europe.

In 1619 Frederick accepted the crown of Bohemia, on behalf of Protestant Europe, and in direct opposition to the wishes of Hapsburg Spain. He and Elizabeth were crowned in Prague in December 1619, but their glittering reign as King and Queen was abruptly brought to a halt early the following year, after only one winter in power, when Spain issued a declaration of war (hence their lasting title of ‘Winter King and Queen’). By October 1620 Catholic forces had advanced on Prague, and on 8 November Frederick’s army suffered a devastating defeat at the battle of the White Mountain. The royal couple fled via Breslau, Berlin and Wolfenbüttel to the United Provinces. They arrived in The Hague in April 1621, and the States General granted Frederick, Elizabeth and their five children asylum and generous financial support, providing them with a residence in keeping with their (by Dutch standards) elevated royal status. Although Frederick continued to try to regain possession of his Palatinate territories – seized by the Spanish after his loss of the crown of Bohemia – these were only eventually partially returned to his son Karl Ludwig (Charles Lewis or Louis to the English) under the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648.

The continuing indulgence of the States General of the United Provinces towards the Winter King and Queen’s lifestyle and its excessive costs depended to no small extent on the fact that until the birth of Prince Charles (later Charles II) in 1630, Elizabeth and her determinedly Protestant family were next in line to the English throne. Hers was also a family which included – unusually for the Stuarts – four healthy sons (though the eldest died in a boating accident in 1629). Throughout the 1620s, Elizabeth and Frederick continued to live in The Hague ‘with all the trappings of royalty and little regard to the costs this entailed’.8 Hunting, dances and spectacles dominated life at the Palatine court in exile. Elizabeth was an enthusiastic supporter of Netherlandish artists, and had herself and her family painted by some of the leading Dutch portrait painters of the period, in particular Gerrit van Honthorst and Michiel van Mierevelt. Many of the portraits were sent as gifts to her supporters in the Netherlands and abroad, spreading the fashion for Dutch portraiture across Europe.

After Frederick’s death in 1632, the dowager Winter Queen remained in the United Provinces, dividing her time between her home in The Hague and the castle she and Frederick had built together at Rhenen in the province of Utrecht. In both places Elizabeth continued to hold court in her accustomed style, and during and after the Civil Wars, her court became a refuge for English exiles, including the exiled Charles II and close members of his entourage.

She had received a substantial pension from Charles I before the outbreak of civil war in England, which (somewhat surprisingly) the Commonwealth administration had continued to pay right up to the King’s execution – after which the horrified Elizabeth refused to accept financial support from her brother’s murderers. Thereafter she was dependent on the generosity of the States General and the Stadholder. Nevertheless, those who returned to England from her court reported admiringly the continuing sophistication of life in the milieu of the Winter Queen. Accounts survive of court masques and musical performances in the 1650s which in their dramatic and musical conception and execution match those to which she was accustomed in her childhood at the court of her father James I – the court which had formed the social aspirations of the Stadholder’s secretary, Sir Constantijn Huygens.9

There was no shortage of available funds at the Stadholder’s own court, across town from that of Elizabeth of Bohemia. The last project undertaken by Frederik Hendrik and Amalia as part of their carefully-contrived cultural enhancement programme was to design and build one last lavish princely retreat for themselves on the outskirts of The Hague. The Huis ten Bosch was begun in 1647, the year of Frederik Hendrik’s death. Designed by Pieter Post, it was adapted by Amalia van Solms, following the Stadholder’s demise, to become a grand memorial to her husband’s achievements. The entire undertaking was carefully supervised by Huygens and carried out over a period of five years with his customary commitment and dedication – a fabulous integration of architecture and painting, which was finally completed in 1652.

The Huis ten Bosch, uniquely among the seventeenth-century Orange royal palaces, has survived with the interior decoration of its imposing central room virtually intact, and can still be visited today. In close consultation with Huygens and van Campen, Amalia selected a set of themes and designs that showcased the work of an array of Dutch and Flemish painters into an iconographically organised, connected cycle of thirty wall paintings. Van Campen himself contributed several of the painted elements; others were executed by Gerard van Honthorst, Caesar van Everdingen, Jan Lievens, Pieter Soutman, Salomon de Bray, Christiaan van Couwenbergh, Pieter de Grebber, Jacob Jordaens, Gonzales Coques and Theodoor van Thulden. The decoration of the room effects the apotheosis of Frederik Hendrik, who is heroicised throughout – first as a warrior, then a bringer of peace, and finally as the founder of a Golden Age. The largest, most complex and most ‘Baroque’ of the series, The Triumph of Frederik Hendrik, was entrusted to the Antwerp Catholic artist Jacob Jordaens – remarkably, in the politically and doctrinally tolerant atmosphere of Flemish Antwerp, a Catholic artist could undertake a large-scale work celebrating the achievements of a Dutch Protestant Prince.10

This extraordinary compilation of celebratory memorial artworks by a wide range of Dutch and Flemish artists marks an important watershed in the fortunes of fine art and artists in the United Provinces in the course of the seventeenth century. Monumental in scale, the project was at once the apotheosis of Frederik Hendrik, and of the simply remarkable talent which could be assembled to mark his passing. The painters involved were drawn from all over the United Provinces, and from Antwerp (where freedom of expression allowed artists of all political and religious persuasions to congregate). But as Sir Constantijn Huygens, the originator and orchestrator of the entire piece, explained to Amalia van Solms in a letter, painters from Brussels had necessarily to be excluded, because, in spite of the artistic enlightenedness of the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm (himself a major collector of Italianate art), the climate of Catholic religious conformity would not allow artists to produce work celebrating the Protestant and Huguenot-sympathising house of Orange. Caspar de Crayer, whom otherwise Huygens would have wished to commission, was obliged to turn down his invitation:

Crayer, the great painter from Brussels, has declined by letter to make his contribution, using a number of pretexts. I think the true reason is that the subject is too Huguenot and Orangist, to be executed in Brussels. It was supposed to have been the expedition of Frederik Hendrik with Prince Maurits to the battle of Flanders. Someone else will have to take it in hand.11

Meanwhile, the two ‘English’ courts at The Hague received an unexpected injection of vitality, and gained significantly in international importance, as a result of the civil unrest and turbulent times in England. By the late 1640s there were plenty of refugees from the continuing civil wars semi-permanently installed at The Hague, who were prepared to accord Princess Mary Stuart all the respect and royal status she required. Throughout the 1650s, too, English Royalist visitors sought refuge in the United Provinces in increasing numbers, transforming it, in spite of its republican government, into one of the great courtly centres of Europe.

On several occasions already we have encountered the figure of the Dutch diplomat and poet Sir Constantijn Huygens (1596–1687), who died eighteen months before the 1688 invasion, in his ninety-first year, having been the foremost, loyal adviser to the House of Orange for almost fifty years. It is no exaggeration to suggest that over the course of his exceptionally long career, Sir Constantijn Huygens carefully shaped every aspect of the affairs of the house of Orange, from diplomacy and dynastic liaisons to interior décor. He was a man of erudition, taste, discernment and diplomatic skill, a poet, musician, art connoisseur and courtier. From his youth he was a passionate lover of England and all things English (not least its monarchy), and the intimate understanding he acquired of the attitudes and mores of the English élite made him an invaluable adviser to three generations of Stadholders.

Sir Constantijn was born at The Hague in 1596. His family on his father’s side came from Brabant, while his mother was one of the Hoefnagels – distinguished artists, displaced from the important mercantile community at Antwerp by political events at the end of the sixteenth century. Constantijn Huygens senior was thoroughly educated in languages, law and social forms and practices, as part of an intensive grooming to equip him to follow a career in public life. He fulfilled this role assiduously, remaining a loyal servant of the house of Orange throughout the long period when it was excluded from political power, between 1650 and 1672.

The extraordinarily pervasive influence of Sir Constantijn across Europe throughout the seventeenth century extended beyond himself, to include the prominent roles played in fields as diverse as politics, garden design and natural science by his children. In my opening chapter we encountered Sir Constantijn’s eldest son, Constantijn Huygens junior, secretary to William of Orange, the future King William III of England, who was a prominent Dutch witness to the events of November–December 1688. His place at the side of Prince William III had been assured over ten years earlier, when he succeeded his father (who had previously succeeded his) in taking up that sensitive and key role. Constantijn junior, though less talented than his father, discharged his duties as secretary to the Stadholder-King impeccably, and, via his prolific diary in French and Dutch, is one of the most important sources of information about William’s private thoughts and state of mind at all stages in the unfolding of the story of the Glorious Revolution.

Probably the most renowned (at least in the eyes of posterity) of Sir Constantijn’s sons who lived to maturity was the distinguished scientist Christiaan Huygens, who spent much of his working life in Paris, in the service of Louis XIV, and of whom we shall hear more.12 Sir Constantijn’s only daughter Susanna married well, and with her husband Philips Doublet became an influential figure in seventeenth-century Dutch garden design. Son Lodewijk also became a government administrator, though he appears to have been somewhat less reliable in office than his elder brother.

Sir Constantijn Huygens is a pivotal figure in the history of seventeenth-century Anglo–Dutch relations. For three-quarters of a century he was the éminence grise behind vital decision-making in political and diplomatic circles, polite society, art connoisseurship and music appreciation on both sides of the Narrow Sea. What history treats as an unexpected agreement in aesthetic matters in the fields of art and music between two supposedly separate nations turns out to be the result of his assiduous taste-formation and opinion-forming within the two cultural communities. Since he plays such a vital part in the story I am telling here, it is worthwhile to look more closely at Sir Constantijn Huygens’s formative early career.13

On 10 June 1618 (new style), in the early hours of the morning, the twenty-two-year-old Constantijn Huygens senior, son of Christiaan Huygens senior, the trusted First Secretary to the Dutch Raad (its governing council), arrived in England for the first time in the entourage of the English Resident Ambassador to The Hague, Sir Dudley Carleton.14 The visitors disembarked, then waited at Gravesend until seven, when coaches were found to take them to King James I’s palace at Greenwich. Arriving there shortly before noon, they discovered that the King had left at short notice, on a whim, to go hunting – they had missed his departure by just a few hours. The ambassador (whose first duty upon arrival was to present his credentials to his royal master) set off again in pursuit with his entourage.

As fast as the ambassadorial party travelled, the King was ahead of them, restlessly looking for entertainment at each of his royal palaces in turn. Thus it was that the party spent their first week in England on the road, lodging each night at a different stately home and engaging in some enjoyable high-class tourism, before they eventually caught up with the King and his court at one of James’s favourite royal residences, Theobalds (’Tibbalts’) in Hertfordshire.15 Here, on Saturday, 16 June, Carleton formally kissed the King’s hand, delivered his credentials and received his royal instructions. Afterwards the party retraced its steps, arriving finally at the ambassador’s London residence.16

For the rest of his extraordinarily long and active life, Constantijn Huygens would recall fondly, with pride and nostalgic delight, this first encounter with England, its topography and culture, and the elaborate, baroque lifestyle of the English court. The magnificence of the parks and houses he visited, the displays of wealth in the form of works of art, statuary and collections of exotica, the ostentation of the dress and entertainment, were in striking contrast to the way of life he had grown up with in the Low Countries – both because of the far greater formality and flamboyance of English aristocratic life in the early decades of the seventeenth century, and because the fifty years since the beginning of the Dutch Revolt had scarred the landscape, and damaged homes and countryside across the flat, featureless landscape of the United Provinces.

A few days after his first fleeting encounter with King James, Constantijn left Carleton’s household and took up more settled residence in London. As had been carefully arranged by his father before he left home, he went to lodge with the elderly Noel de Caron, Lord of Schoonewalle, Dutch Resident Ambassador in London and long-term servant of the house of Orange. Caron occupied an elegant mansion, Caron House, on the south bank of the Thames, built for him by the English Crown.17 From this palatial residence the young Huygens proceeded to experience London life to the full, taking full advantage of Caron’s excellent connections to further frequent the court circle, though in his letters home he complained to his parents about the distance from Caron House to central London, and the exorbitant cost of transport.

The Huygens name (pronounced ‘Huggins’ by the English) opened doors: his father was considered to wield considerable political power. Constantijn did some enthusiastic sightseeing, commenting expertly on elegant locations and new buildings in and around London, visited friends of his father and of his host across the city, dined and partied. He also made great strides with his English – the main purpose of the trip as far as his father was concerned, aimed as it was at grooming him for an international diplomatic career. Huygens’s absolute fluency in English, together with his fond memories of the glamour and glitter of his first encounter with the country, contributed to his lifelong commitment – even in times of war – to fostering strong bonds of friendship between England and the United Provinces.

In Huygens’s later reminiscing – some of it in elegant, celebratory Latin verses – one of the high points of his stay at Caron House was a private visit there by the King himself, accompanied only by his son Charles, Prince of Wales (the future Charles I), and his closest favourites, the Earls of Arundel and Montgomery, and the Marquesses of Buckingham and Hamilton. The King was apparently anxious to spend some time in Caron’s garden, picking and tasting recently ripened Dutch cherries (which James harvested himself by means of ‘a ladder, specially carpeted for the purpose’). Afterwards the visitors stayed on for a light meal and a tour of Caron’s picture gallery, ‘to give serious attention to the paintings’ (’à spéculer aux peintures’).18

During the meal Huygens was presented to the King by his host, who drew particular attention to the young man’s virtuosity on the lute (Constantijn may have been invited to provide the background music while the royal party ate). According to Constantijn, writing proudly to his parents to keep them informed of his linguistic progress and social successes overseas, James was so delighted by his playing that he insisted that Caron must have Constantijn entertain him on the lute at length on a future occasion, at Bagshot, the grace-and-favour hunting lodge given by James to Caron for his use during his residence in England.19

That later occasion (towards the end of September 1618) made such an impression on the young and impressionable Constantijn that he committed it to verse in a poem entitled ‘Being about to sing to the lute in the presence of the King of Britain’:

Thrice the greatest among Kings lends a majestic ear;

Grant, O skilful Thalia, more than my usual strains…

Kingly glory, I admit, dazzles the eye.

In the Divine presence the tongue stiffens and is numb.20

‘But shall he who speaks the Batavian [Dutch] language despair of pleasing the English Gods?’ Huygens concludes, with youthful enthusiasm. The question was a rhetorical one.

On that second occasion also, James engaged the charming young Dutchman in private, informal conversation. Although at the very moment they were talking together, the Dutch Stadholder Maurits of Nassau was in the process of effecting a very public coup in the United Provinces to take control of the States General (a power play in which Constantijn’s father, as secretary to the governing council of the States General, was necessarily heavily involved), the exchange consisted entirely of politesse and social banter. Still, Huygens was well pleased to have made a good impression on the English monarch. When, heady with excitement at his proximity to the monarch, he was dismissed from the royal presence, he felt ‘delighted with the excellent success of my humble affairs’.21

Constantijn’s father, Christiaan Huygens senior (to whom Constantijn was dutifully writing almost daily), must have been particularly gratified that it was Constantijn’s musical talents which had brought him to the attention of the English King. His son had begun lessons on the ‘English viol’, with an English music teacher, when he was barely six years old, the beginning of a systematic training in elegance to equip him for a career in the service of one of Holland’s great dynastic families (the career of a ‘courtier’). Unaccompanied solo performance on the viol – known as playing ‘lyraway’ – was a peculiarly English speciality in the early seventeenth century. In fact, it was as a solo instrument as much as in consorts that the viol became established as the performance instrument of the English (the lute was similarly regarded as particularly ‘French’). Huygens had met and been greatly impressed by one of the pioneers of the English style of viol-playing at The Hague in 1613.22

Constantijn, who had shown early musical promise (his mother discovered that he could hold a tune when he sang a psalm melody back to her faultlessly at the age of two), had later been encouraged to perfect his skills in the company of members of the household of the English Ambassador at The Hague. Sir Henry Wotton, during his brief period as English Resident Ambassador at The Hague in 1614–15, was a neighbour, living just across the street from the Huygenses. As Constantijn’s proficiency increased on the viol, harpsichord, lute and theorbo, and he added a pleasing voice, his virtuosity gained him admission to the most select circles at The Hague – on a number of occasions he played for Frederik Hendrik’s mother, widow of William the Silent, Louise de Coligny. Thus by the time he was invited to play for James he was accustomed to performing in public, with élan, in front of discerning audiences.23

By the time he performed for King James, too, his was a specifically international, Anglo-Dutch musical expertise. He had absorbed the notational practices, playing techniques and even choices of accompanying instruments from his English and Anglo-Dutch teachers and fellow musicians. His playing was flexible and adaptable, and made him much in demand as a participant in any music occasion, whether in London or The Hague. We might indeed wonder whether the ‘lute’ on which he is supposed to have played, acquitting himself well enough to attract the admiration of the King of England himself, might actually have been a theorbo (close cousin to the lute), his preferred accompaniment for his singing.24

Apart from Constantijn Huygens’s personal delight at being allowed to demonstrate his musical prowess to the King, what most impressed him on this first English trip were the guided tours of several private art galleries, including that of his host. The Huygens family were notable art-lovers and connoisseurs. The artistic skills of all members of this talented family were not confined to music. Parents and children were also accomplished practitioners of pen-and-ink sketching and watercolours. Constantijn’s mother came from the distinguished family of artists the Hoefnagels, and Constantijn (who had been trained by his uncle, Jacob Hoefnagel), and later his own children, sketched and painted with exceptional skill.

Furthermore, Huygens had the good fortune to have as travelling companion on this visit a young contemporary, Jacob de Gheyn junior, the son of more neighbours of the Huygenses in the élite residential district of The Hague. Jacob de Gheyn senior (Jacob de Gheyn II) was a renowned Dutch painter of portraits and still-lifes, and the younger Jacob would later become an artist of international standing himself. He was certainly in a position to inform young Constantijn of the importance of the works of art they had the good fortune to be able to view in the collections of prominent figures in the English court circle.

The official reason for Sir Dudley Carleton, the English Resident at The Hague’s visit to England in 1618 was to take instruction on how to handle the sensitive situation in the United Provinces, where the Dutch Stadholder was attempting to seize additional powers from the Raad of the United Provinces by force. Less officially, though, the trip was undertaken in order to sort out Carleton’s personal financial affairs.

To start with, there were his ambassadorial financial difficulties – significant sums were owing to him as arrears in his stipend (ambassadors invariably found the monarch slow in reimbursing them). To this end his wife had arrived at their London residence in Westminster two months before him, to begin lobbying for the release of monies owing to them. There were also Carleton’s continuing efforts to secure a senior position back in the English court, with more significant financial rewards.

(Eventually, in 1628, his persistent efforts to secure preferment, and to end his expensive peripatetic life as an English Resident Ambassador around Europe, were rewarded when he was appointed Secretary of State to Charles I – three years after his young protégé Constantijn Huygens senior became First Secretary to Stadholder Frederik Hendrik, across the water in the northern Netherlands.)

But there was an even more pressing personal reason for Carleton’s presence at the English court, one which explains why priceless works of art should have been at the very forefront of the Ambassador’s mind, and therefore prominent in the day-to-day activities of his accompanying Dutch party. In early February 1615, just before Carleton had been recalled from his post as Resident English Ambassador to Venice to take up the English Residency at The Hague, he had borrowed an embarrassingly large sum of money from the Protestant merchant banker of Italian extraction Philip Burlamachi (whose banking activities were largely based in London and Antwerp) to allow him to purchase a magnificent private collection of Italian paintings and antiquities. Carleton had stood personal guarantor for the safe arrival of the precious consignment – should anything happen to it before delivery, he would be responsible for repaying the bankers.

Carleton referred to the affair of the Venetian art purchase as a ‘mischance’, and such it became shortly after it was made. The collection he had acquired was indeed a fine one, consisting of Italian paintings by known ‘masters’, among them Tintoretto, Titian, Veronese and Bassano, and over ninety fine antique statues of various types and sizes, acquired via the agency of the Flemish dealer and fixer Daniel Nys (or Nice). It was Carleton’s intention to offer this pre-eminent collection to James I’s leading favourite, the Earl of Somerset – a significant art collector, who might be expected to jump at the chance of such an acquisition, and reward Carleton handsomely, over and above the purchase price.

Building up a notable private collection of Italian art, and displaying it in a purpose-built gallery, was much in vogue at the English court in the early decades of the seventeenth century.25 Carleton’s hope was that by making this important art acquisition (purchased as a complete collection from the estate of a deceased or financially embarrassed collector), he would attract Somerset’s attention and gratitude, and thereby secure the lucrative promotion he desired for himself at the English court. The paintings were shipped from Venice to London on 25 April 1615. The antiquities followed shortly afterwards, by separate shipment.

By the time the paintings and the twenty-nine cases of sculpture arrived in London, however, the Earl of Somerset had been disgraced, and was no longer in any position to concern himself with art acquisitions. In fact, even as Carleton was undertaking the purchase in Venice, at home, Somerset was already under suspicion, with his wife Frances, of conspiring to murder Sir Thomas Overbury. The couple were arrested on 17 October 1615, tried, imprisoned and permanently barred from royal favour.

Somerset’s personal possessions were immediately confiscated by the Crown, and there was some danger that Carleton’s newly arrived artworks, just unpacked, and sitting in Somerset’s quarters at Whitehall, would be seized by the King and added to his own collection, even though technically they still belonged to Carleton. Carleton – by now in post at The Hague – hurriedly arranged for the paintings to be identified as technically his, and offered for sale in London. Entering the ‘Bowling ally’ in Somerset’s apartments, Carleton’s agents marked his pictures with a cross, excluding them from the inventory of possessions seized by the King. While Carleton looked for another buyer, the pictures were moved to the home of a merchant who handled Daniel Nys’ accounts in London. Disposing of the paintings turned out to be a comparatively straightforward matter. Not only was the Earl of Arundel a leading collector, but he had been personally involved in advising Carleton over the original Venetian purchase – these were works of art entirely to his own taste. Arundel agreed to take possession of almost all the paintings. On 9 April 1616, two years before the visit on which Constantijn Huygens senior accompanied him, Carleton’s agent informed Carleton:

The L. Arundel is nowe returned & this day I gave my attendance on him, who I perceaved is passing desirous to deale for the halfe of them [the paintings], telling me that my L. Danvers undertooke to take the other halfe.

On 25 May 1616, Carleton was notified by his agent in London that ‘My L: of Arundell is content to take all the pictures (I would he were of the same mind for the Statues) to himself.’

Carleton’s agent was right to be anxious: it proved much more difficult to dispose of the sculptures. In spite of the full inventory which accompanied them, the individual pieces were less obviously ‘collectible’ than the high-quality paintings by recognised Italian masters. Many of the figures and reliefs were bulky and unwieldy to deal with, particularly from a distance, as Carleton was obliged to do. There was also the vexed issue of authentication. In the case of the paintings, Arundel had relied on his trusted expert Inigo Jones to scrutinise each one and give an opinion of its value (artistic and financial). And although, in spite of all this, Arundel might have been expected to take an interest in the sculptures as well as the paintings, this prospect had been scotched part-way through the longdistance negotiations, when Arundel was presented with another outstanding collection of antique statuary as a gift at precisely that moment – the superb collection which later came to be known as the ‘Arundel marbles’.

Eventually Carleton gave up trying to offload the antiquities in London, and had them all packed up again and sent back to him at The Hague, where he and his agents began casting around for another interested party to purchase them.

The idea of offering the sculpture collection to the great Flemish artist Pieter Paul Rubens may have come from Arundel or from Constantijn Huygens’s father, Christiaan senior, or both.26 In August 1617, Carleton’s agent George Gage wrote to him from Antwerp concerning the statues:27

[He] understands he has received divers antique heads and statues out of Italy, wishes to know if they were bot [bought] of Daniel Nice, shd much like to see them, especially if any Statues as large as life.28

Gage was aware that Carleton had successfully effected a transaction with Rubens earlier that year, exchanging a Rubens hunting scene for a chain of diamonds.29 Now he believed that Rubens might be interested in exchanging Carleton’s collection of antiquities for a significant number of the famous artist’s own fashionable and highly desirable paintings.30

The suggestion was a timely and attractive one to Rubens. He had just finished overseeing substantial modifications to his grand new house on the Wapper canal in Antwerp. A fine collection of antique statuary ‘as large as life’ would create an imposing classical presence in the grand Italianate wing which Rubens had had added to house his studio, ‘museum’ of antiquities and receiving rooms. These were the rooms in which prospective buyers would wait for an audience with the great man himself. Their sumptuous decoration with antiques and costly furnishings would publicly demonstrate his status as an internationally renowned and much sought-after artist. Rubens was also engaged in creating sensational outdoor spaces around his new home (his courtyard was hung with trompe-l’oeil paintings of his own of classical statues and friezes), and a large classically-inspired garden, which included architectural features and statuary as well as exotic plants and birds. Here too, genuine antiquities, strategically placed as the focal point in walks and alleyways, would confirm Rubens’s taste and discernment.

On 1 November 1617, George Gage wrote to Carleton from Antwerp that he had ‘delivered to Sigr Rubens what yr L. wrights to mee concerning yr heades and statuaes’. The proposition, as eventually negotiated, was that in exchange for the complete collection of antiquities, Rubens should supply four thousand florins’ worth of his own paintings, plus two thousand florins’ worth of fine tapestries. Rubens hoped to come to The Hague with Gage to inspect the collection, but in the event was unable to do so. In March 1618 he wrote (in Italian) to Carleton himself, confirming his enthusiasm for the proposed exchange: ‘Y.E. having expressed to Mr. Gage that you would determine on making some exchange with me of those marbles for pictures by my hand, I, as being fond of antiques, would readily be disposed to accept any reasonable offer, should Y.E. continue in the same mind.’ He would, he wrote, send a list of paintings for Carleton to choose from.31 A month later the list arrived, including the dimensions of each work. They included an oversized crucifixion scene (twelve feet by six feet) of a kind that a collector of Protestant persuasion could not comfortably have hanging on the walls of his gallery, and an even larger Last Judgement. Carleton declined these, and Rubens agreed to substitute more suitable items. After further negotiations, since no tapestries could be found that met Carleton’s high standard of design and execution, it was decided by further negotiation that Rubens would pay Carleton the sum of two thousand florins in cash in their place.

In late May, Rubens wrote to Carleton to tell him that he had agreed the final list of paintings and their measurements with ‘that Man of Your Excellency’s who came to take them’, and had come to an agreement to have gilt frames supplied for them at his own expense. He assured Carleton that the pictures would all be his own work, rather than studio productions, and promised that they would be dispatched to him as soon as possible:

I cannot, however, affirm so precisely as I could wish, the exact day when all these pictures will be dry, and to speak the truth, it appears to me better that they should go away together, because the first are newly retouched; still, with the aid of the sun, if it shines serene and without wind (the which stirring up the dust is injurious to newly painted pictures) will be in a fit state to be rolled up with five or six days of fine weather.32

A note among Carleton’s papers records that the final list of paintings was brought to him in The Hague, from Antwerp, by ‘Mr Hugins’ – doubtless the same ‘Mr Huygens’ (Constantijn senior) who was about to set off with Carleton on his diplomatic voyage to London.33

On 1 June 1618 Rubens confirmed in writing that he had taken delivery of his statues.34 They included allegories of Peace, Justice and Abundance, a Diana and a Jupiter, busts of Marcus Aurelius, Cicero, Drusus, Germanicus, Trajan, Nero and Domitian, as well as Augustus and Julius Caesar, and burial urns, tablets and inscriptions, putti and dolphins. Ten days after the deal had been settled, and knowing that he would eventually recoup his outlay of money for them in the desirable form of artworks by the great Dutch painter Pieter Paul Rubens, Carleton and his ambassadorial party (including the young Constantijn Huygens) arrived in London. He could now concentrate on recovering cash, or goods in lieu, for the Italian paintings which the Earl of Arundel had taken off his hands with alacrity two years earlier. (In the end, apparently, Danvers’s interest had waned, and Arundel took almost the entire collection.)

The deal struck between Carleton and Rubens to ‘unload’ the consignment of antique statuary was the beginning of an extremely fruitful relationship between the two men as artist and backer, and led to Rubens acquiring a string of prominent patrons at the English court. Carleton claimed that his successful exporting back to the Continent of the Venetian antiquities, and their replacement by a collection of outstanding works of art by Rubens, had caused a radical change in fashions for collecting in England, replacing antiquities with modern Netherlandish paintings. Carleton having publicly preferred the paintings to antiquities, the vogue in court collecting had followed suit, to the annoyance of English artists: ‘I am blamed by the painters of this country who make ydoles of these heads and statuas, but all others commend the change.’35

It is likely that the Earl of Arundel – one of England’s most prominent connoisseurs of paintings and statuary – had already played some part in the acquisition of Carleton’s consignment of artworks. Having eventually found himself the proud owner, he paid Carleton most of the sum owing, but procrastinated over supplying him with selected artworks in lieu of the remaining indebtedness.

It was this outstanding debt that Carleton spent much of his time pursuing during his 1618 trip to London. When he paid visits to the Earl of Arundel to talk business, he was still trying to sort out the unhappy affair of the Venice artworks. And when he visited to talk art business, Constantijn Huygens senior and Jacob de Gheyn went too. De Gheyn was well-qualified to draw attention to the most remarkable acquisitions in these aristocratic collections, and to explain their felicities in composition and style to his companion. These visits were precious opportunities for Constantijn to be instructed in the finer points of artistic taste, in the presence of some of the most magnificent examples of Italianate art to be encountered anywhere in Europe.

So Huygens reported to his father that he had seen the Earl of Arundel’s collection of paintings and classical statues in their elegantly classical, purpose-built gallery at Arundel House on the Thames. He judged the recently acquired ‘Arundel marbles’ ‘choses admirables en vérité’. He also told him that he had been given a guided tour of Prince Henry’s fabulous collection of Italian paintings at St James’s Palace, down the road from Whitehall. The charismatic Crown Prince Henry, regarded by many as the golden prospect of the Stuarts, had died tragically young in 1612, and among his cultural legacies was his carefully compiled art collection. The private tour was in all likelihood conducted by Henry’s Dutch keeper of his collection, Abraham Van der Doort, soon to be appointed keeper of the future Charles I’s collection (a deathbed promise of Charles to Henry).

The Earl and Countess of Arundel already knew the Huygens family, from Princess Elizabeth’s progress through The Hague on her way to Heidelberg in 1613.36 Arundel (accompanied by Inigo Jones, Toby Matthew and George Gage) had left the royal party at Strasbourg, and travelled on to Italy in search of art treasures for his collection. In autumn 1613 he was entertained in Venice by Carleton, who went along on a series of guided tours of galleries, churches and monuments with the visitors. ‘Such activity was clearly unusual for the ambassador since, when he gave formal thanks on the Earl’s behalf for the hospitality the Arundels had received, he admitted that “I who have been here three years, may say that until now I had not seen Venice.”’37 When Carleton arrived in The Hague in 1615, Christiaan Huygens senior had already been recommended to him by Arundel as an expert guide to Dutch art, and besides, the two were neighbours on the Voorhout – one of The Hague’s smartest streets. On Huygens’s recommendation, Carleton visited Rubens’s Antwerp studio (or at least his agent George Gage did) during his first year in the United Provinces. By 1617 he was trying to buy a hunting scene by Rubens.38

According to Constantijn senior’s letters home, he and Jacob de Gheyn spent a considerable amount of time at Arundel House, where de Gheyn drew some of Arundel’s antique statues. In fact, the two men’s continued presence in the Arundel galleries marked the end of Carleton’s attempt to strike a deal with Arundel to give him works of art in place of the money owing. Huygens told his father that he and de Gheyn were particularly impressed by the Dutch artist Daniel Mytens’s newly painted companion portraits of the Earl of Arundel and his wife Althea seated in front of their artistic treasures. It seems Carleton had tried unsuccessfully to acquire these two works from Arundel just before he left England. We have the following letter from Mytens himself to Carleton in August 1618, written just after Carleton’s departure for The Hague:

I send you by this bearer that picture or portrait of the Ld. Of Arundel and his Lady, together in a small forme, it is covered up in a small case. I have donne my indeavor to perswaide his Lordship to send your honor those great picteures, butt he is not willing to parte from them, by reason theye doe leyke his honnor so well, that he will kepe them, and hee willed me to make these in a smaller forme, wch I trust your Honor will accept and esteeme as a small presente donne for my Lo. Of Arundel, and for my paynes and care I have donne therein to the most of my power. I leave the judgement to your Lordships good discretion.39

Two years later, when Carleton’s relationship with Rubens had been cemented by the acquisition of further significant paintings by the Flemish artist on his own behalf, it was he who arranged that when the Countess was travelling through Antwerp, she sat for Rubens herself. Rubens portrayed Lady Arundel as the important collector she undoubtedly was, surrounded by all the paraphernalia of the wealthy and culturally influential English aristocrat: her coat of arms, her fool, her elegantly dressed dwarf Robin, her falcon and a hunting dog. Behind her chair hovers the satisfied deal-maker, Sir Dudley Carleton, the man knowledgeable about art, responsible for bringing Rubens and the Arundels together.

During his stay in London, Carleton had apparently also commissioned a portrait of Charles, Prince of Wales (the future Charles I), by Mytens. In the letter accompanying the work ‘in small forme’ of the Arundels, Mytens writes:

I have binne at Sharckney [Hackney] to see wether I cold fynde occasion to draw the Princes Highnes picture; but the Prince being a hunting and suddainly to departe further in progress, I am returned to London, so that I must waiyte for a better opportunity at his Retorne back.

And the curious story which began with the ‘mischance’ of Carleton acquiring a significant collection of antiquities, and involved the young Sir Constantijn Huygens on his first visit to London, participating at first hand in the strenuous art-related dealings between Carleton and the Arundels, does not end here.

In 1626, Pieter Paul Rubens’s wife Isabella Brant died, and (as was customary) her grieving husband had to return her dowry to her family. The obvious source of the significant sum required was the fine collection of antiquities on display throughout his house and garden. Ever the pragmatist, Rubens made plaster casts of the collection, then sold the originals, as an intact collection, to the Duke of Buckingham, James I’s favourite. The agent who brokered the deal on behalf of Buckingham – who was in the process of establishing himself as a leading power in the land by competing with the King himself for the prestige and ostentation of his art collection – was Michel le Blon. Le Blon probably negotiated (with Huygens) the Alexander Crowning Roxane for Amalia van Solms at the same time, while he was at the house on the Wapper canal on a daily basis, seeing to the acquisition of Buckingham’s ‘marbles’ – a collection of antiquities to rival that of the Earl of Arundel himself.

So the collection of antique statuary which Carleton had first acquired in Venice and transported to London, returned to London once more – only to be returned to the United Provinces again following Buckingham’s assassination. In 1648, the whole of the Duke of Buckingham’s great art collection was sent to Antwerp for auction.40

By the time he eventually made his way home to The Hague, Constantijn Huygens senior had been entirely captivated by England’s courtly milieu. Fortunately, his now-fluent English made him invaluable as a diplomatic emissary, and he was able to return to soak up more of the art and culture of London in 1621, when he made two trips, one as an official member of a States General delegation, the second an extended visit, lasting almost a year, in the entourage of the powerful Dutch diplomat François van Aerssen.

Three years after that third visit, Sir Constantijn succeeded his father as personal secretary and artistic adviser to the Dutch Stadholder Frederik Hendrik. His early encounters were a fundamental influence on him when he set about the task of acquiring artworks and exotica for Frederik Hendrik for his palaces in and near The Hague, as part of a conscious effort to raise the profile of the Orange Stadholders to something like ‘royal’ status on the international scene.41 Among the substantial numbers of Dutch paintings included in the important collection of paintings Huygens assembled were significant works by Rubens.42

By the late 1640s, Sir Constantijn Huygens occupied an unrivalled position in cultivated circles in the Dutch Republic, as arbiter of taste in all things cultural, from music and poetry to art and architecture. His position as a privileged intermediary between the élites of England and the Low Countries had been further strengthened in 1641 by Frederik Hendrik’s son William’s marriage to Charles I’s daughter Mary. Upon the death of Frederik Hendrik in 1647, William became Stadholder, and Huygens his secretary. Huygens’s absolute fluency in English, as well as his extensive knowledge of England and its customs and practices, made him invaluable to this Anglo–Dutch court, locked in diplomatic negotiations with the English royal family and its supporters throughout the English Civil Wars (1642–49).43

In his early experiences in England, we watch the moulding – socially, politically and culturally – of the young Sir Constantijn Huygens, and the beginnings of the considerable influence he came to wield in the formation of opinion and taste over the course of the seventeenth century, between English and Dutch court circles. By mid-century his approval was vital to young international artists and musicians on the make, his personal recommendation ensuring their enthusiastic reception at court and in salons across Europe.

And, of course, the point of greatest interest to us here is that these formative encounters with fine art and music in the most prestigious of contemporary court settings were strenuously Anglo–Dutch. Agents, procurers, patrons and collectors apparently move (and move their expensive purchases) between and among circles of like-minded individuals who operate in London, The Hague and Antwerp. The ‘Englishness’ of Sir Dudley Carleton’s opinions regarding Italian and Dutch paintings, and ancient statuary, is shaped and coloured by Dutch and Italian Protestant facilitators to his purchases, and by the involvement of Pieter Paul Rubens – the most internationally famous of Flemish painters at the time – in determining their value and desirability.

So, as we watch Sir Constantijn Huygens tirelessly intervening to facilitate access of appropriately talented musicians and artists to the courts of the Dowager Princess of Orange, the Prince of Orange and the Winter Queen at The Hague, his shaping over time of ‘Dutch’ taste cannot in fact be separated from the English influences that shaped him, and which he in turn continued to contribute to shaping himself.

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