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William Villiers, 2nd Viscount Grandison

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Lydiard portrait of Grandison, school of Anthony van Dyck, c. 1640
The Lydiard portrait of Grandison, school of Anthony van Dyck, c. 1640

William Villiers, 2nd Viscount Grandison (1614 – 29 September 1643) was an English knight, Irish peer, and Cavalier soldier who was fatally wounded leading a cavalry attack at the storming of Bristol.

Early life and family

Villiers was the eldest son of Sir Edward Villiers, a half-brother of the influential George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, by his marriage to Barbara St John (c. 1592–1672) a daughter of Sir John St John, of Lydiard Tregoze. His maternal grandmother, Lucy Hungerford, had been a daughter of Sir Walter Hungerford of Farleigh Castle.[1] Apart from being a nephew of Buckingham, the young Villiers had two other uncles at court, John Villiers, 1st Viscount Purbeck, and Kit Villiers, 1st Earl of Anglesey, and an aunt, the Countess of Denbigh, who was Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Henrietta Maria. His grandfather, Sir George Villiers, had died in 1606, but as a child he knew his step-grandmother Mary Villiers, Countess of Buckingham (c. 1570–1632).[2]


Villiers grew up mostly in London, where his father held offices of profit under the Crown. In 1617, Sir Edward was promoted to Master of the Mint, a post which gave him rooms at the Tower of London.[3] On 23 June 1623, when his childless great-uncle Oliver St John (1559–1630) was created Viscount Grandison in the peerage of Ireland, the honour was made subject to a special remainder that it would be inherited by the heirs male of St John's niece Barbara Villiers. This had the effect of making the nine-year old Villiers the heir to the peerage.[4] His father, Sir Edward Villiers, died in Ireland in September 1626, while serving as Lord President of Munster, and his great-uncle died on 30 December 1630, whereupon Villiers became the second Lord Grandison. He inherited some property from both.[5]

In 1638 the king knighted Grandison at Windsor, together with the Prince of Wales and Thomas Bruce, 1st Earl of Elgin.[6] He was a friend of Edward Hyde, who in a eulogy reported that "he had sometimes indulged so much to the Corrupt opinion of Honour, as to venture himself in Duels".[7] In 1639, Grandison married Mary Bayning, then aged fourteen, one of the daughters of the late Lord Bayning, who was heiress to a fortune of £180,000,[8] and the next year they had a daughter, Barbara Villiers,[2][9] who was christened on 27 November 1640 at St Margaret's, Westminster.[10]

A strong supporter of King Charles I in the English Civil War, which broke out in August 1642, Grandison spent his fortune on horses and equipment for a regiment of Cavaliers in support of the king.[11] On 23 October 1642, Grandison's regiment was on the royalists' left wing at the Battle of Edgehill. During the fighting, the king's standard-bearer, Sir Edmund Verney, was killed, and the royal standard captured. Three of Grandison's men, led by John Smith, recovered it, and Smith was knighted on the field, becoming the last knight banneret created in England. Grandison gave him a troop to lead and promoted him to major.[12]

At the storming of Bristol, on 26 July 1643, Grandison was one of the three brigadiers under the command of Prince Rupert of the Rhine and led his brigade in a charge on the Prior's Hill Fort and a redoubt at Stokes Croft. The attack was repulsed, and Grandison was fatally wounded, together with his cousin Edward St John, a son of his uncle Sir John St John.[11]. Grandison did not die immediately, surviving until 29 September, when he died of a fever presumably related to the injury (Hyde explicitly states that the wound caused his death).[7] He was interred at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford. He left a widow and daughter impoverished by the war, and soon after his death his widow married his first cousin Charles Villiers, 2nd Earl of Anglesey.[9]

As Grandison had no son, he was succeeded by a younger brother, John Villiers. After the Restoration, Grandison's only child, Barbara Villiers, became a royal mistress of King Charles II, in 1670 was created Duchess of Cleveland, and became the ancestor of several noble families, including the Dukes of Grafton. Grandison's mother, Barbara Lady Villiers, born about 1592, lived into her eighties and saw the Restoration and the early years of her great-grandchildren.[3]

Lord Grandison's youngest brother, Edward, was the father of Edward Villiers, 1st Earl of Jersey,[3] and the present-day Viscount Grandison is his descendant, William Villiers (born 1976), a film executive.[13]

Eulogy by Clarendon

Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon wrote of Grandison in The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England

Lord Grandison, whose loss can never be enough lamented. He was a young Man of so virtuous a habit of mind that no temptation or provocation could corrupt him; so great a Lover of Justice and integrity, that no example, necessity, or even the barbarity of this War, could make him swerve from the most precise Rules of it; and of that rare Piety and Devotion, that the Court, or Camp, could not shew a more faultless Person, or to whose example young Men might more reasonably conform themselves. His personal Valour, and Courage of all kinds (for he had sometimes indulged so much to the Corrupt opinion of Honour, as to venture himself in Duels), was very eminent, inasmuch as he was accused of being too Prodigal of his Person; his Affection, and Zeal, and Obedience to the King, was such as became a Branch of that Family. And he was wont to say, "That if he had not understanding enough to know the uprightness of the Cause, nor Loyalty enough to inform him of the Duty of a Subject, yet the very obligations of gratitude to the King, on the behalf of his House, were such, as his Life was but a due Sacrifice.[7]... He was particularly lamented by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with very vehement passion, there being a most entire friendship between them for many years without intermission."[14]

The Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to in this is Hyde himself.[15]

Lydiard portrait

The Lydiard portrait, engraved by Pieter van Gunst c. 1714
The Lydiard portrait, engraved by Pieter van Gunst c. 1714

A portrait of Grandison survived at Lydiard House, his mother's family home in Wiltshire, as of 2006. It is catalogued as by the school of Anthony van Dyck. At the bottom right of the canvas is the name "LD. GRANDISSON".[16][17] This painting was engraved about 1714 by Pieter van Gunst, who identified it as "William Villiers, Vicount Grandisson, Father to ye Late Duchesse of Cleaveland", with the attribution "A v. Dyk pinx".[18] Theresa Lewis, in her Lives of the Friends and Contemporaries of Lord Chancellor Clarendon (1852), gives an unmistakable description of this portrait and reports that two copies of it then existed, one owned by the Duke of Grafton, a direct descendant of Grandison's, and the other by Earl Fitzwilliam.[19]

Another portrait

The Whitney Van Dyck
The Whitney Van Dyck

A similar but more sumptuous portrait of a young man, also known as Viscount Grandison, said to have belonged to George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, was at Stocks Park, Hertfordshire,[20] before being exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1893 as the property of Arthur Kay, Esq. After that it was sold to H. O. Miethke, who quickly sold it to Jacob Herzog of Vienna. Exhibited as "William Villiers, Viscount Grandison", this had a great impact at a Van Dyck Tercentenary Exhibition at Antwerp in 1899, and in 1901 the portrait was bought by William Collins Whitney,[21] who paid $125,000 for it. This was the second-highest price ever attached to a painting at the time, defeated only by Millet's Angelus.[22] Still named as a portrait of Grandison, it went on to create a sensation at the Van Dyck Loan Exhibition at Detroit in 1929, and in 1932, on the death of H. P. Whitney, was inherited by his widow Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.[23] In 1948 Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney gave it to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.[24]

The art historian Lionel Cust, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, suggested in 1905 that the Whitney portrait was of another man, and might be a likeness of the younger brother of Grandison, John Villiers, who became the third Viscount in 1643.[20] A more powerful identification was made in the 1940s, when an early 18th century drawing of the painting by Louis Boudan was found, marked as Henry de Lorraine, duc de Guise.[25] The National Gallery of Art now attaches that name to it.[26]


  1. ^ D. J. Ashton, "Hungerford, Walter, Baron Hungerford of Heytesbury (1503–1540)", in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)
  2. ^ a b George Edward Cokayne, Vicary Gibbs, The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom (Bass to Canning, 1912), p. 37
  3. ^ a b c Andrew Thrush, "Villiers, Sir Edward (c.1585–1626)", in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)
  4. ^ John Debrett, Debrett's Peerage of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1837), p. 91
  5. ^ Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (1909), p. 177
  6. ^ Sites of Cultural Stress from Reformation to Revolution: The Masque (Folger Institute, 2004, |accessed 19 September 2018
  7. ^ a b c Clarendon, The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England, Book VII (1717 edition), pp. 299–300
  8. ^ Allen Andrews, The Royal Whore: Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine (1971), p. 6
  9. ^ a b Margaret Gilmour, The Great Lady, a biography of Barbara Villiers, mistress of Charles II (Knopf, 1941), pp. 8–11
  10. ^ Maurice Petherick, Restoration Rogues (1951), p. 327
  11. ^ a b David C. Wallace, Twenty-Two Turbulent Years 1639-1661, p. 28
  12. ^ Edward Irving Carlyle, "Smith, John (1616-1644)", in Sidney Lee, Ed., Dictionary of National Biography 53 (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1898), p. 74
  13. ^ Charles Mosley, ed., Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knighthood (107th edition, Burke's Peerage & Gentry (2003), pp. 2095–2097, ISBN 0-9711966-2-1
  14. ^ Quoted in Lady Maria Theresa Villiers Lister Lewis, William Seymour, marquis of Hertford, afterwards duke of Somerset (1852), p. 317
  15. ^ Alfred Howard, The Beauties of Literature: Consisting of Classic Selections, Volume 2 (T. Davison,1829), p. 54
  16. ^ Christopher Wright, Catherine May Gordon, British and Irish Paintings in Public Collections: an Index (Yale University Press, 2006), p. 316
  17. ^ Lydiard Park and Church (Borough of Thamesdown), p. 10
  18. ^ William Villiers, Vicount Grandisson, Father to ye Late Duchesse of Cleveland, Anthony van Dyck at, accessed 9 January 2018
  19. ^ Theresa Lewis Lives of the Friends and Contemporaries of Lord Chancellor Clarendon: Illustrative of Portraits in His Gallery, Volume 3 (J. Murray, 1852), p. 316
  20. ^ a b Lionel Cust, Anthony Van Dyck: An Historical Study of His Life and Works, p. 138 : "A portrait of a young man in a similar dress, called Viscount Grandison, formerly at Stocks Park, Hertfordshire, and now in the possession of M. Hertzog at Vienna, evidently represents another young Cavalier, perhaps his brother, John Villiers, who succeeded as third Viscount Grandison.
  21. ^ The Living Age, Volume 233 (1902), p. 334: "Mr. Whitney's rich and ever-growing collection includes – to mention only his most enviable possession – the enchanting full length "Willlam Villiers, Viscount Grandison" by Van Dyck, which used to hang almost unnoticed in a quiet English country house; then suddenly not only took Van Dyck students but the world by storm when, as the property of Herr Hertzog of Vienna, it appeared at the Commemorative Van Dyck Exhibition."
  22. ^ Appletons' Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events (1902) : "The full-length portrait of William de Villiers, Viscount Grandison, by Van Dyck, which figured at the Antwerp exhibition of the works of the master in 1899, has been purchased by William C. Whitney, of New York, for $125,000, the highest price paid in America for a picture, excepting Millet's Angelus. It was originally in the possession of the Buckingham family, from whom it passed to Lady Grey and to Jacob Herzog, of Vienna, who exhibited it in 1899."
  23. ^ Apollo Volume 22 (1976), p. 91 : "ONE of the outstanding items in the great Van Dyck Loan Exhibition at Detroit, U.S.A., in 1929, was beyond question the sumptuous "William Villiers, Viscount Grandison," the property of Mr. Harry Payne Whitney, of New York (Fig. I). It seems to have created something of a sensation, as indeed it had already done in the Van Dyck Tercentenary Exhibition (Antwerp, 1899) and earlier in the Winter Exhibition of 1893 at our Royal Academy. And no wonder : for, while others of the master's portraits may excel in dignity, sublety or power, as a display of sheer bravura it is perhaps unrivalled. One is accordingly rather surprised to find that not a tittle of positive documentary evidence has been put forward hitherto as to either authorship or subject. Even the attribution to Van Dyck rests solely on aesthetic grounds ; but the best critical opinion seems unanimous in accepting the work unreservedly as an authentic masterpiece from his hand. Far otherwise is it with the proposed identification of the sitter : he has only been accepted as "Grandison" provisionally and with notable reservations... After being exhibited (according to the catalogue) at the Royal Academy in 1893 by " Arthur Kay, Esq.," it passed in rapid succession to H. O. Miethke and Jacob Herzog of Vienna. Thence, in 1901, it was acquired by Mr. W. C. Whitney of New York, and so came to Mr. H. P. Whitney, to whose widow it now belongs. I have been quite unable to locate it — in England — further back than the XIXth century."
  24. ^ Pallas: International Art and Archaeology News Bulletin (1948), p. 28
  25. ^ The Connoisseur Volumes 122-123 (1948), p. 42 : "The Whitney Van Dyck was, during its long ownership in England, known as the portrait of William Villiers, Viscount Grandison... The definite identification of the subject was made only recently when the late Mr. Francis M. Kelly discovered in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris a contemporary drawing of it by Louis Boudan inscribed in a contemporary hand : Henry de Lorraine, duc de Guise."
  26. ^ Huntington Cairns, John Walker, Treasures from the National Gallery of Art (1962), p. 84

External links

Peerage of Ireland
Preceded by
Oliver St John
Viscount Grandison
Succeeded by
John Villiers
This page was last edited on 7 June 2019, at 06:51
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