One of the most iconic of English Jacobean painters, William Larkin was renowned for his shimmering portraits of members of the court of James I of England, capturing in brilliant detail the opulent textiles, embroidery, lace and jewellery so fashionable at the time, and precisely rendering the oriental ‘Turkey’ carpets and draped silk curtains that formed a suitably theatrical setting for his subjects. Our portrait of James Hay, 1st Earl of Carlisle (1580 – 1636) undoubtedly emanates from Larkin’s studio. Another, identical version, though not as fine, was sold at Sotheby’s in 1984 from the collection at Danny House, Sussex, that had descended within the Campion family. It is most likely that Carlisle required several versions of Larkin’s original portrait to hang in his country estates.
with Bartholomew Wilkins, at Burlington House Fair;
with Simon Dickinson & Co., London, 1996;
Private collection, United Kingdom, until
The Weiss Gallery, 2018.
Our painting bears close comparison to the so-called ‘Suffolk Set’ of full-lengths by Larkin, now at Kenwood House, London, including a portrait of Richard Sackville, third Earl of Dorset from 1613. Although James Hay does not stand on an oriental carpet and his costume is less elaborately detailed, nonetheless his stance, the handling of lace-work, and the curtains are finely rendered as befited his aristocratic status. It was painted around 1618 – 1619, presumably to celebrate Hay’s appointment as ‘Viscount Doncaster’ in 1618. Larkin died suddenly around the same time, and it is entirely feasible that his studio assistants continued to work in London taking commissions from Larkin’s clients, and that this is a studio replica of a lost original.
James Hay, 1st Earl of Carlisle was the son of Sir James Hay (d. 1610) of Fingask, Comptroller of Scotland, and descended from the earls of Erroll. His mother was Sir James’s first wife, Margaret Murray, cousin of George Hay, 1st Earl of Kinnoull. A favourite of James I, Carlisle was a key figure in the Stuart era, a renowned courtier and diplomat. Unlike the majority of Scots who entered England with James I, he integrated easily and absorbed the culture of the English court. It is said that he established a ‘greater affection and esteem with the whole English nation than any other of that country by choosing their friendships and conversations, and really preferring it to any of his own.’
Though there is no record of Carlisle having attended a Scottish university, he spoke fluent French, Latin, and adequate Italian. It is probable that he spent some of his early life in France, and indeed, it was Carlisle’s first patron, Charles Cauchon de Maupas, Baron du Tour, who started him on the way to preferment with James VI. The baron was a highly talented French diplomat who was sent over to Scotland in the summer of 1602, ingratiating himself with James in a manner that was not duplicated by another diplomat for many years. It appears that Carlisle returned to Scotland with the ambassador, and acted as an escort for the baron as he entered Scottish territory.
Although Carlisle was one of James I’s chief courtiers for thirty years and one of the king’s leading foreign policy advisers, he was never the center of political attention, shrewdly maintaining a position once removed from the first rank of power, ensuring his longevity. In time Hay assumed the role of extraordinary ambassador, conducting embassies to virtually every major western European nation. Carlisle also showed great interest in the colonies, and by using his position of influence at court, he became a director of the Virginia Company in 1612, and in 1627 obtained a grant of all the Caribbean Islands.
The king bestowed on him numerous grants, paid his debts, and secured him a rich bride, Honoria, only daughter and heir of Edward, Lord Denny. Their marriage was celebrated by as courtly masquerade, Lord Hay’s Masque, staged in honour on their wedding night on 6 January 1608. It was the first Anglo-Scottish marriage to be arranged by James I, with significant political association, mirroring a vision of a united British nationhood. They had one surviving son, James (1612 – 1660), but the marriage was short lived, Honoria dying in 1614. He married, secondly, Lady Lucy Percy, daughter of Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland and Lady Dorothy Devereux, on 6 November 1617.
Although Carlisle was a subtle ambassador and careful courtier, he was nonetheless renowned for his personal extravagances. He supported his expensive tastes by selling baronies and extracting enormous sums from merchant capitalists and colonists in his capacity as holder of ‘the grant for the Caribbean islands,’ and by his monopoly of Irish wine and tavern licenses. When he died on 25 April 1636 at Whitehall, London, he left many debts. Lord Clarendon observed ‘he was surely a man of the greatest expense in his person of any in the age he lived’. Carlisle was buried with much pomp and circumstance on 6 May 1636 at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
 The surface patterns on these costumes are spectacular and it is suggested that these richly decorated garments were most probably worn at the wedding of James I’s daughter in 1613. See: Maurice Howard, The Tudor Image, London 1995, p. 40.
 For further discussion on this point, see: R. Strong, Jacobean Pageant, pp. 66-82. In, FMR International, 61, Vol. XII, April 1993, p. 82.
 Sir Anthony Weldon, 'The court and character of King James', in Secret History of the Court of James the First, Edinburgh, Vol. I, 1817, p.376.
 R. E. Schreiber, ‘The First Carlisle Sir James Hay, First Earl of Carlisle as Courtier, Diplomat and Entrepreneur, 1580-1636’, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 74, No. 7 (1984), pp.1-6.
 Keith M. Brown, ‘The Scottish Aristocracy, Anglicization and the Court, 1603-38’, The Historical Journal, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Sep. 1993), pp. 543-576.
 He was sent on diplomatic missions as ambassador to Paris and Madrid in 1616, to Germany in I618 – 1620, to Paris in I622 – 1623, Madrid in 1623, and to Venice in 1628.
 The Virginia Company refers collectively to two joint stock companies chartered under James I, on 10 April 1606, with the goal of establishing settlements on the coast of North America. The companies were called the ‘Virginia Company of London’ (or the London Company) and the ‘Virginia Company of Plymouth’. See: Screiber, op. cit., p. 168.
 Under the king’s patronage Hay advanced rapidly through the ranks of the nobility, from ‘Gentleman of the Robes’ in 1608, to ‘Master of the Great Wardrobe’ 1613 – 1618, and from 1631 until his death in 1636, ‘Groom of the Stole’. Knighted sometime before 1604, Carlisle was created 1st Lord Hay in 1606 and invested as a Knight, Order of the Bath in 1610. He became a member of the Privy Council in 1616/17 and a Knight of the Order of the Garter on 31 December 1625. He was created Baron Hay in 1615, Viscount Doncaster in 1618, and Earl of Carlisle in 1622.
 Kevin Curran, ‘Erotic Policy: King James, Thomas Campion, and the Rhetoric of Anglo-Scottish Marriage’, Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies; Vol. 7, 1, p. 56.
 G.E. Cokayne ed., The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant, 2000, Vol. III, p. 32.