chapter  1
18 Pages

The language of patronage: a discourse of connection

In the midst of the English Civil War in the 1640s, William Dobson painted portraits of royalists in Oxford. Amongst the Cavalier soldiers, he portrayed Sir Thomas Aylesbury, Master of Requests. Dressed in his official robes, Aylesbury symbolized his position by holding a petition inscribed “to the king’s most excellent majesty.” As a Master of Requests, he presented petitions to the king asking for redress of grievances or for personal advancement, in short, asking for royal bounty. As Dobson’s portrait signifies, such petitions were not merely the seedy clamoring of early Stuart courtiers but an open and important link between the monarch and the subject, one suitable for commemoration in portraiture. The painting makes concrete, even in the midst of civil war, the king’s traditional role as guarantor of justice and giver of favor. The king’s promise of justice dates from early Anglo-Saxon dooms and tenth-century coronation oaths; his giving of favor was just as old, immortalized in charter. The monarch’s giving of largesse had expanded with the Renaissance monarchy of the Tudors and it was embedded in the Senecan language of James I’s Trew Law of Free Monarchies, which spoke of the mutual benefits that flowed between monarch and subject.1