‘Papist’ King Billy mystery solved

Published in Issue 2 (March/April 2018), Letters, Volume 26

Sir,—Tony Canavan told the story of the painting of William of Orange hanging in Stormont since the 1930s, which caused controversy owing to the inclusion in the painting of Pope Innocent XI (‘A papist painting for a Protestant parliament?’, HI 16.1, Jan./Feb. 2008). Episode three of the first series of the BBC’s Britain’s Lost Masterpieces has since resolved the mystery. It turns out that the sash-wearing men in the painting belong to the Guild of St George’s of crossbow men of Antwerp. As the show’s presenter points out, the men in the painting are not orange-sash-wearing followers of King William but ‘red-sash-wearing Catholic burghers from Antwerp demonstrating their loyalty to the pope’; and the man on the horse is not King William but St George, being ushered by a hermit monk to find the dragon. It’s noteworthy that while the programme normally restores paintings to their original format, they weren’t given permission to remove the paint that’s hiding the hermit’s rosary beads!—Yours etc.,




Above: Our 2008 caption was suitably sceptical (Ed.)—‘What appears to be a triumphant William of Orange on a white horse. The ire of the vandals was provoked by the image in the top left corner—the pope on a cloud bestowing a blessing on William below. But is it really King Billy?’ (NI Assembly)


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