The Stuarts in Rome: a royal court in the city of cardinals

THURSDAY 21 NOVEMBER 18.00–19.30

Edward Corp (Toulouse)

Keynote address for the one-day conference Alla Corte della Cancelleria: Pietro Ottoboni e la politica delle arti nella Roma del Settecento , at the Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, 22 November. Organised by Karin Wolfe (BSR) and Tomaso Manfredi (Università Mediterranea di Reggio Calabria).


The exiled King James III moved his court to Rome in 1719 and remained there (with one relatively brief interval) until his death at the beginning of 1766. This means that the Stuart court was based in Rome during the last twenty years of the life of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni. The Palazzo del Re was situated at the north end of the Piazza dei Santi Apostoli and became an important social and cultural centre in the papal city. King James was recognised by six successive Popes as the legitimate or de jure monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland, and consequently was given full royal honours, including the privilege of nominating cardinals. The Stuart court was very regularly visited by the cardinals resident in Rome, notably by Cardinal Ottoboni, as well as by the French and Spanish ambassadors and the Roman princely families.

Because the Popes did not recognise the de facto Hanoverian kings in London there was no British diplomatic representative in Rome, so the exiled Stuart court became in effect a surrogate British embassy, providing diplomatic protection, English speaking doctors and Anglican church services, thereby increasing the number of British and Irish Grand Tourists who visited the city.

James III was married to Queen Clementina (née Sobieska) and had two sons (Charles, Prince of Wales and Henry, Duke of York), both of them born in Rome. Because his wife and children could only be seen by the visiting Grand Tourists, and not by the overwhelming majority of people in his three kingdoms, James attached very great importance to commissioning a series of painted and engraved portraits which could be sent to his supporters in the British Isles to make their faces familiar to the people there and thus stimulate loyalty to his Jacobite cause. In consequence King James became one of the most important patrons of the portrait painters resident in Rome, his choice influencing the Grand Tourists when they wanted their own portraits painted.

James and the members of his family were very keen on music and regularly attended the opera houses of Rome during the carnival seasons, thereby influencing the subject matter of the libretti set to music. He, and his sons when they grew up, also organised a series of concerts in the Palazzo del Re which were regularly attended by the élite of Roman society. The Stuarts were on particularly good terms with Cardinal Ottoboni, and their friendship was cemented by their shared interest in music. This resulted in their employment of the same musicians.

Because James III never succeeded in recovering his thrones the contemporary importance of the Stuart court in Rome has tended to be underestimated. The prospect of achieving a restoration depended on two factors: a renewal of war between England and France, and James’s elder son Charles reaching maturity. Both of these were imminent when Cardinal Ottoboni died in February 1740.

Edward Corp has curated two major exhibitions on the Stuart court in exile, at the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1992 (Réunion des Musées Nationaux) and at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in 2001 (National Galleries of Scotland). His books include A Court in Exile: The Stuarts in France, 1689-1718 (Cambridge University Press, 2004), The Jacobites at Urbino (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009; translated into Italian as I giacobiti a Urbino, Il Mulino, 2013) and The Stuarts in Italy, 1719-1766 (Cambridge University Press, 2011). He was Professor of British History at the Université de Toulouse, and Paul Mellon Fellow at the British School at Rome in 2004-05.