Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Jewelry in Portraits: Martin Shee Paints Queen Adelaide at Windsor Castle, 1836

(Left) Queen Adelaide's 1836 Portrait Hangs in Buckingham Palace
Photo copyright The Anglophile, 2011.

by Angela Magnotti Andrews

On May 14, 1836, Martin Shee arrived at Windsor Castle by order of King William IV. Summoned for the purpose of painting the featured portrait of Queen Adelaide, he settled his supplies into the painting room and spent his first night at the nearby Castle Hotel. The next day, he was relocated to the Round Tower by order of the King, who wished him to enjoy every privilege of being part of the royal circle at Windsor during his stay.

In his father’s memoirs, Mr. Shee’s son, Martin Archer Shee, writes of an awkward moment in the royal presence upon his first sitting with the Queen. It was widely known that “Queen Adelaide was not a romantic figure” and that “portraits of her almost certainly did her more than justice, disguising [her] poor complexion…” {Purdue in Orr, p. 267}.

The Queen, fully aware of the challenges her form presented to portraitists, stood in the archway and spoke jovially, “Oh! Sir Martin, I pity you, indeed, for having such a subject!” {Shee, p. 305}

The circle of onlookers, quite probably including at least the FitzClarences and Lady De Lisle, must have held their collective breath in that moment. The widespread truth of her plain appearance rendered it impossible for him to offer any disclaimer of the difficulties he faced in painting her, yet to say nothing would prove quite possibly crude and most definitely disrespectful.

The judicious painter responded with a most gracious response which neither affirmed nor denied the Queen’s statement. It is easy to surmise that it was this characteristic grace that afforded him the King’s summons in the first place. “Madam,” he said, “I shall hope to have the honour…of showing my impression of your Majesty’s claims as a subject!!” {Shee, p. 305}

And so beautiful and majestic was she in his eyes, that there is merit to the claim that the King, who originally planned to present the portrait to the Goldsmiths’ Company, decided to keep it and commissioned Mr. Shee to paint another one like it for the Company {Shee, p. 92}.

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1. “1836 Queen Adelaide by Sir Martin Archer Shee (Royal Collection).” Grand Ladies Site. February 20, 2011. Accessed January 23, 2013.
2. Orr, Clarissa Campbell, ed. Queenship in Britain, 1660-1837: Royal Patronage, Court Culture and Dynastic Politics. ManchesterManchester University Press, 2002.
3. Roberts, Hugh. The Queen’s DiamondsLondon: Royal Collection Publications, 2012.
4. Shee, Martin Archer [Jr., sic] of the Middle TempleLife of Sir Martin Archer Shee, P.R.A., Volume the Second. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1860.


  1. What a wonderful and beautifully written story. Now I must go and read more about this Queen that I have never heard of.

    1. I'm so glad you're going to read more about her. I'd love to hear what you learn.