manner of William Dobson, Colonel Robert Fortescue (1617–1676)

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All Rights Reserved)


Country House
Mells Manor
Colonel Robert Fortescue (1617–1676)
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 114 cm, Overall width: 91 cm
manner of William Dobson (1611-1646)
Catalogue Number


Colonel Robert Fortescue (1617–1676) of Filleigh and Weare Giffard, Devon, was baptised on 14 September 1617 at Petrockstowe, Devon. He was the second son of Hugh Fortescue and his wife Mary Rolle, daughter of Robert Rolle of Heanton Satchville. He matriculated at New Inn Hall, Oxford on 20 May 1636 and was admitted to the Inner Temple in 1637. Fortescue married Grace Grenville, daughter of Sir Bevil Grenville on 20 February 1644 at Kilkhampton, with whom he had one daughter. Grace died on 8 June 1647 and in January 1652 Fortescue married Susanna Northcote, daughter of Sir John Northcote of Newton St Cyres. They had four children, one son and three daughters. The eldest, Elizabeth (MM40), married George Horner II (1646–1707) of Mells, although not until after Fortescue’s death: he left her a portion of £5000 in his will, dated 12 January 1676 (NA PROB 11/352/30), and died soon after. 

Fortescue was a colonel in the Devon militia and reportedly defended his family seat of Weare Giffard against the Parliamentarian forces during a short siege, although the house sustained little damage. Fortescue’s father-in-law, Sir Bevil, had been a prominent Royalist and had been killed at the Battle of Lansdowne in 1643, shortly before Fortescue married his daughter.

In this portrait Fortescue holds a bec de corbin, a type of polearm originating in medieval France but by the seventeenth century principally of ceremonial use, and he wears military costume of the 1640s. However, the coat of arms in the upper right quadrant shows the arms of Fortescue quartered with those of Grenville and Northcote, giving an earliest date of 1652, and Fortescue’s apparent age in this portrait (mid-forties) also indicates a later date. This portrait may therefore have been painted at the Restoration (1660) to commemorate Fortescue’s support for the royalist forces during the Civil Wars. The Royalist commander Sir Henry Compton was similarly portrayed in military dress at the Restoration (Henry Peart the Elder after Sir Peter Lely, Sir William Compton, National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 1522). However, the present painting recalls William Dobson’s royalist portraits such as Charles II as Prince of Wales (Kinloch Castle, Rùm; 4362) and, although painted later, it was probably intended to evoke the 1640s. A miniature after this portrait, possibly by Susan Penelope Rosse (1653–1700), is also at Mells Manor.

by Amy Lim

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