This splendidly detailed picture is by the court painter John de Critz the Elder (1551/2-1642) and was reputedly presented by the King to Sir Edward Phelips (1560?-1614), the builder of Montacute House, Somerset.
Sir Edward was a successful lawyer who entered Parliament and eventually became Speaker of the House of Commons. He was one of the prosecutors at the trial of Guy Fawkes after the Gunpowder Plot in 1605.
The presence of this portrait at Montacute expressed the King’s favour to a useful and reliable public servant.
Montacute was presented to the National Trust by Ernest Cook (grandson of Thomas Cook, founder of the travel agency) in 1931, but at the time very few of its original Phelips family contents remained.
The house has been furnished over the years with collections of furniture, tapestries and works of art that were lent, given and bequeathed to the National Trust. Since 1975 Montacute has also shown changing displays of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century portraits from the National Portrait gallery.
The portrait of James I is a splendid addition to the few remaining Phelips-related objects in the house. It is reminiscent of the heyday of Montacute, when it was a newly-built Jacobean ‘prodigy house’ and an exuberant statement of Sir Edward Phelips’s position and wealth.
The portrait was purchased for £199,250 including buyer’s premium, with funds from a bequest from the late Miss Moira Carmichael (who for many years was a volunteer room guide at Montacute) and from other gifts and bequests to the National Trust.
The picture is currently undergoing conservation work and will return to Montacute in the near future.