James Hay, 1st Earl of Carlisle (1580 – 1636)

Studio of William Larkin
(c. 1580 – 1619)

James Hay, 1st Earl of Carlisle (1580 – 1636)

Painted circa 1618 – 1619

Oil on canvas: 86 ¾ x 51 ⅜ in. (220.5 x 130.5 cm.)


Private collection, U.K.;

Sotheby’s, London, 11 July 1983, lot 102;

with Wilkins and Wilkins, at the 1983 Burlington House Fair;

Christies, London, 12 July 1991, lot 2;

with Simon Dickinson & Co., London, 1996;

Private collection, U.K. until 2018

This portrait, though not of the same quality, is close in style and format to the so-called ‘Suffolk Set’ of full-lengths by Larkin, now at Kenwood House, London, including a portrait of Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset from 1613. Ours was painted around 1618 – 1619, presumably to celebrate Hay’s appointment as ‘Viscount Doncaster’ in 1618. Larkin died suddenly around that time, and it is entirely feasible that his studio assistants continued to work in London taking commissions from Larkin’s clients, and that this is a studio replica of a lost original. As was often the case with sitters of the highest echelons at court, multiple versions were commissioned for other family members, close friends and political supporters.[1]


One of the most iconic of English Jacobean painters, William Larkin was renowned for his shimmering portraits of members of the court of James I of England, capturing in brilliant detail the opulent textiles, embroidery, lace and jewellery so fashionable at the time, and precisely rendering the carefully draped silk curtains that formed a suitably theatrical setting for his subjects, as seen here.


James Hay, 1st Earl of Carlisle, was the son of Sir James Hay (d. 1610) of Fingask, Comptroller of Scotland, and descended from the Earls of Erroll. His mother was Sir James’s first wife, Margaret Murray, cousin of George Hay, 1st Earl of Kinnoull. Once at the Scottish court in Edinburgh in his early twenties, his good looks and fine figure drew him to the attention of James VI, quickly becoming his favourite. Under the king’s ‘wing’, Hay was to become a key figure in the Stuart era, renowned as a courtier and diplomat. Unlike the majority of Scots who came down to London with James, he integrated easily and absorbed the culture of the English court. It is said that he established a ‘greater affection and esteem with the whole English nation than any other of that country by choosing their friendships and conversations, and really preferring it to any of his own.’[2]


Carlisle spoke fluent French, Latin, and adequate Italian. It is probable that he spent some of his early life in France,[3] and indeed, it was Carlisle’s first patron, Charles Cauchon de Maupas, Baron du Tour, who started him on the way to preferment with James VI. The baron was a highly talented French diplomat who was sent over to Scotland in the summer of 1602, ingratiating himself with James in a manner that was not duplicated by another diplomat for many years.[4] It appears that Carlisle returned to Scotland with the ambassador, and acted as an escort for the baron as he entered Scottish territory.[5]


Although Carlisle was one of James I’s chief courtiers for thirty years and one of the king’s leading foreign policy advisers, he was never the center of political attention, shrewdly maintaining a position once removed from the first rank of power, ensuring his longevity. In time Hay assumed the role of extraordinary ambassador, conducting embassies to virtually every major western European nation.[6] Carlisle also showed great interest in the colonies, and by using his position of influence at court, he became a director of the Virginia Company in 1612, and in 1627 obtained a grant of all the Caribbean Islands.[7]


The king bestowed on him numerous grants,[8] paid his debts, and secured him a rich bride, Honoria, only daughter and heir of Edward, Lord Denny. Their marriage was celebrated by as courtly masquerade, Lord Hay’s Masque, staged in honour of their wedding night on 6 January 1608. It was the first Anglo-Scottish marriage to be arranged by James, with significant political association, mirroring his vision of the united kingdoms.[9] They had one surviving son, James (1612 – 1660), but the marriage was sadly short lived, Honoria dying in 1614. Three years later, on 6 November 1617, he was remarried to Lady Lucy Percy, daughter of Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland and Lady Dorothy Devereux.


Although Carlisle was a subtle ambassador and careful courtier, he was nonetheless well known for his personal extravagance. He supported his expensive tastes by selling baronies and extracting enormous sums from merchant capitalists and colonists in his capacity as holder of ‘the grant for the Caribbean islands,’ and by his monopoly of Irish wine and tavern licenses. When he died on 25 April 1636 at Whitehall, London, he left many debts. Lord Clarendon observed ‘he was surely a man of the greatest expense in his person of any in the age he lived’.[10]   Carlisle was buried with much pomp and circumstance on 6 May 1636 at St. Paul’s Cathedral.



[1] Another near identical version, though slightly smaller and not as fine, was to descend within the Campion family at Danny House, Sussex and which was sold at Sotheby’s, London, 14 March 1984, lot 15 (£7,500).

[2] Sir Anthony Weldon, 'The court and character of King James', in Secret History of the Court of James the First, Edinburgh, Vol. I, 1817, p.376.

[3] R. E. Schreiber, ‘The First Carlisle Sir James Hay, First Earl of Carlisle as Courtier, Diplomat and Entrepreneur, 1580-1636’, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 74, No. 7 (1984), pp.1-6.

[4] Schreiber, ibid., p.7.

[5] Keith M. Brown, ‘The Scottish Aristocracy, Anglicization and the Court, 1603-38’, The Historical Journal, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Sep. 1993), pp. 543-576.

[6] He was sent on diplomatic missions as ambassador to Paris and Madrid in 1616, to Germany in I618 – 1620, to Paris in I622 – 1623, Madrid in 1623, and to Venice in 1628.

[7] The Virginia Company refers collectively to two joint stock companies chartered under James I, on 10 April 1606, with the goal of establishing settlements on the coast of North America. The companies were called the ‘Virginia Company of London’ (or the London Company) and the ‘Virginia Company of Plymouth’. See: Screiber, op. cit., p. 168.

[8] Under the king’s patronage Hay advanced rapidly through the ranks of the nobility, from ‘Gentleman of the Robes’ in 1608, to ‘Master of the Great Wardrobe’ 1613 – 1618, and from 1631 until his death in 1636, ‘Groom of the Stole’. Knighted sometime before 1604, Carlisle was created 1st Lord Hay in 1606 and invested as a Knight, Order of the Bath in 1610. He became a member of the Privy Council in 1616/17 and a Knight of the Order of the Garter on 31 December 1625. He was created Baron Hay in 1615, Viscount Doncaster in 1618, and Earl of Carlisle in 1622.

[9] Kevin Curran, ‘Erotic Policy: King James, Thomas Campion, and the Rhetoric of Anglo-Scottish Marriage’, Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies; Vol. 7, 1, p. 56.

[10] G.E. Cokayne ed., The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant, 2000, Vol. III, p. 32.