During his photography career Knights-Whittome photographed a number of Royal personages including Edward VII, George V and Edward VIII in both individual portrait sessions and at events and house parties. He was proud to hold a Royal Warrant, and advertised himself as ‘Photographer to the King’, having ‘photographed THIRTEEN KINGS and QUEENS’ and inviting sitters in a newspaper advertisement to DO IT NOW! for a photographic appointment under the same lighting conditions he had used at Windsor Castle.
However, his work was not confined to the British Royal family. Knights-Whittome also photographed the King of Spain as well as Royal residences in Copenhagen and Stockholm, but most notably, he had a strong connection with the Portuguese Royal Family; visiting the country a number of times to take portraits and architectural shots and later photographing individuals in England.
The circumstances surrounding the Portuguese Royal Family at this time are troublesome, and their timing has informed today’s blog post. During this week 108 years ago, the 1st February 1908 to be exact, King Carlos I of Portugal and his heir-apparent, Prince Royal Luís Filipe (Duke of Braganza), were assassinated by Republican rebels aided by revolutionaries within the Carbonária, embittered politicians and anti-monarchists. The exact motivations behind and details of the Regicide can be found in this detailed Wikipedia article. This excerpt, taken verbatim from the Wikipedia article summarises the events of 1 Feb.
“The King, Queen and Prince Royal had been on a month-long retreat at the Vila Viçosa in the Alentejo, where they routinely spent time hunting during the winter…political events had forced King Carlos to cut his retreat short and to return to Lisbon…Even in a climate of tension the monarch opted to travel in an open carriage, wearing his service uniform as Generalíssimo of the Army to present an air of normality. The two princes wore civilian clothes. According to usual practice the carriage was accompanied by armed police and a mounted cavalry officer, Francisco Figueira Freire.
There were only a few people in the Terreiro do Paço as the carriage rounded the eastern part of the square and the first shot rang out. As reported later, a bearded man had walked out into the road after the carriage had passed; he removed a Winchester carbine rifle hidden under his overcoat, knelt on one knee and fired at the King from a distance of about 8 metres. The shot struck the king’s neck, killing him instantly; another gunman in the square opened fire at the carriage while onlookers ran in panic. The first assassin, later identified as Manuel Buíça (a teacher and former sergeant dismissed from the army), continued to fire. His second shot clipped the shoulder of the monarch, who slumped to the right with his back lying to the left side of the carriage. Taking advantage of this, the second assassin (Alfredo Costa, a clerk and editor), jumped onto the carriage step and fired at the slumped body of the King from passenger height. The queen then stood and attempted to strike back at him with the only available weapon (a bouquet of flowers), shouting,“Infames! Infames!” (“Infamous! Infamous!”).
The assassins then turned their attention to the Prince Royal, Luís Filipe, who had stood to draw and fire a hidden revolver but was hit in the chest. The bullet (from a small-caliber revolver) did not exit his sternum nor was it fatal; the prince reportedly fired four quick shots at his attacker, who fell from the carriage step. However, when Luís Filipe stood up he became more visible to the attacker with the rifle; the prince was struck by a large-caliber shot which exited from the top of his skull. The young Infante Manuel, protected by his mother during the events, tried to stop the bleeding with a handkerchief but it was quickly soaked with his brother’s blood.
As shots continued across the square, Queen Amélia returned to her feet to call for assistance. The Countess Figueiró, Viscount Asseca and Marquis Lavradio jumped onto the carriage to support the Prince Royal. Infante Manuel was hit in the arm, and the coachman was hit in the hand. The assassin Buíça then attempted to fire another round, although it is unclear at whom he was aiming. He was stopped by the intervention of Henrique da Silva Valente, a soldier from the 12th Infantry who had appeared in the square during the commotion. During his brief confrontation with Buíça Silva Valente was shot in the leg, but was able to distract the assassin. The cavalry officer (Francisco Figueira) remounted his horse and fired at Costa, who was then seized by police officers. Buíça, wounded in the leg, attempted to escape but was also captured.
…..The assassination of King Carlos and the Prince Royal was the effective end of a constitutional monarchy in Portugal (later confirmed by the 5 October 1910 revolution). The regime functioned for another 33 months with growing agitation and demands for reform (although considerably less than in the future First Republic). It cannot be denied that the weak and permissive attitude in the Government of Acclamation was an incentive for the Republican Party to attempt another coup. The assassinations did not change the system of government; instead, they delayed the change.”
Knights-Whittome photographed the Portuguese Royals on a number of occasions before these events and maintained a regular correspondence with the Palace, continuing to photograph Manuel after the assassination of his father and brother.
The Palace of Necessidides, the official residence of the king, Manuel II. On 5 October 1910, during the Republican Revolution, the palace was shelled… one of the bomblets even reached the king’s private quarters on the first floor, but he had taken refuge elsewhere on the palace grounds. Thanks to the quick thinking of an employee of the building, who cut down the flagpole that customarily displayed the royal banner whenever the monarch was in residence, the Republicans were led to believe that Manuel II had abandoned his home. The king did indeed leave Lisbon a few hours later, and he took refuge in the royal palace at Mafra, 28 kilometres northwest of the capital. Wikipedia
Among the collection here at Sutton we have a number of printed works and postcards, but there are also a handful of large glass plates which are sadly in too poor a condition to be digitised at present.
We see Knights-Whittome listed in passenger records, travelling to Portugal on at least two occasions, once in 1905, and again in 1909/1910. After the assassination, Manuel ruled for just short of another three years. In this time, Knights-Whittome took a considerable financial gamble by commissioning a painted portrait of the King in his Garter Robes based on a series of photographs he had taken.
The sittings for this took place in the Royal Palace in Portugal and later in Wood Norton, England, the home of his uncle the Duc d’Orleans. The King made just a few payments towards the piece before he was deposed and forced to move to England and could no longer afford to continue the purchase. We have copious correspondence between Knights-Whittome and various unrelated parties, in which we see him trying to sell the artwork. One long letter from the artist of the work, George Hillyard Swinstead, offers to wipe £25 from the original agreed sale price of the work. The letter laments the situation in which Knights-Whittome finds himself stating ‘I admire your pluck and straight forward character in this matter which has been so unfortunate. I like you have several times had similar experiences in striving to get through in an art career. I’m always at it!…I need not go back on the past but we have both ‘as you know’ done our utmost in a venture which looked so promising but which through no fault of our own has shown so little sign of success…I sincerely hope that something many turn so that you get all your money back and more in the future – after all the picture has not vanished – it is still there!’
We also see later correspondence in this same regard from his wife Bessie who continued to try and sell the artwork after her husbands death.
Sadly, we have no idea if Bessie was eventually successful in her quest to sell the work. Certainly, letters from Christie’s auctioneers inform her that the work ‘would not sell at all well at auction’. No record can be found of the picture coming up for sale at auction since and no documentation exists which tells us the final whereabouts of the painting. Needless to say, it is no longer in the family’s ownership.
Knights-Whittome’s family are understandably very proud of the Royal connections that their ancestor made during his career. Indeed, it is wonderful to have some of this material in our collection, in particular to have the correspondence that accompanies the works. We have precious little documentation telling us anything about Knights-Whittome’s business dealings and contacts. Further works, both of the Portuguese and English Royal families, do exist among our plates although their condition is such that we have not yet been able to look at them, let alone digitise the images. Photographs of the English contingent can also be found in the Royal Collection and at The National Portrait Gallery, and we will cover these English Royals in another post.
From my own perspective, however it is wonderful to have these plates, it is still the images of everyday working people that resonate most profoundly. And whilst it is wonderful to discover sitters among our collection for whom there is a wealth of information, the effort and patience it takes to unearth even the most basic facts about the majority of the sitters does make the reward of uncovering their identity even sweeter.
We are now just beginning the digitisation of our largest format plates, and though we have a flavour of the contents therein from the annotation on the envelopes, the exact images remain a mystery until we remove each individual plate from its dusty wrapper for cleaning. Who knows what other gems we will find as work continues. Watch this space…