The Sale of the Late King’s Goods : Charles l and His Art Collection

Written by Jerry Brotton
Review by Ann Oughton


Charles I raised the sin of acquisitiveness to gargantuan heights. During his reign thousands of paintings, tapestries and statuary were purchased to bolster his insecure personality, and in the process helped lead to his downfall. After Charles’s execution, the new Parliament proclaimed itself a Commonwealth and drew up the Act for the Sale of the Late King’s Goods; the proceeds were intended to pay off royal debts and help finance the navy. What was to become known as ‘The Sale of the Century’ gave away or sold off nearly 2,000 works of art and for the first time allowed the hoi polloi to buy, sell, admire and evaluate artworks that were previously never intended for their eyes.

This put a price on monarchy and gave birth to a European art market. During the Restoration, Charles II determined to reclaim the treasures, and many sought to win royal favour by returning paintings and thereby restoring the bulk of the original collection. Fewer than 300 paintings were lost, but today these pictures from 17th century England can be seen in the leading collections across Europe; they led to the creation of the public art gallery.

This well researched book is lucidly written with extensive notes, bibliography and comprehensive index. Short-listed for the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction, it is a real treasure.