This impressive ‘cabinet’ size portrait miniature by William Grimaldi depicts the aspiring young officer Edwin Stacey at the tender age of seventeen. Although this portrait is dated on the reverse 1815, it has almost certainly been worked up from a preliminary work by the artist dating to 1811. Not only is it likely that this portrait was commissioned in celebration of Stacey’s transferral to the 12th Light Dragoons in 1811 but the uniform worn by Stacey in this portrait was worn by officers of the British regiment between 1796 and 1811. The uniform was changed after 1811 to a simpler and more cost-effective design.
This portrait is set in its original frame, almost certainly the exhibition frame that it was displayed in at the Royal Academy in 1815 [no. 557]. This portrait is one of two military compositions commissioned by Stacey; the second, a slightly later portrait, depicts Stacey’s military hero in the same composition and pose, the Hon. Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, who had also served in the 12th Light Dragoons as a lieutenant. Wellington and Stacey’s portraits were the only two paintings exhibited by Grimaldi at the Royal Academy in 1815.
Edwin Stacey was the youngest of nine children born to Flint Stacey (c.1745-1802) and his wife Katherine, née Cruttenden (c.1760-1796), who had married on 16th February 1779 at All Saints church, Maidstone – the same church that William Grimaldi and his wife Frances, née Barker married in four years later. Grimaldi knew the Stacey family well and Flint Stacey is recorded as being Grimaldi’s son’s ‘sponsor’, a term often used to describe a godfather, as well as an important patron of the artist. Flint Stacey was a prominent Maidstone brewer and local landowner who became mayor of the town in 1792 and 1800. The Staceys remained in Maidstone as a successful local family for much of the nineteenth century and Flint Stacey’s two eldest sons William Henry (1784-1841) and Courtney (1789-1853) followed their father into the brewing trade.
Edwin attended Eton College between 1808 and 1811 and, although his father had intended him to pursue a career in banking or brewing, he was purchased a cavalry cornetcy in June 1811. This is hardly surprising considering the continuous presence, after 1797, of the British army’s principal cavalry barracks and depot in Maidstone and the likelihood that cavalry soldiers would have been enthusiastic consumers of the beer produced by the Stacey family firm.
Stacey was originally gazetted to the 22nd Light Dragoons, a light cavalry regiment then serving in India, where he filled a vacancy in the regiment caused by another cornet’s promotion. However, three months later in September he transferred, in the same rank, to the 12th (or The Prince of Wales’s) Light Dragoons, the majority of which was then serving in Spain and Portugal during the Peninsular War. He joined the depot of his regiment at Radipole Barracks, Weymouth, during October 1811 and remained there for a year, learning to be a cavalry officer. He was purchased promotion to lieutenant in March 1812, replacing an officer who had retired in that rank and sold his commission. In June and July 1812, he commanded a small regimental recruiting party in Leicester.
On 13th November 1812, Edwin Stacey and Lieutenant Edward Penfold (who later became his brother-in-law in 1816) took ship in the transport ‘Britannia’ from Portsmouth to Lisbon and by the end of the month the two young officers were stationed near Olivarez in Portugal. Edwin remained with his regiment during its advance out of Portugal, into Spain and eventually into France during 1813; he was present at the battle of Vittoria, 21st June 1813, and at the contested crossings of the rivers Nivelle and Nive on 10th November and 9th-12th December respectively. The 12th Light Dragoons was active in mopping-up operations in the Bayonne-Bordeaux theatre of south-west France until the end of the war in April 1814, shortly after which the regiment marched north-east through France to embark for England at Calais in July 1814.
On arrival in England, the regiment was posted to join its depot at Dorchester Barracks in Dorset and Stacey was placed on half pay. This was the end of his military career and he remained on lieutenant’s half pay for the rest of his life. In 1848 he received the Military General Service Medal 1793-1814 with clasps for Vittoria, Nivelle and Nive in recognition of his service in those actions during the Peninsular War.
For the remaining half-century of his life, Edwin Stacey’s interests appear to have centred upon being a husband, father, landowner and brewer. On 4th January 1816, at the parish church of All Saints in the picturesque village of Loose, near Maidstone, he married Maria (b. 1797), youngest daughter of the banker and landowner Edward Margesson Penfold and his wife Mary, of Loose Court. The couple went on to have eight children – three boys and five girls – between 1820 and 1835, all but one of whom survived to adulthood. From about 1821 until about 1842, Edwin and Maria Stacey and their family lived in the town of West Malling, near Maidstone.
The death of Edwin’s eldest brother, William Henry, in 1841 brought Edwin into the family brewing business as a partner. In 1844, he followed in the family tradition by being elected mayor of Maidstone; his eldest brother had served in that office in 1818, 1827, 1834 and 1835 and Courtney Stacey had been mayor in 1822 and 1828. By 1851, the family was living near the brewery, in Stone Street Maidstone, and Edwin died there on 7th June 1869, being interred in the family vault in All Saints, Maidstone. Maria Stacey continued living in Stone Street, Maidstone, together with her unmarried daughters Anna and Maria, until her death in 1885.
In 1811, when the initial composition of this portrait was commissioned, William Grimaldi was at the peak of his career having been appointed miniature painter to the duke and duchess of York in 1791 and then to George IV, when prince of Wales, in 1806. The year that this portrait miniature was exhibited in 1815 it is recorded that Grimaldi was busy working in Maidstone painting several members of the Stacey family including Flint, Henry and Courtney Stacey, as well as a reduced-scale oval version of the present portrait of Edwin Stacey. The reduced-scale version is signed and dated 1815 and depicts Stacey in the same 1811 ‘dress’ version of the 12th Light Dragoons uniform, with a gold-laced blue jacket, or ‘dolman’, with yellow facings. Several portrait miniatures by William Grimaldi exist in public collections including the Royal Collection, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Wallace Collection.
We are grateful to Stephen Wood MA FSA for contributing to this catalogue entry.
Original gilt gesso exhibition frame.