By Marlo Avidon (@MarloAvidon)
Housed among the Fitzwilliam Museum’s many treasures is this 1667 medal by Jan Rottiers, commissioned to celebrate the Peace of Breda and the end of the Second Anglo-Dutch War. The front of the medal features Britannia, the personification of Britain, holding a spear and gazing at the departing ships of the British Navy. Though dating back to antiquity, the use of Britannia experienced a revival in the seventeenth-century with Charles II’s return to using classical imagery. This is reflected by the King’s profile on the reverse side of the medal, depicting him in a laurel wreath, like a Roman emperor.
Choosing a model to represent the eponymous figure of Britannia was of the greatest importance. Frances Teresa Stuart, a Maid of Honour to Queen Catherine of Braganza and one of the court’s greatest beauties, was eventually selected for this great honour. The diarist Samuel Pepys recalled seeing ‘the King’s new medall’ at the goldsmith, ‘where, in little, there is Mrs Steward’s face as well done as ever I saw anything in my whole life… a pretty thing it is, that he should choose her face to represent Britannia by.’ Pepys had previously written of Frances’s beauty, admiring her ‘sweet eye, little Roman nose, and excellent taille.’ Intriguingly, the king’s decision was likely personal – Charles was reportedly besotted with Frances, and desperately sought to make her his mistress. While the king may have hoped to woo her by bestowing such a great honour upon her, ultimately his attempts failed. Frances scandalised the court by suddenly eloping with the Duke of Richmond just two months after the medal’s commission.
Frances’s powerful appearance as Britannia was recirculated on the back of the copper farthing in 1672 and appeared on various forms of currency until 1976. Even 200 years after the first commission of the Breda Medal, Frances’s famed beauty and tumultuous relationship with the king were immortalised as she became the very face of the nation.
Image Credits: All images are reproduced from Jan Rottiers, ‘The Peace of Breda Medal’, Bronze, 1667, The Fitzwilliam Museum, CM.YG.3357-R, [https://collection.beta.fitz.ms/id/object/226544]
 Pepys, Samuel, The diary of Samuel Pepys: a new and complete transcription, edited by Robert Latham and William Matthews, vol. VII, p. 83.
 Pepys, vol. IV, p. 230.