The Stowe House Portraits

During the early nineteenth century, a small number of portraits at Stowe House in Buckinghamshire were described as representing Lady Jane Grey.

Today, Stowe House is a Grade I listed building that is open to the public for tours and that also incorporates a private school.   It was the former home of the Temple-Grenville family and George Nugent Temple-Grenville, who was created the 1st Marquis of Buckingham in December of 1784.  The house passed through descent down the family line.  Various auctions of some of its contents took place due to financial issues, and the family eventually sold the property in 1921.

The Manuscript Room Miniature Portrait

Early in the nineteenth century houses across the country began to open their doors to visitors who were able to take a tour of the buildings for a small fee. A descriptive catalogue of Stowe House and Gardens was printed in 1817 and sold for the use of tourists.

Described in this catalogue and referred to as being displayed over the chimney in the Manuscript Room is a miniature portrait thought at that time to be a representation of Lady Jane Grey.  The Catalogue reports that the miniature, along with several other miniature portraits, including one thought to depict Jane Seymour and another of Thomas Seymour,

Came into the possession of Mrs. Grenville from the collection of her grandfather Charles, Duke of Somerset.[1]

The Mrs Grenville mentioned is Elizabeth Grenville (1717-1769), daughter of Sir William Wyndham and his first wife Lady Catherine Seymour.  Elizabeth married George Grenville (1712-1770) in 1749 and was mother to George Nugent-Temple Grenville 1st Marques of Buckingham. She had inherited a small amount of money from her grandfather Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset, and it is possible that she had also inherited the miniature portraits as well.

Called Lady Jane Grey by Robert Cooper
Taken From The Manuscript Room Miniature
(c)Heinz Archive London

No description of the miniature thought to depict Lady Jane Grey is given in the 1817 catalogue, but it was engraved by Robert Cooper (died 1828) in the early nineteenth century, along with the other two portraits thought to depict Jane and Thomas Seymour.  These engravings survive today, and inscribed on each engraving beneath the image is a statement that the originals are in the possession of the Marquis of Buckingham at Stowe.

What is clearly seen from this engraving is that the miniature portrait thought in 1817 to depict Jane Grey is based on the pattern used to create NPG4451, the Hastings portrait and the Jersey Portrait. The distinctive crown headed brooch is seen in the engraving of the Manuscript Room Miniature worn pinned to the front of the sitter’s bodice, and this brooch also appears in NPG4451, the Hastings portrait, the Jersey portrait and the Van de Passe Engraving.  The brooch was used in 1997 as the focus for the reidentification of NPG4451 as a portrait of Katherine Parr.  Today, all portraits relating to this pattern are now thought to be a depiction of Katherine Parr rather than Jane Grey, and therefore this rules out Jane Grey as the possible sitter in the Stowe House miniature portrait.    

It does appear that this miniature was sold on March 15th, 1849 as part of the large thirty-seven day auction of the contents of Stowe House facilitated by Messrs. Christies and Manson.  It appears in the original catalogue for this sale, under the miniatures section referring to Royal Personages.

Item 3. The Lady Jane Grey, in a crimson dress.[2]

An annotated copy of this catalogue in the collection of the Heinz Archive, London, records the buyer of the miniature as “Lagrange or La Grange.”[3]  I have been unable to locate any other information regarding the current whereabouts of this image.

The West Stairs Portrait

The second portrait to be discussed appears in the 1849 sales catalogue for the contents of Stowe House and is described as:

Item 372. A portrait called Lady Jane Grey[4]

This portrait was displayed on the west staircase and was documented in the sales catalogue as being purchased by a R. Berkeley, Esq, who also purchased several other paintings at this sale. As the portrait is documented as “called” Lady Jane Grey in the catalogue description, this suggests that some doubt was expressed in 1848 about the identity of the sitter.

Called Lady Jane Grey (c) British Museum

Robert Berkeley Esq (1794-1874) of Spetchley Park, near Worcester, was a descendant of an aristocratic family dating back to the Norman conquest of England in 1066. The Berkeley family owned a large amount of land including Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, which still belongs to living descendants today.

An engraving dating to the nineteenth century that is now in the collection of the British Museum depicts a portrait of a lady wearing clothing that dates to a period much later than that of Jane Grey’s lifetime.  This engraving is inscribed at the bottom in pencil. The inscription identifies the sitter as “Lady Jane Grey/ The Marquis of Buckingham/ Private plate”.  The Engraving was bequeathed to the British Museum in 1868 from the collection of a Felix Slade (1788-1868), who is known to have been a keen collector, acquiring a large collection of books and prints during his lifetime.

Called Lady Jane Grey (c) Private Collection

Email communication with the Berkeley estate has confirmed that a portrait matching this engraving and thought to represent Lady Jane Grey is still in their collection today and appears for the first time in an inventory taken in 1893. 

What can be seen from the photographic image of this painting is that the lady depicted most definitely dates to a later period than that of Lady Jane Grey’s lifetime.  The costume the sitter is wearing is not consistent with the style worn in England during the period in which Jane Grey was alive.  The portrait dates to the 1650’s when the large ruffs worn across Europe during the earlier periods were being replaced with the plainer broad lace or linen collar. The elaborate French fashions worn previously during the reigns of James I and Charles I were by this later period becoming more sombre in style and colour.

This portrait also appears continental in style and is probably Dutch in origin. The west stair portrait is close in comparison to a number of portraits by Netherlandish artists such as Rembrandt van Rijh (1606-1669) depicting female sitters in the same manner and a similar style of costume. Though difficult to see in the photographic image, the hood worn by the sitter is similar in style to that seen in several portraits of Dutch origin dating to the middle of the seventeenth century.  Catrina Hooghsaet wears a similar hood without the attached vail in her portrait by Rembrandt van Rijn in 1657. During the 1660’s, in England, Ladies began to embrace the fashion of wearing their hair curled and pinned up with the use of jewels as embellishment rather than wearing a hood that had been popular in the past.

How the West Stairs portrait became known as a portrait of Lady Jane Grey is unknown, and it is highly unlikely that this portrait was painted to represent Jane Grey in the first place. It is possible that her name was simply attached to the portrait due to the plainness of dress depicted or that the frame used for this portrait, which also includes the inscription identifying the sitter as Jane Grey, was simply reused from another portrait thought to represent her. It can now be removed from the list of potential likenesses as it dates to a period of some ninety years after her death and therefore cannot be an authentic likeness.

The East Hall Portrait

The third and final portrait to be discussed appears in the 1817 descriptive catalogue from Stowe House. This book records another portrait thought to be Jane Grey in the “passage of the east hall” at Stowe.  The portrait is simply referred to as:

Lady Jane Grey (original).[5]

No further description is given of the painting. Since some of the other portraits are explicitly described in the catalogue as “full length,” and this one is not, it does suggest the possibility that this painting was less than full length, perhaps three quarter, half, or bust length. The use of the term “original” also indicates that in 1817 this portrait was deemed to be old.

As yet, I have been unable to track the current whereabouts of this portrait.  I have been able to locate a further two references to a portrait of Lady Jane Grey in the collection of The Marquis of Buckingham that could possibly be this particular painting, however.  These do give us more details as to what the portrait actually looked like, and when investigated further, these also give us some indication as to whether or not this portrait was a painting of Lady Jane Grey.

The first reference appears in the appendix of Richard Davey’s 1909 biography on Jane Grey.  Davey describes an engraving of the portrait as:

Lady Jane Grey. From a portrait in the possession of the Marquis of Buckingham. She wears a velvet gown open at the throat to display a double chain with a pendant cross. On table, large gold chalice.[6]

Since this description is inconsistent with the West Stair portrait and Manuscript Room Miniature, also thought to be Jane Grey, it is possible that the source used by the unidentified engraver was the “original portrait in the passage of the east hall.”  The description given by Davey of the East Hall Portrait is of interest as he does give us a little more information as to what this image looked like.

Another clue appears in 1917, in a magazine article published in the Musical Courier, which discusses the discovery of the then lost Pryor’s Bank portrait thought to represent Lady Jane Grey.  The article reports:

A portrait somewhat similar, in which this same chalice figures, is in the collection of the Marques of Buckingham.[7]

From the above descriptions, we see that the East Hall Portrait was probably similar in look to the Pryor’s Bank portrait.  Since no image has as yet been located, I am unable to discuss the similarities in-depth.  However, what is seen from the descriptions is that both the Pryor’s Bank Portrait and the East Hall portrait included a depiction of a chalice within the composition.

It is possible that an authentic portrait of Jane Grey could have been painted that included the use of a chalice within the composition.  This does not, however, fit with the general style of other portraits produced of female figures painted during her lifetime.  A number of portraits from this period show that females where generally depicted by artists in front of a plain background or cloth.  This was done to enable the depiction of the sitter to be the most prominent part of the painting.  Latin inscriptions that identified the sitter age and date in which the portrait was painted were generally added by the artist, and in some cases a motto or coat of arms as well.  Some paintings do survive which also demonstrate that female sitters were also depicted within a domestic surrounding that included objects within the composition. These paintings including one of Princess Elizabeth, now in the Royal Collection, and another of Lady Mary Dacre.  They are rare and are not as common as those depicting a sitter in front of a plain background.

Since the description of the East Hall portrait mentions the use of the chalice, I personally err on the side of caution when looking at this information.  As discussed in previous articles, the iconography of Jane Grey is a difficult and complex subject due to the large number of portraits and the little information surviving about them.

It does appear that over the years several paintings once identified as being of Jane Grey have turned out to be representations of Mary Magdalene when studied further.  As discussed in my article on the Pryor’s Bank portrait, the use of the golden chalice in the iconography of Mary Magdalene was popular and was used along with other artefacts depicted in the paintings as a form of symbolism.  Mary Magdalene was commonly portrayed alone, in isolation reading, writing or playing the lute.  The chalice was commonly used to symbolise the jar of oil used to wash the feet of Jesus. The Symbolism used within depictions of the Magdalene is similar to the description given by Roger Ascham in his book The Schoolmaster of Jane sat alone at Bradgate reading Plato.  This description was commonly used during the nineteenth and twentieth century by authors and artists when discussing and depicting Jane to demonstrate that her love of learning had isolated her from her family, who Ascham notes were out hunting at the time of his visit.

Althorp Portrait Called Lady Jane Grey in 1817 Engraving appeared in Bibliographical Decameron by Thomas Frognall Dibdin

One possible reason for the number of portraits depicting the Magdalene being confused for that of Jane Grey is the publication in 1817 of the engraved image of a painting that is known today as the Althorp Portrait. That image appeared in a book entitled Bibliographical Decameron by Thomas Frognall Dibdin (1776-1847). That engraving was based on a portrait in the collection of Spencer family at Althorp house which at that time was thought to be of Lady Jane Grey. That portrait also incorporated the use of a golden chalice within the composition. Today, it is now thought that this painting is a depiction of Mary Magdalene. In 1817, Dibdin stated in the footnote of his book that,

This is the only legitimate portrait of Lady Jane Grey that has yet been made public[8]

This then allowed others who may have owned a similar portrait depicting a sixteenth century lady close to Jane’s age, reading and with a chalice, to then attach her name to their painting.    

Until the East Hall portrait is located, it cannot be known for certain whether It is a possible image of Lady Jane Grey or another portrait of Mary Magdalene that Jane’s name had been associated with.  

The Jersey Portrait

Stowe house had a fourth portrait in its collection that in time was to become associated with Lady Jane Grey. It is known today as the Jersey portrait.

The Jersey Portrait
Katherine Parr
(c) The Earldom of Jersey Trust

This portrait was purchased from the Pryor’s Bank sale on May 3rd 1841, where it was described in the catalogue as:

Item 509. A panel painting, Queen Mary I., in carved guilt frame[9]

The painting remained in the Stowe collection, where it was hung in the Private Dining Room. It is described in the Stowe auction catalogue as:

290 Queen Mary, in a black dress, with richly ornamented sleeves-(Holbein)[10]

The annotated catalogue records the buyer of this portrait as a Mr J. Oxford Ryman, and within the same year of the sale this painting ended up in the collection of the Countess of Jersey.  Initially it was thought to have been destroyed by fire in 1949, but recent research completed by John Stephan Edwards has confirmed that this portrait did indeed survive the fire. 

The Jersey Portraits identity as an image of Lady Jane Grey originates with the purchase of NPG4451 by the National Portrait Gallery, London, in 1965.  Newspaper clippings from the late 1960’s show that almost immediately Roy Strong, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, compared NPG4451 to the Van de Passe engraving, thought at that time to be the only authentic image of Jane Grey, and a portrait in the collection of Lord Hastings, which had been associated with Jane’s name for many years.  By 1969, Roy Strong published his book Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, in which he also discussed the Jersey portrait under the heading Authentic and Possibly Authentic Portraits. Strong noted similarities between the Jersey portrait and the other images connected to NPG4451 and tentatively suggested that the Jersey portrait was also related to this set and must therefore also be another image of Jane Grey.  At that time, Strong also reported that the “face is that of a much older woman.”[11]  He dismissed the identity of it being a portrait of Queen Mary I, however, and tentatively put this down to bad restoration.  He also noted that the Jersey portrait had been destroyed by fire and that further research was unable to take place.     

Research produced and published by Susan James in January 1996[12] has now established that some of the jewels worn by the sitter in NPG4451 appear in inventories made of Katherine Parr’s jewels in 1550.  By June of 1996, the National Portrait Gallery then opted to reidentify NPG4451 as a portrait of Katherine Parr and not Lady Jane Grey, as all evidence indicated that the sitter depicted was most likely to be Katherine Parr. This in turn allowed the other portraits connected with this pattern to also be reidentified as Katherine Parr.


[1] Stowe A Description of The House and Gardens, 1817, page 52

[2] Catalogue of The Contents of Stowe House, Messrs. Christie and Manson, 1848, page130

[3] Heinz Archive: NPG125400

[4] Foster, Henry, The Stowe Catalogue Priced and Annotated, 1848, page178

[5] Stowe A Description of The House and Gardens, 1817, page 36

[6] Davey, Richard, Nine Days Queen, Lady Jane Grey and Her Times, 1909, page 362

[7] Musical Courier, Namara Discovers Valuable Portrait, 8th November 1917, page 43

[8] Dubdin, Thomas, The Bibliographical Decameron, 1817, page 250

[9] Mr Deacon, Pryor’s Bank Sales Catalouge, 3rd May 1841, page33

[10] Foster, Henry, The Stowe Catalogue Priced and Annotated, 1848, Page176

[11] Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, volume I, page 78-79

[12] James, Susan, Lady Jane Grey of Queen Katheryn Parr, Burlington Magazine, vol. 138, January 1996, Page 20-24

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