The Royal Collection Miniature Portrait

RCIN420944
Called Elizabeth I
Watercolour on Vellum Applied to Card
5.2 cm in diameter
©Royal Collection

Purchased as a portrait of Mary Tudor when Princess on behalf of Queen Victoria during the Christies sale on 24th May 1881, RCIN20944 has caused much debate among art historians over the years.  The sitter has been identified as at least three different members of the royal family from the Tudor period, and for around twenty-six years the sitter was thought to be Lady Jane Grey.  Two artists have been associated with its creation, though no proof has surfaced to establish a known creator.  Due the sitter once being identified as Lady Jane Grey, I have decided to discuss this painting on this website.     

RCIN420944 depicts a young lady facing full frontal, with grey eyes and light red hair.  She wears a bodice of gold damask fabric cut square at the neck and a partlet of contrasting fabric with small figure-of-eight ruff that surrounds her face.  A black loose gown with small puff sleeves and false hanging sleeves is also seen worn by the sitter and is fastened at the front with the use of gold aglets.  The sitter wears two chains around her neck of goldsmith work and pearls, and suspended from one is a large jewel containing five square cut diamonds and a large hanging pearl.  On her head she wears a hair net which again consists of goldsmith work, and a pink and white flower is also arranged within the sitter’s hair.  She is depicted on a blue background within a gold boarder. The beginning of an inscription stating “AÑO” is also seen on the left-hand side.    

Nothing is known regarding the early provenance for this painting or how the image became identified as a portrait of Mary Tudor when Princess.  The first documented record concerning the provenance of this portrait located to date is the sales catalogue for the collector and poet Samuel Rogers.  Following his death in 1855, his vast collection of art and antiques were sold as part of an eighteen-day sale commencing on 28th April 1856 at Messrs. Christie and Manson, St James Square.  RCIN420944 was sold on the eighth day of sale and is officially recorded in the catalogue as “lot 960. Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII, after Holbein.”[1] 

The portrait was purchased by collector Charles Sackville Bale, who appears not to have questioned the identity of the sitter or artist associated with it.  An early photographic image of the portrait appears in a book published in 1864 by Amelia B Edwards, and the portrait was also submitted to The Miniature Portrait Exhibition of 1865 at the South Kensington Museum.  Both the book and exhibition catalogue again refer to the portrait as “Queen Mary I of England, by Holbein,” with the exhibition catalogue also noting that the portrait was purchased from the collection of Samuel Rogers.

Upon the death of Charles Sackville Bale in 1880, the miniature sold from his collection and entered the Royal Collection.  The auction took place on 24th May 1881 and again the miniature was noted as “lot 1420 Mary Tudor, Queen of England, by H. Holbein”[2] within the catalogue for the sale.

Within years of entering the Royal collection, the sitter’s identity and the artist associated with its creation was challenged.   Lady Jane Grey was put forward as a possible candidate and the miniature would continue to be described as a portrait of Jane for the next two decades.

An article written by Richard Holmes, librarian to Queen Victoria, and published in 1884 in the English Illustrated Magazine does give us some clues as to the reason for the change of identification.  This article appears to be the first time the portrait was publicly published as an image of Lady Jane Grey, and the article also included an engraving of the painting noting Jane as the sitter in its title.  Holmes reports the reasons for the change in identity as follows

Engraving From English Illustrated Magazine 1884

“of the painters who must have worked in England between the time of Holbein and Hillard, a capital specimen has within the last few years been added to the number of royal portraits.  It is that of Lady Jane Grey, of which we give an engraving.  It had passed for many years as a portrait of princess, afterwards Queen Mary, but it is unlike her in every feature.  That it represents a Tudor Princess is undoubted, as in her hair are the red and white roses. It corresponds with all that is known of the characteristics of the unfortunate Lady Jane, and fills an important gap in the series of portraits of the Tudor Line”[3]

What is interesting about the above statement is that Holmes reports that the sitter depicted in the miniature was thought at that time to correspond with all that was known of the characteristics of Lady Jane Grey.  This then brings about the question as to what was actually known about Jane’s characteristics at that time. This article was written prior to the publication of Richard Davey’s biography on Jane in 1909, which contained the only detailed description of a small, freckled and red haired, Jane Grey entering the Tower of London as Queen on 10th July 1553, known to date.  Today, this description has been discovered to be a mere forgery.[4]  No other description documenting the details of Jane’s features has surfaced, which suggest that almost nothing was known regarding what Jane looked like, other than vague references referring to her as pretty which were made at a later date.

The miniature portrait was publicly exhibited in 1890 at the Royal House of Tudor Exhibition held at the New Gallery, London.  Within the exhibition catalogue, the portrait is recorded as coming from the collection of Her Majesty the Queen and referring to as “1068. Lady Jane Grey. By N. Hilliard, formerly in the collection of Charles Sackville Bale.”  It was probably around this point in time that a red leather label was attached to the back of the frame noting that the sitter depicted was “Lady Jane Grey/Born 1537-Died 1554/Hilliard”

The portrait continued to be displayed as an image of Lady Jane Grey and was Exhibited in the New Gallery exhibition of 1901 as a portrait of her.  In 1906, Richard Holmes again discussed the miniature in an article written for the Burlington Art Magazine on Nicholas Hillard.  

Lionel Cust, director of the National Portrait gallery, London, appears to be the first to question the identification of Lady Jane Grey as the sitter in RCIN420944.  In 1910, he produced a privately printed catalogue for the Royal Collection regarding the miniature portraits held within the Royal Palaces at that time.  In this, Cust dismisses the identification of Jane Grey and suggests Elizabeth I as an alternative sitter, noting that the miniature may have been produced by Levina Teerlinc and not Nicholas Hilliard.  Nothing is documented in the book to inform us as to why Cust came to this conclusion, though it would be tempting to speculate that he noted the costume worn by the sitter was a little too late in period to be an authentic portrait of Lady Jane Grey.

RCIN420987
Called Elizabeth I
Watercolour on Vellum
4.5 cm in diameter
©Royal Collection

The Identification of the sitter as Elizabeth was further strengthened in 1962 when the Royal Collection purchased another miniature portrait similar in composition and style to RCIN420944 at Christie’s auction.  This miniature is recorded in the catalogue for sale, taking place on April 10th at Christie’s auction house, London, as “A Lady, probably Princess Elizabeth, Later Queen Elizabeth I.” A description also noted that the miniature was painted on a playing card, and seen on the reverse of is blind stamp consisting of the letter C and a Crown. [5]   This was immediately associated with a description made in 1637 of a miniature portrait seen by Abraham Van der Doort, Surveyor of the Kings Pictures and described in an inventory made of the collection of King Charles I.

“Item don upon the right lighte in a white ivory box/ wthout a Christall a Certaine Ladies Picture in her haire/ in a gold bone lace little ruff, and black habbitt/ lined wth furr with goulden tissue sleeves/ with one hand over another supposed to have bin/ Queen Elizabeth before shee came to the Crowne. By an unknown hand”[6] 

Upon the purchase of the second miniature by the Royal Collection, both were thought to depict the same individual.  Due to the early Van der Doort description it was therefore thought that both miniatures represented the young Queen Elizabeth in the early years of her reign. Both images continue to be catalogued as Elizabeth I today.

Author Roy Strong was noted not to include either miniature in his 1963 book entitled Portrait of Queen Elizabeth.  He was observed to briefly discuss them in the 1987 revised version Gloriana The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I.  When discussing both miniatures, he interestingly notes that “of the two miniatures, one is more certainly of her than the other.”[7]  It could be argued that both images depict separate individuals rather than a portrait of the same person.  There does appear to be significant differences in the composition and costume worn by both individuals to identify that one is not a direct copy of the other. 

Whoever RCIN420944 depicts will continue to be debated among art historians, but Lionel Cust was right back in 1910 to question the identity of the sitter being Lady Jane Grey. There appears to be nothing within the image to suggest that the portrait was painted of her, and no detailed description survives today that tells us anything about what she looked like.  This image can now be removed from any list of potential likenesses thought to depict her.


[1] Messrs. Christies and Manson, Sales Catalogue, April 28th, 1856, Page 90, lot 960

[2] Christie’s, Sales Catalogue, 24th May 1881, Page 109, lot 1420

[3] Holmes. Richard, The Royal Collection of Miniatures at Windsor Castle, English Illustrated Magazine, July 1184

[4] For more details on the new finding regarding Davey’s description of Jane see: Edwards John, Queen of a New Invention, Old John Publishing, 2015, page 177 and DeLisle. Leanda, Sisters Who Would Be Queen, Harper Press, 2008 

[5] Christie’s Sale Catalogue, 10th April 1962, Page 20

[6] O’Donoghue,F.M, A Descriptive and Classified Catalogue of Portraits of Queen Elizabeth , 1894, page 27, no 7

[7] Strong. Roy, Gloriana The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, 1987, Page 55

The Beaufort Miniature Portrait

The Beaufort Miniature
Called Lady Jane Grey
Watercolour on vellum applied to card
(c) Private Collection

Sold at Sotheby’s auction house, London, on 13th September 1983 as lot 90, The Beaufort Miniature is one of the more recent paintings to be sold with the sitter tentatively suggested to be Lady Jane Grey.  The painting is associated with the artist Levina Teerlinc and is painted on vellum. The Sotheby’s sale included a second miniature attributed to the same artist, and both were formerly held in the collection of Henry Somerset, 12th Duke of Beaufort.

Before we study this miniature portrait in detail, we must first examine the artist associated with it and determine whether Levina Teerlinc would have had access to paint Lady Jane Grey.  Born around 1510, Teerlinc was the daughter of the famous Flemish illustrator Simon Benninck, and it is highly likely that she was taught to paint by her father.  By 1546, she was married, working, and living in England.  Teerlinc was granted a salary of forty pounds a year by Henry VIII, and she is documented as having worked for the English crown until her death in 1576.[1]  Teerlinc is a bit of an enigma.  Artists of the sixteenth century, even those with a large surviving output, are ordinarily not well documented today. But the reverse is true of Teerlinc. The State Papers of four separate Tudor monarchs include specific mention of her, yet no portrait reliably attributable to her is known to have survived today.[2]

In July 1983, a small number of miniature portraits were grouped together for the first time and exhibited as part of the Portrait Miniature Rediscovered Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. All were painted between 1546-1576, or during the period between the deaths of both Hans Holbein and Lucas Hornebolte in the 1540’s and the rise of Nicolas Hillard in the 1570’s.  All of the images were thought in 1983 to have been produced by Levina Teerlinc, though there is no surviving evidence to prove that assertion conclusively. [3] All of the miniatures do show some similarities in draughtsmanship.  The sitters do all have rather large heads and stick-like arms, and some similarities in the brushwork were also noted, including the use of loose wash work to create the features.  Since the completion of the exhibition, a number of other miniature portraits showing the same compositional mannerisms, including the Beaufort Miniature, have been sold at auction and have also been associated with Teerlinc.

Lady Katherine Grey
Watercolour on vellum applied to card
(c) Victoria and Albert Museum

Among the group of miniatures exhibited in the Portrait Miniature Rediscovered Exhibition and associated with Teerlinc is a portrait now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Purchased by the museum in June 1979, it is called Lady Katherine Grey due to an early inscription on the back that reads “The La Kathn Graye/wyfe of th’ Erle of/ Hertford”.  If the identity of the sitter and artist associated with this painting is correct, then Teerlinc most certainly had access to Jane’s sister. Teerlinc is also documented as producing several images of Elizabeth, including receiving payment in 1551 for a portrait of her as princess.  Susan James has also suggested that Teerlinc painted Catherine Parr, which suggests that Teerlinc came into contact with people that Jane would have known personally.  There is the slight possibility that she might have come into contact with Jane herself.[4]

The Beaufort Miniature depicts a young lady, seen to below the waist and facing the viewer’s left. Both hands are depicted in front, and she is holding a pair of gloves in her right hand, which has a ring on the fourth finger.  On her head, she wears a French hood with both upper and lower billaments made up of goldsmith work and pearls. A black veil is also seen hanging down at the back.  A black loose gown with a fur collar and fitted mutton leg sleeves is worn by the sitter. At her neck she wears a small ruff edged with gold thread. The sitter is depicted on a blue background with a gold border.

Unknown Lady
Called Lady Frances Grey
Watercolour on vellum
(c)Victoria and Albert Museum

As discussed above, the miniature had previously been in the collection of Henry Somerset, 12th Duke of Beaufort.[5]  In the auction catalogue at the time of the sale, the lot was officially titled “An Important Married Lady at The Tudor Court.” The suggestion that the sitter could possibly be Lady Jane Grey was made within the description that accompanied the lot.  The catalogue reported similarities in the facial features of the sitter depicted in the Beaufort Miniature and the miniature portrait of Lady Katherine Grey at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It then went on to suggest Lady Jane Grey is the sitter and that the image was “taken shortly before her death in 1554”.  The catalogue did rightfully record that there is no proof to back up this theory.  A second miniature also associated with Teerlinc and sold during the same auction was similarly suggested to depict Jane Grey’s mother, Lady Frances Brandon. [6]  When looking at the Beaufort miniature and the other thought to depict Lady Katherine Grey side by side, there does appear to be some similarities in the faces, but this cannot be used today as the sole reason to identify a sitter within a painting.  There are other clues in the painting that give us some indication that the sitter is not, in fact, Lady Jane Grey.

The ruff seen in the painting appears to be the only major datable aspect. The ruff was an essential part of the Tudor wardrobe by the mid sixteenth and early seventeenth century and was worn across Europe in a variety of styles.  In the case of the Beaufort Miniature, we see an example from the early stages of the evolution of the ruffs.  It appears to be attached to the sitter’s partlet rather than worn as a separate item that was starched and fixed in place, as was seen in later periods.

Called Catherine Howard (Detail)
Hans Holbein
(c) The Royal Collection

To trace the evolution of the ruff worn in Britain, we must first look at the fashion worn by ladies during the 1540’s.  It was during this period that it became more favourable for ladies to cover the chest rather than the previous fashion of the chest being revealed by the low-cut French gowns.  As seen in a portrait thought to depict Katherine Howard and now in the Royal Collection.  This was achieved with the use of a partlet.  Worn beneath the bodice and tied under the arms this would have been made from a fine fabric.

By the end of the 1540’s and early 1550’s, ladies continued to wear the partlet, however, this had developed slightly.  Surviving portraits from this period show that the partlet continued to be constructed from a fine fabric similar to what would have been used to create the chemise, though this had been fitted with a neck band to create a small frill or collar. The addition of a second partlet known as an outer partlet made with a v-shaped collar of a contrasting fabric to the outer gown could also be worn over this.

By the mid 1550’s, the small frill seen at the neck had again grown in size and had begun to surround the face, similar in style to what is seen in the Beaufort Miniature.  This ruffle would eventually develop into the ruff seen in the later periods after the 1560’s and would eventually become a separated from the partlet altogether. [7]

When compared to portraits painted during the later half of the 1550’s, including one of an unknown lady in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum dating to 1555 and another of Mary Neville in the National Portrait Gallery dating to 1559 the Beaufort Miniature appears to sit in the middle with the ruffle looking as though it is still attached to a partlet as seen in the Fitzwilliam portrait and without the use of wire or starch to create the defined figure of eight shape seen in the portrait of Mary Neville.

Though arguably there are some similarities in the facial features of the Beaufort Miniature and the V&A miniature of Lady Katherine Grey, this could be attributed to the artist’s style rather than to family resemblance. It is my opinion that the sitter depicted in the Beaufort Miniature is wearing a ruffle that is slightly too late in period to have been worn by Lady Jane Grey. The miniature is unlikely to have been painted prior to 1554 as the catalogue suggests.  Though a beautiful little picture, there is no evidence to suggest that it was thought prior to the 1983 auction to be an image of Jane Grey. This can now be removed from the list of any likenesses thought to depict Lady Jane Grey. 


[1] Strong. Roy, The English Renaissance Miniature, Thames and Hudson, 1983, page 54

[2]  James. Susan, The Feminine Dynamic in English Art, 1485-1603, Women as Consumers, Patrons and Painter, Ashgate Publishing, 2009

[3] Strong. Roy, Artists of the Tudor Court, The Portrait Miniature Rediscovered 1520-1620, Thames and Hudson, 1983, page 52

[4] James. Susan, The Feminine Dynamic in English Art, 1485-1603, Women as Consumers, Patrons and Painter, Ashgate Publishing, 2009, page 27

[5] Artist file for Levina Teerlinc, Heinz Archive, National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG50/21/250, accessed 2018.  It is not known exactly when the Duke acquired the miniature, but a photograph taken in 1983 lists the sitter as “Unknown Lady.” This suggests that the sitter was not thought to depict Jane Grey prior to the sale of that same year.

[6] Sotheby’s Auction Catalogue, 13th September 1983, page 31. Purchased by the Victorian and Albert Museum in 1983 this miniature is catalogued today as “unknown lady”

[7] For further information on the evolution of the ruff see Arnold. Janet, Pattern of Fashion 4, The cut and construction of linen shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear and accessories for men and women c.1540-1660, Macmillan, 2008.