Anne Boleyn – NPG 668

Anne Boleyn
NPG 668
Oil on Oak Panel
21 3/8 x 16 3/8 inches
©The National Portrait Gallery

NPG 668 is arguably the most famous portrait of Anne Boleyn that derives from the B Pattern.  Once acquired by The National Portrait Gallery, London this image has continuously been reproduced in books, magazines, movies and even on the occasional t-towel and cushion.  This portrait has become an icon in its own right, to many individuals across the globe, it has become a symbol of British history.

During my last visit to the National Portrait Gallery, I spent approximately forty-five minutes stood in front of NPG 688, listening, and observing what other visitors had to say about the image.  It was only during this visit that I first became aware of the power the painting appears to hold over people.  NPG 668 as an historical artifact is a bit of an enigma, a view into the past that inspires debate which, as yet, has not been truly resolved.  Some believe that the portrait depicts the true identity of one of King Henry VIII’s most famous queens, whilst others were noted to discuss the fact that no known portrait of Anne exists and that this particular copy was painted after her death, so therefore must be a made up image and cannot be relied on.  The National Portrait Gallery themselves note that the portrait was ‘based on a work of circa 1533-1536, when Anne was Queen’, however have produced little documentary evidence to back this theory up.[1] 

Object Description:

The painting is executed in oil on a wooden panel.  Two vertical panels have been used to construct the support on which the image is painted on and the portrait measures in whole 21 3/8 x 16 3/8 inches.   The painting depicts the head and torso of an adult female who appears before a plain green background.  She is turned slightly to the viewers left, though her eyes engage the viewer directly.  Her face is oval in shape, with a high forehead.  Her hair is brown in colour, appears straight, and is worn parted in the centre of the crown and pulled back over her ears and under her headwear.  Her eyes are brown in colour and her eyebrows are thin and arched.  The nose is straight with a high bridge and her lips are small and thin. 

The sitter’s costume includes a French hood, ending just below the jawline.  This is constructed with the use of black fabric that includes the use of an upper and lower billiment of pearls.  A black veil is also seen hanging down at the back and under this the sitter wears a gold coif.  At her neck she wears two strings of pearls with a large letter B pendant of goldsmith work and three hanging pearls suspended from the upper necklace.  A gold chain is also seen at the neck, that falls and disappears into the front of the sitter’s bodice.  The gown itself is constructed of a black fabric, cut squared at the neck and a chemise, embroidered with blackwork protrudes along the entire bodice margin. Large brown fur sleeves can be seen at the bottom edge of the panel.  

An inscription across the top of the panel identifies the sitter as ANNA BOLINA VXOR HENRI. OCTA otherwise translated Anna Bolina, wife of Henry 8.  The inscription has been heavily restored over the course of time and the first two letter of ‘Anna’ have been entirely repainted when a twenty-centimetre addition was added to the left-hand side of the panel.

Recent photographs showing the reverse of the painting indicate that there are no labels or other inscriptions located on the back of the panel surface. During conservation work on the portrait in 1967, it was identified that the surface of the wooden panel had been thinned down at some point during its history and any inscription would have been removed during this process.[2]

Artist Attribution:

Documented as unknown English Artist.

Provenance:

Little information is known regarding the portrait’s early provenance. It was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1882, from the Reynolds Gallery.  No information concerning the portraits provenance prior to the sale was provided and no other information regarding the history of this painting has been located during modern research. The portrait has been on public display at the National Portrait Gallery since its purchase and has only briefly left its walls to undergo conservation work or to be included in other temporary exhibitions across the globe.

Discussion:

This portrait, of all the others associated with the B Pattern has certainly been subject to the most scientific investigation.  Museums and galleries around the world can use several techniques on a painting to identify information such as date of creation, origin and the techniques and sequencing used by the artist to create it.  Several of these techniques have taken place on NPG 668 and a large amount of information has already been documented regarding the gallery’s findings. Due to the fact that of all the paintings associated with the B-Pattern, NPG 668 is the portrait that has undergone the most scientific investigations I have opted to take a fresh look at what we know about this portrait, so far.  

As highlighted above, the portrait was examined in 1967, where it was noted to be in a rather bad state of preservation.  An early photographic image taken of the portrait during this period identifies that the panel surface contained a large vertical crack down the right-hand side. [3]

NPG 668 Prior to 1967
© National Portrait Gallery

This is not uncommon in portraits that have a history of approximately four hundred and fifty years behind them.  The damp climate of the British Isles has taken its toll on many of our historical images painted on wood.  Most have succumbed to clumsy restoration techniques of past generations; structural renovations, overpainting, excessive cleaning and often the panel surface itself has expanded and contracted during time which results in the paint layers becoming weakened. Today, very few portraits painted on a wooden support cannot be described as being in an immaculate state of preservation. 

In an attempt to strengthen the fragile panel of NPG 668, a cradle support was added to the back of the panel surface in 1967.  During a recent examination of the panel as part of the National Portrait Gallery’s ‘Making Art in Tudor Britain’ project, it was established that the cradle added was now having a dramatic impact on the portraits condition.  

A fundraising campaign was established by the gallery to help raise the money to stabilise the historic portrait and due to the generosity of public donor’s, conservation work began in the autumn of 2011.[4]  The cradle was removed from the back of the panel allowing the portrait to sit in its natural warped position.  Splits in the panel surface were secured and filled with a conservation adhesive and filler.  A specially designed frame was also constructed to allow the portrait to sit in its natural position when exhibited to enable the public to view the portrait without causing further damage to its support.

Due to the removal of the wooden cradle, dendrochronological testing took place on the portrait in 2012. A previous attempt had been made in 2010, however, the thick wooden cradle attached to the back of the panel made this awkward to complete and an accurate date was unable to be obtained.  On completion of the 2012 tests, it was established that NPG 668 was painted no earlier than 1584, confirming the theory that this copy was indeed a later copy and was probably produced as part of a larger set of paintings.[5]  

NPG 668 has also undergone x-radiography and infrared reflectography.  Both these techniques are used by The National Portrait Gallery to see under the painted surface, identify possible changes in composition and reveal underdrawings produced by the artist prior to the painting process.  Images taken during the infrared reflectography show the B Pattern in all its glory. It was established that the artist who created NPG 668 used a pattern to transferer a pre-existing image of Anne onto the panel prior to painting the portrait.  The graphite under drawing can clearly be seen in the image below and this closely follows the painted outline of the subsequent layers.   Some minor adjustments to the outline of the sitter’s face and shoulders have been made during the painting process however the physical features of the sitter’s face have been followed exactly.

Infrared Reflectography Image of NPG 668
©National Portrait Gallery

To truly understand the demand for Anne’s image and the evolution and use of the B Pattern we first need to understand the complex matter of portrait sets within Tudor England. 

A large amount of information has been written over the course of time regarding sixteenth century art and the production of portraits by some of the more famous artists working within the Royal court and across Tudor England. However, very little information has been documented regarding some of the lesser-known artists who produced portraits sets on a large scale to meet the public demand for imagery.

One main reason for this lack of information is that very little is known and therefore not documented about some of the lesser-known artists and the work produced by them. In the past, most portrait sets produced by some of these lesser-known artists have unfortunately been branded as poor quality with little historical significance.  Museums and galleries around the world have only recently started to take these portraits seriously and use modern technology to truly understand some of the works of art created on a mass scale to fulfil a high demand from Tudor society.

The wooden panel portraiture created in Tudor England that we view today in galleries and country houses across the globe formed a small part of the visual artifacts viewed by the men and women who lived in sixteenth century England.  Houses of the rich and elite members of society were filled with tapestries, painted cloths, and furnishings depicting imagery of some kind.  Clothes, books, and jewellery also became more prominent during the sixteenth century and were also filled with images of significance to the individual who may have commissioned them.  The use and demand for visual imagery did not only exist within domestic settings but town halls, schools and colleges across England were filled with portrait images of political and state figures from history and reformers of the protestant faith.  Art was not only used for decoration purposes but could also be used to demonstrate an individual’s commitment to a specific cause.

From the beginning of the sixteenth century there appears to have been a keen interest for information concerning historical events from the past.  Several plays, ballads, pamphlets, and published works were created throughout this century documenting the stories of either historical royal figures or famous contemporary individuals who had made their mark on history.  With this also came the demand for images of some of the figures promoted.[6]

One of the earliest examples of historical printed text from the sixteenth century is Robert Fabyan’s The New Chronicles of England and France. This book details events from the legendary arrival of Brutus of Troy to the death of King Henry VII and was first published in 1516. The book was subsequently republished in 1533, 1542 and 1559 demonstrating the high demand for the subject. In 1563, John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments was first published in England detailing the stories of men and women from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century who were martyred for their faith. [7]

By the end of the sixteenth century and beginning of the seventeenth century plays about historical figures such as those written by William Shakespeare, were being staged in both the Royal Court and playhouses.   Books containing engraved portraits of historical figures started to appear and in 1597 Thomas Tablot’s “Booke Containing the True Portraiture of the Kings of England” was printed followed by Henry Holland’s “Baziliologia” in 1618 and his “Herowlogia Anglica” two years later.  All three books contained many engraved images of Kings, Queens, and prominent figures from the sixteenth century which had been claimed by the authors to be based on authentic likenesses.[8]

Holland’s “Baziliologia” did contain an engraved portrait depicting Anne Boleyn, however this was not based on the B-Pattern which would have been a relatively common image by 1618 and much debate has taken place over the authenticity of this image.  The “Baziliologia” engraving of Anne does look remarkably similar to a depiction of Jane Seymore from the Whitehall mural, by Hans Holbein.  Several other engravings produced in Holland’s book’s such as the well-known Van da Passe engraving of Lady Jane Grey have also now been proven to be based on portraits of other sitters, so we do need to air on the side of caution when it comes to this particular engraving of Anne.

Portrait sets depicting Kings and Queens of England survive today, however the majority have been broken up and only a small amount survive in some sort of entirety.  Anne Boleyn was generally one of three of King Henry VIII’s queens depicted within sets of English monarchs and their consorts along with Katherine of Aragon and Jane Seymour. These three wives were included in the sets because they all produced a child during their marriage and therefore a future monarch.  Anne herself was Queen Mother to the reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth I and although Anne’s marriage was never officially legitimised during the reign of her daughter her image was often included within portrait sets and Elizabeth herself, does appear to have acknowledged both her parents within her own iconography during her long reign.

Many portraits depicting Anne which where once part of a larger set and derive from what I refer to as the B Pattern, survive in public and private collections around the world.  Today, those that have been published and are well known to us have often been grouped together and referred to as “posthumous” dating to “the later period of the sixteenth century”[9]  

When creating portrait sets, artists appear to have gone to every effort in attempts to locate written descriptions, previous portraits, illustrations, and effigies to support them to create panel portraits of individuals both past and present.  We know for example that the many later portrait patterns depicting Elizabeth of York was based on another painting which was probably painted from life currently held in the Royal Collection.

Elizabeth of York
RCIN 403447
Oil on Panel
© Royal Collection Trust

Initially, the Royal Collection portrait was thought to date to the late sixteenth century, however current research has identified that this portrait may have been painted in the late fifteenth century.[10] Subsequent copies of this portrait indicate that a pattern was created and used by workshops when producing further copies.  A large majority of the surviving copies all show the same characteristics, brown eyes, light red hair, pale complexion, and a red gown with ermine trim. This suggest that the patterns created also contained notes or visual reminders for the artists of how the final portrait should be finished, much like the provisional drawings produced by Hans Holbein for some of his major works.

One perfect example of an early portraits set is a small group of portraits again held within the royal collection.  These painting’s depict King Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III and all are of similar format and size and include the characteristic red demask background.

Initially, as seen with the portrait of Elizabeth of York these painting’s where again thought to date to the latter half of the sixteenth century.  Recent dendrochronology testing has identified that all three paintings were actually constructed from the same tree which was cut down no earlier than 1504.  This once again demonstrates the importance of modern technology within the world of art history and the possibility that some of the portraits created for the use of sets could date to an earlier period than initially thought.[11]

When looking at the surviving portraits depicting Anne Boleyn, two specific portrait patterns begin to emerge. The first is the bust length pattern seen in NPG 668, NGI.549 and the Rosse Portrait.

The second is a pattern that has been slightly extended to incorporate Anne’s hands and a rose which can be seen in the alternative version on display at Hever Castle, the Radclyffe portrait and the Shindler portrait.  Multiple copies of both patterns survive today, however paintings derived from the second pattern appears to be scarcer than that of the first.

Only a small amount of the portraits depicting Anne have undergone dendrochnology testing to establish an accurate date of creation.  Some can easily be dismissed as later copies, produced during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.  A large proportion of the portraits depicting Anne remain untested which makes it difficult to determine what order of dates each portrait was produced and the possibility that one of the portraits may be an earlier copy possibly painted from life.

Unfortunately, to date, I have been unable to locate any written documentation relating to the production of a portrait of Anne Boleyn during her actual lifetime. There does appear to be a number of sixteenth century references regarding the use and collection of her image after her death.  Unfortunately, these references are vague, and it is hard to distinguish if any of these portraits were in fact an authentic image or one of the many portraits based on the B pattern that where apparently created at a later period.

The first reference to an image of Anne dates from 1559, and is taken from several written descriptions regarding the events that took place during the coronation of Anne’s daughter Queen Elizabeth I.  All descriptions refer to a large stage being built and used as part of the pageant at the upper end of Gracechurch Street.  It appears that this stage was designed to represent Queen Elizabeth I’s lineage and not only included an image of her royal grandparents King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York but also an image representing her father and mother King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.  Unfortunately, these descriptions provide little detail as to what the images of the figures looked like, however, they do provide evidence that there was, at least, a recognisable image of Anne in 1559.[12]

The second reference is taken from 1577 and is listed within an inventory of the possessions of Archbishop Matthew Parker at the time of his death at Lambeth Palace.  The inventory lists thousands of items within the palace including a portrait of “Quene Anne Bolleyn” displayed in the gallery. Matthew Parker was in fact Anne’s personal Chaplain and it would be difficult to believe that an individual who was such a close associate of Anne would have owned a portrait that was not a reasonable likeness of her.[13] 

The third and probably most famous reference comes from a collection of inventories documenting the extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, furniture, and books collected by the 1st Baron of Lumley (John Lumley 1533-1609).  Lumley’s collection consisted of over one hundred and ninety portraits scattered across his residences of Lumley Castle, Nonsuch Palace and Harts Street. His walls were not only hung with paintings of family members, but portraits of royals and nobilities demonstrating a list of who’s who, in England.  In an inventory made in 1590 there is a reference to a portrait of “Queen Anne Bulleyne.” As the portrait is listed among other portraits described as “Statuary” we may then presume that the painting was in fact full-length as portraits of half-length or small in size are referred to as “scantling.”[14]  Upon John Lumley’s death some of his collection passed to his nephew Thomas Howard Earl of Arundel though the vast amount remained at Lumley Castle were the collection eventually passed to the Earls of Scarborough.  Some of the collection was subsequently sold through auction in 1785 and 1807, however no portrait of Anne Boleyn is listed among the entries for either auction, and this particular portrait remains lost today.[15]

As this article demonstrates the use of modern technology is now answering some of the unanswered questions regarding the production and use of portrait sets from Tudor England.  We are now finally starting to get a good understanding of the techniques and processes used to create these images. From the references discussed above regarding the use of Anne’s image we can see that there was at least some sort of recognisable image of Anne Boleyn used from 1557 onwards.   It would certainly be of high interest to locate all surviving examples of the B Pattern and have them undergo some of the testing which has taken place on NPG 668.  Modern science will enable us to identify once and for all what order these images came in and if there is any possibility that one may be a life portrait.   


[1] The National Portrait Gallery, https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw00142/Anne-Boleyn?LinkID=mp00109&search=sas&sText=anne+boleyn&role=sit&rNo=0 accessed September 2020

[2] Heinz Archive, London, Object File NPG668. Further information on conservation assessment and treatment which has taken place on this portrait can be located in this file.

[3] My sincere thanks to Roland Hui for providing me with a copy of this image.

[4] https://www.npg.org.uk/research/programmes/making-art-in-tudor-britain/case-studies/conservation-treatment-of-a-portrait-of-anne-boleyn accessed September 2020

[5] Heinz Archive, London, Object File NPG668

[6] For further information see: Woolf. Daniel, R, The circulation of the Past: England’s Historical Culture 1500-1730, Oxford University Press, 2003

[7] Ellis. Henry, The New Chronicles of England and France in Two Parts by Robert Fabyan, London, 1811 page: xiii–xviii

[8]Hind M Arthur, Engravings in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, 1955

[9] Mould. Philip LTD, Lost Faces Identity and Discovery in Tudor Royal Portraiture,2007, Page. 59

[10] Tyers. Ian, Tree-ring Analysis of Panel Painting from the Ryal Collection, Dendrochronology Consultancy Ltd, January 2013

[11] Tyers. Ian, Tree-ring Analysis of Panel Painting from the Ryal Collection, Dendrochronology Consultancy Ltd, January 2013

[12] I am grateful for the fantastic research into these descriptions produced and published by Natalie Grueninger at Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I’s Coronation (onthetudortrail.com), accessed January 2021

[13] Archaeologia of Miscellaneous Tracts, Society of Antiquaries of London, 1844, Vol XXX, Page. 11

[14] Walpole Society, Vol I, 1918, Page.21

[15]The Getty provenance database,  http://piprod.getty.edu/starweb/pi/servlet.starweb

The B Pattern: The Belmont Portrait

The Belmont Portrait
Anne Boleyn
Oil on Wooden Panel
20 x 14 ½ inches
©The Frick Art Reference Library, New York

The Belmont Portrait is one of the more vague and seldom seen images of Anne Boleyn based on the B Pattern.  This specific portrait is named in this study after one of its documented owners and as far as I am aware, it has never before been published, nor has it ever been exhibited in any gallery or museum. 

The portraits existence is purely known through a selection of old black and white images held in the Frick Art Reference Library, New York.  This is probably the first ever effort to study this painting and its connection to other portraits utilising the B Pattern in a scholarly manner.

Object Description:

The painting is executed in oil on a wooden panel and measures 20 x 14 ½ inches.   The portrait depicts the head and upper torso of an adult female who appears before a plain dark background.  She is turned slightly to the viewers left, though her eyes engage the viewer directly.  Her face is oval in shape, with a high forehead.  Her hair is dark in colour, appears straight, and is worn parted in the centre of the crown and pulled back over her ears and under her headwear.  Her eyes appear dark in colour and her eyebrows are thin and arched.  The nose is straight with a high bridge and her lips are small and thin. 

The sitter’s costume includes a French hood, ending just below the jawline.  This is constructed with the use of black fabric that includes the use of an upper and lower billiment of pearls.  A black veil is also seen hanging down at the back.  At her neck she wears two strings of pearls with a large letter B pendant of goldsmith work and three hanging pearls suspended from the upper necklace.  A gold chain is also seen at the neck, that falls and disappears into the front of the sitter’s bodice.  The gown itself is constructed of a dark fabric with what appears to be the hint of large fur sleeves, seen at the bottom edges of the portrait.  The upper edge of the bodice is cut squared and a chemise, embroidered with blackwork protrudes along the entire bodice margin.  

There are no identifying inscriptions readily visible on the painted surface and no photograph of the reverse of the painting is available.

Artist Attribution:

Documented as Flemish School

Provenance:

As highlighted above, very little is known regarding the early provenance for this particular portrait.  An information sheet, stored along with the old photographic images in the Frick Library does inform us that the portrait was once in the collection of a Mrs Belmont and that it was purchased form her by a Malcom Sands Wilson of New York.  It is also recorded that the old black and white photographic images of this portrait were acquired for the Frick Collection in the April of 1936 form Mrs Belmont.

Discussion:

This portrait’s current location remains unknown, at this point in time.  As far as I am aware the painting has not undergone any scientific investigation to establish a date of production or place of origin, so no precise date can be documented.  From the records held in the Frick Collection it does appear that the painting was deemed significant enough to undergo some restoration techniques.[1]  The restoration work was completed by William Hisgrove of New York in 1936 and a photographic image which was taken of the portrait before this took place clearly shows the that later overpaint, and old varnish was removed were removed during this process.  This suggests that the portrait was possibly of a significant age when the restoration work was completed.

The Belmont Portrait
Prior to Restoration Work
©The Frick Art Reference Library, New York

In my opinion, what is significant about the Belmont Portrait it that, of the many copies related to the B pattern, this, is probably the closest in comparison to the portrait in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London. 

This copy, Known as NPG668, was purchased by the Gallery in 1882 and will be discussed in later part of this study.[2]  All portrait relating to the B pattern have significant differences in the finer details which are applied by the artist. Though slightly bigger in size, the facial feature seen in NPG668 are noticeably similar to those depicted in the Belmont Copy.  The blackwork design depicted on the chemise, worn under the sitter’s bodice is also depicted in an identical manner.

It is my opinion that, the Belmont portrait is of significant interest, due to it similarities to NPG668.  It would certainly be interesting if The National Portrait Gallery where able to locate the Belmont paintings current whereabouts and attempt to clarify if indeed there is any possible connection between the two portraits.      


[1]Frick Art Reference Library, New York, https://arcade.nyarc.org/record=b1512889~S1, accessed August 2020

[2] See NPG668 Object File for More information.

New Project Announcement!

Anne Boleyn: The B Pattern

Introduction:

Anne Boleyn was the second Queen of Henry VIII, she was executed in 1536, and she is arguably one of the more popular figures in Tudor history today.  Similar to Lady Jane Grey, many portraits have been associated with Anne’s name over the course of time.  None have produced the documentation to conclusively prove an identification and Anne continues to go without a portrait painted from life to this day.

One of the most famous depictions of Anne is what I refer to as the B pattern. This image has been extensively reproduced in history books when discussing Anne’s story.   The B pattern depicts a lady wearing a black French Hood and a pearl necklace with a gold letter ‘B’ hanging from it.  All surviving portraits were probably produced as part of portrait sets illustrating Kings and Queens of England, but what I find interesting about these portrait’s, is, we know so little about them.

During the latter half of the sixteenth century it had become popular for ‘portrait sets’ to be produced.  These sets were often displayed in public places, in galleries, in homes across Tudor England and in some of the royal palaces occupied by the Monarch.  Portrait sets were not only produced to document historic figures, but also demonstrated loyalty to a specific cause.  As the mother of the Reigning Monarch, Elizabeth I, Anne was often depicted within the sets as the wife of Henry VIII. 

Portrait sets were created in workshops and required a lesser skilled artist than the Great Masters who were probably commissioned to paint the original, thus making them cheaper and more accessible to the individual living in Tudor England.  An image was often derived from a standard pattern of an individual, based on an existing image, description, engraving or in some circumstances a tomb effigy.  These could be used by the workshops to quickly trace the desired image on to a wooden panel so that the portrait could be produced as quickly and effectively as possible.[1]

A small number of portraits based on the B pattern and dated to the end of sixteenth century still exist today.  Some are in public galleries whilst others remain in private collections across the world.  Most of the individual portraits depicting Anne, first appear in documentation during the turn of the twentieth century, with little known regarding there provenance prior to this.   

The B pattern was most certainly accepted as an image of Anne Boleyn during the latter half of the sixteenth century.  As for what source it was based on, in truth, we do not really know today. The purpose of this study is to look at the surviving collection of portraits depicting Anne that derive from the B pattern.  In compiling this study, I hope to establish a better understanding about the production of ‘portrait sets’, and the use of Anne’s image. I hope to Look at each portrait as an individual, in the hope of establishing some sort of database of information concerning each portrait.  Where possible I will attempt to document information relating specifically to the date and provenance of each image in the hope of ascertaining more information and identifying a possible sequence in which the portraits were painted.      


[1] For more information on the production and use of portrait sets see: Daunt. Catherine, Portraits Sets in Tudor and Jacobean England, May 2015

The Curious Case of Henry Grey’s Head

Until recently, I have avoided using social networking websites as I am always concerned how much personal information is, at times, unconsciously posted.  To complete the creation of my website, I once again thought I would challenge my beliefs and create an account on two of the more popular networking sites as a way of promoting my articles and to connect with people who share the same interests.

If anything, social media definitely brings people together.  During the month of February, it was nice to see how social media was used by many individuals as a way of commemorating the 466th anniversary of the execution of Lady Jane Grey, Guildford Dudley and Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk.

One post from a well-known Tudor history website sparked my memory and interest about a rather ghoulish and macabre relic with a supposed connection to Lady Jane Grey. The relic discussed was the supposed mummified head of Henry Grey discovered in the Church of Holy Trinity Minories, next to the Tower of London, during the nineteenth century.[1]

Supposed Head of Henry Grey

In a book published in 1889, Reverend Samuel Kinns tells the story that apparently Henry’s body was buried in the Chapel of St Peter after his execution.  However, his head was somehow smuggled out of the Tower and was buried in a vault at the Church of Holy Trinity Minories.

Kinns writes that Henry’s head was apparently discovered in 1851 by William Legge, 5th Earl of Dartmouth.  Legge was inspecting the vaults of his ancestors under the church, and according to reports, he discovered a basket in a small vault near the altar of the chapel.  On inspecting it, he noted that the basket was filled with sawdust, and it also contained the decapitated head of a male in a perfect state of preservation. [2]

The Church of Holy Trinity Minories was established from a nunnery that was surrendered to the Crown in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  The land and buildings were apparently given to Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk by King Edward VI in January 1552.  The nun’s chapel then became a parish church, and by 1706 the original church had fallen into disrepair and was rebuilt using brick material.  The upmost care and attention was given to keep as much of the church’s original features as possible. The church was eventually closed in 1899, and the building was eventually destroyed by bombing during World War II. [3]  

Church of Holy Trinity Minories

At thirty-six years old, Henry Grey was charged with high treason and executed on the morning of 23rd February 1554 for his involvement in Wyatt’s rebellion.  His final moments were documented in the book Chronical of Queen Jane and of Two Years of Queen Mary.  This book was thought to have been written by a resident at the Tower of London at that time, and it provides a detailed description of Henry Greys actions when on the scaffold.  What is most relevant in this description is that the writer informs us that, fortunately for Henry, his head was taken off with one stroke by the executioner. The entry stops with the fatal blow of the axe, and no other written account has survived to inform us exactly what happened to his body and head after this event. [4] 

As Samuel Kinns noted in his 1898 book, it is traditionally thought that Henry’s body was buried in the Chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula within the walls of the Tower of London. The Chapel of St Peter was not only used as a place of worship for residents of the Tower, but it was also a place where the bodies of those accused of treason and other crimes could be buried in great obscurity and simply forgotten about.   

Due to Henry’s high birth and status, it is thought that his body was probably buried somewhere on the left-hand side of the chancel, close to the altar, alongside his daughter and son-in-law. The altar was the focal point within a church, and people of high birth were buried close to this due to Christian belief and the hierarchy of the social order.  Documentation survives to inform us that other prominent figures of high social status also executed during the sixteenth century and buried in the Chapel of St Peter were buried close to the altar. 

1886 Plan Showing Probable Burial Spot For People of High Status

During restoration work on the Chapel between 1876 and 1877, the above plan, was made using contemporary descriptions to identify the most probable place of burial for some of the Tower’s most prominent victims. Henry, Jane and Guildford where all included on the above plan but, bones discovered during the work on the altar floor were not associated with any of them.

Bones showing signs of decapitation were discovered, and every effort was made to identify the specific individuals.[5]  These bones were eventually re-buried under elaborate marbles slabs detailing the possible identifications of the individuals, and a large white marble slab was placed at the front of the Chancel listing the names of victims buried in the chapel whose remains where unfortunately not identified.

Final Design For Memorial Slabs Commemorating Individuals Buried in The Chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula

The only contemporary documented information regarding the discovery of the head I have been able to locate is a book written in 1851.   In the same year the head was apparently discovered by William Legge the books writer, Reverand Thomas Hill, notes that

in the church is placed the head, taken from the body which evidently had suffered decapitation, although it is impossible to discover now the name of its possessor.[6] 

The above quote suggests that no other information was discovered alongside the head that could be used to positively identify the male and no mention of the heads association with Henry Grey is mentioned in this book.

In 1877, the head was examined by Dr Fredrick John Mouat, the same individual who also examined the bones found in the Chapel of St Peter during the 1876 restoration. He concluded that

The head was removed by rapid decapitation during life admits of no doubt. A large gaping gash, which had not divided the subcutaneous structures, shows that the first stroke of the axe was misdirected, too near the occiput, and in a slanting direction. The second blow, a little lower down, separated the head from the trunk below the fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae. The retraction of the skin, the violent convulsive action of the muscles, and the formation of a cup-like cavity with the body of the spinal bone at the base, prove that the severance was effected during life, and in cold weather.[7]

Dr Mount appears to have been very careful in his analysis not to put a name to the individual, though he is noted to report that the head was decapitated during life and that it took at least two blows to remove it from the body. 

On 17th March 1877, George Scharf, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, also viewed the decapitated head and took detailed drawings and notes in one of his sketchbooks.

George Scharf Sketchbook
© The National Portrait Gallery, London

Scharf is the first person I have been able to locate who actually documents the tradition that the head is supposed to be of Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk.  He also makes several notes recording the heads condition and that it was that of a person beyond the prime of his life. Scharf alsonotes the two cut marks seen at the base of the neck, but makes no mention that the two cut marks differ with the contemporary description of the execution of Henry Grey and that the signs of age are also inconsistent with the age of Henry Grey at the time of his death.[8]

Doyne Bell, a royal official who is recorded as being with Scharf at the same viewing, recalls that Scharf added ‘the arched form of the eyebrows and the aquiline shape of the nose, corresponds with the portrait engraved in Lodge’s series from a picture in the possession of the Marquis of Salisbury at Hatfield.[9] 

George Scharf’s own opinions regarding the similarities between the mummified head and portrait appears to have only strengthened the claim that the head was in fact that of Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk.  The writer and artist Lord Ronald Sutherland-Gower was noted to have said that Scharf was

no better judge of an historical head, whether on canvas or in a mummified state, that ever existed.[10]

The story that the head was in fact smuggled from the Tower of London and buried within Holy Trinity Church appears to have surfaced from this.  I have been unable to locate any sixteenth century reference concerning the separated burial of Henry Grey’s head and body.  The only published material reporting this story appears after Scharf and others had viewed the head.

The portrait discussed by Scharf was exhibited on many occasions towards the end of the nineteenth century as a portrait of Henry Grey. The painting was engraved and published in Edmund Lodge’s Portraits of Illustrious Personages of Great Britain as Scharf notes. This book was published in 1814 and widely circulated. The National Portrait Gallery also purchased an identical copy of the same painting in 1867 which was again identified as Henry Grey.  

Robert Dudley
(previously identified as Henry Grey)
Oil on Panel
© The National Portrait Gallery, London

Modern research has now identified that this painting is in fact a portrait of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester painted in the 1570’s, debunking Scharf’s theory. 

It is my opinion that it needs to be remembered that the head was viewed and studied over one hundred years ago.  Yes, these individuals where in a prominent position to make an analysis at that time, using the scientific methods known at that time.  Today, with modern scientific methods, the riddle surrounding the identification of the head could possibly be solved once and for all.  Though difficult to obtain, DNA testing could be attempted on the head to identify any possible connection to Henry Grey if a living descendant could be found.  If a living descendant could not be found, then we do know the burial location of two of Henry’s daughters, though permission would have to be granted to allow the opening of the tombs.   

According to reports, the head was supposedly buried in the churchyard of St Botolph, Aldgate in 1990.  I have heard from an impeccable informant that this is not the case, and that the head is held in a safe and appropriate place, the location known to only a handful of people who need to know its whereabouts. If this is the case, then there is some possibility that this riddle could possibly be looked into further at some point in the future.[11] 


[1] My sincere thanks to Claire Ridgeway of the Anne Boleyn Files for reminding me about this.

[2] Kinns, Samuel, Historical sketches of eminent men and women who have more or less come into contact with the abbey and church of Holy Trinity, Minories, from 1293 to 1893, with some account of the incumbents, the fabric, the plate, 1898, page 182-184

[3] Kinns, Samuel, Historical sketches of eminent men and women who have more or less come into contact with the abbey and church of Holy Trinity, Minories, from 1293 to 1893, with some account of the incumbents, the fabric, the plate, 1898, page 139-184

[4] Nichols, J. G, The Chronicle of Queen Jane and of Two Years of Queen Mary and Especially of the Rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyatt, Written by a Resident in the Tower of London, Llanerch Publishers, 1850, page.63-64

[5] For further information on the restoration of the Chapel and the search and discovery of the bones of executed victims see: Bell, Doyne. C, Notices of The Historic Persons Buried in The Chapel of St. Peter Ad Vincula in The Tower of London, 1877.

[6] Hill. Rev. Thomas, The History of The Parish of Holy Trinity, Minories, London, 1851, page 16

[7] Bell. Doyne. C, Notices of The Historic Persons Buried in The Chapel of St. Peter Ad Vincula in The Tower of London, 1877, page 184-185

[8] Heinz Archive. NPG7/1/3/1/2/21, Trustees Sketchbook 1876-1877, page 17-20

[9] Bel. Doyne. C, Notices of The Historic Persons Buried in The Chapel of St. Peter Ad Vincula in The Tower of London, 1877, page 185

[10] Bell. Walter George, Unknown London, Page 13

[11] http://www.hobleysheroes.co.uk/round-ups-and-articles/la-round-ups/67-london-archaeologist-1990-vol-6-10 accessed March 2020.

The Skeffington Portrait

Research into sixteenth century portraiture is a complex but fascinating subject. In many cases, the search starts with the surviving painting itself and then continues with the search for any written documentation concerning its provenance and any clues to the possible identification of the sitter.

When discussing portraits that have a history of approximately four hundred and fifty years behind them, it must be remembered that it is hard today to discover a portrait that has not been altered in some shape or form.  Over the years the original painted surface of a portrait may have been repainted due to bad restoration or over cleaning.  Inscriptions and coats of arms may also have been added at a later period in time, and in some cases the composition, original inscriptions and signatures may have been cut down to enable the portrait to fit in a new frame.

In the case of the Skeffington portrait, much of the above has happened.  This portrait has also been identified as at least four separate individuals during its modern recorded history.  Three out of the four sitters suggested have all faced execution, and today the portrait is now identified as an unknown lady.  

Our first documented record regarding this portrait’s survival is a book in the collection of the Society of Antiquaries, London.  This book contains copies of minutes of meetings held by the society during the nineteenth century and records that a portrait thought to depict Lady Jane Grey was presented to the Society by Sir William Skeffington on 6th February 1806.[1]

The portrait presented depicts a lady, seen to just below the waist and facing the viewer’s left.  Both hands are clasped in front of the sitter, and four gold rings can be seen on her fingers.   The sitter has grey eyes and auburn hair that is parted in the middle.  On her head, she wears a French hood constructed of crimson and white fabric with both upper and lower billaments of goldsmith work.  A black veil is also seen hanging down from the back of the hood, and under this she wears a gold coif.  A black loose gown with a fur collar and mutton leg sleeves is worn by the sitter and is fastened to the waist.  Under this the hint of a crimson kirtle is seen, and at her neck and wrists the sitter wears a figure-of-eight ruff which is embroidered with red thread.  The lady also wears a pendant of goldsmith work containing three square cut gemstones and three pearls suspended at her neck.  She is depicted in front of a plain background, and the image is painted on wooden panel.

Unknown Lady Called Anne Askew
Oil on Panel
27 x 21 inches
Associated with Hans Eworth
©The National Trust

Sir William Farrell-Skeffington adopted the Skeffington name in 1786 and inherited the fifteenth century manor house Skeffington Hall in East Leicester.  Prior to his death he began to sell objects off from the estate and eventually sold the house, land and contents in July 1814.[2]

Skeffington presented the painting for sale to the Reverend John Brand, Secretary of the society of Antiquaries. He informed the Society that the portrait represented Lady Jane Grey and was painted by Lucas de Heere.  No information is provided in the minutes of this meeting to inform us why Skeffington thought the portrait was a depiction of Lady Jane, and no information concerning the paintings provenance was recorded.  It appears that Mr Brand immediately challenged Skeffington’s identification as a painting of Jane Grey, noting that a fragment of an inscription can be seen on the top left-hand side of the panel surface which identified the date that the portrait was painted as 1560.  Brand rightfully recalled that the date painted on the surface did not coincide with the death of Lady Jane Grey and suggested that the portrait must in fact represent Jane’s mother Lady Frances Brandon, with Brand noting that she died in 1563.[3]   

One possible reason for the misidentification as a portrait of Lady Jane Grey is the inscription seen on the right-hand side of the panel surface.  This inscription reads ‘Rather deathe / than false of Faythe,’ which suggest that the sitter depicted would rather die or may possibly have died as a result of religious conflict.  The inscription itself appears to have been painted in a slightly different shade of yellow than the other one detailing the year and artists initials on the left side.  This suggests that one of the inscriptions was possibly added at a later date, though scientific testing would be required to establish if this theory is correct.

There is a popular tradition that Queen Mary offered Jane a pardon if she was willing to convert to Roman Catholicism. The tradition appears to have emerged shortly after Jane’s death as a way for Protestants to promote Jane’s dedication to the Protestant cause even when faced with death.  There is no surviving evidence to document that Jane was ever offered an actual pardon if she would convert, but there was indeed an effort made to get her to convert

Jane was visited by John Feckenham, Queen Mary’s personal chaplain, on 8th Feburary 1554.  By this point in her story, Jane had faced trial and had been convicted and sentenced to death as a traitor for accepting the crown and signing herself as queen. Mary was prevented from issuing a pardon because the Spanish demanded that Jane die as a condition of the marriage between Mary and Philip of Spain. Her execution had originally been set for the following day.  Mary was able to try to save Jane’s immortal soul, however, and she sent Feckenham to see Jane with that specific task, to try and convert Jane to Catholicism prior to her death.

Jane’s execution was postponed for three days, and a debate was had between Feckenham and Jane which resulted in Jane staying strong to the Protestant faith rather than relinquishing it.  This debate was recorded and apparently signed in Jane’s own hand. Within months of her death it appeared in printed format, along with a letter written by Jane to her former tutor Thomas Harding in which she condemned him for his change to Catholicism, thus promoting Jane’s strong belief in the Protestant faith.  In 1615, a pamphlet entitled ‘The Life, Death and Actions of The Most Chaste, Learned and Religious Lady, The Lady Jane Grey’ was published in London. This pamphlet contained a copy of the earlier printed debate and it was noted in the introduction that:

Even those which were of the best fame and reputation, were sent unto her to dissuade her from that true profession of the gospel, which from her cradle she had held. Each striving by art, by flattery, by threatening’s, by the promise of life, or what else might move most in the bosom of a weak woman.[4] 

It is quite possible that the inscription seen on the right-hand side of the portrait and the myth that Jane had been offered the promise of a pardon if she was willing to change her faith led Skeffington or a previous owner to believe that the painting must in fact depict Jane Grey. 

The Skeffington portrait was purchased by the Society of Antiquaries and remained in their collection where it was last recorded in 1847.[5]   How the portrait left the Society remains a bit of a mystery, but it was officially recorded as a ‘missing painting’ in one of the more recent publications on its collection.[6]

As discussed above, the portrait disappeared sometime after 1847, but it reappeared again in 1866 when it was exhibited as a painting of Anne Askew in the National Portraits Exhibition from the collection of a Reginald Cholmondeley.[7]  Reginald Cholmondeley’s principal estate was the sixteenth century Condover Hall in Shrewsbury.   On his death the contents of the Hall were sold at auction on March 6th 1897.  The identification of the sitter appears to have changed once again, and by 1897 the portrait was then referred to as:

Item 43. Lucas de Heere, Queen Mary (of Scots), in black with pink-edged ruff and cuffs, cap with gold chain and jewelled badge. Inscribed “Rather Deathe than false of Faythe,” dated 1560.

The portrait was purchased at this auction on behalf of Wilbraham Egerton, Earl Egerton, brother-in law of Reginald Cholmondeley, and was then displayed at Tatton Park.  In 1958 Tatton Park and its contents were bequeathed to The National Trust by Maurice Egerton, 4th Baron Egerton of Tatton, and the portrait remains on exhibition there today. 

It is my opinion that until scientific investigation has taken place on this portrait to establish if the inscriptions are original or added later then the true identity of its sitter may continue to be unknown.   The portrait is currently listed today on The National Trust collections website as an Unknown Lady, called Anne Askew.  As discussed in detail in other articles on this website, the size of the ruff worn by the sitter and the date inscribed on the left- hand side are both inconsistent with the date of both the deaths of Jane Grey and Anne Askew.  The Skeffington portrait can now be removed from the list of any potential likenesses thought to depict Lady Jane Grey


[1] Proceedings of the society of antiquaries of London, volume 1, page 47

[2] A large fifteen-day sale of the contents of Skeffington Hall commenced on 11th July 1814.  William Ferrell-Skeffington moved to London that same year however died less than a year later on 26th January 1815

[3] Proceedings of The Society of Antiquaries of London, vol 1, page 47. John Band appears to have inaccurately listed the date of Frances Grey’s death.  Frances died on 20th November 1559 and not 1563 as listed in these minutes. One interesting point is that John Brand also owned a portrait thought to depict Lady Jane Grey.  The portrait sold on his death at Stewards Auctions, Piccadilly on June 23rd 1807.  It was purchased by the book collector Richard Heber Esq for the sum of eight pounds.  No portrait described as Lady Jane Grey appears in the sales catalogues of Heber’s collection.

[4] The Life, Death and Actions of The Most Chaste, Learned and Religious Lady, The Lady Jane Grey, Printed by G. Eld for John Wright, 1615, page 22

[5] Electronic communication, Lucy Ellis, Museums Collections Manager, Society of Antiquaries, September 2018

[6] Franklin. J. A, Catalouge of Paintings in the Collection of The Society of Antiquaries of London, 2015, page 411-412

[7] Catalogue for the 1866 National Portrait Exhibition page 21.  Anne Askew was burnt as the stake as a heretic in 1546 for refusing to acknowledge that the sacrament was the ‘flesh, blood and bone of Christ’.

The Portraits of Lord Guildford Dudley

One of the lesser known and in some cases forgotten characters in the story of Lady Jane Grey is her husband Lord Guildford Dudley.  Various articles have been written on the iconography of Lady Jane Grey and the numerous portraits thought to depict her.  Almost nothing has been written relating to the iconography of her husband, which is why I have decided to write and include this article on this website.   

As discussed in previous articles, a small number of portraits held in private collections have been associated with Lord Guildford Dudley over the passage of time. During the research for this article, I have so far been unable to locate any sixteenth century references to a portrait of Lord Guildford Dudley being held in collections.  

The first documented reference located so far to a portrait of him appears in 1820, a portrait sold by a Mr Bullock of London.  This was formerly in the collection of a Mr David Holt Esq of Manchester, and the catalogue for the sale describes the painting as being by a Sir A. Mor. The entry for the lot is as follows:

A portrait of lady jane Grey and Lord Guildford Dudley in one frame, the latter portrait is the only one known to exist of Lord Guildford[1]

This portrait was again sold in 1833 and has now disappeared from the historical record.

As with Lady Jane Grey, so little is known about her husband. His story has been embellished and exaggerated to enable writers to make the character of Jane Grey appear vulnerable to the manipulation and bullying by others that surrounded her. His story, like that of his wife, has been surrounded by myths with little known today of the actual person.    

Similar to his wife, there is no date recorded to inform us of the exact date on which Guildford Dudley was born.  Traditionally, his year of birth has been recorded as either 1534 or 1536, but recent research produced by Susan Higginbotham suggests that he may have possibly been born between 1537 and 1538, thus making him the same age as Jane Grey or possibly younger.[2]

We also have no detailed description as to what Guildford Dudley looked like.  As discussed in previous articles, the description given by Richard Davey detailing Guildford’s features as he entered the Tower of London with Jane as queen in 1553 has today been proved to be an invention by the author.  We are simply left with vague references to him being “handsome” by his contemporaries which give us nothing in terms of his physical features.[3]

The aim of this article is to look at the portraits that have been associated with Lord Guildford Dudley in the past in the hope of establishing if there is any possibility of any of these being a genuine image painted from life.  Where possible I have included what is known about the provenance of the image in the hope of establishing some documented order.   

The Madresfield Court Portrait
Called Lord Guildford Dudley
Unknown Artist
Oil on Panel
© Madresfield Court

Our first portrait appears publicly in a book published in the early twentieth century entitled “The Tower of London” by Ronald Sutherland Gower.  Traditionally identified as Lord Guildford Dudley, this painting has for many years been displayed alongside another thought to represent his wife Lady Jane at Madresfield Court in Malvern, Worcestershire.  Both portraits have been in the collection of the Earls of Beauchamp since the early nineteenth century.

Neither portrait is an authentic likeness. The portrait thought to represent Lady Jane Grey is discussed in detail by John Stephan Edwards, and it is concluded within his article that the artist who painted the portrait intended it to be a representation of Mary Magdalene and not Jane Grey.[4]    

The portrait thought to represent Lord Guildford Dudley shows a male figure standing to the viewers left with his righthand on hip and his left hand resting on his sword. He wears a light-coloured doublet with high standing collar and a large figure-of-eight ruff.  The sitter has dark hair and wears a black bonnet that includes goldsmith work and two feathers within its decoration.  He is depicted in front of a dark background and in the top left-hand corner is an inscription which reads 1566 Æ SVÆ, 20.

The first questionable aspect of this painting is the inscription. This is inconsistent with the known facts of Guildford Dudley’s life and is dated to some twelve years after his execution in 1554.  It is not truly known how this image became associated with Guildford, though it appears that whoever suggested the identity did not know the year in which he died.   The date is also inconsistent with the costume worn by the sitter, particularly the large circular ruff seen at his neck and the hat worn by the sitter.  This style of ruff dates to the later period of Queen Elizabeth’s reign and is seen in many portraits painted during the 1580’s.  During the 1560’s the smaller figure-of-eight ruff which generally surrounded the face was in common use.  This again suggest that the inscription itself was probably added later and that this painting was not meant by the artist who created it to be a representation of Lord Guildford Dudley.

It is highly likely that Guildford’s name was associated with this portrait with little reason behind it.  Nothing is seen within the painted image to establish that this portrait was ever painted from life or was ever meant to be a depiction of Lord Guildford Dudley.

The Tyntesfield Portrait

The Tyntesfield Portrait
Called Lord Guildford Dudley
Unknown Artist
Oil on Paper Laid Down on Panel
13 x 9 1/2 inches
© The National Trust

Named in this article after its current location, this portrait is now in the collection of The National Trust at Tyntesfield House, though it is not currently on display.

This image depicts a young gentleman with blonde hair, painted three-quarter length and facing the viewer’s right.  He is wearing a black hat with a yellow feather, a black doublet embellished with gold, and a dark fur overcoat with yellow sleeves.  The sitter’s right hand is resting on a sword that is attached to his hips.

This portrait was purchased as a painting of Guildford Dudley by George Adraham Gibbs, 1st Baron Wraxhall (1873-1931).  On his death it passed to his son Richard Lawley Gibbs, 2nd Baron Wraxhall (1922-2001) and was subsequently purchased by the National Trust in 2002.[5]

The National Trust collections website describes this painting as being both British made and created using oil on paper applied to panel.  It is also noted to report that the portrait is probably nineteenth century in origin. Though no scientific investigation has taken place on this image to establish a date of creation, the style of the painting is more consistent with nineteenth century techniques than that of sixteenth century techniques.  

Until a firm date of creation can be established, It is more than likely that this portrait is an imaginary image of Guildford Dudley rather than a sixteenth century painting painted from life or based on a pre-existing image.

The Wroxton Abbey Portrait

The Wroxton Abbey Portrait
Called Lord Guildford Dudley
Unknown Artist
Oil on Panel
13 x 11 inches
© Private Collection

The third and final portrait is the more interesting of the three, due to it being exhibited publicly on at least two occasions as an image of Guildford Dudley. This portrait was also used by the artist Richard Burchett in 1854 as a basis for his depiction of Lord Guildford Dudley when producing the images of the royal Tudor figures for the Prince’s Chamber’s in the Palace of Westminster.[6]

Lord Guildford Dudley
Richard Burchett
1854
© Palace of Westminster

The original painting once again shows an image of a young gentleman, painted three-quarter length and holding a pair of gloves in his right hand, with his left hand on his hip.  The sitter wears a black doublet with large white sleeves, embroidered with gold thread.  Placed over his right shoulder, is a cape of dark fabric with fur and at his neck is a large circular ruff. 

The earliest documentation regarding this image is the exhibition catalogue for the Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857 held in Manchester. The portrait is described in the catalogue as

item 383. Lord Guildford Dudley from the collection of Col North MP[7]

The painting again appears in the National Portrait Exhibition held at the South Kensington Museum in April 1866 where a description was given

Item 191. Lord Guildford Dudley. Colonel and Baroness North – Half-length, small life size, ruff, doublet and surecoat black with dark fur, white gold-embroidered sleeves, gloves in r hand. Panel 14 x 11 inches.[8]

The Colonel North MP listed as the owner of the painting is John North, also known as John Doyle, of Wroxton Abbey.  Wroxton Abbey is a seventeenth-century manor house and was the home of the Pope and North family from 1677 until 1932, when it was leased to Trinity College.  A sale was held of the contents of Wroxton Hall in May 1933 that included the portrait of Guildford Dudley matching the description of the portrait which appeared in the National Portraits Exhibition catalogue, displayed in the Garden Parlour.

Item 690. Small portrait on panel of Guildford Dudley, holding gloves in right hand.  Believed to be the only known contemporary portrait.[9]

What is seen from the image of the portrait is that once again the sitter is wearing a costume that dates to the 1580’s rather than what would have been worn by Guildford Dudley during his lifetime.  Richard Burchett also appears to notice this when creating his image of Guildford for the Palace of Westminster and has adapted his image to fit with a more consistent costume that Guildford would have worn.

On completion of the Wroxton Abbey sale, the portrait then passed into a private collection though was subsequently sold again at auction on 29th September 1993.

As far as I am aware the three portraits discussed above are the only known portraits associated with Lord Guildford Dudley.  As this article shows none contain any clues in favours of the sitter being positively identified as him and so Guildford Dudley remains faceless.


[1] Catalogue of pictures of David Holt Esquire of Manchester, 14th July 1820

[2] Higginbotham, Susan.  How old was Guildford Dudley? https://www.susanhigginbotham.com/posts/how-old-was-guildford-dudley-beats-me/ accessed September 2019.

[3]Edwards, John Stephan, https://somegreymatter,com/lettereengl.htm, accessed September 2019. 

[4] Edwards, John Stephan. A Queen of a New Invention Portraits of Lady Jane Grey Dudley, Old John Publishing, 2015, Page 137-139

[5] http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/21094 accessed, September 2019.

[6] Wallis, George. The Royal House of Tudor, Cundall and Fleming, 1866, Page 70

[7] https://archive.org/details/catalogueofarttr00artt/page/n449, accessed September 2019

[8]https://archive.org/details/catalogueoffirst00sout/page/n51?q=lord+guildford+dudley+colonel+and+baroness+north, accessed September 2019

[9] E.H. Tipping, Wroxton Abbey Sale, Monday, May 22nd, 1933, Page 24

The Gibson Portrait

The Gibson Portrait
Size Unknown
Location Unknown

The information associated with many portraits thought to depict Lady Jane Grey is often fragmented. In the case of the Gibson portrait, only a letter and a photographic image submitted to The Connoisseur Magazine in 1911 exist to inform us that the sitter depicted was thought to be that of Lady Jane Grey.  This portrait has not yet been located and studied and I have been unable to locate any other information regarding the provenance of this painting. Neither has any information surfaced to show that this portrait was ever included in any public exhibition as a depiction of Lady Jane Grey.

Jane G. Gibson, the then owner of the portrait, submitted a request to the magazine’s readers for further information regarding the identity of the sitter and artist associated with this painting.  No published replies to her request have been located, which suggests that unfortunately Gibson did not get the information she was looking for. 

Within her letter, Gibson reported that a scrap of paper was attached to the back of the painting identifying the sitter as “Jana Graia Holbein pinxit”.  She also noted that the painting was examined by Sir George Scharf, Director of The National Portrait Gallery, London, who, she explains “thought it to be a genuine portrait, by the School of Clouet.”  Gibson does not, however, recall any thoughts Scharf had regarding the identity of the sitter.  She appears to dismiss the identification of the sitter as Lady Jane Grey, reporting that the scrap of paper is a “manifest forgery” and noting that “Jane Grey was a mere child at the time of Holbein’s death”.  Gibson also dismisses Scharf’s opinion that the painting is associated with the school of Clouet noting that the work “resembles other painting’s produced by Holbein”.  She is correct when expressing doubt over the identification of the sitter, though the portrait’s association with Hans Holbein is also dubious[1].

A large number of portraits held in private collections or sold at auction were associated with Hans Holbein during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  That included a small number of portraits thought at the time to depict Lady Jane Grey.  Paintings sold between the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries where simply grouped and associated with the most famous artists working within the sixteenth century.  Little evidence to support the associations were given by the auction houses, and access to information and research into lesser known artists was limited.  A search of the Getty Provenance Database shows that a total of 1563 paintings associated with Holbein and sold at auction between the years of 1800- 1900. It is highly unlikely that Holbein would have had the time to paint 1563 portraits during his lifetime, and therefore not all could have been painted by his hand alone.  It is more probable that a number of the images sold between 1800-1900 were associated with him due to the fame attached to his name, some similarities in style or as a way of adding value to the paintings[2].

As stated above, Gibson is right when noting that the sitter seen in the portrait is too old to be a depiction of Lady Jane Grey, though this does not dismiss the fact that Holbein could have possibly painted a portrait of her.   Holbein did have access to and created a number of images of Jane’s family members including Margaret Wotton, Elizabeth Grey, Eleanor Brandon, and Charles and Henry Brandon.  This does suggest that he could have possibly had access to Jane Grey as well, though the likelihood of a portrait surfacing of Jane by Holbein today very slim.  Holbein died in 1543, and if a portrait was ever to surface painted by him then it most definitely would have to depict a small child rather than the fully developed lady seen in the Gibson portrait.      

Though the quality of the early photographic image submitted is poor and some of the finer details are lost, the costume worn by the sitter does give us some clues as to the period in which the portrait was created.  We can see from the image is that the portrait depicts a young female, painted to below the waist and facing the viewer’s left.  Both hands are depicted in front, and four rings can be seen on her fingers.  The sitter also holds what appears to be a flower in her right hand.  On her head she wears an early example of the French Hood, and her gown has a square cut neckline with large bell-shaped sleeves and fitted false undersleeves.  Two necklaces of goldsmith work are worn around the neck, and a circular brooch is pinned to the front of the kirtle and tucked into the bodice of the outer gown.

The exact date on which the French Hood was first worn in England is unknown, however, it is traditionally thought that this originates with Mary Rose Tudor, sister to Henry VIII, returning from France after the death of her husband in 1515[3].  The hood originated in France and was worn towards the end of the fifteenth century.  Prior to its arrival in England, ladies wore the traditional Gable Hood seen in the many paintings of Elizabeth of York and Katherine of Aragon.  The French Hood became more popular in England when King Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn, who was also noted to have spent a period of time in France[4].  It would eventually overtake the Gable Hood in popularity and was worn as a popular item until the end of the sixteenth century.  Slight changes in its appearance and construction occurred during its popularity that can help us to identify a possible narrow period in which a portrait was painted.

The hood worn by the sitter in the Gibson portrait has elongated side panels stretching to just beyond the jaw-line and is similar in style to the image seen above left.  This portrait of Isabella of Austria painted around 1515 shows the French hood in its early stages of development and around the time the hood is thought to have been introduced to England.  By the 1530’s, the front shape of the hood changed slightly, and the side panels became shorter in appearance, ending just below the ear.  Upper and lower billaments were also used to add decoration.  This can be seen in the famous image of Anne Boleyn above middle. By the 1540’s, the side panels of the hood were more concaved in appearance rather than the longer version seen in the Gibson Portrait which shows us that the sitter in the Gibson Portrait is wearing a hood that was still in its early stages of development when the portrait was painted. 

Though it cannot be known for certain until the portrait is located and studied further, the style of costume worn by the sitter is more consistent with that worn during the early part of the sixteenth century, prior to the 1530’s.  If the portrait is English, then it most certainly cannot be a depiction of Lady Jane Grey, as the costume seen is not something that would have been worn by her during her lifetime. The Gibson portrait can now be removed from any list of potential likenesses thought to depict Lady Jane Grey.


[1] The Connoisseur Magazine, vol XXXI, September-December 1911, page 250

[2] http://piprod.getty.edu/starweb/pi/servlet.starweb

[3] Lynn. Eleri, Tudor Fashion, Yale University Press, 2017, page 80

[4] Ives. Eric, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Blackwell Publishing, 2008, page 27

The Arkwright Portrait

Katherine De Vere
Oil on panel
18 1/2 X 13 3/4 inches
(c) Private Collection

Sold at Christie’s auction, London, on 9th December 2016, lot 151 was rightfully described as a portrait of Katherine de Vere, Lady Windsor (1540-1600) and associated to the artist known today as Master of The Countess of Warwick.   What is not commonly known about this painting is that prior to the 1960’s, it was thought to depict Lady Jane Grey. Due to this painting once being associated with Jane Grey, I have decided to discuss it on this website.  This portrait is a good example of how Jane Grey’s name was applied to a sixteenth century portrait, depicting a female sitter, even if the inscription detailing facts about the sitter did not match with what was known about Jane.   

The Arkwright portrait shows a lady, painted to just above the waist and facing the viewer’s left. She has auburn hair that is pulled away from the face, and her eyes are blue.  The sitter wears a black loose gown/night gown, with large puffed short sleeves and a high collar.  This style of gown was popular in England from the 1530’s onwards. It was worn as an alternative to the tight-fitted French Gowns with the low square necklines and large sleeves.  Generally worn over a kirtle by both the middle and upper class lady, this gown was easier to put on independently due to its front fastening and was a comfortable gown to wear during the day or when in the bedchamber as informal wear. During the 1560’s the loose gown became tighter and more fitted around the bodice, much like that seen in the Arkwright portrait.  An embroidered chemise is also seen worn under the gown. This is embroidered using black and gold thread and incorporates the use of an acorn within the design.  A small figure-of-eight ruff is worn surrounding the face.  This is also embroidered with black work and gold thread.  On her head, she wears a French hood with an upper and lower billament of goldsmith work containing gemstones and pearls. The traditional black veil is also visible falling from the back of the hood.  A small cross suspended from a pearl necklace is seen at the neck, and she holds with her left hand a large pendant suspended from a larger necklace of goldwork.  The sitter is depicted in front of a brown background, and a contemporary inscription in the top left-hand corner has been added identifying the sitter’s age as twenty-four and the year as 1567.

The artist associated with the Arkwright portrait is an anonymous painter who is known to have produced several portraits of female sitters during the second half of the sixteenth century.  We do know that he worked in England between the years of 1567-1569 and that he also painted a portrait of Anne Russell, Countess of Warwick, now at Woburn Abbey.  As a result, other works thought to have been produced by this artist are simply grouped under the attribution of “Master of The Countess of Warwick.”

Early photographic image showing Lady Jane Grey inscription.
(c) Heinz Archive

The only evidence I have been able to locate to date which shows us that this painting was indeed thought in the past to depict Jane Grey is an early photographic image stored in the Heinz Archives, London.[1] This photograph shows the Arkwright painting prior to modern cleaning and restoration.  What is seen from the above image is that an inscription was added to the panel surface on the left-hand side at some point to inform the viewer that this portrait was supposed to be of Lady Jane Grey.  This inscription no longer survives on the panel surface today.  This suggests that during the recent cleaning process it was identified to be a much later addition, and it was removed from the surface.   

As with many of the other portraits thought to represent Jane Grey, no information has been located about the Arkwright portrait to inform us, the modern-day viewer, when and why this painting was thought to depict her.  It is possible that her name was simply attached to the Arkwright portrait in the nineteenth or early twentieth century due to a high demand and need for a physical image of Jane Grey. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Jane’s popularity was at its height. Many published biographies, plays, and paintings depicting various scenes from her life were created during this period.  This in turn made Jane’s story more accessible to the viewing public and in some cases captured people’s interest in her as a historical figure. Her popularity then created a demand for her image and allowed owners of various portraits that fitted with what was being recorded at that time to attach her name to their painting with no evidence to support this.  Today, some of these portraits are now being re-evaluated due to easier access to documentation, a better understanding of the progression of fashion during the sixteenth century, and new scientific techniques which were not available during the earlier periods.

What is clear from the early photograph of the Arkwright portrait is that the identification as an image of Jane Grey was made with very little thought.  The inscription clearly indicates the sitter’s age as twenty-four and the year as 1567.  Both the age and the date are inconsistent with Jane Grey. It may have been possible that the owner who had the Jane Grey inscription applied to the panel surface may have thought the earlier inscription to be false and a later addition.  This cannot be known for certain due to missing documentation.  Jane Grey’s birth has over the centuries been debated by various writers due to lack of documentation, and no exact date is known. It was commonly known and recorded, however, that she died in 1554 and was sixteen/seventeen years old at the time of her death.  This does bring about the question as to why her name was attached to a portrait with incorrect information.     

In a book published by Roy Strong in 1969 entitled The English Icon the provenance for the Arkwright portrait was briefly discussed[2].  Strong records that the portrait was once in the collection at Hampton Court, Herefordshire and that by 1969 the portrait was in the collection of David Arkwright Esq, who was noted to live at Kinsham Court.   

Hampton Court Castle, as it is known today, dates to the fifteenth century and was home to the Coningsby family from 1510 until 1810. The castle and estate were then purchased by John Arkwright (1785-1858), the great grandson of the cotton-spinning industrialist Sir Richard Arkwright.  The estate remained in the family until it was sold by Sir John Stanhope Arkwright (1872-1954) in 1910.  John Stanhope Arkwright then purchased Kinsham Court, Herefordshire, and it appears he had taken the portrait with him. David Lyndon Arkwright (1911-1983) inherited Kinsham Court from his father in 1954. He died without ever marrying or producing issue in 1983, leaving Kinsham Court and its contents to his mother’s great niece Mrs. Susan Wood.

Two years after Susan Wood inherited Kinsham Court, the portrait appears for the first time at auction on 19th July 1985, when it was sold by Christie’s Auction House, London as a portrait of Katherine de Vere. By 2016, the portrait was once again up for public auction, and it was again described as a portrait of Katherine de Vere, Lady Windsor[3]

Edward Lord Windsor and Family
(c) Marquess of Bute

It appears that prior to 1969 the Arkwright portrait was compared to an almost identical image thought to be by the same artist and now in the collection of the Marquess of Bute. That painting uses the identical individual portrait image seen in the Arkwright portrait, though the sitter is painted three quarter length and is incorporated into a family group.  The Bute Family Portrait includes a contemporary inscription made by the artist identifying the year in which the portrait was painted and the sitter’s ages.  A later inscription has also been added to the panel surface that identifies the sitter’s as Edward Lord Windsor, and his lady, daughter to the Earl of Oxford. Their children, Lord Frederick Windsor, Lord Thomas Windsor, and two younger brothers.  Though this inscription is a later addition, it does appear to be an early one.  In some cases, inscriptions that included the names of the sitters where applied to a portrait at some later period in time by other family members in hopes of fixing the identities of the sitters depicted before they passed from living memory.  This is very similar to what we do today with photographs of loved ones.  Though Edward Windsor’s lady is not named within this description, he did marry Katherine de Vere in 1555.  Katherine de Vere was the daughter of John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford, who is also noted in the inscription, it was then decided that the Arkwright portrait was mostly likely to depict Katherine de Vere and not Lady Jane Grey.


[1] NPG018643, Artist Box, Master of The Countess of Warwick

[2] Strong, Roy, The English Icon, Elizabethan and Jacobean Portraiture, 1969, page 108

[3] https://www.mutualart.com/Artwork/Portrait-of-Katherine-de-Vere–Lady-Wind/D25D6374F8362979 accessed, 10th April 2019

The Duff House Portrait

Among the index cards referring to portraits of Lady jane Grey in the Heinz Archive, London, is a card recording a portrait of her once in the collection of the Earl of Fife.  Until recently this portrait was thought to have been lost, and to my knowledge it has not been studied by historians or exhibited in any public exhibition as a representation of her.

The first record regarding this image located today was published in a privately printed book from 1798.  The book details the large collection of paintings and portraits belonging to James Duff, 4th Earl of Fife (1776-1854) across his various properties.  Recorded as being displayed in the large drawing room at Duff House, an eighteenth-century estate house designed for the family by William, Adam is a portrait of Lady Jane Grey.   The entry reads    

item 18. Lady Jane Grey – half length. This unfortunate lady was forced to accept the crown, 5th July 1553, and was beheaded 12th February, 1554. She was daughter to Henry Grey, Duke of Dorset, by Lady Frances Brandon, by Mary queen of France.  She was remarkable for her learning and virtue.  Her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley, was beheaded on the same day.  Zucchero.[1]

This description is vague and gives us very little detail about the actual painting itself. The description does give us our first clue that this painting was not a portrait of Lady Jane Grey, however.  The artist recorded as creating the painting is a “Zucchero,” which suggests the portrait was later in period than that of Jane Grey’s lifetime.

Federigo Zuccaro (c.1540 – 1609), as he is better known, was an Italian artist who first visited England in 1574.  During that visit he was commissioned by Robert Dudley (Jane’s brother in law) to paint an image of himself and Queen Elizabeth.  Compositional drawings for both portraits survive today in the collection of the British Museum.   If the Duff House portrait was painted by this artist, then it could not have been an authentic image of Jane Grey since she had died some twenty years earlier.

Duff House remained in the possession of the Earls of Fife until 1906.  The property was then gifted to the village of Banff Burgh in which the house was built by the then Duke of Fife, Alexander William George Duff (1849-1912).  Alexander Duff had inherited the property and its contents by descent, and when marrying Princess Louise in 1889, he no longer required the property as a principal residence.  Though he did donate the building for the use of the people of Banff, its contents were sold off through auction.  The auction was facilitated by Messrs. Christies, Mason and Woods and took place on 7th June 1907.  The auction catalogue for this sale records that all “pictures are part of a very large collection which was made by James, Earl of Fife towards the end of the eighteenth century and all were displayed at Duff House.”[2]  A portrait thought by the family to depict Lady Jane Grey in 1907 was also included in this auction, and the catalogue does give us our first detailed description.

item 43 Lucas De Heere, portrait of Lady Jane Grey, in rich flowered bodice with lace cuffs and collar, green skirt and crimson robe, lace headdress with red bows.  Holding a kerchief in her left hand and leaning her right arm upon the back of a chair.  On panel 41 ½ x 29 ½ inches[3]

Though the artist associated with this work had changed since the 1798 reference, it is possible that the portrait sold in 1907 was the same image as that described as being Jane Grey in the earlier book. 

I have as yet been unable to locate any reference regarding who purchased the painting at the 1907 sale.  Due to this, I am unable to track fully the documented provenance from this portrait, though I do have a suggestion.

A portrait matching the above description does show up in 1908, one year after the Duff House sale. This painting is described as being in the collection of French collector and gallery owner Edward Brandus (1857-1937).  Brandus was well known for purchasing Old Master portraits at a low price and then selling them on to other collectors via his gallery in New York.   The magazine “American Art News” dated 28th March 1908 records the painting in his collection as a portrait of Lady Jane Grey by Antonis Mor Van Dashorst[4].  A photograph of the portrait was also included in the article, and though it is not clear from the poor quality image, when magnified this image does show a female sitter with a flowered embroidered bodice, holding a kerchief in her left hand and leaning her right arm upon the back of a chair as described in the 1907 auction catalogue. Various bows are also seen around the headdress and down the front of the bodice, like those mentioned in the catalogue of 1907. This then gives us the impression that this painting was the portrait sold from the Duke of Fife’s collection.

Lady Jane Grey by Antonis Van Dashorst-Edward Brandus Collection 1908

This painting was then sold by the Edward Brandus Gallery in April 1908. It eventually ended up in the collection of a “Mrs Flake” and was subsequently purchased as a portrait of Lady Jane Grey by John George Graves, an English collector, at Christie’s auction in July of 1930.[5]

In 1935 Graves gifted this portrait along with others from his collection to the Museum of Sheffield.  The painting remains in the museum’s collection today, though it is rightfully catalogued and referred to as a portrait of an unknown lady rather than its previous title of Jane Grey.

Unknown Lady
oil on panel
41 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches
(c) Museum of Sheffield

When looking at the colour photograph of this image, this portrait is closer in comparison to the description given in the 1907 auction catalogue that also refers to the green skirt and red robe. The measurements of the wooden panel used as the support for the painting also matches the measurements provided in 1907.

Due to the lack of documented provenance for this painting, it cannot be said for certain that this is indeed the portrait described as being that of Jane Grey at Duff House in 1798.  This is the closest image related to the description given in 1907, however, and this painting has also been identified in the past as an image of Jane Grey. 

The costume seen in this painting is again inconsistent with that worn by ladies during Jane Grey’s lifetime, and therefore this is not an authentic portrait of her taken from life or a panting which was created at later period which was meant to represent her.  From the style of clothing worn by the sitter, it appears to date towards the end of the sixteenth century or early seventeenth century.  There is some evidence to state that the embroidered jacket worn by the sitter was in use toward the later decades of Queen Elizabeth I reign, with several being documented in the inventory made in July of 1600 listing clothing stored within the royal wardrobe.  This style of jacket does appear to have become popular between the period of 1600-1620 where it appears in many paintings of female sitters from this time.

Elizabeth Cary?
oil on canvas
c.1610
William Larkin

The ruff also worn by the sitter gives us some indication that this was painted after 1600 as it no longer folds into the figure of eight pleats worn during the reign of Queen Elizabeth and is now seen as a flat collar which was probably heavily starched or suspended using a wire frame or “underpropper,” as it was referred at the time.  The style of headwear seen in the painting is also of interest and does not fit with anything worn by English sitters during this period. This suggests that the painting may possibly be continental in origin, though until testing is done on the pigment used and the painting is studied further this cannot be established.

What this painting does demonstrate is the extreme measures that people would go to when wanting to own a portrait of Lady Jane Grey.  The identification, given to this portrait was done with little research into the period in which she lived, and her name was simply attached to an image that did not really fit with what was known about her at the time.   It is now clear that she can be eliminated as the possible sitter due to the costume worn by the lady depicted.  If the portrait now in the collection of the museum of Sheffield is in fact the painting from Duff House, it can, however, be removed from the list of portraits that potentially depict Jane Grey.


[1]Catalogue of The Portraits and Pictures in The Different Houses Belonging to The Earl of Fife, 1798, page 15-16

[2] Catalogue of Pictures by Old Masters and Historical Portraits, The Property of His Grace the Duke of Fife, Messrs. Christie, Mason & Wood. 7th June 1907, page 2

[3] Catalouge of Pictures by Old Masters and Historical Portraits, The Property of His Grace the Duke of Fife, Messrs. Christie, Mason & Wood. 7th June 1907, page 10

[4] American Art News, Volume 6, No 24, March 28, 1908, page 24

[5] Electronic communication, Museums of Sheffield, 31st May 2018