Clearing up the Portrait Confusion: Arthur and Henry

Arthur and Henry Tudor were brothers, so inevitably they looked alike. Today’s topic is clearing up the confusion between which portrait is Arthur and which is Henry.

The question really circulates around one portrait, the one of young Henry VIII at the beginning of his reign. This is the one that many people, when posted or shared online will say, “That’s a portrait of Arthur, not Henry!” I usually follow those comments by sharing the confirmed portrait of Arthur and explaining that they were brothers so they look a lot alike, but the portrait of the young King is indeed him.

Arthur (Left) and Henry (Right) Tudor side by side

Henry Tudor, King of England

I’m hoping by sharing this with you that this will clear up any confusion there may be.

This unusual portrait of a slender, beardless Henry VIII (reigned 1509-47) was painted when the young king was about twenty-two. It is the earliest known portrait of him as king. The image matches the description given by an Italian ambassador to the English court: “His complexion is very fair and bright, with auburn hair combed straight and short in the French fashion, and a round face so very beautiful, that it would become a pretty woman, his throat being rather long and thin.” He is shown wearing a red gown with brown fur edges, with the sleeves slashed to reveal cloth of gold beneath. Around his shoulders is a chain of balas rubies (a red gemstone found in present-day Afghanistan) surrounded by clusters of pearls. On his black cap is an enseigne, or cap badge. Enseignes often depicted scenes from the Old Testament. Many people wore them on their caps, but only the king’s was allowed to be gold. As with his father’s portrait, the young Henry holds the Tudor rose, symbolizing his continuation of the dynasty. – Berger Collection

English School, Henry VIII, ca. 1513, Oil on panel

Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales

When this portrait was discovered it was described by Catherine MacLeod, curator of sixteenth and seventeenth century portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, as the only surviving portrait of Arthur that could have been painted within his lifetime’.

From looks of Arthur’s ageit is apparent that this portrait was made near the end of the marriage negotiations with the Ferdinand and Isabel (Katherine of Aragon’s parents), and has been datedc.1500. It is extremely likely that this was around the conclusion of the marriage negotiation since he is holding a white gillyflower – which traditionally stands for betrothal and purity.

The is the only confirmed portrait of Arthur, Prince of Wales

The following portrait is often said to be Arthur but it is not confirmed as him. As you can see from the portraits, the brothers had very similar features – this is why there is often confusion when they are shown separately.

In this portrait the sitter is not holding a flower (which would indicate he is married) and on his red cap is a gold St. John the Baptist enseigne or badge. If the snippet above about only king’s being allowed to wear gold badges on their cap is correct then this portrait cannot be Arthur – it would have to be Henry right? But then there is the date of the portrait…it’s dated c. 1501 and Henry would only have been ten years old. So, there’s that.

I don’t want to start an uproar about this portrait, just some food for thought. This article is a focus on the two above portraits and distinguishing between the two. If you know more about all these portraits I would great appreciate your feedback in the comments. Thanks!

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Arthur Tudor Henry VIII History

14 Comments Leave a comment

  1. There is also the fact that even though Henry was 10 or so, as son of the king, portraits were also painted to depict the sitter as older than his actual years. I’ve seen many portraits of this era with the sitter looking as an adult, though they were much younger. Henry may also have been painted over a portrait from an earlier time and the date a deception the artist did not intend. Artists often reused canvases if there was no completed work on it.

  2. The pin on the hat of the confirmed picture of Arthur, isn’t that now listed as a brooch belonging to Katharine of Aragon? They do look like but brothers but there are many distinct facial features that set them apart, the straight nose of Arthur, the larger and darker eyes of Henry, the fuller mouth of Henry.

  3. In portrait 1 the eyes are a darkish blue/grey (Henry), regardless of colour, Henrys portraits depict dark eyes. In portraits 2 and 3 the eyes are a deliberate lighter shade of brown (Arthur).

  4. Henry VIII born 1491. Henry had a more pronounced dorsal curve to his nose, and Arthur the more straight. So a portrait of a young man in 1500 with a gillyflower (sign of betrothal ) has to be ARTHUR. Since Henry would only have been 9 years of age. 1509 he was 18 and that means Arthur was Dead and Henry was not yet married to Catherine of Aragon. YES?

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