What Did They Look Like? (Part One)

What is that old saying about idle hands? Well, this is what happens when I’m left alone with my phone for too long, and am reminded how fun FaceApp can be. So, for far too many hours I tried different variations of the portraits you know. Let’s begin with the Tudors and branch out from there.

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Could These Be Portraits Of Henry And Anne?

Lost Portrait of Young Henry VIII?

One of our Facebook fans,Teresa Taylor reminded me about this older post (2015) that covers a portrait found that is suggested to be Henry VIII. There is another that may also be Anne Boleyn. They were found in Czartoryski Museum in Kraków of Poland and are not labeled as our famous couple.

Please take a look and check out the article and tell me what you think! The article shows comparisons with other portraits.

Find article here: Young Henry VIII: A Lost Portrait?

Image Source: Wikicommons

Surviving Contemporary Portrait of Anne Boleyn

With a portrait of Anne Boleyn coming to light from the National Portrait Gallery of Ireland we take a look to determine if it’s contemporary, or not.

After her execution, anything that would remind Henry, or his subjects, of Anne Boleyn was destroyed. There are a few things here and there that were missed in the path of destruction but I have always read that there was no contemporary portraits of Anne that survived the destruction.  We haven’t had anyway of knowing what Anne really looked like because the paintings or sketches that were labeled as her could not be proven to be so – even the sketches that Holbein created were labeled years after his death, so we cannot confirm.

Here are some (not all) of the portraits that have been said to be Anne Boleyn:

Historian Eric Ives (1931-2012) wrote a very well researched book about Anne Boleyn called, “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn” that is regarded as the bible of Anne Boleyn by many researchers. He covered everything about her in his book, including her portraits. He also discussed those who willfully described Anne as different from what she was – here is an example:

Nicholas Sander, who was opposed to Elizabeth being queen of England, said this about her mother:

Anne Boleyn was rather tall of stature, with black hair, and an oval face of a sallow complexion as if troubled with jaundice. She had a projecting tooth under the upper lip, and on her right hand six fingers. There was a large wen under her chin, and therefore to hide its ugliness she wore a high dress covering her throat. In this she was followed by the ladies of the court, who also wore high dresses, having before been in the habit of leaving their necks and the upper portion of their persons uncovered. She was handsome to look at, with a pretty mouth.ą

Sander was only nine years old at the time of Anne’s execution – would he really have known all those things about her? Not to mention that in the above quote he contradicts himself describing her ugliness and then in the last sentence saying she was handsome to look at. Which was it, Sanders?

Ives also quotes George Wyatt, grandson of Anne’s friend, Sir Thomas Wyatt, describing Anne as well – Wyatt at least had family lore to go off of since his father surely had been told stories of Anne, but was this true? I’ve always believe that the extra nail thing was something that was made up by those who opposed Anne as queen.

…there was found, indeed, upon the side of her nail, upon one of her fingers some little show of a nail, which yet was so small, by the report of those that have seen her, as the work master seemed to leave it an occasion of greater grace to her hand, which, with the tip of one of her other fingers might be, and was usually by her hidden without any blemish to it. Likewise there were said to be upon some parts of her body, certain small moles incident to the clearest complexion.˛

The Holbein sketches were not labeled by Holbein himself, they are thought to have been labeled by Sir John Cheke (tutor to Edward VI). It was believed to have been proper labeling since Cheke actually knew Anne Boleyn, however, other sketches that Cheke labeled at the time have since been corrected. He may have been mistaken with these as well. The sketch on the right is normally said to have been out-of-character attire for a queen to be portrayed in.

The only known contemporary image of Anne Boleyn has always been said to be her “Moost Happi” medal that was created about 1534 when she was pregnant. It was expected to be released when she gave birth to a son. The one on the right is the surviving medal that was damaged. The medal on the left is the restoration of the medal.

“The Moost Happi” Medal of Anne Boleyn Restored | by lisby1

Some believe, including myself, that the medal best resembles this portrait of an older Anne Boleyn – this one also has not been confirmed as Anne but in my opinion close resembles the medal:

Historian Ives discusses some of the most well-known portraits and stated that all were made fifty to sixty years after her death, in late 16th century, during the reign of her daughter, Queen Elizabeth I.

Queen Elizabeth was said to have worn a ring that secretly displayed an image of her mother. The portraits inside were not discussed until after her death.

So the question remains, what did Anne Boleyn actually look like? Eric Ives believed that the “Moost Happi” medal sitter and that in the ring are the same person. With forty-five years between the two and a difference in headdresses, he still believes it is the same person.

Next up we have this portrait miniature of Anne that was in the collection of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queenberry. King Charles I had it copied as “Anne Boleyn” by John Hoskin the Elder. It had written on the back of the mounting –  ”from an ancient origin”.

Lastly, let’s go back to the portrait from the National Portrait Gallery of Ireland of Anne Boleyn. The portrait is labeled as purchased by the gallery in 1903 and states that it was made by an unknown artist in the 16th century. What we do not know is which part of that century and who was the artist? If it was during her lifetime then we have an amazing find here, but I suspect it is like all the others – made during the reign of her daughter.

Portrait of Anne Boleyn (1507-1536), 2nd wife of King Henry VIII/Unknown Artist, England, 16th century/NGI.549


Ives, Eric; The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn
National Portrait Gallery of Ireland


ąSanders, Schism, p.25
˛Singer, Wolsey, p. 424


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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 age it 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 dated c.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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Looking for some Tudor Fun – Find It Here: (click image)


Never Before Seen Portrait: Henry VIII

Awhile back I compiled all the portraits of King Henry VIII that I could find, but this portrait was not among my finding. Recently I’ve become a member of a website that offers some unique portraits, sometimes I’ve even questioned whether or not it’s possible that they are labeled incorrectly. So…keeping that in mind, let us take a look at this portrait and how it is labeled. I will also compare it to other portraits of Henry to see if we can find similarities.

Henry VIII, King of England (1509-47) Greenwich 28.6.1491 – Westminster 28.1.1547. Portrait in his early years. Painting by Hans Holbein t. Y. (1497-1543). Naples, Palazzo Reale. Source: akg-images

Here is a comparison of portraits – the first one is Henry at the very beginning of his reign when he was only eighteen years old, then we have the newly discovered one which is labeled as “early reign” and one from later in life. I definitely see some similarities but I’m not 100% certain that this portrait is labeled correctly. The hat he is wearing in the new portrait definitely resembles something Henry would wear but the cross he wears around his neck does not seem consistent with other portraits of the King.

Is this new portrait that of Henry VIII or incorrectly labeled as the King of England – only time will tell. What are your thoughts?

Note: After digging a bit deeper on this portrait I think I can now say that the portrait was painted around 1525 and this black and white image may be a picture of the portrait taken around 1920-1930 by Fratelli Alinari. Which would explain why it’s black and white. I have had one person say that the original was destroyed in WWII, which is completely plausible.


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History of Queen Elizabeth’s Portraits


Between the late 1540s and 1603, roughly 135 portraits survive of Queen Elizabeth. At the beginning of her reign, Elizabeth’s portraits were in high demand. With the Queen’s popularity so high a proclamation of 1563 was created – the proclamation looked to regulate the production of Elizabeth’s likeness, doing so by have Her majesty approve one portrait to be used as a pattern for future paintings.

In 1588, after Elizabeth’s excommunication, there was a huge demand from her subjects to display her image as an act of patriotism. So many pieces were created that the quality had declined.

Eight years later, in 1596, Elizabeth’s Privy Council ordered the destruction of the poor quality portraits because Elizabeth did not like the image they portrayed of her. The ones that were collected were burned.

One of the portraits that survived burning is one that we are all very aware of today – the Armada Portrait by George Gower. Gower was one of the most successful portrait painters during her reign.  In 1581 he was appointed as her serjeant-painter. As recently as 2014 some have stated that they do not believe Gower created the Armada Portrait.

Another portrait that survived was the 1585 Ermine Portrait, thought to be by miniature artist, Nicholas Hilliard and was commissioned by Lord Burghley.

The Ermine Portrait, William Segar, 1585

The Sieve Portrait from the early 1580s also survived burning. The largest surviving portrait from this time period was the Ditchley Portrait which was made about 1600 and Elizabeth was about 67 years old. Even though she was old looking at the time, the portrait shows her with a youthful face.

The Siena Sieve Portrait, Metsys the Younger, 1583

The first Sieve Portrait was painted by George Gower in 1579, but the most influential image is the 1583 version by Quentin Metsys (or Massys) the Younger. In the Metsys version, Elizabeth is surrounded by symbols of empire, including a column and a globe, iconography that would appear again and again in her portraiture of the 1580s and 1590s.

Ditchley Portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, oil on canvas, circa 1592

Known as the ‘Ditchley Portrait’, this painting was produced for Sir Henry Lee who had been the Queen’s Champion from 1559-90. It probably commemorates an elaborate symbolic entertainment which Lee organised for the Queen in September 1592, and which may have been held in the grounds of Lee’s house at Ditchley, near Oxford, or at the nearby palace at Woodstock.. After his retirement in 1590 Lee lived at Ditchley with his mistress Anne Vavasour. The entertainment marked the Queen’s forgiveness of Lee for becoming a ‘stranger lady’s thrall’. The portrait shows Elizabeth standing on the globe of the world, with her feet on Oxfordshire. The stormy sky, the clouds parting to reveal sunshine, and the inscriptions on the painting, make it plain that the portrait’s symbolic theme is forgiveness. The three fragmentary Latin inscriptions can be interpreted as: (left) ‘She gives and does not expect’; (right) ‘She can but does not take revenge’, and (bottom right) ‘In giving back she increases (?)’. The sonnet (right), perhaps composed by Lee, though fragmentary, can mostly be reconstructed. Its subject is the sun, symbol of the monarch. - NPG 2561

Further Reading:

Pomeroy, Elizabeth W. Reading the Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I.

Strong, Roy. Gloriana: The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I.

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