Tudor Royals in Portraiture: 1485-1558
How we know the Tudor Royals from 1485 – 1558; and who painted them.
Guest article by Melanie V. Taylor
A recent article in various publications, including The Smithsonian magazine, looked at Franny Moyle’s suggestion that Holbein left clues regarding the identification of one of his sitters of his miniatures being of Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anna, Duchess of Cleves. It is not the first time this possibility has been discussed. Heather Darsie describes how Anna adopted the English fashions after her marriage to Henry VII in her 2019 interview with me.
The recent article about Moyle’s theory set me thinking about the accuracy of portraiture of the royal Tudor women and this initial thought then led me to consider why portraits were created, who painted them, just what has survived, if there was evidence of deliberate destruction of any images and if so, why.
Hans Holbein the younger (1493 – 1543) was famous for portraying not only uncanny likenesses of the person he was painting, but also for his ability to capture the inner essence of his sitter.
However, who was in London capturing the likenesses of the royal family prior to Holbein coming to London in the mid 1520s; what were they producing, and was it just large portraits?
Early Tudor Portraits
In a forthcoming exhibition at the Royal Museums Greenwich, which covers 500 years of royal portraiture from the Tudors to the Windsors, we are treated to the earliest portrait of an English monarch – Henry VII. Previously it was thought that Margaret of Austria sent Michel Sittow (1469 – 1525) to paint Henry VII’s portrait in 1505 when there were tentative negotiations of a marriage between Margaret and the English king, but now this portrait is attributed to that well known artist, Anon.
The artist John Serle had previously worked for Edward IV and from the royal accounts we see Serle continuing to be paid during the early years of the reign of Henry VII, the first Tudor king.[i] At this time, the duties of King’s Painter involved painting heraldic banners and decorating barges, coaches and other bits of royal paraphernalia that required decoration, all of which suggests the court required someone skilled in armorial decoration. The new Tudor dynasty was attracting artists from all over Europe including sculptors and painters from Italy and in particular, Meynnart Wewyck (active in England c 1502-1525) came to England from the Low Countries.
In April 2019 Dr Charlotte Bolland of the National Portrait Gallery, London and Dr Andrew Chen of Cambridge University identified the portrait of Lady Margaret Beaufort that hangs in the Master’s Lodge of St John’s College, Cambridge as being by Meynnart Wewyck.[ii] Using scientific techniques as well as newly discovered documentary evidence, Drs Bolland and Chen concluded that this portrait is probably the “first large scale portrait of an English woman”.[iii] This portrait was commissioned by John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester in 1510 – the year after Lady Margaret’s death. A copy of this portrait was made in the late 16th century by Rowland Lockey (1560 – 1616) and this now hangs in the Great Hall of the college.
The latest research into works by this Flemish artist has also identified paintings of Henry VII, Elizabeth of York, Prince Henry and also Princess Margaret Tudor who had been married to James IV of Scotland by proxy in 1502. Wewyck delivered these four portraits to the Scottish king in person in September 1502, returning to London in 1503. Dendrochronology conducted on a further six portraits, two of Elizbeth of York and four of Henry VIII (two as king and two as prince) has ascertained that these six paintings were all painted on Baltic oak that came from the same tree and Drs Bolland and Chen are as positive as ever an art historian will admit to being, that Wewyck was the artist. Finally, it is possible to identify the first artist who was responsible for recording the face of the founder of the Tudor dynasty in paint.
When Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509 we see he was a callow youth of eighteen, and in 1520 he had matured into a handsome king (NPG 4690). The National Portrait Gallery been loaned a portrait of Katharine of Aragon from Church Commissioners (NPGL246) which is also dated 1520. Both are painted on panel and are of very similar sizes. Considering the date it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that both portraits were by Wewyck, especially since he was still in post until the mid 1520s. However, the NPG website is not forthcoming on a possible attribution, or whether there is any recent research into authorship.
Considering the date and the luxuriousness of Henry VIII’s and Queen Katharine’s apparel one could speculate that these paired portraits were hung in the temporary private accommodations or perhaps even the banqueting hall at Guisnes when Henry VII met Francis I on the Field of the Cloth of Gold in June 1520. This of course, is pure speculation, but paired portraits such as these were a visual statement of status and power.
Portraits ‘in Little’
Wewyck was responsible for creating large (table) paintings until 1525, but who filled the position of king’s illuminator (more properly known as a limner) is less known.
We know of a one eyed Dutch scribe, Pieter Meghen, who was associated with the Royal Library. He also prepared the text of two lectionaries for Cardinal Wolsey, which are now held in the colleges of Magdalen and Christ Church, Oxford. Meghen had many contacts in Antwerp and it is thought that he sent these manuscripts to be illuminated by one of the major workshops there, which is yet to be identified.[iv] There has been much debate in the past that these documents were illuminated by one of the Horenbout family who had come to England in the early 1520s, but this is now disputed.
Printing was a relatively new technology but owning a hand scribed and illuminated manuscript was still considered a luxury . Having an illuminator who worked exclusively for the court was the ultimate status symbol and if that artist just happened to be one of the leading illuminators in the whole of Europe, then that particular royal court was definitely in the lead in the game of aristocratic one upmanship.
Religious illuminated books of hours, psalters, breviaries and illustrated secular books had been collected and passed down through families from the 13th century onwards. By the beginning of the 1520s books were being produced for the mass market, but in the world of illuminated manuscripts the Horenbout family, together with the Bening, were still producing hand scribed and illuminated volumes. We know these two workshops collaborated over at least two generations. Their client lists read like an early modern version of Debrett’s Peerage, or Who’s Who[v], consisting of emperors, kings, dukes, earls, counts, princes of the church, not to mention the wealthy bourgeoisie such as the Imhof family who specialised in importing spices.
The head of the Horenbout family, Gerard (d1541), had held the post of valet de chambre and court painter to the Regent of the Netherlands, Margaret of Austria (1480 – 1530. He probably trained his two children, Lucas and Susannah, who are responsible for the early miniatures of Henry VIII (RCIN 420640) and his queen Katharine of Aragon (NPG 4682). Thanks to them, we also know the face of the nine year old Princess Mary at the time she was engaged to her cousin, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500 – 1558) – the word Emperor on her bodice is the clue. Clearly the arrival of such a talented family, poached from the Hapsburg court of Regent Margaret of Austria was a feather in Henry VIII’s cap and another step in his ambition to be considered the leading light in the northern european Renaissance.
Lucas appears in the accounts described as king’s painter from the mid 1520s, but his sister Susannah remains unattributed, but that does not mean she did not paint royal portraits. Miniature portraits of both queen and princess are attributed to Lucas because he is the one we see being paid an annuity ‘at the king’s pleasure’. Nevertheless, despite her name not appearing in the accounts it is thought that Susannah may well have painted some of the images and this is often debated on stylistic grounds.
The production method of a miniature portrait is well documented in Hilliard’s draft treatise of 1598 which states that he paints portraits straight on to the final surface. If these portraits of the 1520s were not painted from life, any subject would have required at least one sitting for the artist to make preparatory sketches from which to work. Considering the cotton wool protection of the virtue of both the queen and the princess, it is far more logical that Lucas’s talented sister may well have painted the images of queen and princess. Susannah would not have required chaperoning if she were in the presence of either the queen or the princess, whereas her brother, being male, would.
We can gauge Susannah’s talent from the comment made by the great Albrecht Dürer when he visited the Horenbout workshop in Bruges in 1521. On this occasion he purchased a Man of Sorrows painted by her and is said to have described her work thus: “It is very wonderful that a woman’s picture should be so good (Ist ein gross Wunder, das ein Weibsbild also viel machen soll)”.[vi]
I can sense the hackles rising of my female readers, but you have to remember that in the 16th century women did not have freedom that we now enjoy and even today in some parts of the world these old attitudes still apply.
Susannah married John Parker, a member of the royal household, probably sometime before 1529 and they lived in Fulham. Parker died sometime in the mid 1530s. ln 1539, only three weeks after her second marriage to John Gwilam, another member of the royal household, Susannah was sent as part of the entourage that went to bring back Henry’s fourth wife, Anna, Duchess of Cleves to England. No doubt her ability to understand and speak Dutch and possibly German, was the reason why Thomas Cromwell picked her as one of the ladies to accompany the young duchess. Cromwell’s motive may have been to have a set of eyes and ears in the cloistered world of the women’s section of the Cleves court, but unfortunately we do not know whether Susannah reported any discussions of interest on her return to London. It is more likely that she was included in this entourage because her linguistic skills would have enabled her to begin teaching Anna English.
As a fully trained illuminator, Susannah would have understood the use of medieval visual symbolism to convey a silent message. This stand-alone rectangular miniature of Queen Katharine and her pet monkey (now in the Buccleuch collection) might seem a charming image of the queen with her pet. Closer examination shows the animal has a belt around its middle from which we see a chain that is held in the queen’s hand. In the visual language of the bestiaries we are told that monkeys are symbols of lust and appear in the illuminated margins of many books of hours and other religious books. The purpose of the inclusion of these ‘grotesques’ in illuminated margins was as a focus for individual meditation when contemplating one’s own faults and misdemeanours. When it comes to this particular portrait the timing is curious as it was painted just as the king’s eyes were alighting on a certain Mistress Boleyn. Apparently Anne hated monkeys.
Any courtier aware of the increasingly serious flirtations being carried on by Henry VIII and Mistress Boleyn would recognise the underlying message suggested by the restricting belt and chain seen worn around the beast’s waist. Not only is the queen acknowledging the expensive gift, but without saying a word Katharine is informing anyone who sees this portrait that she recognises that her spouse is a lustful fellow, but he remains restricted by the chains of marriage.
Susannah lived until the mid 1550s, and while her first marriage was childless, she had two children by her second. Whether or not she continued to paint is a matter of educated speculation.[vii]
The Royal ‘Body Politic’
During the early 1530s Lucas Horenbout was occupied illuminating the new book of the Order of the Garter. Originally founded by Edward III in the 1340s, this Order consisted of twenty six knights including the sovereign. There were Lady Companions of the Garter, the first being Edward III’s queen, Philippa of Hainault. Henry VII appointed his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, to the ranks of Lady Companion of the Garter, but after her appointment the custom lapsed until the reign of Edward VII when his consort, Queen Alexandra, was made a Lady Companion in 1901. [viii] That Henry VII honoured his mother in this way is not a surprise considering the lengths she went to in order tonsure he gained the English throne, but his son either chose not to continue the custom, or it never crossed his mind.
The original first statutes state that the Order was to be “in the same manner and estate as the Lord Arthur, formerly King of England“.[ix] With an eye to history, Edward III named firstborn son Arthur in the belief that the Plantagenet roots hailed from the legendary king, despite the child being illegitimate. Henry VII also named his firstborn son Arthur for the same reason.
The new 1530s statutes are visual statements that the new Tudor dynasty opens a new chapter in the history of the Order of the Garter, the oldest male order of chivalry. Lucas has depicted the king seated on his throne surrounded by his twenty five Knights.
For those who think the anonymous queen on this document is a ‘lost portrait’ of Anne Boleyn, they might like first to consider visual evidence of the words Henricus Rex A that appear in the illuminated P on the front of the proceedings of the Kings Bench for the Hilary law term of 1527/8.[x] We see Henry deep in thought and for an unknown reason his musing has been captured and recorded suggesting that whoever this artist was they had the opportunity to hear the gossip and observe what was happening at court. We can only speculate that it might have been one of the Horenbout siblings.
Much emphasis has been put on Henry’s queens being the one who were expected to give birth to the legitimate male heir and what fate awaited them if they failed to do so. Henry knew he was capable of siring a boy because his mistress, Bessie Blount had given birth to Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond in 1519 (RCIN 420019). Fitzroy was made a Knight of the Garter in 1525/26. However, by 1527 there was still no male heir despite nearly twenty years of marriage to a queen who was five years older than the king. Here we see Henry VIII facing his dilemma. Should he divorce and remarry someone younger and more able to produce a male child? While the king’s thought processes are captured in this small narrative, it is the use of the Latin word Rex followed by the initial A for Anglia used to enforce the fact that it is the duty of every king of England to sire the next that provides the clue to what Henry is contemplating.
In the time of Henry VIII the illuminations of official documents became more interesting as the artists chose to create visual narratives with a political element. Having studied the Ps on the front sheet of the proceedings all the law terms for both the Court of Common Pleas and the King’s Bench from their very beginnings in 1178 up until the end of the reign of Elizabeth I in 1603, it became apparent that it was not until the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III that these documents became an instrument for making such a visual.
In the English National Archives there is the French copy of the treaty of perpetual peace between France and England signed in 1527 (TNA ref. E30/1109). Considering the reputation of the Horenbout family, either Lucas or his father would have illuminated the English copy, now kept in France. The French copy depicts a small portrait miniature of Francis I, whereas the England version now in the French archives is beautifully illuminated with various Tudor emblems and the terms hand scribed in the traditional manner. The French copy is printed, which was a completely new innovation when it came to the production of treaties. Francis had clearly won this round of continuing rivalry between the two kings that even stretched as far as the production of an official document!
Not to be outdone by Francis again, in their battle of the illuminated treaties, when the 1546 Treaty of Ardres was negotiated the illuminated letter H contains a portrait of Henry VIII within the cross bar that is approximately 20mm diameter. In other words less than an inch. Compared to previous treaties and images of the king on official documents this treaty is full of european Renaissance emblems. This change of style coincides with the employment of the illuminator Levina Teerlinc (née Bening) (1520 – 1576), who had recently arrived at the Tudor court.[xi]
Here we see the opening line that translates literally as Henry VIII by the grace of God, England, France and Ireland, King.
The anonymous queen depicted in the 1530s Henry’s new book for the Order of the Garter[xii] is not named since she does not occupy the throne by divine right, but as the wife of a king she is acknowledged by the presence of an anonymous queen and the letters AR standing for Angliæ Regina, queen of England.
Edward VI never ruled in his own right, but even so the Ps recognised his position as king with the use of Vivat Rex on many of the front sheets and in the case of two law terms, Vive le Roy. They both mean the same – the king lives, and sometimes is interpreted Long live the King.
Likewise during the reign of Mary we see the use of the phrase, Vivat Regina – the queen lives etc as above. After Mary’s marriage to Philip it becomes more complicated as the artist portrays them both on these Ps and uses the words Vivant Rex et Regina above their heads. Philip was only king of England uxore juris, but both the cousins were monarchs of their respective countries by divine right, which must have posed the artist a bit of a problem as it would have been insulting not to have recognised that Philip was the heir to the kingdom of Spain and after 1556, the king.
The significance of the inclusion of Philip cannot be emphasised enough as this is the first time a royal spouse is portrayed on a document. The attempt to overthrow the terms of the 1543 3rd Act of Succession had failed in the summer of 1553, making Mary England’s first queen regnant. In the P for Michelmas 1553 (KB1168/2) the artist has angels leading Mary to her rightful throne and her enemies throwing down their weapons in surrender. It is an unfinished picture which shows how the artist must have been under pressure and never managed to return to this piece. Both Philip & Mary appear on the Charter for the re-foundation of the monastery at Westminster Abbey (Muniment Room, Westminster Abbey), which is a further example of the royal portraits as visual statements of the royal “body politique“.
Neither Edward VI nor his half-sister Mary (or her husband) use the word Rex or Regina after their names. The initials E R, M R and P R appear on the Ps. Elizabeth I is the first queen regnant to have the words “Elizabeth Regina” appear (in gold lettering) on official documents. Like the opening words on the 1546 Treaty of Ardres, the initial letter E of the charter for the founding of Ashbourne School in Derbyshire is gloriously illuminated by Nicholas Hilliard (1547 – 1619) and following words tell us in no uncertain terms that this charter is granted by “Elizabeth dei gratia Anglia Francia Hibernia Regina . . .”[xiii]
Nowhere on other official documents where the monarch is granting something such as a charter for the founding of a college, or on letters patent do we see any royal spouse except in the case of Mary I.
Lucas Horenbout was retained and paid an annual salary at the King’s Pleasure, holding the position of king’s limner until his death in 1544. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that the first appearance of visual political narratives on the Ps coincides with the arrival of the Horenbout family at the English court and is place on the front of the proceedings of the King’s Bench where it would be undisturbed until a lawyer came looking for legal documents.
Neither is it a coincidence that the change in style of the illumination of the 1546 Treaty of Ardres coincides with the arrival of Teerlinc, who remained in post until her death in 1576, serving not only Henry VIII, but also Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.
Overstepping the mark as a Prince of the Church
Stained glass was a major art prior to the iconoclasm of the Reformation. It was expensive and a way of making a public statement of the patron’s wealth, status and power.[xiv] The commissioning of such works included an agreed design known as a vidimus. The word comes from the French meaning ‘we have seen’ and the agreed design formed part of the agreed legally binding contract. More often than not the artist creating the design was not the glazier, but it was these designs that were agreed and that the glaziers worked to. In such a case there would be three copies – one for the patron, the artist and glazier holding the other two. We know that the Henry VIII’s glazier was the Flemish master Barnard Flowers who died in 1517, and was succeeded by Gaylon Hone (c1467 – 1551/2).
Cardinal Wolsey (1474 – 1530) also employed Flemish glaziers to create stained glass masterpieces for the chapel in York Place, Cardinal College Oxford and Hampton Court Palace. In Edinburgh there are surviving vidimuses for the chapel in Wolsey’s London home, York Place. The surviving one for the York Place chapel contains notes suggesting an alternative arrangement of the various saints from the original design
Cardinal Wolsey was determined to have a palace suitable for his position as a prince of the Church and leased Hampton Court from the Knights Hospitallers. From 1514 onwards he set about renovating both Hampton Court and York Place, taking out a loan of £3,500 in the October for the refurbishment of the two palaces. Depending on how you consider this it is either £2,319,000 as a straight inflation or a more detailed comparative rates of firstly a labour cost which would be £24,300,000, or as an economic cost of £1,436,000,000![xv],[xvi].
In 1983 the designs for the east window of the chapel at Hampton Court were discovered in an album locked away in Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts. Included in this discovery were the designs for the four windows that lit the rest of chapel from the north and south. Only the year before, in 1982, the actual east window was rediscovered having been hidden behind the reredos carved by Grinling Gibbons after 1660 when Charles II was restored to the English throne. The window did not have any of the stained glass remaining because this had been removed during the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell and replaced with plain.[xvii] By comparing the sketches with those held in Edinburgh it was determined that the German artist, Erhard Schön (1491 -c1542) was the designer for the stained glass in both York Place and Hampton Court Palace
In the design for the windows at Hampton Court the fabric of the window is split into upper and lower registers with the upper registers depicting (from left to right), Christ before the High Priest, Christ before Pilate, Christ carrying the Cross, the Crucifixion, the Deposition, the Entombment and the Resurrection. In the central panel lower register Mary Magdalene kneels at the foot of the Cross and in one sketch angels catch the Blood of the Redeemer in cups as it flows from the five wounds; in the other the angels are absent.
In the six lower windows to the right of the Crucifixion scene is the kneeling figure of the Cardinal in his study. This scene extends over the next two panels which are empty of any human figure, but these portray Wolsey’s study and what appears to be his archbishop’s throne. The Cardinal is being supported by Saint Thomas Becket and the two founding fathers of the Church, Saint Peter and St Paul.
To the left of the Crucifixion scene, reading the windows from right to left, we have a kneeling king, a kneeling queen, then in the third window a kneeling girl. The following three windows contain St George and his dragon representing England and the end one shows St Catharine of Alexandria who holds her wheel, representing the queen. The middle saint is St Henry. There were three St Henry’s, one being the bishop of Uppsala, who was an English clergyman martyred in Sweden in 1156; another was a 12th century Dane who lived as a hermit on the isle of Coquet off the Northumbrian coast, but since this figure holds an orb and sword it is probably St Henry who was born in 972 AD, also known as Henry the Exuberant.
This Henry was the son of Henry, Duke of Bavaria and Gisella daughter of the King of Burgundy. He succeeded his father as duke in 995 AD and was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1002 AD. As Holy Roman Emperor the 11th century Henry was “Watchful over the welfare of the Church” and confirmed the sovereignty of the Pope, which not too dissimilar to Henry VIII’s writing a defence of the Catholic faith in 1520 .[xviii]
Wolsey’s rise to ecclesiastical power was from king’s almoner in 1509, to Canon of Windsor in 1511, Bishop of Lincoln and Archbishop of York in 1514 and Cardinal in 1515, papal legate in 1518 and papal legate for life in 1524. Finally, in 1523, he was appointed Bishop of Durham, the oldest and politically very powerful diocese in England. As almoner he had a seat on the Privy Council, which gave him closer contact with the young king, who at this time was more interested in athletic pursuits and slowly Wolsey nurtured his political power eventually leading to his being appointed Lord Chancellor. By 1529 Wolsey was so powerful he was seen by some as being the true power in the land, not the king.Those who saw the windows would recognise the individuals from their patron saints.
By placing the king and the cardinal in the same position of prominence on either side of the crucified Christ there is no greater declaration as to who held actual power in the land. Henry might be on the throne by ‘divine right’, but the presence of St Peter and St Paul and St Thomas of Canterbury showed that Wolsey had the power of the Church behind him. For the 16th century mind, the man who had a hot line to the Almighty was clearly the more powerful, notwithstanding the whole issue of Wolsey not getting the king a divorce! Wolsey was in York when he was charged with the crime of praemunire, but died before he reached London so never came to trial.
After Henry’s divorce from Queen Katharine the royal accounts show that sixteen feet of new stained glass imagery had been set into these windows sometime between October 1535 and May 1536. No doubt this was in anticipation of the then pregnant Anne Boleyn’s second child being the longed for male heir.[xix] From this entry we learn the east window had been altered sometime earlier and St Catharine of Alexandria had been replaced by St Anne sometime earlier at a cost of 32shillings being an equivalent economic cost today of £479,900.00.
Less than a year later the accounts for dates 23rd September to 21st October have the following entry:
Itim for the translatynges and the remowfing off a ymagges of Saynt Anna and other off Saynt Tomas in the hye alter wyndwo off the chappell pryce le pyce vis viiid = xiijs iijd[xx]
The total cost of the removal of the saintly references to Boleyn and cardinal in the palace chapel was 14shillings and 4pence, which equates to a modern labour cost of £5,666.00. This removal demonstrates just how determined Henry was not to be reminded of his allegedly adulterous second wife every time he attended a service in the chapel.
The absence in the accounts detailing the removal of Saints Anne and Thomas suggests the window, but does not mentioned the kneeling cardinal suggests that window had been removed some time before, probably at the time the king took over the ownership of the palace in 1529, but we have no record as to what might have replaced it.
These windows were not supposed to have lifelike representations of individual people. The original star of the show was Cardinal Wolsey whose image was removed because he, like the Greek Icarus, had risen too close to the sun.
The Arrival of a German Genius and his Marketing of Monarchy
It was in the mid 1520s that a German artistic genius arrived on these shores. He painted in oils on panel and on a much larger scale than the Horenbouts. This was Hans Holbein the Younger, who arrived clutching letters of introduction to Sir Thomas More written by the scholar, Erasmus of Rotterdam. Holbein did not get to paint portraits of the king until the 1530s when the portraits he created were to give England the first accurate renditions and psychologically insightful portraits of the Henry VIII and his various wives, with two exceptions – Anne Boleyn and Catharine Howard.
After Holbein’s death the scholar Sir John Cheke (1514 – 1556) looked at the sketches of Holbein’s various sitters and named them. One of these is an intimate one of a woman wearing a cap whom Cheke identified as Anne Boleyn. This attribution is much disputed. Since we know from the 1705 writings of John Strype that Cheke was closely associated with Anne it is difficult to see why Cheke would make a mistake in recognising her, especially since all his other attributions are accepted.[xxi] Perhaps it is the fact that this woman is portrayed wearing the sort of cap that might only be worn in the bedchamber, or in the house when visitors were not expected. It is certainly not the sort of image one would expect on the head of a queen.
If we accept this surviving sketch (RCIN 912189) as being that of Henry’s second wife, it brings into question how it was that Holbein sketched her wearing something that would never have been worn in public. Nowadays we take it for granted that the paparazzi will record every royal event and we consume these images like a shoal of piranhas. Considering Anne was the first anointed queen to be executed on English soil it is possible her nemesis, Thomas Cromwell, sent Holbein to sketch her as she made her way to the scaffold, hence her wearing this form of headwear. Those permitted to witness her execution were tightly controlled and no record of Holbein being in the crowd has been found, so this idea will have to remain a matter of educated speculation.
Henry was determined to remove every reference to his second wife. Like Princess Mary before her, even Anne’s daughter, the three year old Princess Elizabeth, was declared a bastard. There are no surviving contemporary portraits of Anne that we know of. But we see from the various inventories made of the contents of the properties owned by John, Ist Baron Lumley (1533 – 1609) between 1586 – 1609 that Holbein had painted a portrait of Anne Boleyn, which is now lost.
Notwithstanding the contemporary documentary evidence for the removal of anything to remind the king of his second wife, the catalogue of the 1890 exhibition of The Royal House of Tudor, held at The New Gallery, Regent Street, London lists certain exhibits of stand-alone portraits alleged to be of Boleyn and one of a group of figures that include her. One entry on canvas, measuring 14 x 12 inches, has no artistic attribution and was lent by the Earl of Warwick. Another is said to be by Lucas Cornelisz (1493 – 1552), being a circular panel of ten inches diameter. The Earl of Denbigh lent a panel measuring 11 x 8 ½ inches inscribed Anne Boleyn Holbein and said to have been painted in 1530. A fourth panel (8 x 6 inches) was lent by Mrs S S Gwyllim and is described as “originally belonged to the Thornton family and was purchased by Miss Agnes Strickland . . . It is engraved in her Lives of the Queens of England“. The group painting that is alleged to include Boleyn is also unattributed and lent by a Major-General F E Sotheby.[xxii] None of these paintings were for sale and many of them will have either subsequently been sold or donated to the nation in lieu of death duties, making it difficult to trace them.
However, recent research by Kate McCaffrey, a Master of Arts student at the University of Kent, into a book of hours held at Hever Castle has shown that not everything belonging or pertaining to Anne Boleyn was destroyed. Ms McCaffrey subjected the pages of a book of hours to ultra-violet light and discovered names of subsequent owners. Its size would have made it easy to hide should anyone have come looking. There is the legend that Anne gave a book of hours to one of the women who accompanied her to the scaffold. Was it this one? Hopefully Ms McCaffrey will be writing a book or publishing her Master’s dissertation so we can all learn from her research and fantastic finds.
With Boleyn’s execution and the sad death of Katharine of Aragon, Henry was finally legitimately free to remarry.
The Royal ‘Body Natural’
We know the third of Henry’s wives from Holbein’s portrait of now in Vienna Jane Seymour (1508 – 1537). This panel dates from 1536, the year Henry married Jane, and has been in the Viennese museum since 1720. We might be dazzled by her magnificent attire and significant jewellery, but if we ignore Jane’s dress and jewellery for the moment, what is it that we see?
By using an even light Holbein is not hiding any facial structural disfigurements of his sitter. You might wonder that considering smallpox was so prevalent in the population why are there no portraits showing scars or other facial aberrations. Good question, but any artist on an annual salary from any royal court would not choose to include the disfiguring scars from disease and risk losing his job.
Holbein was famous for capturing the inner essence of the person before him, and I find it difficult to like the king’s third wife with her pursed lips and severe expression. If this portrait can be believed, Jane’s character seems to be the complete opposite to that of her much kinder looking sister Elizabeth, wife of Gregory Cromwell, whose portrait now hangs in the Toledo Museum, Ohio.[xxiii]
An unfinished of copy of Jane’s portrait by Holbein is held by the National Portrait Gallery London (NPG7025) and is attributed as being by “Workshop of . . .” Dendrochronology shows that this panel came from a tree felled before 1530, therefore we can deduce that Holbein’s workshop was in the process of working up a copy of the original. Whether it was abandoned because Jane died or for some other reason, remains a mystery.
Returning to Jane’s jewels. This is the first time, but not the last, that we see the pendant that contains an emerald, a ruby and a pearl. The emerald is symbolic of hope, the red ruby of love or sacrifice, and the pearl is an ancient symbol of purity. This jewel hangs from a complex pearl and ruby chain, again symbolically redolent with the attributes of Henry’s new wife.
The other jewel seen on Jane’s bodice depicting the letters IHS is made up of diamonds being symbols of constancy.[xxiv] This jewel can also be seen in a Horenbout miniature of Queen Katharine from 1525 (NPG 4682), which is thought to be one of a matching pair with her husband, possibly to this one of Henry VIII (RCIN 420010) painted about the same time. Katharine had died earlier in 1536 and the presence of this diamond jewel on Jane’s bodice suggests it was part of the royal collection of jewellery as opposed to Katharine’s personal one. Its presence makes the same statement about the religious adherence of this third queen in the same way as it did of Henry’s first.
When it came to portraits exchanged when negotiating dynastic marriages, then not all artists were so diligent as Holbein, as in the case of the portrait of Mary I by Hans Eworth (1520 – 1574) (NPG 4861) sent to Prince Philip of Spain before they were married. A comparison to various other portraits of Queen Mary suggests that Eworth had flattered her, but whether this was at her request, or the artist was currying favour by making her look more attractive than she was, is unknown. Eworth was Mary’s official court artist ‘in large’, however there is another portrait of England’s first queen regnant by Antonis Mor (c1517 – 1577) which does not suggest she is pretty, but does portray Mary as majestic. This portrait now hangs in the Prado, Madrid (Accession No PO2108).[xxv]
The plain features of both Jane and her step-daughter, Mary, presented a difficulty for both Holbein and Mor in how to devise a pose and render a convincing portrait of either queen. Perhaps Mor was inspired by Holbein’s portrayal of Jane Seymour as a serious religious woman and took his lead from the portrait now in Vienna, or perhaps from the life size mural Holbein created in Whitehall Palace. Mor came to England and since his patron was Mary’s father-in-law then he must have been permitted. He could well have seen the portrait of Jane Seymour on the Whitehall mural.
While Holbein used sketches and his services were much in demand, his royal employers were not going to grant him a sitting each time a portrait was required. He would also have been able to consult any surviving panels portraits of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York for inclusion in the Whitehall mural, that have been lost. We know this mural from a small copy by Remegius van Leemput (1607 – 1675) (RCIN 405750) which was commissioned by a later English king, Charles II.
In search of a new wife – the marketing of the English King as a suitable husband
After Jane’s death in 1537 and despite now having a legitimate heir, Henry was back in the marriage market. This time it was deemed politically expedient for the king to have a foreign wife and to that end Holbein painted a panel portrait of Henry VIII to show to prospective foreign brides. This panel now hangs in the Thyssen Bornemiza Museum in Spain (Inv.91.191 (1934.39)). Considered to be a tour de force of Holbein’s talent, the magnificent attire does not completely hide the character of the sitter. However, this small panel is not as unforgiving as the imposing life size Henry we see in the Whitehall, or the full size portrait that David Starkey described as the first portrait of a fat man! This particular version is attributed to the Workshop of Holbein and now hangs in the Walker Gallery, Liverpool.[xxvi]
The 1890 exhibition at The New Gallery lists a three quarter length portrait attributed to Holbein that differs slightly from this version in that Henry has a glove in his right hand and a staff in his left. The German art historian, Gustav Freidrich Waagen (1794 – 1868) writing in 1854 described how he felt on viewing this specific paintings as follows:
“… as true in the smallest details as if the king himself stood before you. There is in these features a brutal egotism, an obstinacy, and a harshness of feeling, such as I have never yet seen in any human countenance. In the eyes, too, there is the suspicious watchfulness of a wild beast, so that I became quite uncomfortable from looking at it a long time: . . .”[xxvii]
When it comes to portraits of dynastic supremacy, the Royal Collection contains a group portrait of Henry VIII’s vision of his family (RCIN 405796) painted by that other prolific artist, British School, in 1545. The painting was exhibited in the ‘Painting Paradise’ exhibition of 2015 held at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace and I was able to get close enough to see that the artist had painted Princess Elizabeth with blue eyes. The princess is on the right hand side of the painting as you look at it. Since we know the princess had inherited her mother’s dark brown eyes, clearly this artist was working from facial templates that had no written instructions regarding eye colour of each individual. The two princesses had been declared illegitimate by their father and are excluded from his presence by being placed outside the columns that define the central royal space.
The king sits on a throne under a cloth of estate with his hand on Prince Edward’s shoulder as if to say, ‘one day lad, all this will be yours’. Queen Jane, who we know had died only days after Edward’s birth, is seated to Henry’s left and she is wearing the same emerald, ruby and pearl pendant around her neck as she wears in the Vienna painting. She is also wearing what appears to be the same locket that Holbein has depicted around the neck of the king in the Thyssen Bornemiza portrait.
This canvas measures 144.5 x 355.9 cms and dates from 1545, some two years after Holbein’s death, but the artist clearly had access to Holbein’s paintings or even his sketch books. The exhibition catalogue entry suggests the setting was possibly the Orchard Gallery of Whitehall Palace that had two archways that lead out into the Great Garden. The buildings seen through the left arch has been identified as Princess Mary’s lodgings while the arch to the right of Princess Elizabeth looks toward the Great Close Tennis Court.[xxviii]
Holbein died in November 1543 and Lucas Horenbout died the following March in 1544. Suddenly the Tudor court has no obvious artistic talent to draw on to create portraits of Henry’s children in order for these to be shown to those negotiating possible marriages.
After Holbein and Horenbout, who came next?
What better way of getting back into the marriage market than having your portrait sent to the head of the families of prospective brides, or to advertise that you have offspring to marry off in order to seal a treaty? It is for this reason that William Scrots (d1553) was engaged at a salary of £62 per annum (over double that of Holbein’s salary) in the mid 1540s after Holbein’s death in 1543.[xxix]
A portrait of a very young Prince Edward hangs in the Queen’s drawing room at Windsor Castle (RCIN 401441). This portrait of Princess Elizabeth (1533 – 1603), also attributed to Scrots, was probably painted at the same time as that of her younger half-brother and also hangs in the Queen’s drawing room.
When it comes to identifying two of Henry’s later wives it is the emerald, ruby and pearl pendant that is trackable to belonging to two further queens. One is the portrait of Katharine Parr by Master John (NPG 4451), who also painted a portrait of Princess Mary in 1544 (NPG 428). The queen is magnificent but as far as we know, it is the only full length panel painting executed during her time as queen. Parr was apparently very taken with miniatures but so far there are no reliably identified portrait miniatures of her, despite her still having both Susannah Horenbout and Levina Teerlinc at her beck and call.
When it came to replacing Lucas Horenbout, we have already looked at the Treaty of Ardres of 1546 created by Levina Teerlinc who replaced him. Teerlinc was deemed to be as good as her father, the great Simon Bening (1483 – 1561), by the contemporary Italian writer, merchant and historian, Ludovico Guicciardini (1521 – 1589) who wrote about her in his 1567 book describing all the to do with the Low Countries. Whether Henry’s agent was hoping to lure Simon Bening is not known, but with Bening’s client list and being the last of the great illuminating workshops, there was no way he was going to leave his thriving business in Bruges. Records show that Simon’s daughter, Levina, married George Teerlinc of Blankenberg in January 1545, prior to their coming to England. Her stipend of £40 a year was paid in £10 quarterly payments to her husband.
The Tudor court was the first european court to employ a woman as an official artist and she served Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I until her death in London in 1576.
Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s Beloved Sister
Now you might be wondering why I have decided to treat Henry’s fourth wife separately. The reason is because she is presented to us by at least two, if not three different artists all commissioned to create portraits of her prior to her coming to England. Famously, Holbein was sent to paint her and produced two works. The larger one now hangs in the Louvre (INV 1348) and the miniature is in the V&A museum.
When Heather Darsie’s new consideration of Anna’s life was published in April 2019, the cover presented us with a completely different portrait, which I shall call the Rosenbach, as it is held by the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia. Art history is all about provenance so I shall map out briefly how the Holbein and the Rosenbach ended up in their respective museums.
At some point in the 17th century the Holbein portrait entered the collection of Thomas Arundel, 14th Earl of Arundel (1585 – 1646) eventually being acquired by the businessman and art collector, Everard Jabach (1618 – 1695) in the 1650s. In 1671 Anna’s portrait was ceded to the collection of Louis XIV and finally entered the Louvre in 1793. Like many paintings originally painted on panel, this portrait has been transferred to canvas.
The Rosenbach portrait is painted on vellum and was sold at auction to the Rosenbach brothers on 11th July 1930. The catalogue entry for that sale attributes the artist as being Hans Wertinger (1465/70 – 1533). Since Wertinger died in 1533 when Anna was eighteen years old, a comparison of the Holbein and Rosenbach portraits suggests they were painted at about the same time. This puts Wertinger in his grave by six years when both portraits was created.
The painting had previously been sold in 1855 as part of the collection of the late politician and art collector, Ralph Bernal (1783/4 – 1864), for the sum of 175 guineas. At this earlier time it was attributed as being by Hans Holbein the Younger.[xxx]
The Winter Exhibition of 1899 – 1900 held at the New Gallery, Regent Street catalogue identifies the portrait as “Cat No 44 lent by a Dr Wickham Flower”.
The 1930s sale catalogue entry states “The following are the property of Sir John Ramsden, Bart., and have been removed from Bulstrode, Gerrards Cross, Bucks [Buckinghamshire]”.[xxxi] The phrase “removed from . . .” suggests the sale of that Sir John Ramsden’s artefacts was not altogether voluntary. Sir John Frecheville Ramsden inherited a fortune from his parents including Bulstrode Park, but unfortunately not the business acumen of his father. This Ramsden had the nickname of ‘Chops’ and by all accounts was a lovely chap with an extravagant nature, which he funded by selling the family property holdings in Huddersfield in 1920, which happened to be most of the town.
Since the Rosenbach portrait was sold a year after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, together with the catalogue wording “removed from …”, do we deduce that Sir John had lost most or all of the family fortune? It appears as if we must.[xxxii]
To complicate matters even more, the 1890 exhibition of portraits of the Royal House of Tudor describes another portrait of Anna and attributed to Holbein, lent by a Miss Morrison.
The entry is as follows:
“Half-length, life-size, to left, black square-cut dress, edged with red, and trimmed with gold brain and lace, red slashed sleeves, black hood edged with white and jewelled pearl necklace, gold chain round neck, hands folded holding massive gold chain. Panel 28 x 21 inches. This picture is stated to have been ‘for many years in the possession of the royal family of Sardinia, and is supposed to have been formerly in the collection of Charles I.'”
Where this portrait is now? I have no idea. It may be that it has been identified as being of someone else. Any information would be most welcome.
By comparing the two portraits we know about and have before us, as well as the Holbein miniature of Anna now in the V&A (P.153-1910) blows away the myths regarding whether or not Anna was ugly. Ms Darsie argues that this rumour was generated as part of a face saving programme disguising the real reason for the annulment of the marriage to Henry VIII.
In 1942 the Rosenbach portrait was included in an art encyclopaedia entry and the attribution changed again, this time to de Bruyn the Elder (1493 – 1555). However there is a further portrait of Anna in St John’s College Oxford, also attributed to de Bruyn.
De Bruyn was famous for his portraits and altarpieces, plus he is known to have worked for the dukes of Cleves. Since he was known for his portraits it is possible that he is the artist that executed the portrait now in Philadelphia, but a lot of expensive scientific non-invasive analysis would have to be undertaken in order to start a comparison to other works by de Bruyn and other possible artists.
In the Oxford painting Anna holds a bunch of red dianthus, but her hair is hidden totally. The pair of gloves on the parapet tells us that she is of noble birth. If these gloves were not enough of a clue to her rank of duchess, the parapet extends right across the painting separating Anna from the viewer completely. The presence of an orange is yet to be explained. Oranges also appear in the National Gallery’s 1434 Arnolfini portrait by Jan Van Eyck (1390s – 1441). What they symbolise can only be guessed at, but it may be that oranges represent the bittersweet prospects of an arranged marriage.
Franny Moyle has taken Ms Darsie’s statement that when Anna became a member of Henry’s court she adopted English fashions, which were predominantly influenced by the French, and has come to the conclusion that a Holbein miniature in the Royal Collection Trust is not that of Catharine Howard, but possibly of Anna of Cleves. The attribution to RCIN 422293 being of Catharine Howard comes mainly from the identification of the jewel around the sitter’s neck, being the same as that seen worn by Jane Seymour and Katharine Parr.
Adopting the fashion of the country where you have ended up residing was not a new one. Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor, shows her as a princess, prior to her marrying Louis XII. The artist Johannes Corvus depicts Mary wearing the gable headdress worn at the English court in the mid 1510s. Mary had agreed to an arranged marriage with the ageing king of France on the condition that she was allowed to choose her second husband, should Louis XII die and that marriage had not produced any heir. She secretly married Charles Brandon after Louis’ death after only a few months of marriage and on her return to England in 1516 she brought with her the less cumbersome French style headdress we see in this portrait. (Mary Tudor & Charles Brandon). It is therefore not without precedent for Anna to have adopted this style of headwear having settled in England where it was still the fashion in 1540.
As for the Holbein miniature, it is not until the 18th century that it is suggested that the sitter is Catharine Howard. Previously the 17th century inventory listed it as : “A small peice Inclineing of a woman after ye Dresse of Henry ye Eights wife by Peter Oliver” [xxxiii]
If Ms Darsie had not had the opportunity of studying the portrait of Anna that hangs in the Master’s Study of St John’s College Oxford, she may not have tracked down the whereabouts of the Rosenbach portrait.[xxxiv] Thanks to Heather, we not only have two confirmed panel portraits of Henry’s fourth wife done from life by two different artists, but we also have an interesting and insightful biography that takes account of German archival sources.
The Tudors never cease to fascinate people, mainly because we have so many surviving portraits of the royal family and many members of the Tudor Court. The art historical holy grail would be to find an undiscovered portrait of Henry VIII’s second wife painted from life, preferably the one listed in the Lumley inventory of 1598. Considering the four portraits listed in the 1890 catalogue, one might be lurking out there hidden away in a cupboard or attic.
What we must remember in these days of selfies and portrait photography, is that the 16th century monarch had two persona – the ‘body politique’ and the ‘body reale’, and we must not jump to conclusions just because we see initials that happen to coincide with those of our favourite queen on an official document. Ask yourself is this a document that makes a political statement about the monarch? Is this a document where that monarch is portrayed as a queen regnant, therefore on the English throne by divine right? If not, then it is probably a random female included to represent all queens of England who marry into the position.
I shall be attending the press preview of the Tudors to Windsors: 500 years of British Monarchy exhibition at the Royal Museums Greenwich, so will write up my review and let you know what this large exhibition has to offer in the way of Tudor portraits. It will be good to return to Greenwich after all these months of lockdown.
[i] Guy Fitch Lytle; Patronage in the Renaissance: essay by Gordon Kipling; The Origins of Tudor Patronage; p134 – 135
[ii] Burlington Magazine Volume 161 pp316 – 318.
[iii] Ibid 314.
[iv] https://bonaelitterae.wordpress.com/tag/pieter-meghen/ (accessed 08/05/2021)
[v] These are English reference books for finding information about those in society.
[vi] Susan James discusses Susannah Horenbout at length in her book The Feminine Dynamic: 1450 – 1603; Routledge, 2016.
[vii] There is a portrait of a young woman now in the Yale collection which Susan James & her niece Jamie France argue is by Susannah Horenbout. Previously the sitter has been identified as either Princesses Mary or Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey, but I am of the same opinion as historian Chris Skidmore that it is of Lady Amy Dudley, née Robsart.
[x] National Archives, Kew KB27/1066.Today our calendar years begin on 1st January, therefore modern dating has this document listed as 1st January 1528. In Tudor times the English financial year started on 24th March therefore this law term was originally for the end of the financial year of 1527.
[xi] Previously no artist was attributed to the illumination of this treaty until 2006 when my attribution by Teerlinc was accepted by both the external and internal markers of my unpublished dissertation for my Master of Arts degree awarded in 2006.
[xiv] Cardinal Wolsey: Church, state and art. Eds S J Gunn and P G Lindley pp116 – 130.
[xv] Real project value as per www.measuringworth.com
[xvi] Ibid Chapter 2 The domestic building works of Cardinal Wolsey by Simon Thurley. P77.
[xvii] Ibid Chapter 4 Wolsey and stained glass; by Hilary Wayment p119.
[xviii] Entry for St Henry on www.catholic.org
[xix] TNA: E36/243 at a cost of 32shillings being the equivalent labour cost of £12,640 in 2020 (www.measuringworth.com)
[xx] TNA: E36/299
[xxi] John Strype; The Life of the Learned Sir John Cheke Kt First Instructor and Afterwards Secretary of State to Edward VI; 1705.
[xxii] Catalogue entry nos. 81,122, 132, 140 & 145, Exhibition of the Royal House of Tudor catalogue at The New Gallery, Regent Street, London R. Clay. 1890
[xxiv] IHS are the first three letters of the Greek form of Christ’s name.
[xxv] Karl van Mander writing in the early 17th century.
[xxvi] The palace of Whitehall was destroyed by fire in 1698 and the Holbein cartoon in the NPG and a copy of the mural by Remegius Van Leemput painted in the 17th century and now in the RCT, are the only surviving record.
[xxvii] Catalogue entry 126: Exhibition of the Royal House of Tudor. The New Gallery, Regent Street, London. R. Clay. 1890. Waagen died in 1864, but recorded his thoughts in his 1854 book Treasures of Art in Great Britain, published by J Murray.
[xxviii] ‘Painting Paradise: exhibition catalogue pp48 – 50.
[xxix] The equivalent of over £500,000 today (www.measuringworth.com ).
[xxx] A Portrait of Anne of Cleves: Peter Hacker and Candy Kuhl; The Burlington Magazine vol 134 No 1068 (March 1992) pp172 – 175: URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/885027 Accessed 18th March 2019.
[xxxi] Many thanks to the Rosenbach for providing me with the information they have on file for this painting.
[xxxii] The 2017 book, ‘Poverty is Relative’ by Muriel Buxton , tells the story of Huddersfield and the town’s relationship with the Ramsden family. Apparently the title is from something ‘Chops’ Ramsden’s bank manager said. The book is published by Wordperry Press.
[xxxiii] While the sitter is not named, the artist Peter Oliver was the son of Hilliard’s protégé Isaac Oliver (c1565 – 1617) born in 1584 and died in 1648.
[xxxiv] Heather Darsie and I were attending the conference celebrating the 500th anniversary of the founding of Corpus Christi College, Oxford.
Books marked with an asterisk are academic. The number of * tells you how academic they are.
Campbell, Lorne; Renaissance Portraits: European Portrait Painting in the 14th 15th and 16th centuries: Yale University Press; New Haven & London, 1990.*
Darsie, Heather: Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s Beloved Sister; Amberley, Glos. 2019.
Foister, Susan; Holbein In England; Tate Publishing, 2006.
James, Susan; The Feminine Dynamic in England 1450 – 1603: Women as Consumers, Patrons & Painters; Routledge 2016.***
Moyle, Franny: The King’s Painter: The Life & Times of Hans Holbein; Apollo, 2021
Russell, Gareth: Young, Damned and Fair: The Life & Tragedy of Catharine Howard; William Collins, 2017.
A History of the Monarchy : From Boudica to Elizabeth I; 2015.
An Illustrated Introduction to the Tudors; Amberley 2014.
Wilkinson; Josephine; Katharine Howard : The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s Fifth Wife; John Murray; 2016.
Anne Boleyn: The Young Queen to Be; Amberley; 2012.
Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII’s Mistress. Amberley; 2011.
Wilson, Derek; Holbein : Portrait of an Unknown Man; W&N; 1991.
Wolsey: Church, state and art; eds Steve Gunn & P J Lindley; Cambridge University Press; 1991.*
Useful Websites for the curious ***:
For a detailed explanation of the differences between the royal Body Politic and Body Natural:
Online magazine devoted to medieval stained glass https://vidimus.org
Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi (medieval stained glass in England) https://www.cvma.ac.uk
About the Author
Guest Author History anne boleyn Anne of Cleves Companion of the Garter Henry VIII Katheryn Howard Lucas Horenbout Nicholas Hilliard Pieter Meghen Queen consorts Susannah Horenbout Tudor portraiture tudor queens
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