Portrait of King Edward VI (1537-1553)
Workshop of Guillim Scrotts fl.1537-1553
“The portraiture of Edward VI is the one of the most varied of all Tudor monarchs. It is certainly the most extensive of any Tudor child, perhaps even of any royal child.”
Oil on panel
62 ½ x 35 ¼ inches; 158.8cm x 89.5cm cm
- Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (d. 1744), Marlborough House, London, where recorded in 1736-41 by George Vertue;
- John Winston Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough (1822-1883), at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire;
- George Spencer-Churchill, 8th Duke of Marlborough (1844-1892), Blenheim Palace; Christie's, sale at Blenheim, 31st July 1886, lot 243, as 'Holbein'; bt. 60 gns. by Lesser;
- Probably Vernon James Watney, Esq. (d. 1928), Cornbury Park, Charlbury, Oxfordshire, and by descent to his son;
- Oliver Vernon Watney, Esq. (d. 1966), at Cornbury Park;
- Christie's, London, 7th July 1967, lot 67, as 'Guillem Stretes';
- Mr. and Mrs. Donald Davies, Charleville, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow;
- Christie's, on the premises, 23rd January 1978, lot 131, as 'W. Scrots';
- By descent, until sold; Christie’s, London, 7th December 2010, lot 10, as ‘English School’.
- G. Vertue, 'Notebooks', IV, Walpole Society, 1936, p. 113.
- G, Scharf, Catalogue of the Pictures in Blenheim Palace, 1861, Part II, p. 139, as 'Holbein'.
- Catalogue of Exhibition illustrative of Early English Portraiture, Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1909, p. 59.
- V.J. Watney, A Catalogue of Pictures and Miniatures at Cornbury and 11 Berkeley Square, Oxford, 1915, no. 39.
- C. MacLeod, Guillim Scrots in England, unpublished MA dissertation, Courtauld Institute, 1990, p. 17.
This portrait of Edward VI is the last likeness painted during his reign. It was painted in the workshop of Guillim Scrots, Holbein’s successor as the Tudor court’s artist. Whilst there is little evidence of Scrots’ practices, and few works by him are certainly known, the assumption is that the present picture is largely by him. Only three examples of this tudor portrait type are known, the others being in the Louvre, Paris, and the Los Angeles Museum of Art. Due to substantial layers of later over-paint, dirt and old varnish, the present portrait was not thought to be connected to Scrots, and was sold simply as ‘English School’. However, recent conservation by this gallery has revealed a work of high quality in good condition, and one of few full-length royal Tudor portraits still left in private hands. Dendrochronological analysis of the oak boards from which the panel is made gives an earliest usage date of 1539.
Scrots is first recorded in England in the latter half of 1545, from when he is paid an annual salary of £62 10s. This is notably more than the £30 Holbein was paid as the King’s painter, and it has been suggested that Scrots’ experience as painter to the Habsburg court in the Netherlands, for which he was also well paid, may account for the increase. Later documents style him as the ‘Dutchman the King’s Painter’.
However, despite his apparent fame, very few English tudor portraits are firmly attributable to Scrots. A unique anamorphic tudor portrait of Edward VI, in which the young king is seen in a distorted image which only becomes apparent when viewed from the side, was, in the early 18th Century, inscribed ‘Guilhelmus pingebat’ on the frame, and has long been considered to be by Scrots. Scrots is also believed to be the artist of a number of high quality full-length tudor portraits of Edward after he became king in 1547. Despite earlier suggestions that ‘only one new type [of portrait] came into circulation of Edward as King’, these in fact fall into two subtly different types. Both adopt the same full-frontal pose developed by Holbein for his portraits of Henry VIII, and conform to a format in which the background is made up of a marble column on the left and drapery on the right. But there is nonetheless a distinct difference in the likenesses.
The first is perhaps best known through the full-length example in the Royal Collection, which is undated and was formerly in the Lumley collection. Another example, also undated, is in the Musée Joseph-Dechelette, Rouanne. If the inscription of September 1550 on a smaller head and shoulders version of the Royal Collection portrait previously at Rushton Hall is correct, this likeness was in wide circulation by late 1550. We may speculate that it was the first formal full-length of Edward as King by Scrots, and for that reason may have been commissioned towards the beginning of his reign.
The present portrait type shows Edward in the same pose but with a slightly older face. The version now in the Louvre includes the Garter medal, but this is thought to be a later addition. The version in Los Angeles is painted in a very similar technique to the present version, and it has been suggested that both were painted by the same hand. It differs only in the inclusion of a series of verses in English, Greek and Latin, then the common language of Europe. The verses suggest that, like many royal tudor portraits at the time, it was intended to be sent abroad.
The only contemporaneous documentation for a work by Scrots may be relevant to the present portrait. In March 1552 Scrots was paid 50 marks for ‘three great tables’, a phrase commonly thought to refer to three full-length portraits on panel. Two of these were of Edward VI, and were to be sent to Sir Thomas Hoby and Sir John Mason, both ambassadors. The third was a picture of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who had been executed for treason in 1547.
The portraits sent to Edward’s ambassadors are significant, because they would doubtless have been intended for use in any potential marriage negotiations for the King. Sir John Mason was ambassador in France when the marriage treaty between Edward VI and a daughter of Henry II of France was settled in Angers on 20th July 1551. We also know of a tudor portrait of Edward seen in France by the French King by October 1551. Then, Sir William Pickering wrote to the Privy Council from Paris, that Henry II said of the portrait, which had been taken to France from England by a Frenchman, ‘it was very excellent: and yet that the natural, as he was persuaded, much exceeded the artificial.’ Such an exchange gives a glimpse into the diplomatic use of royal tudor portraiture, not least as a vehicle for flattery, then as now a vital part in any diplomatic exchange.
Any portraits used during the negotiations in France would most likely have been the very latest likenesses of Edward. It is conceivable, therefore, that the tudor portrait type of which the present work is an example was commissioned for such a purpose, and even that, with the Los Angeles version, it was one of the two paid for (somewhat belatedly, as was customary) in March 1552. It would not only have been the latest portrait type of the king, but is arguably the first in which he looks fully adult. Like all Tudor monarchs, Edward seems to have taken an interest in the dissemination of his image. We also know that he was interested in portraiture in general, thanks to his personal use of Holbein’s book of portrait drawings when he was a child. However, there was inevitably an important political dimension to Edward’s portraiture, for royal portraiture in the hands of the Tudors was overwhelmingly dynastic and political in purpose.
The portraiture of Edward VI is the one of the most varied of all Tudor monarchs. It is certainly the most extensive of any Tudor child, perhaps even of any royal child. It has often been assumed that the bulk of Edward’s tudor portraits stem from his historical portrayal as a Protestant icon, especially after the religious revolution following the reign of his sister Mary. But contemporary royal Tudor portraits, such as this example, were not historical records. They were commissioned as current likenesses, either in an attempt to project the royal face, or as symbols of loyalty, and only an up to date portrait was therefore acceptable. Recent research has shown that some royal Tudor portraits were entirely over-painted in an attempt to maintain an up to date likeness of the monarch; the Anglesey Abbey portrait of Henry VIII as a young man is in fact painted over an earlier portrait of Henry as a child.
The same was true especially in Edward’s case. For not only was he the heir to the throne and the raison d’etre of years of political upheaval, but he was a child whose appearance changed every year. As a result, the demand for new portraits was great, and today we have a complete visual record of what Edward looked like as he grew up. The present Tudor portrait would, had Edward not died soon after it was painted, have had a ‘shelf life’ of only a few years.