This picture is unique in the portraiture of Elizabeth I; it is the only image of the ‘Virgin Queen’ that alludes to her becoming a wife and a mother. The background to the right of the portrait, a brilliantly painted array of foliage, fruit and flowers (perhaps the first serious attempt at still life in England), portrays the Queen as fertile and ready for marriage. The portrait was most likely painted in the early 1560s, when Elizabeth was forced to address the issue of her marriage during the first severe test of her reign – the succession crisis of 1562/3. It is the only surviving visual record of the moment when Elizabeth’s hand in marriage was sought as the greatest prize in Europe, and is the earliest individual full-length of her. Formerly in the collection of the Earls of Buckinghamshire at Hampden House (and until recently hanging in Aylesbury courthouse) the picture has been little known, and has not been...
This picture is unique in the portraiture of Elizabeth I; it is the only image of the ‘Virgin Queen’ that alludes to her becoming a wife and a mother. The background to the right of the portrait, a brilliantly painted array of foliage, fruit and flowers (perhaps the first serious attempt at still life in England), portrays the Queen as fertile and ready for marriage. The portrait was most likely painted in the early 1560s, when Elizabeth was forced to address the issue of her marriage during the first severe test of her reign – the succession crisis of 1562/3. It is the only surviving visual record of the moment when Elizabeth’s hand in marriage was sought as the greatest prize in Europe, and is the earliest individual full-length of her. Formerly in the collection of the Earls of Buckinghamshire at Hampden House (and until recently hanging in Aylesbury courthouse) the picture has been little known, and has not been reproduced in any of the modern literature on either Elizabeth or Tudor portraiture. Its reappearance and recent conservation raises new questions about Elizabeth’s celebrated determination never to marry, and casts new light on Elizabethan portraiture.
We can almost certainly call the Hampden portrait the first quality likeness of Elizabeth as Queen. It stands in contrast to Elizabeth’s earlier portraiture, which, aside from the celebrated portrait of her as a princess in the Royal Collection, is markedly plain when compared to the pictures of her siblings Edward VI and Mary I, who sat regularly to distinguished painters. It seems that on Elizabeth’s accession little was done to secure the services of an artist able to produce royal portraits to the standard comparable to those earlier in the century, with the possible exception being the ‘Coronation’ portrait in the National Portrait Gallery, London (this picture has long been thought to be a later copy of c.1600, but it may well be contemporary). This is surprising, since there were talented candidates of the calibre of Hans Eworth. Eworth had painted Mary frequently [for example, Society of Antiquaries, London], but is not known to have painted Elizabeth. He may have been too closely associated with the Marian regime for the new Queen’s liking. In 1563 it was said that Elizabeth 'hath been always of her own disposition unwilling' for anyone 'to take the natural representation her majesty'.[i]
The earliest portraits of Elizabeth as Queen, such as the accession portraits of c.1558 [see Catalogue entry no.1], are testament to the Queen's initial aesthetic indifference to her image at her accession. There were other more pressing matters, such as the war with France inherited from Mary I and a new religious settlement. But five years into the reign, in December 1563, the Privy Council turned its attention to the relatively poor quality of Elizabeth’s portraiture, 'which did nothinge resemble' her, and took steps to stop production of such images. A proclamation was drawn up forbidding reproductions of the Queen’s portrait until 'some speciall person' had been selected to paint an approved likeness, which 'after finished, her majesty will content that all other painters or gravers' could then copy.[ii] The Hampden portrait not only presents the Queen at her most ‘official’ (in front of the royal coat of arms, a cloth of state and the throne), but was replicated in a number of highly finished smaller examples in just the way envisaged by the privy council. Sir Roy Strong has designated this group of pictures the Barrington Park type, after a high-quality version formerly in that collection. It is tempting to assume that the artist who painted them or oversaw their production was the ‘speciall person’ the council had in mind.
The rich complexity of the iconography in the Hampden portrait is not perhaps immediately apparent. What the viewer first notices is a potent image of Elizabeth. The gold background projects the Queen out of the picture and its frame. The quantity of gold used exceeds the amount known in any other English portrait from the period. To a Tudor audience the visual effect must have been stunning, despite their familiarity with depictions of the Blessed Virgin Mary and saints in altarpieces. In its illusionism the picture probably attempted to rival Hans Holbein's mural in the Privy Chamber at Whitehall which presumably inspired the artist in composing it. The picture shares another distinctive feature with the mural, most noticeably a low view point. This suggests that the original location was known in advance to the artist. Unfortunately, the picture affords no clue as to its original location. It could have been Whitehall, or equally well the Picture Gallery at St James's, or another royal palace. The fact that the picture was meant to be seen from a distance as well as close by suggests that it once hung at the end of a gallery, which the viewer would have advanced along.
As with so many Tudor royal portraits, the Hampden picture is a feast of symbolism. Many apparently small details in the picture would have been immediately apparent to the Tudor viewer. For example, in her right hand Elizabeth holds a carnation. In Greek, a carnation is dianthus which means the love of God. The carnation was an attribute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Here it alludes to Elizabeth being the Handmaid of God and the Queen of Heaven (England). She was not only Queen but the supreme governor of the Church of England, which she had re-established in 1559 on breaking with Catholicism. At first sight, to our modern eyes, such allusions may appear sacrilegious. But whoever saw the portrait in the 1560s, in the years following the new Church Settlement, whether Catholic or Protestant, the subtlety of the allusions would have been instantly recognisable. The carnation had other resonances. It was also a symbol of love and betrothal, and can be interpreted here as a public declaration of the Queen's intention to marry.
Another small but important detail is the armillary, or celestial, sphere that hangs at the end of a string of large pearls hanging from the Queen's waist. The armillary sphere was a device much in favour in the sixteenth century but none of the contemporary handbooks explaining the significance of such devices include it. The device recurs in portraits of Elizabeth and her courtiers throughout her reign. The inclusion of an armillary sphere in the Hampden portrait is the first such example. It is thought to refer to the harmony which the Queen by her uprightness and wisdom has brought, and will continue to bring, to the kingdom: the religious settlement, the ending of the war with France inherited from her sister Mary I, and, perhaps by her marriage and child-bearing, a settled succession.
However, the most obviously symbolic area of the picture is the background to the right of Elizabeth. This is a prominent allusion to the Queen’s marriage potential, and shows a decorated tapestry of the type seen in Tudor royal palaces. Here the flowers, such as the honeysuckle, and some of the fruit are carefully arranged in pairs, and indicate the Queen’s willingness to get married, while elsewhere in the tapestry we see ripened fruit, such as an open pomegranate, and even vegetables such as peas about to burst out from their pod, all of which are obvious symbols to the Queen’s ability to bear children.
Such a symbolically laden portrait must have been commissioned with some specific diplomatic or political purpose in mind. Here we should look to the period early in Elizabeth’s reign, when marriage was one of the most important decisions that faced her.[iii]
When Elizabeth succeeded to the throne in 1558 the universal expectation was that she would marry. As David Starkey has put it, she 'felt that her queenship was defective without a king'.[iv] An amusing letter written by Baron Breuner in 1559 to the Emperor Ferdinand II describes Elizabeth as: 'somewhat dejected. She told me that she was daily pestered with petitions from her subjects desiring her for her honour’s sake and for the welfare of her Kingdom … to marry'.[v] Elizabeth was not only a woman, but the last of the Tudor line. This was also the time of John Knox, and his infamous Blast against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. A well-negotiated marriage, therefore, was seen as crucial to cement her hold on the throne.
History, however, tells us that Elizabeth was famously averse to the idea of marriage. Early in 1559 the new Queen told Members of Parliament that she had no wish to marry. She preferred to remain in 'the kind of life in which I live'.[vi] She would never marry against the kingdom's interest. Even so, she entertained, at least diplomatically, numerous suitors from England and abroad. 'Here is a great resort of wooers and controversy among lovers', wrote Sir William Cecil in October 1559[vii]. Philip II of Spain, Elizabeth’s brother-in-law, even suggested himself, but Elizabeth declined, reminding him that he was ‘a heretic’. The suits of two of the Emperor Ferdinand II’s sons, Archdukes Ferdinand and Charles, while earnestly promoted by Secretary Cecil, also foundered on the question of religion. The most persistent foreigner was Erik XIV of Sweden, who promised endless riches and protested his love for Elizabeth. He wrote extravagant love letters, signing them 'Your Serenity’s most loving Eric'. His suit was somewhat diminished when it was found that the gold coins scattered freely in London by his embassy, in a bid to win public support, were fake.
Domestically, the Queen’s suitors were no less ardent. Henry Fitzalan, 12th Earl of Arundel, steward of the royal household until November 1564, had rank and family but little else to commend him. Sir William Pickering, a Yorkshire gentleman with experience as an ambassador, was briefly spoken of as a candidate for the Queen's hand. Pickering, at least, realised this to be groundless: the Queen 'would laugh at him and at all the rest of them as he knew she meant to die an old maid'.[viii] Very early in the reign, however, Lord Robert Dudley emerged as the only English candidate for Elizabeth’s hand. He was slightly older than her, but not by much. It was her affection for him that precipitated in part the succession crisis of 1562-3 – an episode to which the Hampden portrait is probably closely linked.
The grandson of Edmund Dudley, Henry VII's much hated minister and the son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, Edward VI's minister who tried to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne in 1553, Lord Robert Dudley was viewed with great suspicion. Even so, he was undoubtedly Elizabeth’s favourite, and enjoyed enormous influence over her. Cecil ‘foresaw the ruin of the realm through Robert’s intimacy with the Queen, who surrendered all affairs to him, and meant to marry him’.[ix] As the master of the horse, he was a leading figure in the Elizabethan regime, not least the task of transporting the Queen’s enormous peripatetic court.
Rumours circulated that Dudley and Elizabeth would murder Dudley’s wife in order to marry. These were given some substance when in September 1561 Lady Dudley was found with a broken neck, dead at the foot of stairs in the house where she was staying.[x] Everyone was aghast. Dudley was officially cleared of any involvement, but the timing and nature of the death dashed whatever hopes Dudley may have had of marrying Elizabeth. Mary, Queen of Scots commented sourly: ‘The Queen of England is going to marry her horsekeeper, who has killed his wife to make room for her’.[xi]
Even if Elizabeth had ever contemplated marriage with Dudley, the circumstances of his wife's death provided her with an excuse not to marry him. Though a Queen regnant, that is in her own right, her status would be much impaired by marrying one of her English subjects. She may have had an aversion to marriage arising from her own observations and experience of the licentiousness of the mid-Tudor court combined with her knowledge as she grew older of the circumstances of her own mother’s downfall. In July 1561 Elizabeth spoke in great ‘bitterness of the holy estate of matrimony’ to Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury. Parker was left ‘in a horror to hear her’. Cecil, ever perspicacious, accurately summarised her fears when he wrote: ‘how tickle a matter it is for princes to be provoked to determine their successors’.[xii]
And so Elizabeth continued, until in late 1562 she caught smallpox while at Hampton Court. Her condition deteriorated quickly, and within days she was in a coma and near death. The noted physician, Dr Burcot, was summoned, and, following the so-called ‘red treatment’ then used to combat smallpox, wrapped Elizabeth in a scarlet blanket and placed her near a fire. In a neighbouring room, Elizabeth’s key leading courtiers gathered with a sense of increasing panic.
Who would succeed the Queen if she died? Possible claimants were largely the descendants of Henry VIII’s two sisters, Margaret and Mary. Margaret had married James IV of Scotland, and her granddaughter was Mary, Queen of Scots (who already, in fact, called herself Queen of England as a result of Elizabeth’s ‘bastardy’). But the Scottish Queen was a Catholic and, since 1560, a widow who until then had not remarried. She could not have been less enticing to the English. The rival claim came through Mary Tudor’s descendants, the three Grey daughters of the Duke of Suffolk. The Grey’s were at least Protestants, but they were hardly monarch material, as Lady Jane had shown. After Jane came her two sisters, Katherine, an anorexic imprisoned in the Tower, and Mary, a dwarf. Finally, there was the wild card, Henry, Earl of Huntingdon, a Plantagenet descended from George, Duke of Clarence, the brother of Edward IV and lover of malmsey wine. To Elizabeth’s courtiers, all the available options seemed problematic.
There would have been a complete power vacuum had Elizabeth died. To the anxious assembly at Hampton Court civil war may even have seemed likely. The country was still racked by conflicting religious affiliations, and each side of the divide would doubtless have backed rival claimants to the throne. Matters were made worse, however, when Elizabeth recovered consciousness, and declared that Dudley should be declared Protector, with a peerage and an income of £20,000.[xiii] The Spanish ambassador, de Quadra, had once recorded that Dudley faced death threats, 'for not a man in the realm can suffer the idea of his being king'. Now, the prospect of Dudley standing as Protector beside an empty throne left his fellow courtiers in dismay.
After her recovery, therefore, Elizabeth was faced with mounting demands to choose a husband and a successor. At the service to mark the opening of parliament in January 1563, Alexander Nowell, the Dean of St Paul’s, delivered a frank sermon to the Queen and the peerage on the virtue of marriage: ‘All the Queen’s most noble ancestors have commonly had some issue to succeed them’, he said, ‘but Her Majesty none … the want of your marriage and issue is like to prove a great plague.' He went on: 'If you parents had been of your mind, where had you been then?'[xiv]
Such remarks bordered on the insulting, but for Elizabeth there was more to come. Not satisfied with her answers to an earlier petition, the House of Lords, echoing an earlier attempt by the Commons, requested again that she name an heir. Elizabeth was furious, and sent the deputation of peers away, assuring it that the marks on her face were smallpox scars, not wrinkles. As the parliamentary session carried on, however, Elizabeth seemed to be losing control of events. There were rumours that Mary, Queen of Scots might marry a husband hostile to England: Don Carlos of Spain had been mooted. To further complicate matters, her closest English heir, Catherine Grey, had secretly married the Earl of Hertford without consent from the Queen, and was busy mothering male heirs.[xv] Finally, as an added headache, the English expedition to Normandy, meant to aid the French Huguenots, was turning into a disaster.
In March 1563 Elizabeth suddenly, and seriously, declared to the Scottish ambassador, Sir James Maitland, that Mary, Queen of Scots, should marry Dudley. If Mary did so, Elizabeth would recognise her as her heir. The idea was a brilliant one, for it presented at one stroke a solution to the issue of her own succession, as well as the questions of Dudley’s influence and Mary’s future husband.
It was, however, still then an idea, and could not be made public. So, faced with growing discontent in parliament, Elizabeth gave a full reply to the petitions she had received at Whitehall. The speech was given in the House of Lords on 10 April 1563, and was delivered by the Lord Keeper, Sir Nicholas Bacon. It was written by Elizabeth herself, however, and her text, heavily amended, survives in the British Library. She went straight to the point:
‘…the two proceedings that you presented me, in many words expressed, contained these two things: my sortie in marriage, and of your cares the greatest, my succession, of which two the last I think is best be touched, and of the other a silent thought may serve, for I had thought it had been so desired as none other tree's blossoms should have been minded or hope of my fruit had been denied you.’
Having side-stepped the question of naming a successor by ridiculing the belief that she would not yet produce her own heirs, Elizabeth touched on the question of marriage: 'if any here doubt that I am, as it were, by vow or determination bent never to trade that life [i.e., marriage], put out that heresy; your belief is awry'. She concluded by confirming that ‘I hope I shall die in quiet with nunc dimittis; which can not be without I see some climpse [glimpse] of your following surety after my graved bones [i.e., death]’. It was Elizabeth’s most emphatic public indication that she would marry and produce an heir.[xvi]
There are compelling reasons to link the Hampden portrait with the moment of Elizabeth’s speech and the sentiments in it. The tapestry in the background alludes to Elizabeth’s own representation of herself as a tree ready to bear fruit, while the pairing of the fruit and flowers relate to her promise to marry. The portrait also appears to present Elizabeth in the Parliament Chamber, or at the very least to allude to it. The throne, with its finials and cross-braced design, is strikingly like those seen in other representations of parliament in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and differs in turn from those with their multi-coloured cloths of estate and canopies found elsewhere in Whitehall and other royal palaces.[xvii] We know too that the throne in the Parliament Chamber was not only gold, but was covered with cushions of cloth of gold, as seen in the Hampden portrait.[xviii] The cloth of state seen here behind the throne also fits the description of a German visitor, Lupold von Wedel, who in 1584 witnessed Elizabeth entering a 'chamber, on the platform of which was a splendid canopy of golden stuff and velvet, embroidered with gold, silver, and pearls, and below it a throne on which the queen seated herself'.[xix] Finally, we know from Sir Thomas Smith’s De Republica Anglorum of 1565 that the Parliament Chamber was 'richly tapessed and hanged’, as also seen here.[xx]
Whilst the costume seen here is not what Elizabeth would have worn to attend parliament, it does appear to echo the emphasis of her speech. She is portrayed everywhere in red and white.[xxi] The colour combination is highly significant. In choosing a dress of these colours Elizabeth was alluding to the union of the house of Lancaster (the red rose) with the house of York (the white rose), which had been achieved by the marriage of her grandparents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth was the living fruit of this union, and the prominence of the Tudor colours here shows her commitment to producing her own Tudor heirs. This theme is also taken up by the red and white roses interlinked in the collar that she wears at her neck.
The overall impression given by Elizabeth's garments and her accessories is one of rich, but restrained, elegance. This contrasts strikingly with the pieces worn by her later in life. Their relative simplicity suggests a taste shared in common with her elder sister, Mary I, and with Mary's court, of which Elizabeth was, of course, an occasional member. It also suggests that the image of Elizabeth that has come down to us from the early years of her reign, was, notwithstanding the occasional poor quality of its reproduction, reasonably faithful to the subject.[xxii]
Unfortunately, neither the wardrobe accounts nor the lists of her jewels extant from this period refer specifically to any of the items worn by Elizabeth in the Hampden portrait. Although no garments known to have been made for the Queens fit precisely with what she is wearing in the portrait, they are like those that she ordered and wore in the opening years of her reign. One of her costume makers, Walter Fish, made a number of gowns in russet velvet that were decorated extensively with pinking, with 'pulled out' or 'tuffed' sarsenet and with guards in both the French and Flemish style.[xxiii] The use of red textiles for garments was restricted to the monarch and the monarch's immediate family, the peerage and certain officials in the royal household.
Historians are divided as to Elizabeth’s sincerity in her publicly declared intention to marry. Certainly, her resolve to remain the ‘Virgin Queen’ becomes ever more apparent soon afterwards. But in the early 1560s Elizabeth went to great lengths to convince her closest advisers that she would indeed marry. The Hampden portrait would therefore have been the perfect visual reminder of Elizabeth’s statement in the Lords, and would have continued to remind those anxious Members of Parliament of Elizabeth’s intention after the speech, when the matter continued to be the subject of intense debate for months, much the Queen’s annoyance. The portrait would also have acted as a riposte to the rumours that Elizabeth was sterile, which are found scattered amongst the diplomatic correspondence of the period as the only possible explanation for the lack of a husband.
Unfortunately, we know nothing of the picture’s early provenance. Unlike the extant inventories of Henry VIII and Edward VI, the records of Elizabeth’s possessions are meagre. There are also few surviving household accounts, and almost nothing that covers the period in which the Hampden portrait was painted. We can surmise, however, that the portrait became politically obsolete soon after completion. Elizabeth’s determination not to marry, fully apparent by the late 1560s after the collapse of negotiations with Archduke Charles, would have rendered the portrait an embarrassment.
The first certain trace of the picture so far discovered dates from the mid nineteenth century when it was in the collection of the Earls of Buckinghamshire at Hampden House (Bucks.). In 1852 J.B. Burke noted 'portraits of Queen Mary and her sister Elizabeth one of them supposed to be meant for Mary Queen of Scots'.[xxiv] The portrait of Elizabeth may be identifiable with one mentioned as being in the house in 1887. Another account describes a portrait of 'Queen Mary, with the Royal arms near her; and Queen Elizabeth in crimson robes lined with ermine'.[xxv] Elizabeth wears no ermine in the present picture, but the description could relate to another portrait of Elizabeth recorded at Hampden in an inventory of 1887. An 1862 account mentions a portrait of a ‘lady in a chair of state, conjectured to be Mary Queen of Scots’,[xxvi] but also decries the fact that ‘many of the numerous family pictures of the Hampdens have neither names, dates nor coats of arms annexed to them, by which they might be known.’ [xxvii] There was clearly considerable confusion amongst the pictures in the house.
Any attempt at pinning down the picture’s earlier history is therefore problematic. Only three contemporary large full-lengths of Elizabeth survive, the Hampden picture, and two others painted towards the end of the reign; the Ditchley portrait of c.1592, now in the National Portrait Gallery, and the c.1599 Hardwick portrait at Hardwick Hall. While there were undoubtedly others now destroyed or cut-down, it may be worth seeking references to earlier full-lengths of the Queen.
Lord Robert Dudley owned at least two full-lengths of the Queen. The pair hung at Kenilworth Castle, and they are listed there in two inventories compiled compiled before Leicester's death in 1588, in about 1578. Among the earl's possessions were ‘two greate tables of the quenes maiesties pictures with one curteine of chaungeable silk'.[xxviii] One of these was almost certainly a full-length of Elizabeth by Frederigo Zuccaro, painted in 1575, now lost, but for which a drawing survives in the British Museum. In an article in the Burlington Magazine in 2005, Elizabeth Goldring suggested that Dudley’s other portrait may have been a picture now in Reading Museum, on the basis of similarities between a costume worn by Elizabeth and one given to her by Leicester. But beyond the fabric used, the description of the doublet of white satin 'garnished with goldesmithes work enamuledd, every payre sett with fyue Dyammondes and Eight Rubyes, one Dyamond in euery paire bigger than the rest ... with a fayre passamyne lace of Damaske golde and Damaske lace' given by the Earl to the Queen as a New Year's gift in 1575,[xxix] does not in fact tally with the doublet in the Reading picture. Goldring was unable to ascertain if the three-quarter length at Reading has been cut down, and in its present condition it seems to be a mediocre work.
Goldring may have been unaware of the Hampden picture. Since it is the only extant full-length painted early enough to tally with the Kenilworth inventory it must be a candidate to be Dudley’s second ‘greate table’. Here it may be worth examining the prominent but iconographically curious arrangement of oak leaves around the red rose on Elizabeth’s left shoulder. The placing of oak leaves in place of rose leaves must be symbolically important. One interpretation is that it attests to the strength of love, the rose being love and the oak leaves being strength. But in other portraits of the Queen, such as the Ditchley portrait and the ‘Pelican Portrait’ [National Museums Liverpool], a similar red or pink rose is always surrounded by rose leaves. And in the Hampden portrait we cannot be sure that Elizabeth’s ‘love’ is directed at any one individual. We may therefore need to seek another interpretation for the oak leaves, not least because further inspection reveals that they appear to be painted in a different, weaker hand than the foliage in the tapestry, and are very obviously placed on top of the red dress. Paint analysis suggests that while the oak leaves are contemporaneous with the rest of the picture, they do seem to be painted in a different type of green pigment; the green in the foliage in the tapestry (a sample was taken from the pea, centre) is made up of a copper glaze of darker green, with a lighter mixed green on top composed of lead tinyellow and a greenish blue. The green in the oak leaves, however, is made of an azurite (ground glass) mixed with lead tinyellow. The other figure to make use of oak as a symbolic badge was Robert Dudley. An inscription made by the Dudleys during their imprisonment in the Tower of London after the Lady Jane Grey debacle alludes to Robert as oak leaves and acorns; the symbolism derived from the similarities to Robert and the Latin for oak, Robur. Could it be, therefore, that the oak leaves were an addition by Dudley, and that the Hampden picture belonged to him at Kenilworth after it ceased to be politically appropriate for public display? Such a hypothesis may be strengthened by the presence of a portrait of Dudley that is strikingly similar to the Hampden picture in composition, technique and date [Private Collection, reproduced in K. Hearn ed., Dynasties, p. 97]. If the idea of Dudley placing his personal badge on Elizabeth’s portrait seems sacrilegious, then one need only look at the numerous instances of similarly playful behaviour between him and the Queen. In 1564 Elizabeth granted Dudley the Earldom of Leicester, along with significant royal lands, including Kenilworth.
Almost the only other early reference to a full length of Elizabeth I is that seen in Somerset House in 1613 by the Duke of Saxe-Weimar and his entourage.[xxx] This is identifiable with a picture from the Cross Gallery there sold in the sale of Charles I’s collection during the Interregnum: a ‘Queene Elezebeth. at Length’.[xxxi] George Vertue noted the sale but without giving any details about the picture. It may, or may not, have been one of those that belonged to Dudley, given that much of his property reverted to the crown soon after his death. The picture fetched £15. It was not among the items dispersed under the Commonwealth which re-entered the royal collection at Charles II's restoration. As it had hung at Somerset House, which was assigned successively to Queen Anne of Denmark and Queen Henrietta Maria, the wives respectively of James I and Charles I, it was not mentioned in the inventory of Charles I's collection compiled by Abraham van der Doort in 1638-9.[xxxii] None of these references so far discovered give any measurements.
The Hampden picture has been attributed for some time, and with general acceptance, to the Dutch artist Stephen van der Meulen. It is clearly painted in the well established Anglo-Flemish tradition, and follows on from the style practiced most recently in England by Anthonis Mor. Moreover, the apparent arrival of van der Meulen in England coincides with the production of a number of high-quality portraits of Elizabeth and some of her courtiers by a quite distinctive Flemish hand, which can be dated from the early 1560s onwards.
But the recent emergence of the Hampden picture has led to the discovery of important new evidence on the identity of the artist known today as Steven van der Meulen. The earliest reference to this artist is found in the 1590 Lumley inventory, where ‘the famous paynter Steven’ is cited as the artist ‘Of the last Earle of Arundell Fitzallen, drawne twise’, of John, 1st Baron Lord and his first wife, Jane, Lady Lumley, and ‘Of the County Egmond executed at Bruxels’.[xxxiii] Steven is thought to have been practicing in England from about 1560 onwards. An oeuvre has been proposed for him, by, amongst others, Sir Roy Strong in his pioneering work ‘The English Icon’, beginning in c.1560 and continuing into 1567/8.[xxxiv] However, little biographical detail is known of Steven van der Meulen, and in fact, it is far from certain that ‘the famous paynter Steven’ is Steven Van der Meulen at all.
Knowledge of an accomplished portraitist working in England in the 1560s called Steven, who painted in the manner of Anthonis Mor, has been in existence since George Vertue observed some of his works in the possession of Richard Lumley, 2nd Earl of Scarborough, the then owner of the bulk of the Lumley collection. Vertue noted that ‘Stevens, a painter who lived in the beginning of Queen Elizabeth’, painted a portrait of Lord Lumley, and some other unidentified sitters then in the possession of the Duke of Devonshire. Vertue also, in his voluminous work, mentioned the medallist known to him as Stephen of Holland or Stephanus Hollandus from a number of signed medals marked ‘Ste. H’. There then followed a temptation amongst art historians to link these two Dutch Stevens or Stephens as the same individual. G. F. Hill, for example, in his 1908 article ‘Stephen H., Medallist and Painter’ [xxxv], was happy to combine the skills of a medallist and a portrait painter in the same person.
In 1922, however, Victor Tourneur showed conclusively in the Numismatic Chronicle that the medallist ‘Ste H.’ could be identified as ‘Steven van Herwijck, Cornelissone’, born in Utrecht in c.1530. Van Herwijck appears, by the sitters of his recorded and dated medals, to have been in Utrecht in 1558, at Antwerp 1559-61, in Poland 1561-2, England in 1562-3, back in the Low Countries briefly in 1564 and early 1565, and then in England till his apparent death between 1565-7. He was clearly well regarded and known throughout Europe. He is described in the Guild of St Luke at Antwerp in 1558 as ‘Steven van Hertwijck, beeldsnijdere’ (that is, portraitist/sculptor).
But Tourneur presumed that a medallist could not also be the ‘paynter Steven’. Casting about for a painter named Steven, he suggested the name Steven van der Meulen. This artist was apprenticed to Willem van Cleve in Antwerp in 1543, and was later apparently recorded in London in 1560. Van der Meulen was referred to as a ‘pictor’ in the records of the Huguenot church in London, with whom he got into trouble on a question of baptism. On 4 February 1562 van der Meulen became naturalised. We know little else about him. Nevertheless, the name van der Meulen has since entered the literature, and, despite there being no other evidence save the coincidence of two Dutch artists called Steven, has become firmly attached to the identity of the ‘famous paynter Steven’. His name has since been repeated unquestioningly by art historians.
Matters were confused, however, by Elizabeth Drey’s recent discovery of the will of one ‘Stephen Vandermuelen’, written on 5th October 1563 and proved in January 1564. This, it is now claimed, has ‘dramatically narrowed the artist's œuvre’ [xxxvi]. Pictures once attributed to Steven van der Meulen and dated up to 1567/8 have therefore been rejected. But nobody questioned whether the discovery of Vandermuelen’s demise instead ruled out the attachment of that name to the oeuvre of the ‘paynter Steven’. 'Stephen Vandermuelen', living in the parish of St Andrew Undershaft in London made a nuncupative will, that is, he indicated his final wishes but died before signing a will setting these out. He provided for his wife Gertrude and his two sons Rumold and Eric as well as remembering other relatives. He left all his property abroad to his father Rumold. On 15 January 1564 the administration of his estate was granted to a group of his friends.[xxxvii] There is no evidence in the will to link this man with the ‘famous paynter Steven’.
There is in fact much more evidence to suggest that the ‘paynter Steven’ is Steven van Herwijck after all. Steven van Herwijck, despite now only being known as a medallist, was described to William Cecil by the Flemish poet Charles Utenhove not only as an ‘eximious sculptor’, but as ‘Steph. Pictor’ in c.1564.[xxxviii] Van Herwijck described himself in 1565 as a ‘conterfeytere ende medalyeur oft beeltsnydere’; that is, a ‘portraitist and a medallist or sculptor’ [xxxix]. Intriguingly, this last description is contained in his appeal to the Antwerp authorities to be exempt from paying tax there on the grounds that he was settled in England with his family in order to complete ‘zekere wercken’, or ‘certain works’, for Queen Elizabeth, which would require at least three years. The appeal was rejected by the authorities, because van Herwijck could not sufficiently prove what work he was doing for the Queen. Nevertheless, we cannot overlook the significance of a Flemish professed portraitist working in England, apparently for the Queen, at a time when we suddenly see the production of a series of quality portraits of Elizabeth, all modelled on the Hampden picture, and attributed by some, such as Strong, who called them the ‘Barrington Park type’, to the hand of Steven Van der Meulen. According to Strong, some of the Barrington Park type are dated as late as 1567.[xl]
The discovery of Steven van Herwijck’s will by the present author contains valuable information. It appears to prove that van Herwijck was indeed a painter, and that Tourneur was wrong to assume that he could not be ‘the famous painter Steven’. In the records of the prerogative court of Canterbury there is a copy of the will of 'Stephen Vanherwicke of the parishe of alhalowyne barkinge within the Citie of London marchante'. This man died sometime between making his will on 22 August 1566 and its being proved on 24 March 1567. After asking to be buried in the churchyard of Allhallows Barking, he left 20s. to be distributed among the poor of the parish. He left half his goods 'as well as being in the parties beyond the sea as within this realme of Englande' to his wife Johane and half to his sons Abraham and Stephen who were to be brought up in 'learninge and vertue' until reaching their majority, and in the event of their deaths their portion was to be divided between his 'next kindred' and the 'nexte kindred of my saide wife Johane'. He named his wife sole executrix. The will was witnessed by two London merchants, Cornelius Raynes and ‘John Dymocke’.[xli] Although the testator described himself as a merchant, we should not overlook the fact that in sixteenth-century England 'merchant' was a rather loose term used to cover a diversity of business activity. There are compelling reasons for identifying this testator with the medallist Steven van Herwijck. First, the names of the merchant's wife and his children accord with those known for the medallist. Secondly, the medallist cast a medal of Mary Dymock, John's wife, which Tourneur dated 1562 [British Museum]. And finally, after 1567 John Dymock is mentioned as being the landlord of the widowed ‘Johane van Herwijcke’, Steven’s wife, when she was living in the adjoining parish of St Dunstan-in-the-East.[xlii]
The most important evidence here is the mention of John Dymock (c.1493-1585). As we shall see below, Dymock’s relationship with Steven van Herwijck indicates that van Herwijck, the acknowledged medallist, must also have been a painter – and therefore capable of producing some of the works given to the ‘paynter Steven’ in the guise of Stephen van der Meulen.
In 1561 John Dymock went on a semi-official visit to the court of Erik XIV of Sweden [xliii]. Details of the voyage appear in answers given by Dymock to the Privy Council on 6 August 1562. Four other men were interrogated about the same matter on the same day.[xliv] Dymock’s account records that he had travelled to Sweden described as ‘the queen’s servant’ in order to sell jewels and furs to Erik. On the eve of his departure he had met 'a certain honest Dutchman, a cunning painter, who should make the haven at Dover, to know if it were possible to get him his denizenship, so that he might work here quietly'. Dymock had persuaded this Dutchman to join the expedition so that 'he could get the King's picture' and had obtained the approval of John Astley, the master of the jewel house, for his proposition. Dymock did not name the ‘honest Dutchman’, but we know from Swedish accounts of the expedition that the artist who ultimately painted Erik’s portrait was called, by the Swedes, ‘Master Steffan’. He was also described as a ‘Hollandsk Konterfegare’ [portraitist], and was paid 100 daler for the King’s portrait [xlv]. Dymock’s cunning Dutch painter must therefore have been called ‘Steffan’, or, Steven. It has generally been assumed that the portrait in question is the full-length now in Gripsholm Caslte. This fine picture, which is now classed as ‘attributed to Steven van der Meulen’, was formerly in an English collection (Marwell Hall, Winchester), and was traditionally associated with Eric’s ill-starred attempt to woo Elizabeth I in the early 1560s. It is painted on canvas and could thus have been despatched to England in order to impress the Queen. It is equally possible that ‘Master Steffan’ also painted another portrait of Erik, now in Meiningen, Germany.
It therefore seems evident, given the close relationship that both ‘Master Steffan’ the ‘cunning’ painter and Steven van Herwijck the medallist enjoyed with John Dymock, that we are dealing with the same person. The only alternative explanation is that John Dymock was unusually well acquainted with Flemish artists called ‘Steven’ between 1561-7. There is, at the very least, more evidence to link Steven van Herwijck to the name of the ‘paynter Steven’ than the otherwise obscure Steven van der Meulen.
There is further circumstantial evidence to link Steven van Herwijck with the man thought to be the ‘famous paynter Steven’. The subjects of a number of van Herwijck’s medals are worth noting. A subject of van Herwijck the medallist was George Egmont, Bishop of Utrecht (1558), whose brother, Lamoral, Count of Egmont, ‘Steven’ is recorded as painting in the Lumley inventory. Were the two commissions related? Another medal thought to be by van Herwijck is Anthonis Mor [xlvi], whose style the ‘paynter Steven’ has been noted as following. This has obvious links to the portrait of a gentleman thought to be van Herwijck by Mor himself [Mauritshuis, The Hague]. We may reasonably ask, therefore, whether Van Herwijck the painter accrued some of his painting skills from Mor?
Here, it may be worth considering an important portrait of Henry Fitzalan, 12th Earl of Arundel. In the first attempt to create an oeuvre for the artist Stephen Van der Meulen in ‘The English Icon’, Strong included three portraits of the Earl of Arundel as being candidates for the two mentioned in the Lumley inventory as being painted by ‘Steven’. One of these examples, a fine portrait that descended in the Howard family, has since been attributed by some to Mor, and was sold as ‘attributed to Sir Antonio Mor’ by Sothebys in 1996 (London, 10th July 1996, lot 14). It certainly seems, in areas such as the decoration of the sword and the sitter’s left hand, to be painted with a level of quality above that seen in the few works that are today certainly accepted as being by ‘Steven’, that is, in his ‘Stephen van der Meulen’ guise. The point is further reinforced by comparison with what must be one of the pictures of Arundel mentioned in the Lumley inventory as being by ‘Steven’. This picture has a Lumley cartellino. It is inferior to the version attributed to Mor, and the different quality can immediately be seen in the hands, the face, and details such as the sword. It was sold at Christies in 1979 (23rd November, ex-Commander Philips collection), and was apparently not known by Strong, who did not include it amongst his selection of pictures that were once thought to be in the Lumley collection in The English Icon. If fig.6 is indeed by Mor, and if it was therefore Mor’s original that was copied by Steven for the Lumley collection, then we have, alongside the medal of Mor and the portrait of van Herwicjk by Mor, a further link between the two artists.
Nothing that we know of van Herwijck’s evidently peripatetic career, which is reasonably well documented from facts such as the sitters in his dated medals, rules out the possibility that he was also the ‘paynter Steven’. In fact, if he is the ‘paynter Steven’ it is possible to reconstruct a quite plausible biography from the late 1550s until his death. We find Dutch medal sitters from the late 1550s until 1561, with a short journey to Italy in 1557. In early 1561 he met John Dymock, and in March 1561 painted Erik XIV’s portrait. In late 1561 early 1562 he made medals of the King and Queen of Poland, no doubt travelling directly from Sweden to Poland[xlvii]. Then, from 1562 we find a flurry of English sitters, such as, Thomas Stanley, Maria Dymock, William, Marquess of Northampton, and William, Earl of Pembroke. This last sitter also appears in a portrait now called ‘attributed to Steven van der Meulen’ and offered as such at Sothebys, London on 15th June 2000 (lot 10). This picture, with its similar handling, background and presentation of the coat of arms has a good claim to be by the same hand as the portrait of Robert Dudley in a private collection, mentioned above. The few later, European sitters of van Herwijck the medallist accord with the dates of his brief returns to the continent, such as his visit to Antwerp in 1564, but he seems to have settled in England from about 1562.[xlviii]
Stephen van Herwijck was, it seems, an example of those highly trained Flemish artist/craftsmen able to practice their trade across Europe in the sixteenth century. In one parish registry he was even described, after his death, as a ‘cutter of stones for rings’, and probably worked in this capacity for Dymock.[xlix] In short, he was just the sort of multi-talented man one might describe in the sixteenth century as the ‘famous paynter Steven’, though how ironic it is that it should take so long to find out his surname. If ‘Steven’ is van Herwijck, then the chance to extend the group of paintings attributed to him beyond the 1563/4 cut off date so recently imposed by the discovery of poor Steven van der Meulen’s will is something of a luxury. We can perhaps look again at some of the works once attributed to van der Meulen by scholars such as Strong. At the time of writing, poor reproductions and the presence of many works in unknown private collections makes a thorough examination of Steven’s putative oeuvre difficult. But we can with confidence include the following extant portraits, either on documentary basis, or by close stylistic similarities: Erik XIV of Sweden [1561, Gripsholm Castle, Sweden]; John, 1st Baron Lumley and his first wife Jane, Lady Lumley [apparently inscribed 1563, Lord Scarborough collection, reproduced in ‘The English Icon’ p.121]; Henry Fitzalan, 12th Earl of Arundel [location unknown, ex-Commander Philips collection]; called Sir Thomas Gresham [inscribed 1563, Private Collection, ‘Icon’ p.125]; Catherine, Lady Knollys [Yale Center for British Art, USA]. Among the many pictures attributable on stylistic grounds are; ‘The Barrington Park’ Elizabeth I [private collection, ‘Icon’ p.131]; Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester [c.1563, private collection, ‘Icon’ p.132]; Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk [1565, National Portrait Gallery, London]; Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland [Private Collection].[l]
Further research will, hopefully, enable the ‘paynter Steven’s’ oeuvre to be more fully collated. But what we already know about his likely sitters suggests a circle of patronage out of which the Queen and the Privy Council would have had ample opportunities to be acquainted with the artist’s work before his commission to paint the Hampden portrait. For example, as we have seen, ‘Steven’ was known to William Cecil. He also painted portraits of two of the most noted patrons in England, Arundel and his son-in-law Lumley. Arundel, who may be a plausible link between Mor and ‘Steven’, was Lord Steward when the Hampden portrait was commissioned and thus well placed to recommend Steven to paint the Queen. Of further interest may be the link between another of Steven’s likely sitters, Catherine, Lady Knollys, who was not only the Queen’s cousin, but the wife of Sir Francis Knollys, vice-chamberlain of the household and a member of the privy council.
Steven van Herwijck is thus a plausible candidate to be the creator of the Hampden portrait. This hypothesis may be given further weight by his engagement to produce a medal to commemorate the treaty of Troyes which in 1564 brought an end to the war between England and France. Van Herwijck’s medal was unknown until a single example surfaced from a ploughed field at Great Moulton in 1962, and was snapped up by Strong for the National Portrait Gallery in the same year. The portrait of Elizabeth in profile on the obverse of the medal shows her wearing, from what one can see, what appear to be strikingly alike, if not actually the same, clothes as those depicted in the Barrington Park oil portrait. The presumption is that the painter of the Barrington portrait and the medal of c.1564/5 are the same person, and that he was also the creator of the Hampden portrait. Certainly, if van Herwijck was truthfully telling the Antwerp authorities that his work for Elizabeth would require three years, then we should look for more than one ploughed up medal as proof of his labour in England for the Queen. Can we conclude, therefore, that he was, in fact, the ‘speciall person’ mentioned by the privy council in late 1563, and was he the artist behind Elizabeth’s first important portraits?
[i] Tudor Royal Proclamations, ed. P.L. Hughes and J.F. Larkin, ii (1969), 240.
[ii] Tudor Royal Proclamations, ii. 240-1.
[iii] The cloth of estate behind the throne in the portrait originally incorporated the date of the picture’s composition. The date appeared immediately under the royal coat of arms. Unfortunately, the date is now extremely abraded, and of it only the first two digits '15' remain legible.
[iv] D. Starkey, Elizabeth. The Struggle for the Throne (2000), p. 123.
[v] Queen Elizabeth and Some Foreigners, ed. Victor Von Klarwill (1928), p.120.
[vi] S. Brigden, New Worlds, Lost Worlds (2002), 223.
[vii] Williams p.100
[viii] The House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff (3 vols, 1982), vol. iii. 108.
[ix] Alan Kendall, ‘Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester’, (1980), p.31.
[x] S. Doran, Elizabeth (2003), 67-8.
[xi] Kendall, p.37.
[xii] Neville Williams, ‘The Life and Times of Elizabeth I’, (1972), p.125.
[xiii] She also affirmed that nothing physical had occurred between her and Dudley, although her order to pay Dudley’s body servant, Tamworth, an annuity of £500 only confused matters.
[xiv] Kendall, p.48.
[xv] Doran, Elizabeth, 66.
[xvi] British Library, Lansdowne MS 94, art 15B, f. 30.
[xvii] See for example the 1584 engraving of the Presentation of the Speaker, reproduced in J.E. Neale, The Elizabethan House of Commons (1950), p. 359. For a different depiction of a throne see the watercolour of ‘Elizabeth Receiving Two Dutch Ambassadors’, 1570-5, Staatliche Kunstsammlung, Kassel, Germany.
[xviii] In 1559 a later Venetian ambassador mentions the cushions on the throne as being on cloth of gold, CSP Ven. 1558-80, p. 23.
[xix] 'Journey through England and Scotland Made by Lupold von Wedel in the Years 1584 and 1585', translated by G. von Bulow, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, new series iv (189), p.261.
[xx] Sir Thomas Smith, De Republica Anglorum, ed. M. Dewar (Cambridge, 1982), p.80.
[xxi] We are grateful to Dr. Maria Hayward of the Textile Conservation Centre, University of Southampton, for her assistance here.
[xxii] CSP Span. 15**-**, p. 368.
[xxiii] TNA, E******** ex inf. Maria Hayward.
[xxiv] J.B. Burke, A Visitation of the Seats and Arms of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain, 1852, Vol. I, p. 186.
[xxv] Letter to the Earl of Buckinghamshire from Julia V. Mackenzie from Rosevalley Croy, Golanfield, Invernessshire, 17 November 1911. She encloses an anonymous letter entitled "A Short Account of Hampden House", Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies, D/MH No. 15.
[xxvi] James Sheahan, History and Topography of Buckinghamshire, (1862), p.145;
[xxvii] Sheahan p.146.
[xxviii] Elizabeth Goldring, ‘Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester for Kenilworth Castle’, The Burlington Magazine, vol. cxlvii, no.1231, October 2005, p.654-660.
[xxix] British Library, Harley MS 4698, f. 9 quoted in Goldring, p.658.
[xxx] Rye, England as Seen by Foreigners, (1865) p162.
[xxxi] ‘The Inventories and Valuations of the King’s Goods 1649-1651’ ed. O. Miller, (Walpole Society, vol.xxxxiii, 1970-72), p. 319, no. 327.
[xxxii] ‘Abraham van der Doort, Catalogue of the Collection of Charles I’, ed. O. Miller (Walpole Society, vol. xxxvii, 1960).
[xxxiii] L. Cust, ‘The Lumley Inventories’, Walpole Society 1918, vol. vi. pp.22-32.
[xxxiv] See Roy Strong, The English Icon, Elizabethan & Jacobean Portraiture, (1969), p119-134.
[xxxv] G.F. Hill ‘Stephen H., Medallist and Painter’, The Burlington Magazine, vol. xii, 1907-8 p.355-363.
[xxxvi] P. G. Matthews and Elizabeth Drey-Brown, ‘Meulen, Steven van der (d. 1563/4)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004.
[xxxvii] The National Archives (TNA), PROB 11/ 47, f. 14.
[xxxviii] See Jav van Dorsten, ‘Steven van Herwyck’s Elizabeth (1565) – A Franco-Flemish Political Medal’, in The Burlington Magazine, vol.cxi, no.792 (March 1969) p143. The letter is calendared 1st January 1563, but Dorsten claims this is erroneous and dates it 1st January 1565.
[xxxix] Victor Tourneur, ‘Steven Van Herwijck’, The Numismatic Chronicle, Fifth Series vol. ii., 1922, p.102.
[xl] Roy Strong, Gloriana, The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, (1987), p.61.
[xli] TNA, PROB 11/49, ff. 56-56v.
[xlii] Tourneur, p.109.
[xliii] CPR, 1558-60, p. 334; CSPFor. 1562, p. 220
[xliv] CSP For. 1562, pp. 217-25, particuarly pp. 223, 220.
[xlv] Sixten Strömbom, ‘A Flemish Painter at the Swedish Court, 1561’, in ‘Actes du XVIIme Congres International D’Histoire de L’Art, Amsterdam 23-31 Juillet 1952’ (The Hague, 1955), p.362.
[xlvi] See for example, G.F. Hill ‘Recent Acquisitions for Public Collections-IV’, The Burlington Magazine, vol. xxxiii, no. 185 (August 1918), p.59.
[xlvii] There are no known German sitters in van Herwijck’s oeuvre, which suggest that he did not travel by land to Poland from Holland.
[xlviii] He may even be the Dutchman ‘Cornelius Stephens’ naturalised in March 1562.
[xlix] Tourneur p.109
[l] I have left out the portrait Lord Lumley ‘attributed to Steven van der Meulen’ in the National Portrait Gallery, London ( NPG 5262), as it is so different to the portrait of Lumley in the Scarborough collection.