Pole would have commissioned this portrait from Cosway as the most fashionable miniaturist in England at the time, patronised by the innermost circle of George, Prince of Wales.

John William Pole appears to have commissioned his portrait from Richard Cosway, who was also born and brought up in the West Country, at the same time as his full-length oil portrait from George Romney (1734-1802)[1]. In the Romney portrait, which dates from 1785, Pole wears the same fashionable quasi-military scarlet coat with large, brass buttons as seen in the present miniature.

Pole lost both of his parents by the time he was four years old and was brought up by his aunt, Elizabeth Anstis. Contemporary accounts describe him as an enlightened country gentleman – an expert horseman devoted to animals, and a supporter (both from his own pocket and in political spheres) to the progressive reform of prisons.

Around the time that this miniature was commissioned, Pole was determined to regain the family properties and title which had been lost along with his parents. In 1788 he purchased Shute[2]and Whitford, which had been...

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John William Pole appears to have commissioned his portrait from Richard Cosway, who was also born and brought up in the West Country, at the same time as his full-length oil portrait from George Romney (1734-1802)[1]. In the Romney portrait, which dates from 1785, Pole wears the same fashionable quasi-military scarlet coat with large, brass buttons as seen in the present miniature.

Pole lost both of his parents by the time he was four years old and was brought up by his aunt, Elizabeth Anstis. Contemporary accounts describe him as an enlightened country gentleman – an expert horseman devoted to animals, and a supporter (both from his own pocket and in political spheres) to the progressive reform of prisons.

Around the time that this miniature was commissioned, Pole was determined to regain the family properties and title which had been lost along with his parents. In 1788 he purchased Shute[2]and Whitford, which had been tenanted by the Poles for more than 200 years, and in the following year adopted the older form of the family name. He recovered lost patrimonies bringing his estate up to 10,000 acres and built an Adam style mansion at Shute. In 1791 he edited his ancestor Sir William Pole’s Devon Collections and bought the latter’s ruined seat of Colcomb Castle, which he did not live to restore.

Shute has a fascinating history - built and owned by the Bonneville family, Shute Barton passed on to Thomas Grey when he married Cecily Bonneville. The Greys were then forced to sell the Shute estate to the Pole family due to loss of reputation, when they attempted to gain the throne of England with Lady Jane Grey. John William de la Pole pulled down part of the old house, reusing the stone to construct a new residence called Shute House at the end of the drive. The purpose of this was to impress the Prince Regent, who, despite Pole’s efforts, only stayed for one night.

Pole also held offices as MP (West Looe 1790-96) and sheriff of Devon (1782-3). In 1781 he married Anne Templer (1758–1832).[3]He died at the relatively young age of 42, leaving his affairs in disarray. Possibly with a sense of his impending early demise, his will directed that he should not be taken from the house ‘till the clearest and most unequivocal signs of death appear’, to be ascertained by six persons.

Pole would have commissioned this portrait from Cosway as the most fashionable miniaturist in England at the time, patronised by the innermost circle of George, Prince of Wales.


[1]This full-length portrait can be found at Wadsworth Atheneum USA, acquired in 1961. There is a copy owned by the National Trust.

[2]Now owned by the National Trust, who were given the original building, known as Shute Barton, by the Carew Pole family in 1959.

[3]Her portrait by George Romney is now at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

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500 Years of British Art