Above you can see three different portraits of Henry VIII, painted at three different points in his life by three different artists.
However, not all portraits from the Tudor era are as easy to identify or are as definitively identified as these ones.
In fact, there are a great deal of paintings from this era that have no conclusive identification. In what has been termed the Tudor chair game, portraits have been identified, re-identified and re-re-identified, often one single portrait going through the entire rooster of famous personages from that era.
One portrait, after having been known as Katherine Parr for 400 years, was re-christened to Lady Jane Grey, until it was discovered after 30 years, that, no, indeed it was Katherine Parr after all.
Most recently, a portrait always known as Katherine Parr after further examination clearly proved to be Katherine of Aragon.
It is incredibly frustrating or incredibly fascinating, depending.
My interest in the miniatures below were awakened by Roland Hui's article Two New Faces: the Hornebolte Portraits of Mary and Thomas Boleyn? According to this article, there are four miniatures from the Tudor era with precisely the same limnings. Where '[n]o inconsistencies are present. They were evidently by the same hand. The individual letters and numbers - the AºN and the Roman numerals - were rendered exactly alike and laid out in precisely the same way, as were the asterisks appearing in both.'
To me this indicates that they were painted by the same hand.
However, and here's the rub: It is seemingly impossible to line up the most likely identifications of the miniatures with one and the same court painter.
Four miniatures from the Tudor Era with precisely the same limnings. From the left suggested identifications have included – Thomas Boleyn, Katherine Parr, Amy Robsart, and Anne Boleyn.
The reasons for these tentative identifications are as follow:
Roland Hui was the first to suggest Thomas Boleyn as the identity of the sitter of the man dressed in the fashions of the 1520's to the 1540's.
Traditionally the sitter of the de Wet miniature has been identified as Charles Brandon, but as Roland Hui correctly points out, compared to authenticated portraits of Brandon, the miniature bears little resemblance to him. «Prior to its identification as Charles Brandon, the de Wet miniature was erroneously called Edward Duke of Buckingham; he was executed in 1521 at the age of 43. The Sotheby version was referred to as Thomas Earl of Essex (that is Thomas Cromwell), but the likeness is clearly not of him.»
The de Wet Miniature
Roland Hui's argumentation is as follows:
«Thomas Boleyn’s birth date can be construed by his testimony given during the 'Great Matter' of the King’s divorce. Called as a witness, he gave his age as 52 on 15 July 1529. If he was Hornebolte’s 47 or 48-year-old sitter, that would date the miniature to 1524 – 1525. For Thomas Boleyn, it was the latter year that was of especial significance to him. After years of loyal service to the crown - as a squire of the body, keeper of the Exchange, ambassador to the Netherlands and to France, controller of the household, and treasurer – the diligent Sir Thomas was finally elevated to the peerage as Viscount Rochford on 18 June 1525.»
I find his argumentation persuasive. And there is a resemblance between the miniature and the effigy of Thomas Boleyn.
The Sudeley Miniature
The Sudeley miniature has been identified as Katherine Parr since at least 1774, when it was in the Strawberry Hill Collection of Horace Walpole.
'1774 Description:Within the cabinet of enamels and miniatures...Catharine Parr; by Holbein: a most scarce head, and exactly like the picture of her at the earl of Denbigh’s at Nuneham Padox, Warwickshire'
This painting was in 2016 sold as lot 346 by Christie's as Portrait of Lady Jane Grey after Master John, property from the estate of the countess Nadia de Navarro.
The Yale Miniature
There have been several tentative identifications of this miniature. Amy Robsart Dudley, Jane Grey Dudley or even Elizabeth I Tudor when a princess.
One theory is that it is a wedding picture of Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen. Eric Ives argues that it cannot be Jane Grey because (among other considerations) Lady Jane Grey was too young, and says: «If the sitter was a Dudley wife and the miniature is a wedding memento, the acorns suggest Amy Robsart, who married ... at the precise age of 18 (Robert, robur, Latin for oak).» (Ives 2009 pp. 295, 15–16). Chris Skidmore concurs with this, adding that Robert Dudley used the oak as a personal symbol in his youth (Skidmore 2010 p. 21).
J. Stephan Edwards discounts the possibility of her being Lady Jane Grey also.
The Royal Ontario Miniature
The Royal Ontario miniature can be dated conclusively to the mid-1520's based on the fashion of her costume. This miniature has been through several rounds of identifications. It was firstly known as Katherine of Aragon, then as Jane Seymour, and lastly as Anne Boleyn.
«The picture of an English woman from the reign of Henry VIII was known as Katherine of Aragon when it was recorded in the collection of Horace Walpole in 1774, and was presumably called that by its previous owners going as far back as Charles II. After it was acquired by the Duke of Buccleuch in the next century, the identity of the sitter was changed to Jane Seymour.' The Royal Ontario Museum, which obtained a duplicate of the miniature in 1978, also accepted her as Henry VIII’s third wife. Both versions were subsequently renamed. The lady was clearly neither Katherine of Aragon nor Jane Seymour when compared to authentic portraits of them. As Hornebolte’s clientele seemed to be confined within the royal circle, and that the miniature was replicated, indicated a sitter of particular importance. The most plausible choice was the wife-in-between – Anne Boleyn.»
Katherine Parr – The Denbigh Portrait
I include a picture of the Denbigh portrait because I had never seen it before and it is very beautiful. The exquisite silvery lilac fabric of the gown is absolutely gorgeous.
Katherine Parr - Owned by the Earl of Denbigh in 1774
After Master John
Portrait of Lady Jane Grey
oil on canvas
72 7/8 x 42 7/8 in. (185.1 x 108.9 cm.)
The Earl of Denbigh, London.
Acquired by the Countess Nadia de Navarro, Glen Head, New York, before 1964.
Of course, anybody who knows anything about the portraiture of either Lady Jane Grey or Katherine Parr knows that this is another version of or a copy of the Glenford Hall portrait or NPG 4451 of Katherine Parr.
Since the provenance is clearly given as Earl of Denbigh there can be little doubt that this is the portrait referred to above, that it was in the collection of the Earl of Denbigh in 1774, and that the portrait was known as Katherine Parr in 1774.
It is entirely possible that George Perfect Harding was familiar with both the Hastings or Melton Constable Portrait and the Denbigh Portrait of Katherine Parr.
His lifetime puts him in close proximity with the 1774 statement from the Walpole Collection of a known portrait of Katherine Parr being in the Earl of Denbigh’s collection at Nuneham Padox, Warwickshire.
Side By Side – The Denbigh Portrait and the Glendon Hall Portrait or NPG 4451 of Katherine Parr
The Royal Ontario Miniature
Mary Wotton, Lady Guildford by Holbein (1527)
'Costume evidence places Hornebolte’s lady in the mid-1520s, in correspondence to a panel of Mary Wotton, Lady Guildford by Hans Holbein, and to a portrait type of Katherine of Aragon executed at this time.' See also our 1520's page.
'All three women wear English style hoods with gabled frames extending down to the neck, and their bodices have the distinctive white bands at the shoulders fashionable at this period. Lady Guildford was painted in 1527, while the undated panels of Queen Katherine should not be later than the latter half of that same year when her royal title came under attack by Henry VIII’s efforts to divorce her that summer.'
The reason why we can date this fashion so accurately is because of the painter Holbein, who travelled to England in search of work in 1526, his first stay which lasted for two years before he returned to Basel, and did not come back to England until four years later.
So it is a matter of the sitter's age. Katherine of Aragon was born on the 16th of December in 1485, meaning that she was 25 or in her 25th year from 1509 to 1511. That is rather too early for the fashions in this portrait. Besides, miniature painting did not reach England until the mid-1520's.
c.1509-1520, the fashions during Katherine of Aragon's first years as Queen
Conversely, Jane Seymour was born in 1507 or 1508, based on the procession of 29 mourners on her funeral on the 12th of November in 1537. One mourner for every year of Queen Jane's life. This tells us that Jane Seymour was 25 or in her 25th year from 1531 to 1533, rather too late for the fashions in this portrait.
Besides, in 1531 to 1533 Henry VIII was at the very height of his feverish passion for Anne Boleyn, and it is highly unlikely that he would have had the court painter paint another woman in this interval.
Katherine of Aragon by Johannes Corvus
The Royal Ontario Miniature
c.1503-9, the fashions when Katherine of Aragon was a princess dowager, and around the time when she was 25 or in her 25th year, the age of the lady in the Royal Ontario and the Buccleuch miniaturec
In this newly identified painting from Katherine of Aragon's early years as queen c.1509-1520, a time Katherine of Aragon would have been from 24 to 35 years of age. As we can see the lapels of the English gable hood Katherine of Aragon is wearing are slightly longer and straighter than that of the lady in the Royal Ontario miniature. Katherine of Aragon's dress from her first years as queen is lacking the characteristic white bands so typical for the mid-1520's in Tudor England and which features so strongly in the portraits executed by Holbein during his 1526-1527 stay in England.
For more examples of fashion in the 1550's in England see our 1550's and 1560's page.
The Royal Ontario Miniature (lady with inscription)
The Royal Ontario Miniature Portrait, Unknown Lady by Lucas Horenbolte, ca. 1525 to early 1530s. Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.
Provenance: 'Charles Seymour, the sixth Duke of Somerset (1662-1748), and subsequently, his descendents the Dukes of Buckingham at Stowe. The tradition that Seymour inherited the miniature from his ancestor Edward Seymour the Lord Protector, cannot be established, and was likely a conjecture based on the portrait being once called his sister Jane Seymour. Aside from Somerset's branch of the family, there is his wife's to consider. She was Elizabeth Percy, a direct descendent of Katherine Carey through the marriage of her granddaughter Dorothy Devereux to the ninth Earl of Northumberland in 1594'
The Buccleuch Miniature (lady without inscription)
Description: Portrait Miniature of Anne Boleyn (Katharine of Aragon) Strawberry Hill ID: sh-000468, c.1532-33. Horenbout, Lucas (South Netherlandish painter, c.1490-1544, active in England). Miniature Watercolour on vellum set in gold frame 4.2 cm [diameter]. Inscriptions: Engraved on 19h century cartouche: KATHARINE OF ARRAGON.
Trustees of the Ninth Duke of Buccleuch’s Chattels Trust.
Provenance: First known owner Charles II. 'Charles II; presented to his illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth (according to Horace Walpole); his daughter, Lady Isabella Scott; at her sale purchased by Horace Walpole, by 1774 (as Katharine of Arragon by Holbein); 1842, Strawberry Hill Sale, day 14, lot 65, bt. William Blamire, Esq., £50.8.0 (as Katherine of Aragon by Holbein); 1863, 9 November his sale, London, Christie’s, lot 137; purchased by Walter Francis, 5th Duke of Buccleuch and 7th Duke of Queensberry; by family descent.'
Provenance: Paul Mellon (d. 1999), by whom; gifted to Yale Center for British Art, 1966.
The known miniaturists, known at the time as limnists, of the Tudor Era were:
Hans Holbein the Younger c.1497 – between the 7th of October and the 29th of November 1543. Holbein travelled to England in 1526 in search of work, with a recommendation from Erasmus. He was welcomed into the humanist circle of Thomas More, where he quickly built a high reputation. After returning to Basel for four years, he resumed his career in England in 1532. This time he worked under the patronage of Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell. By 1535, he was King's Painter to King Henry VIII. In this role, he produced not only portraits and festive decorations but designs for jewellery, plate and other precious objects. His portraits of the royal family and nobles are a record of the court in the years when Henry was asserting his supremacy over the English church.
Hans Holbein the Younger
Lucas Horenbout or Hornebolte c.1490/1495–1544. Horenbout was born in Ghent, where he trained with his father, Gerard Horenbout, becoming a Master of the local Guild of Saint Luke in 1512. Gerard was an important Flemish manuscript illuminator in the dying days of that art-form, who had been court painter, from 1515 to about 1522, to Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands. Margaret was twice sister-in-law to Katherine of Aragon, still Henry's (first) Queen when the Horenbouts came to England. Horenbout came over to England at an unknown date with, or perhaps before, his sister Susannah Hornebolte and his father. His father Gerard is first recorded in England in 1528, and later returned to the Continent, probably after 1531; he had died in Ghent by 1540. Susanna, who was also an illuminator, is recorded in 1529 as married to a John Palmer and in England. Lucas is documented in England from September 1525, when he was first paid by the King as "pictor maker". By 1531 he was described as the "King's Painter", and this appointment was confirmed for life in June 1534, when he became a "denizen" – effectively a naturalised citizen. Horenbout was very well paid, at sixty-two pounds and ten shillings (but only thirty-three pounds and six shillings according to Richard Gay) per year, a "huge" sum according to Strong, and better than Holbein's thirty pounds a year in his period as Henry's court painter.
«Portrait miniatures such as this were initially developed to meet the demand for portable, dynastic images to serve as prized diplomatic gifts. A miniature of Henry VIII and one of his daughters, Princess Mary, was given to Francis I, King of France, in exchange for two miniatures of Francis I’s sons, which were sent to Henry VIII in the autumn of 1526.» The Royal Collection
Henry VIII by Lucas Horenbout/bolte – Miniature in the Louvre
Levina Teerlinc b. Bruges, 1510–1520?; d. London, 23 June 1576. Levina Teerlinc was a Flemish Renaissance miniaturist who served as a painter to the English court of Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. In 1545, she moved with her husband, George Teerlinc of Blankenberge, to England. During her time in England, she served as the royal painter to Henry VIII, whose royal painter, Hans Holbein the Younger, had recently died. Her annuity for this position was £40 – rather more than Holbein had been paid. Whilst she was a real celebrity, no works by her are currently known. Later she served as a gentlewoman in the royal households of both Mary I and Elizabeth I. In 1559 Levina Teerlinc was appointed tutor in painting to the King's daughter at the Spanish Court.
An Elizabethan Maundy, miniature by Levina Teerlinc, c.1560
Our miniatures are clearly not the work of Holbein.
The Royal Ontario miniature of Anne Boleyn is from the mid-1520's – the early 1530's at the very latest. By the mid-1530's the fashions of the English gable hood had changed radically.
Katherine Parr married Henry VIII on the 12th of July 1543 and was Queen consort until 1547.
Amy Robsart married Robert Dudley three days before her 18th birthday on the 4th of June 1550 at the royal palace of Sheen with Edward VI in attendance. Princess Elizabeth Tudor danced at their wedding.
If the lady in the Yale miniature is Amy Robsart, Lady Jane Grey, or Elizabeth I while princess, or indeed any young lady who reached her 18th year after 1544, the miniature could not possibly have been painted by Horenbout, as he passed away in 1544.
In short, if we are to assume that it is the same handwriting on the limning, and that this means the same artist, we can exclude both Lucas Horenbout and Levina Teerlinc.
Lucas Horenbout didn't live to see 1550, and Levina Teerlinc didn't see England until 1545.
Lucas Horenbout could have painted Anne Boleyn (or some other lady) in the 1520's or the 1530's, and also Katherine Parr if the Sudeley miniature dates to 1544 or earlier, but if the Yale minature is indeed Amy Robsart, Lady Dudley, Horenbout would have passed six years prior to her 18th birthday.
Levina Teerlinc could have painted both Katherine Parr (who was queen until 1547) and Amy Robsart, Lady Dudley, at the occasion of her wedding in 1550, but not Anne Boleyn, nor any other English lady in the 1520's or 1530's.
'I agree that everything you say is indeed a strong possibility. I was basing my attribution on what I know to be "normally" (as in frequently) attributed to Teerlinc. But I know that the habit has been to ascribe the least realistic miniatures to her because she was a woman and therefore must have been inferior to male artists. ;) The one thing I see as common to these miniatures ascribed to her is the emaciated thinness of the arms. It wasn't a one off. If appears over and over. Whomever was the artist, it was a strong trait in their work.'
Could the Royal Ontario miniature, the one possibly of Anne Boleyn, with her age inscribed, be a copy of an earlier miniature, which was indeed painted in the 1520's? Because a different version of this miniature does of course indeed exist.
The Buccleuch Miniature Portrait and The Royal Ontario Miniature Portrait
Anne Boleyn's Falcon Badge
Roland Hui thinks the one with inscribed linming is by far the finer. 'Of the two copies of the miniature, the Royal Ontario version is the finer, implying it was the original taken from life. The features of the sitter are livelier, and her jewelry more elaborate with the addition of a golden pendant set with pearls hanging from her necklace.'
And informal survey shows that I am quite alone in my preferance of the first miniature. She has a quite different expression – gentler, kinder – than the second one. Now, that is admittedly hardly a strong point in favour of her being Anne Boleyn, lol. The other woman has quite sharp expression.
Had it not been for similarity in costume I would never have believed them to portray the same sitter.
I do, however, agree that that they both are miniatures of the same lady.
There are, however, a few interesting differences between between them. The lady on the right with the inscribed limning has an addition of a golden pendant set with pearls hanging from her necklace, and the flowers on the sprig in her gable hood are blue rather than yellow. Also – and this could be wholly subjective – the subject of the brooch looks on the lady on the right with the inscribed limning looks more like a woman, as if the painter was uncertain of the subject and just made something that rather looked like it without capturing the essence of it.
While on the lady on the left I think I can make out Anne Boleyn's falcon symbol on the brooch.
If is indeed of Anne Boleyn, could it be possible that Queen Elizabeth I ordered a copy of a miniature in somebody else's possession of her mother?
But first, could this miniature really be of Anne Boleyn?
I agree that at first glance the miniatures bears little likeness to how we are used to thinking of Anne Boleyn. I am thinking of course of the NPG picture of Anne Boleyn and the Hever painting of Anne Boleyn, and of all the paintings made after the same pattern, like the John Hoskins miniature.
Anne Boleyn – NPG 668 – Hever Castle – John Hoskins Miniature
There is, however, a different tradition for portraying Anne Boleyn.
In her only authenticated image, the Most Happi medal from 1534, the prototype for a series of medals made to celebrate the birth of a son that was not to be, Anne Boleyn is wearing an English gable hood in the style of the mid-1530's.
In the Nidd Hall portrait she is wearing the same type of hood.
And if you compare the two miniatures to the Nidd Hall portrait and the Most Happi medal side by side we can see a clear likeness.
Anne Boleyn – Buccleuch Miniature – Royal Ontario Miniature – Nidd Hall Portrait – Most Happi Medal
In the British Museum there is a sketch by Holbein inscribed in a seventeenth-century hand Anna Bullen de collata / Fuit Londini 19 May 1536. This sketch was engraved in 1649 by Wenceslaus Hollar as Anna Bvllen Regina Anglia.
Alison Weir makes the excellent point that Hollar's engraving may have been based on the original, finished portrait from the sketch by Holbein, and that someone then recognised the sketch from the engraving and wrote Anne's name on it.
That is actually a really good theory.
In any case, this engraving proved to be enourmously popular, and many artists have made their own version of a finished portrait of the sketch.
Anne Boleyn – The Bradford Holbein Drawing of a Lady (British Museum) – Hever Castle Portrait – Petworth House, The Egremont Collection Portrait
This tradition appears to have fallen into abeyance, whether because of changing tastes, or because of the more tentative mode of the identication, but Anne Boleyn-in-a-gable-hood appears to have been firmly replaced with Anne Boleyn-in-a-French-hood.
For these miniatures to be Anne Boleyn, however, she must have been 25 years of age or in her 25th year in or around 1527, when, as we can see, these fashions were at their most ... well, fashionable.
Furthermore, her relationship with Henry VIII must have progressed to the point where it would have felt natural for him to commission a miniature of her from the court painter.
As always, I turn to the excellent The Anne Boleyn Files – Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII – When did they get together? There is some disagreement and no certain sources as to when Henry VIII's courtship of Anne Boleyn began. The «first solid evidence we have of Henry VIII being in love with Anne is Henry’s request to the Pope in August 1527 for a dispensation to allow him to marry “one with whom he had already contracted affinity in the first degree through illicit intercourse”, i.e. a dispensation to cover marrying a woman whose sister or mother he had already had sexual intercourse with.»
That would fit perfectly with our miniature being painted in the summer of 1525, alongside with her father's, the miniature Sir Thomas Boleyn. It would make sense for it to take two years for Henry VIII's ardour to deepen to the sort of commitment that he wished to replace his Queen with her.
As we can see, both of these points in time fit perfectly with the fashions of the lady in the minature.
However, the miniature being Anne Boleyn hinges on her being at the right age, 25 or in her 25th year, when the miniature was painted.
Claire of The Anne Boleyn Files concludes her excellent article The Early Life of Anne Boleyn Part One – Beginnings with: «Although the arguments of Retha Warnicke and Gareth Russell did sway me for a while towards 1507, I still believe in the 1501 birth date. The main reason for me believing in 1501 is that I cannot believe that a 7 year old would have been chosen to accompany Mary Tudor to France, it just does not make sense, never mind a 6 year old being sent to Margaret of Austria’s court. I realise that one of the main arguments for 1507 is the evidence of Jane Dormer, who may have heard of Anne’s age from Mary I, but then Mary I also stated on a few occasions that Mark Smeaton fathered Elizabeth! As far as Thomas Boleyn’s “la petite Boulain” comment, that could just be his pet name for his youngest daughter, I know my father’s pet name for me has no bearing on who I am! Gut feeling tells me 1501 and I’m sticking to that for now.»
I did discover that Lady Anne Brandon, later Baroness Grey of Powys, the daughter of Charles Brandon, was sent to Margaret of Austria's court in 1514. In fact, her time there might have shortly overlapped with Anne Boleyn's. We do know that Anne Brandon was born around 1507, so she was about seven at the time. (Claire mentions this elsewhere also, I found it independently.)
In spite of this, my instinct agrees with Claire. It does not make sense to me that Henry VIII would have executed a 29-year-old only to replace her with another 29-year-old. Especially when the first 29-year-old had already given birth to one healthy child, the hearty and hale Elizabeth.
After the series of stillbirths and miscarriages with Katherine of Aragon and the sickly Mary and the sickliness of Henry FitzRoy, that alone ought to have been encouraging. I cannot believe, if Anne was 29, that the king would not have given it at least a few more years to see if the same might not be achieved with a boy.
Mary Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII, was born at Sheen Palace, most probably in March 1496.
On the 9th of October 1514, at the age of 18, Mary married the 52-year-old King Louis XII of France. She was accompanied to France by four English maids of honour. One of those maids of honour was Anne Boleyn.
Though the marriage was short – Louis died on the 1st of January 1515, less than three months after marrying Mary – Anne Boleyn's tenure as her maid of honour was apparently enough to make Mary mislike Anne for the rest of their lives.
It would be curious if a child of seven could spark such dislike in a girl nine years her senior.
But a girl of fourteen … ?
There was, however, something very young about Anne Boleyn. Her carelessness in creating enemies, her belief that what she and Henry VIII had together was True Love, and her consequent expectation that he would be true.
It has been said that a lot of the mess Mary, Queen of Scots got herself into, was because of a lack of experience due to her charmed ubringing in France.
Well, Anne Boleyn was raised at the French court, too.
Like Mary, Queen of Scots, she was adept at court intrigues, and abysmally bad at politics.
As for whom Queen Elizabeth I Tudor could have copied the miniatures from …
Well, Anne had a sister.
The today not-entirely-unknown Mary Boleyn.
After the death of their parents, she was the sole heir, and any miniatures in their possession would have passed to her. If Thomas Boleyn had commissioned a miniature of himself to commemorate an occasion and have a likeness of himself, it seems logical it would indeed have been in his possession.
Either of Anne's parents could have had the miniature of their daughter, and it seems highly unlikely that they, either father or mother, would have destroyed the likeness of their lost child, no matter what ban Henry VIII had put on pictures of her. Even for Henry VIII, creating problems for the parents of two people he had executed on the most trumped-up of charges for keeping a miniature of their dead child, seems a bit … much.
It appears that two miniatures of Katherine Howard have survived also, so people were clearly willing to take that risk.
Of course, I am not suggesting that anybody made a public statement of intent of keeping the miniatures, they probably just kept them, quietly, hidden away, banking on that nobody would search their private coffers, as would appear indeed did not happen.
Elizabeth herself had been declared illegitimate and was thus ineligible to inherit under English law at that time, so she was not entitled to any part of her grandparents' estate.
This does not appear to have created any coolness with her aunt's family, however. Elizabeth had, materialistically, anything she could need growing up.