The Consort Necklace

Elizabeth Grey, Lady Audley

C. 1538

Hans Holbein the Younger

The Royal Collection | RCIN 422292

 

«Identified by the later-sixteenth century inscription on the drawing as ‘Lady Audley’, the sitter is now generally accepted as Elizabeth Grey (d. 1564), daughter of the second Marquess of Dorset. The miniature may have been commissioned in celebration of her marriage, in 1538, to Thomas, Lord Audley of Walden (d. 1544), Lord Chancellor.»

The Consort Necklace

The consort necklace is a piece of jewellery that consists of a necklace and choker of clusters of pearls alternating with precious stones set in a quatrefoils. It can be seen in many of the portraits of Henry VIII's many wives. It is distinctive and recognisable. The fact that it can be seen on so many of Henry's wives suggests that this piece of jewellery was property of the crown and did not belong of any individual queen. Recently, it has played an important part in identifying portraits of both Katherine Parr and Katherine Howard.

The necklace Elizabeth Grey, Lady Audley, is wearing in the miniature by Holbein above, is the consort necklace.

Elizabeth Grey, Lady Audley – Beautiful Montage by Tudors Dynasty

Beautiful Montage by Tudors Dynasty

Upon realising this, most people have a similar reaction. And, tempting as it is to try to relabel this picture, perhaps this is Katherine Howard?, perhaps Henry VIII had a seventh wife?, there exists of Elizabeth Grey, Lady Audley, a portrait of her in her old age.

Across space and time, widowhood, childbearing and different artists, the likeness of the features is such that it is difficult to argue for the miniature to be of anybody else.

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Margaret Wotton, Marchioness of Dorset (1487–1541) was the second wife of Thomas Grey, 2nd Marquess of Dorset, and the mother of his children, including Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, with whom she engaged in many quarrels during his minority over money and his allowance. Her lack of generosity to Henry shocked her peers as unmotherly, and inappropriate behaviour toward a high-ranking nobleman, relative of King Henry VIII of England. In 1534, she was compelled to answer to the charges that she was an "unnatural mother". On 10 September 1533, she stood as one of the godmothers of Princess Elizabeth, who would later rule as Queen Elizabeth I of England. She was the subject of two portraits by Hans Holbein the Younger. One of her many grandchildren was Lady Jane Grey.

What if the paintings were painted for the occasion of another wedding?

The year 1533 marked a great triumph for the family. Henry Grey, her son (with whom she had many quarrels), married that year with the permission of King Henry VIII, Lady Frances Brandon (1517–1559), the daughter of Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk by his wife Mary Tudor, the sister of King Henry VIII.

Relations between the Suffolks and Henry VIII had long been frosty.

«In the late 1520s, relations between King Henry VIII and his sister Mary were strained when she opposed the King's attempt to obtain an annulment from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, whom Mary had known for many years. Mary developed a strong dislike for Anne Boleyn (King Henry's intended wife), whom she had first encountered in France. Anne and her sister Mary Boleyn had been among the maids of honor in the entourage that had accompanied Mary to France for her wedding to King Louis XII. In March 1532, Venetian Ambassador Carlo Capello wrote of an incidence where "one of the chief gentlemen in the service of the said Duke of Norfolk, with 20 followers, assaulted and killed in the sanctuary of Westminster Sir William Peninthum, chief gentleman and kinsman of the Duke of Suffolk. In consequence of this, the whole Court was in an uproar." Though it was said to be caused by a private quarrel, he was "assured it was owing to opprobrious language uttered against Madam Anne by his Majesty's sister, the Duchess of Suffolk, Queen Dowager of France."»

In her guest article at The Anne Boleyn Files, The Rivalry of Charles Brandon and Anne Boleyn, Sarah Bryson delves deeper into the matter: «Brandon may have shared similar feelings as his wife. Clearly he was not impressed with Anne Boleyn and her new position at court and sought to discredit her. Eustace Chapuys, ambassador to Charles V, wrote to his master that Anne “had been accused by the Duke of Suffolk of undue familiarity with a gentleman who on a former occasion had been banished on suspicion.” This gentleman was Sir Thomas Wyatt, poet, courtier and long-time friend of the Boleyn family. His poetry suggests that he had a crush on Anne, but there is no evidence to suggest that Anne returned his feelings. While there turned out to be no truth in this rumour, Henry was furious at his best friend and banished him from court for a time. In retaliation for this accusation, Anne Boleyn made one of her own declaring that Brandon was sleeping with his daughter. Despite being banished from court, Brandon spoke with the treasurer of the King’s household, William Fitzwilliam, in the hope of working with him to persuade the King against marrying Anne Boleyn.»

Anne, however, was in ascent. Now married to Henry, soon to be crowned, and with Henry's son and long-awaited heir in her belly (or so everyone thought), the summer of 1533 Anne was in Zenith. With the death of his wife it is possible that Charles Brandon considered this the opportune moment to make nice with Anne Boleyn. His daughters, who spent most of their lives at court, may have agreed him.

Princess Mary Tudor died on the 25th of June 1533, and in September of the same year, Charles married his ward, the 14-year-old Katherine Willoughby (1519–1580), suo jure Baroness Willoughby de Eresby. Katherine had been betrothed to his eldest surviving son, Henry, Earl of Lincoln.

A person's influence seldom outlasts their death.

Roland Hui, in his article New Impressions On The Brandon Wedding Portrait in which he argues that the well-known and much beloved Brandon wedding portrait was in fact painted in 1533 and not at the time of the or shortly after the wedding in 1515, writes that: «It would be natural to assume that the double portrait was commissioned shortly after the couple’s marriage in 1515. However, it appears to have been painted much later – about twenty years afterwards, probably after Mary’s death in 1533, by the looks of her clothing. Historians have paid little attention to her costume. Past observations have been limited to the fashionable French attire she wears, and that she was loaded with jewels probably given to her by her late husband King Louis. While Mary’s clothes are French in style, they are not of circa 1515, but of the late 1520’s to the 1530’s.»

«So if the portrait was not painted at the time of their marriage, could it have been done in sitting given in the early 1530’s? It seems unlikely that the Duke and Duchess would have waited that long – almost two decades – to finally commission such a work. What may have prompted its creation was Mary’s untimely death in September 1533. The picture was thus a celebration of the marriage, and a memorial to it. If it was indeed painted after Mary’s passing, it was almost certainly a pastiche of two separate portraits of Mary and Charles, now lost. Why the portraits then - after his wife was gone? Certainly a commemoration of their love, and perhaps Brandon’s reminder to all, that despite Mary’s death, he was still brother-in-law to the King of England; hence a power to be reckoned with still. Anne Boleyn’s rise to power had left Brandon in the cold, and the portrait may have been his way of reasserting his diminished standing. Later, Suffolk did regain the King’s favor after Anne fell, and he had the pleasure of attending her trial and execution in 1536.»

We see here that Roland Hui has much of the same thoughts, of a Charles Brandon eager to demonstrate his importance and regain his place in the heart of the circle of the king.

It is also interesting to note, that in about 1536–1543 Charles gave his London residence Suffolk Place, rebuilt by him in fine Renaissance style in 1522, to King Henry VIII in exchange for Norwich Place on the Strand, London.
 
One thing we do know about Henry VIII is that he loved presents. One of the reasons he originally forgave Suffolk and his sister their impromptu marriage without his permission, was that he coveted the gold plate and jewels which had been gifted to his sister Mary by King Louis XII.
 
It is therefore further interesting to note that the consort necklace does not appear to have been the property of any of the wives of Henry VIII personally, but rather of the crown.
 
Could it have been a joint gift to Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn?
 
It was at the disposal of Anne Boleyn as the Queen, but in reality it belonged to Henry VIII as the monarch.
 
Assuming that the consort necklace really did belong to Mary Tudor, Queen of France, whether it was a gift from King Louis, her mother or father before their deaths, or from her brother on the occasion of her marriage, or even a gift from her new husband, it appears to have remained in her possession until her death.
 
But what happened to it since?
 
Could it have been left in the possession of her eldest daughter Frances Brandon Grey, who then lent it to her new sister-in-law Elizabeth Grey to have her portrait taken in it?
 
And then, at some point after, either by Frances or by Charles Brandon, it was gifted to Anne Boleyn, in an attempt to smooth things over and get on Anne's good side? After all, Anne's success now seemed assured. She seemed like a force the Suffolks would have to reckon with for the rest of their natural lives.
 
Lady Frances Brandon was not the only young lady at the Tudor court who stood bride that year. At the 28th of November 1533 Lady Mary Howard, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk and Anne Boleyn's cousin, married the illegitimate son of Henry VIII, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset. If the below miniature is indeed of Mary, the fact that she is holding a carnation could indicate that this miniature was painted to celebrate the occasion of her wedding. If we pay attention to her costume, we can see that it closely resembles that of Elizabeth Grey, Lady Audley, in her miniature.

Called Lady Mary Howard – Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond?

The miniatures of Lady Elizabeth Grey and Lady Mary Howard side by side

Notice the similarity of the French hoods, the neckline, the sleeves, the bodice.

The opulence of their jewellery.

All of this speaks of the same fashion.

Furthermore, Hans Holbein the Younger painted Margaret Wotton, Elizabeth Grey's mother and Frances Brandon's mother-in-law, in this same time interval (1532–5). Is it not possible that she had her daughter's picture painted at the same time? And until Margaret Wotton had a definite falling out with her son several years after the wedding, she and her daughter Elizabeth (who did not marry until 1538) had their home together with her son and his new bride Frances at the Grey family seat at Bradgate House. It is not unthinkable that Frances wanted to impress and get on the good side of her new relations through the loan of a valuable and valued family heirloom. 

So used are we to think of Frances Brandon as the stern grown-up mother, that we give barely a thought to the fact that she was barely fifteen when she married, had just lost her mother, and was sent to live amongst new people.

Her new mother-in-law never stopped resenting her son for refusing to marry Katherine FitzAlan, therefore putting a great financial burden on her as a result of the broken betrothal. It is not outside the realm of reason to entertain the idea that Frances would have been eager to please or create bonds with her new family members who lived under the same roof.

In fact, there is much to suggest that the entire female contingent of the Grey-Brandon connection was painted that year.

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Elizabeth Grey, Lady Audley

Margaret Wotton, Marchioness of Dorset

Mary Brandon, Baroness Monteagle

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Eleanor Brandon, Countess of Cumberland

Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk

If we compare the sketches of Eleanor Brandon and Katherine Willoughby, we notice that they are both dressed in a similar style. They are both wearing high-necked shirts with collars with blackwork in the case of Katherine Willoughby and a high-collared dress. Both of them are wearing an unflattering, almost slightly outdated for the 1530s version of the English gable hood. I cannot be the only one whose overall impression of the manner of dress seen above is frumpy and dowdy. When compared to the considerably more fashionable Mary Monteagle above, this seems even more apparent. Even the old Dowager Marchioness seem more up-do-date in the fashion department in comparison.

Mary Monteagle is dressed in the latest fashion of French hood, a gown with a wide neckline, and is adorned with the most opulent of jewellery. She is dressed, in fact, exactly as Lady Elizabeth Grey and Lady Mary Howard above, leading me to believe that these three paintings were executed at the same time.

As we can see from a later painting of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, in a painting by the hand of the same artist, she could be very stylish indeed. This is the picture of a very elegant woman.

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Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk

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We often forget that Katherine Willoughby was raised alongside the Brandon girls by Mary Tudor (18th of March 1496 – 25th of June 1533), the daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, the sister of Henry VIII, and who was known always in her own time by her title as Dowager Queen of France. She was the mother of Frances and Eleanor Brandon as the third wife of Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffok.

 Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk, Dowager Queen of France and sister of Henry VIII

 C. 1530

Johannes Corvus

 

While it is a beautiful painting, looking at this, and the existing portraits of Katherine of Aragon, one can understand why Anne Boleyn made such a splash.

Mary hated Anne. This antipathy seemingly went way back to when Anne had been a maid of honour to Mary in her short, unhappy time in the state marriage to Louis XII.

So when Anne introduced or at least popularised the French fashions at the English court, it would have made sense for Mary to dress her daughters in the alternative, English fashion, making them come off frumpy compared to the other ladies at court, such as their elder sister and step-daughter, Mary Monteagle, who had already resided at court for many years.

Later, Jane Seymour would employ this same tactic, simply banning the French fashions Anne had made so very fashionable. Both, probably, to distance herself from Anne and also because she reviled her in general.

If these sketches were indeed drawn late summer 1533 alongside the one of Lady Elizabeth Grey, the mother of Eleanor Brandon and the woman who had raised Katherine Willoughby since she was nine years old, Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France, was barely cold in her grave. It would make sense for her manner of dressing her daughters to have survived that long. Eleanor Brandon and Katherine Willoughby would both have been about 14 years old at the time.

But, you might ask, if you suggest that the entire female contingent of the Grey-Brandon connection was painted that year, what about Lady Elizabeth Grey's sisters? What about them? There are no existing portraits of them. For my theory regarding this, see my page The Greys.

Of the four daughters of Thomas Grey, 2nd Marquis of Dorset and Margaret Wotton, the eldest, Mary, was probably dead at that point.

It is my belief that this portrait of an unknown English woman in the Oskar Reinhart Collection 'Am Römerholz' is in fact a portrait of their second daughter, Katherine Grey, Lady Maltravers, lady-in-waiting in the household of Princess Mary Tudor daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, and the wife of Henry FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel, and the mother of Mary FitzAlan, Duchess of Norfolk and Jane Lumley.

Katherine Grey, Lady Maltravers

As we see, her mode of dress is perfectly in style with the fashions of 1533.

The paintings of the Brandon-Greys might even have been executed at the same time as the portraits of these two young ladies:

Anne Boleyn

Mary Boleyn

Anne Grey, the fourth and youngest daughter of Margaret Wotton and Thomas Grey, 2nd Marquis of Dorset, was born after the 2nd of June 1518 probably before the 20th of September 1521, which would have made her between 15 and 12 in 1533. She may simply have been considered too young to have her portrait painted (child Tudor portraits were highly unusual), or it is lost today.

For Frances and Anne Brandon, it would be highly unlikely for there never to have been any portraits painted of them, high-ranking and in constant attendance at court as they were. The only thing we know is that none of them have survived or are known under those names today.

The Appearances of the Consort Necklace in History

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Commemorative Wedding Portrait of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon

(Detail)

1515 (or 1533)

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Commemorative Wedding Portrait of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon

(Detail)

1515 (or 1533)

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Mary Tudor, Queen of France

C. 1525

Johannes Corvus

 

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Elizabeth Grey, Lady Audley

?1533-1538

Hans Holbein the Younger

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Anne Boleyn

The Most Happi Medal

1534

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Anne Boleyn

Nidd Hall Portrait

C. 1533-6

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Jane Seymour

Hans Holbein the Younger

1536

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Katherine Howard

C. 1540-1

Hans Holbein the Younger

Katherine Parr

C.1543-6

The Hastings or Melton Constable Portrait

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Katherine Parr

The Jersey Portrait

C.1543-6

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Katherine Parr

Late 16th century

National Portrait Gallery | NPG 4618

 

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Mary I (1516–1558), Queen of England and Ireland

1554

Hans Eworth

Society of Antiquaries of London: Burlington House

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Queen Mary I

1554

Hans Eworth

National Portrait Gallery | NPG 4861

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Mary I

1554-8

Hans Eworth

Dickinson Private Advisors & Fine Art Dealers

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Elizabeth I

C.1560

Private Collection

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Elizabeth I Tudor

The Clopton Portrait

C.1560

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Queen Elizabeth

C.1560

Philip Mould

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Queen Elizabeth

C.1560

Background originally blue

National Portrait Gallery | NPG 4449

Queen Elizabeth

C.1565

Christie's

And there ends the consort necklace's journey through time in iconic portraiture and importance to us.

After this, the stones were probably reset at some point in a style more fashionable to the times.

There are several portraits of Elizabeth where she is wearing what may have been jewels from the consort necklace, but the Clopton portrait is the last time the consort necklace absolutely indisputedly appears in history.

It was clearly a necklace of some importance to Mary and Elizabeth Tudor, since they are seen wearing it so often early in their reign. Elizabeth might have had fond memories of Katherine Parr and Katherine Howard wearing it, two ladies who went out of their way to be kind to her. Perhaps she thought to strengthen herself by wearing something that reminded her of and had previously been worn by kin and loved ones? A physical presence of those that could not be there on her great day? Or perhaps, less sentimentally, to reinforce her status as Queen in the minds of others by wearing something associated with the Queens of England of the past?

We know that Elizabeth could be sentimental, also about jewellery.

Elizabeth I, Armada Portrait, 1588

In the Armada Portrait, painted to celebrate the arguable largest victory in Elizabeth's reign, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the pearls Elizabeth is wearing were the last gift from the love of her life, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.

Commemorative Wedding Portrait of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon

(Detail)

1515 (or 1533)

 

Commemorative Wedding Portrait of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon

(Detail)

1515 (or 1533)

 

Mary Tudor, Queen of France

C. 1525

Johannes Corvus

 

Elizabeth Grey, Lady Audley

?1533-1538

Hans Holbein the Younger

 

Anne Boleyn

The Most Happi Medal

1534

 

 

Anne Boleyn

Nidd Hall Portrait

C. 1533-6

 

Jane Seymour

Hans Holbein the Younger

1536

 

Katherine Howard

C. 1540-1

Hans Holbein the Younger

 

 

Katherine Parr

C.1543-6

British (English) School

 

Katherine Parr

The Jersey Portrait

C.1543-6

 

Katherine Parr

C.1543-6

 

Elizabeth I

C.1560

Artist Unknown

Private Collection

 

Elizabeth I Tudor

The Clopton Portrait

C. 1560

 

Queen Elizabeth, c.1560

Artist Unknown
Philip Mould Ltd., London
Original of the Clopton portrait?

 

Queen Elizabeth, c. 1560
Background originally blue
Artist Unknown
© National Portrait Gallery