Katherine Howard

Katherine Howard – The Royal Collection Miniature

Katherine Howard – The Buccleuch Miniature

«Round miniatures

Most historians believe that a round portrait miniature — which exists in two versions by Holbein (Royal Collection and Duke of Buccleuch) — is the only surviving image of Catherine painted from life (in the case of the Windsor version). The historian David Starkey dated it (from details of her dress and the technique of the miniature) to the short period when Katherine was queen. In it, she wears the same large jewel as Jane Seymour in Holbein's panel portrait in Vienna. Records show that these jewels belonged to the Crown, not to any queen personally, and there is no record that they were removed from the treasury and given to anyone else.

The pearls may tie in with a gift to Katherine from Henry in 1540, and she is the only queen to fit the dating whose appearance is not already known. For female sitters, duplicate versions of miniatures only exist for queens at this period. There are no other plausible likenesses of her to compare to. Both versions have long been documented as of Katherine Howard, since 1736 for the Buccleuch version and 1739 (or at least the 1840s) for the Windsor version.»





Alison Weir's Take on the Round Miniatures

«The existence of two versions of the same miniature suggests that the sitter was a lady of some prominence, and her cloth-of-gold bodice, rich jewels and fur sleeves show her to have been of high rank. One version, dating from c.1540, is in the Royal Collection. It was first said to be Katherine Howard around 1837, but may perhaps be identified with one of a group of miniatures at Lee Priory, Kent, that were described by George Vertue in the 1730s as being of Anne of Cleves, Jane Seymour and Katherine Howard. On the back of the miniature is engraved an inscription, probably dating from the nineteenth century: Catherine Howard, Queen of Henry 8th by Hans Holbein.

The other version of the miniature, signed by Holbein, was in the collection of Katherine's relative, Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundelm, in the early seventeenth century, and was engraved in 1645 by Wenceslaus Hollar without any identifying inscription, In 1743 it was engraved by Jacobus Houbraken as being Katherine Howard, which, together with Vertue's identification of the first miniature as Katherine in the 1730s, suggests that this portrait type was accepted as her likeness by 1730. The second miniature was acquired by Horace Walpole in the eighteenth century, although he believed that it probably portrayed Mary Tudor, Queen of France. It was sold to Walter Montagu-Douglas Scott, 5th Duke of Buccleuch, in 1842, and is still owned by the present Duke. The original miniature has been trimmed, as the hands are cropped.

Both miniatures show a young woman with dark auburn hair wearing a tawny-gold gown with a deep jewelled border at the neckline, a French hood, and an ouche and a pearl necklace that can be seen in portraits of Jane Seymour and Katherine Parr. Only recently have several portraits once thought to be of Lady Jane Grey been identified, on the evidence of jewellery, as Katherine Parr, and prior to that there were theories that Jane Seymour may have given away those jewels, perhaps to Mary Brandon, Lady Monteagle, who was possibly the sitter in these miniatures. But Katherine Parr is wearing the ouche in two portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, and the necklace in a portrait at Seaton Delaval Hall. Since the Queen's jewels were handed down from consort to consort, the sitter in the miniatures is almost certainly Katherine Howard; furthermore the 'square of jewels' edging the neckline of her bodice and the rich habiliments in the hood have been identified with wedding gifts given to Katherine by Henry VIII, the border being described in an inventory of her jewels as a 'square containing xxiii diamonds and lx rubies with an edge of pearl containing xxiii'. As has been observed, the identification as Margaret cannot explain why she is wearing the royal jewels. It is hard to understand why, given the evidence of jewellery, historians have been reluctant to accept these miniatures as Katherine Howard.» The Lost Tudor Princess: A Life of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox by Alison Weir

I make her words mine.


The Holbein Sketch

The below sketch by Holbein has in former times been identified as Katherine Howard based on a perceived likeness with the miniatures above by Holbein. Since this attribution had fallen into disfavour long before I came across the sketch, and I have never been muchover fond of it anyway, I suffered the loss of this sketch from the acknowledged portraiture of Katherine Howard with great alacrity.

Recently, however, I have had grounds to question this. While I have never been able to see the likeness with the two round miniatures, there has in recent times been unearthed a portrait that I do hold it for likely is of her, and here I do see a likeness.

So perhaps they were not much off, those who first perceived this likeness.

«Holbein preparatory sketch

Finally, a Holbein sketch (above) is also traditionally identified as being of Katherine Howard, but this is widely disputed.

Debate continues about the identity of the sitter(s) for these portraits, and there is no portrait conclusively known to be of Henry's fifth queen.»

Katherine Howard by Henry Pierce Bone after Hans Holbein the Younger – Bonhams

I include also a picture of the beautiful enamel verson by Henry Pierce Bone.

Roy Strong, who has served as director of both the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, writes the following about the sketch and its history of identification with Katherine Howard:


A Holbein drawing at Windsor which bears no inscription was 'identified' by Wornum as Katherine in 1867. There are no grounds whatever for such an identification, but it was accepted by Cust and so lingers in the Holbein literature down to Ganz. Parker rightly dismisses the idea.» Tudor & Jacobean Portraits by Roy C. Strong, p. 44

The Metropolitan Museum Portrait

To the best of my knowledge, it was Conor Byrne who brought this painting to the attention of the general population and deserves the credit for popularising this portrait as an image of Katherine Howard through the use of this portrait on the front cover of his book, Katherine Howard: A New History.

«The style of this young woman's sumptuous attire indicates that she was most likely a member of the English royal court from about 1540–47, during the time of Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr. The woman must have been of the highest levels of society, although her exact identity remains elusive. Most recently, James and Franco (2000) have suggested that she is Katherine Howard on the basis of her similarity to the sitter in a portrait miniature at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven. Although the portraits share certain details of costume and ornament, the physiognomies of the sitters are strikingly different. Another group of portraits perhaps offers a closer comparison for the sitter here. These works represent the woman, usually identified as Howard, who is found in two miniatures (Royal Collection, Windsor Castle, and Duke of Buccleuch collection, Boughton House) and in a larger panel painting (Toledo Museum of Art). These portraits all present, though in reverse, a three-quarter view of a lady with folded hands; the miniatures feature the French hood with decorative biliments and the square, elaborately decorated neckline, while the Toledo portrait has the puffy sleeves with aiglets. However, the poor condition and considerably restored face of the MMA portrait preclude any determination of whether the sitter can be identified with that in the other paintings. Nevertheless, the details of costume do suggest that it was produced about 1540–45. According to the heavily reinforced but original inscription, the woman was seventeen years old at the time her portrait was made.» Portrait of a Young Woman ca. 1540–45, Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger – The Metropolitan Museum of Art | 49.7.30

«Retouching of the mouth may contribute to the exaggerated pout.» Portrait of a Young Woman ca. 1540–45, Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger – The Metropolitan Museum of Art | 49.7.30

There are, however, two pictures that show how this portrait may have looked before the retouching of the mouth.

One is a black and white photograph of unknown origins, which nevertheless appears to show this portrait prior to this bit of repainting.

The other is a copy, apparently dating to about 1800–1899.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Scarlett Johansson as Mary Boleyn

Amusingly, I have always thought that she looks just like Scarlett Johansson as Mary Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl (2008).

Katherine Howard – The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Black and White Photograph

Artist:Style of Hans Holbein the Elder (German, b. ca. 1465–1524)Title:Portrait de femme aux mains croisées , ca. 1800–1899Medium:painting on panelSize:19 x 17.5 cm. (7.5 x 6.9 in.) - http://www.artnet.com/artists/hans-holbein-the-elder/portrait-de-femme-aux-mains-crois%C3%A9es-qmL91kWeyg9EF95wcfqOXQ2

Taking away the pouting lips, however, you get an image with a startling resemblance to this:


Katherine Howard?

The lady in the sketch even has the precisely similar type of sleeves, firmly dating the sketch to 1540–1543, the only time when both those sleeves would have been modern and Holbein would have been alive. Which is also the exact time of Katherine Howard's rise to prominence and queenship. 

The lady is even wearing what appears to be the consort necklace around her throat, only with six pearl clusters alternating with the precious stones set in quatrefoils instead of the four pearl clusters or the two pearl clusters we have seen previously.

In two paintings early in her reign of Mary I Tudor by Hans Eworth, we can see that she wears the consort necklace similarly, with six pearl clusters alternating with the precious stones set in quatrefoils.

Mary I (1516–1558), Queen of England and Ireland by Hans Eworth, c. 1554

Queen Mary I by Hans Eworth, c.1554

The billiments on her French hood are certainly fine enough to be those of a Queen.

Holbein's sketch of an unidentified woman side by side with the Windsor version of the Holbein miniature of Katherine Howard

(For the perhaps most famous and widely disseminated image called Katherine Howard, see our page The Toledo Portrait)