In 1996, the only authenticated contemporary portrait of Lady Jane Grey (by Master John) was re-identified as Queen Katherine Parr. Since 2005 a number of possible portraits of the nine days queen have been put forward. These include the Teerlinc/Yale, Streatham, Eworth and Wrest Park portraits.
The Yale miniature and Wrest Park portrait were on display at the Philip Mould Gallery, London in 2007 as part of the ‘Lost Faces: Identity and Discovery in Tudor Royal Portraiture’ exhibition. There are also many other portraits that have been named as Jane Grey over the years.
Historian Dr Stephan Edwards has been carrying out research into some of these portraits and his fascinating results can be found at his website, Some Grey Matter. Dr Edwards put forward the Eworth portrait as a possible candidate for Jane in 2005. Due to his further investigations into Jane portraiture, he has since revised his opinion of the Eworth portrait.
Having met Stephan in 2007 when he gave a talk (A Queen of a New and Pretty Invention – Lady Jane Grey and the Loseley Manuscripts) at the Surrey History Centre, I am delighted to welcome him to the Lady Jane Grey Reference Guide as the first interview on the re-launched site.
1. I first became aware of your research into Lady Jane Grey in an article in The Sunday Times in 2005; this was followed by the article in History Today (A New Face for the Lady). In these you suggested that a portrait at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (previously labelled as ‘formerly Mary I when Princess), was perhaps Jane Grey. How did you discover this portrait?
I first saw the painting in the summer of 2000, during which I was at Gonville and Caius College as a study-abroad student at the University of Cambridge. But it was not until the spring of 2005 that I was able to return to the Fitzwilliam, meet with curators Dr Scrace and Dr Munro, and investigate the painting in a formal manner. It was primarily the ‘D’ (for Dorset?) on the prayerbook that attracted me. Now, of course, I have been completely persuaded that the painting is not Jane Grey. The Fitzwilliam portrait was my first foray into portrait research, and it was an invaluable learning experience.
2. The‘Yale’ miniature by Teerlinc was identified by Dr David Starkey as possibly being Lady Jane Grey in 2007. Other possibilities have included Katherine Howard suggested by Susan E James and James S Franco in 2000 and Amy Robsart (wife of Robert Dudley) suggested by Eric Ives in 2009 and Chris Skidmore in 2010. What is your opinion of this painting?
Frankly, I have no opinion as to who the lady in the Teerlinc miniature actually is, though I am 99% certain that it is not Jane Grey.
When miniatures and full-sized portraits are not labeled by the original artist, it can be exceedingly difficult to identify the sitter depicted. The problem becomes exponentially worse when there is no provenance, or documented history, for the painting. And female sitters are even more problematic because women were so poorly documented as individuals in the Tudor period. The Yale miniature is troubled by all of these issues: no label other than the sitter’s age, virtually no documented provenance prior to the late 19th century, and nothing within the painting to tie it definitively to a given family, much less a specific individual. As extreme as it may seem at first glance, it is very important to remember that the population of England in the 1550s was numbered in the millions, of which approximately half were female. Thus the number of women who were in their 18th year (the inscribed age of the lady in the Yale miniature) any time between about 1545 and 1555 must have numbered in the tens of thousands. And while the majority of those were from families unable to afford to commission a portrait, there were nonetheless thousands who could afford it. Absent something more definitive than an inscribed age and the subjective symbolism of a cluster of flowers worn at the breast, we simply cannot today exclude any of those thousands of young women who lived in England in the mid-Tudor period. Evidence of a much, much more concrete and definitive nature is needed. Unfortunately, in the absence of such evidence, some historians are inclined to reduce the candidate pool rather arbitrarily to only the famous, noble, and royal women of the period. I always compare that practice to the reincarnationists who so often claim to have been Cleopatra or Napoleon in a past life, never a simple peasant in the countryside. The odds are vastly in favor of peasanthood! Statistically, the lady in the Yale miniature is far, far more likely to be any one of thousands of unknown young women than she is to be Jane Grey, Katherine Howard, Amy Robsart, or some other historical person well-known to modern audiences.
3. The Lost Faces exhibit of 2007 also presented the Wrest Park portrait as a possible portrait of Jane Grey, though it bears no resemblance to the Yale/Teerlinc miniature. What is your opinion of the Wrest Park portrait?
David Starkey, Bendor Grosvenor and others suggested that the Wrest Park portrait may be a “consciously historical portrait”, meaning that whomever created it did so after Jane had been executed and with specific reference to the mythology that surrounds Jane. In particular, Starkey et al suggest that the simplicity of the costume worn by the sitter reflects what Starkey assumes Jane’s austere habits of dress to have been. Thus, they argue, the portrait presents Jane dressed in simple clothing that reflects her strong religious outlook.
My own research suggests otherwise. First, the myth that Jane dressed as a kind of proto-Puritan did not develop until the second half of the seventeenth century. Virtually every image created of or mislabeled as Jane Grey prior to the Restoration (1660) depicts here in luxurious attire. Since dendrochronology reveals that the Wrest Park portrait was certainly painted in the middle of the sixteenth century, the simple costume is anomalous in the context of the development of the Janeian mythology. Secondly, the Lost Faces team apparently failed to investigate fully the provenance of the Wrest Park portrait. That provenance ties the painting to the Barons Dacre of Herstmonceux, East Sussex. My research suggests that the painting actually depicts Mary Nevill Fiennes, Lady Dacre sometime in the first decade after the death of her first husband in 1541. Two other high-quality portraits of Lady Dacre are known, one in the NPG and the other in the National Gallery of Canada. The faces in all three are exceedingly similar.
The British Art Journal has accepted for publication in 2013 my article on the Wrest Park portrait, in which I present the bulk of my evidence for identifying the sitter as Mary Nevill Fiennes circa 1545.
4. The ‘Streatham’ portrait came to light in January 2006 and was on display at the National Portrait Gallery 2007-2010. It dates from after 1590 and is thought to be a copy of an earlier painting. What is your opinion of the portrait?
I have both an objective academic opinion and a subjective connoisseurial opinion on the Streatham portrait.
Objectively, I am reasonably convinced that the painting was meant to depict Lady Jane Grey. But I am equally convinced that it was produced as part of a larger set of portraits of famous people of the Tudor period. Such portrait sets were actually relatively common, and were produced specifically for sale as a set-collection rather than as individual portraits. Research being conducted by the National Portrait Gallery (http://www.npg.org.uk/research/programmes/making-art-in-tudor-britain/case-studies/picturing-history-a-portrait-set-of-early-english-kings-and-queens.php) has demonstrated that the individual paintings in such sets were often based on a common pattern and may not have actually been an authentic likeness of the individual. I believe that is the case here: the painting was based on some common pattern and may have borne little real resemblance to Jane herself.
And that merges with the connoisseurial issue. To me, the Streatham portrait is artistically very crude. It is very ‘flat’ and two-dimensional, with a face that is more caricature-representation than accurate depiction. Imagine trying to utilize this painting to recognize Jane Grey in a crowd! As an artifact of art history, the painting is fascinating; as a means for discovering what Jane Grey actually looked like, it is all but useless.
5. Your report on the Syon portrait states that you think it is an authentic portrait of Lady Jane. How did you reach your conclusion and do you think it is the portrait that belonged to Bess of Hardwick and was also mentioned in the 1789 entry of John Bying’s Torrington diaries?
I do believe, based on the current state of my research, that the Syon portrait may indeed be an authentic likeness of Jane Grey, though it is one of less-than-ideal quality artistically and aesthetically. I base that opinion on my research into the provenance of the painting, which can be traced back to William Seymour, Jane Grey’s great-nephew. The painting has been known as a portrait of Jane Grey since at least the early 1600s. Though the painting is sometimes said to depict Elizabeth I when Princess, I believe the presence of a large cleft in the sitter’s chin, and the absence of that cleft in virtually all authentic portraits of Elizabeth, eliminates Elizabeth as the sitter.
At present, I am awaiting the results of a dendrochronological analysis of the wood panel on which the painting was executed (The Duke of Northumberland most graciously consented to this study just recently). That study will, I hope, tell us whether the painting was created during or after Jane’s lifetime. If during, then this is very probably the portrait of Jane owned by Bess of Hardwick in 1565. If after, it is perhaps a copy of the Hardwick portrait and was made for Bess’s granddaughter Arbella Stuart Seymour, who is documented as having a fascination for Jane and the Greys generally and who was also William Seymour’s first wife.
The portrait seen by Byng on his visit to Hardwick Hall in 1789 is problematic. He records it as being in a very poor state, but does not describe its specific appearance. Was it accurately labeled, or did it in fact depict someone else? Was it, like the Streatham portrait, formerly part of a crude portrait set acquired by the Cavendishes sometime between 1600 and 1789? What happened to it after 1789, since the curators at Hardwick Hall state that it is no longer there? I am hoping to visit Hardwick Hall in January 2013 and to meet with the curators in an effort to solve this mystery. I hope to conduct some detailed research in past inventories of the collection to see whether the ‘Byng’ portrait is mentioned, and to view the entire collection in case it has become mislabeled over the intervening centuries.
I can say with certainty, however, that the portrait now at Syon House and the portrait seen by Byng in 1789 are not the same individual picture. The former has been at Syon since at least 1748, and thus cannot have been at Hardwick Hall when Byng visited there forty one years later. This suggests that there may have been (and may still be) at least two reliably authentic images of Jane Grey in existence in 1789, though one may simply have been a copy of the other.
6. Did your research into the Syon portrait take into account the recently discovered portrait of Henry VIII and his family at Boughton House by Alison Weir and Tracy Borman? (The portrait features a young Princess Elizabeth) and it was suggested in an article in BBC History Magazine in June 2008 that this could help identify the National Portrait Gallery painting (formerly called Lady Jane Grey) as Elizabeth.
Yes, I am very aware of the Boughton portrait. The basis for identifying the small NPG portrait (NPG764) as Elizabeth is, as I understand Weir’s and Borman’s conjecture, based largely in the similarity of the costume worn by the sitter in that portrait when compared to that worn by the sitter in the Boughton portrait. In my opinion, similarity of costume is insufficient evidence. Exactly the same black coat with white fur trim can be seen in literally dozens of portraits from the period, notably including the Syon portrait, several early portraits of Elizabeth (especially the ‘Clopton’ type), authenticated portraits of Katherine Willoughby Brandon, and others. In my opinion, comparison of the facial features seen in the NPG and Boughton portraits is likewise insufficient. The portraits are by two very different artists of very different skill levels. Compare, for example, the facial features of Mary in the Boughton to her face as it is seen in so many other life portraits of her. There is at best a passing similarity, certainly no absolute correlation. I believe the NPG portrait falls into the same category as the Yale miniature: too poorly documented and too little intrinsic evidence exists to narrow down the field of candidates from the thousands of young women in England in the mid-Tudor period to a specific individual. I believe the NPG is entirely correct in labeling NPG 764 as ‘Unknown woman’.
7. Do you think the Northwick Park portrait labelled ‘The Lady Jane Graye executed’ is of Jane Grey? Has this portrait ever been analysed?
The Northwick Park portrait has never been properly studied. It has been in private hands throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and its owners flatly refuse even to acknowledge publicly that they in fact still own it. Though the painting bears an inscribed label (a ‘cartellino’ placed there at the behest of Lord Lumley late in the 16th century), it was documented early in the 20th century that the label is no longer legible. That the portrait may depict Jane Grey is based on the fact that Lord Lumley did own a portrait of Jane in 1594, though it is not entirely clear whether that portrait was an authentic life portrait or instead like the Streatham portrait and simply part of a portrait set of dubious authenticity. The supposed ‘label’ of the Northwick Park picture, ‘The Lady Jane Graye executed’, is actually taken from the written Lumley inventory of 1594, not from the painting itself. Lumley also owned a portrait of Katherine Parr. Given the large number of portraits of Parr that later became known as Jane Grey (the NPG’s portrait by Master John, plus the King’s College, Melton Constable, Jersey, and van de Passe portraits), the odds are pretty good that the Northwick Park portrait is yet another mislabeled portrait of Parr. I remain hopeful that the owners of the painting will eventually relent and allow access to the painting so that it can be properly studied.
8. You have analysed many other supposed portraits of Lady Jane. Which was the most interesting?
That is a very difficult question, since they are each extremely interesting in their own right. The Melton Constable portrait was particularly challenging because of the lingering question of whether or not it was originally on wood and was later transferred to canvas. I eventually decided it has always been on canvas and is therefore very probably a copy done in the 1600s (canvas did not become the preferred support for paintings until after 1600). The obvious relationship between the Melton Constable and the van de Passe engraving, and the relationship of both of those to NPG 4451 (the Master John portrait) also added to the mystique of that painting. But my research also suggested the very real possibility that the Melton Constable (and the van de Passe engraving) may have been copied from a life portrait formerly in the Royal Collection but lost when that collection was broken up in 1651-52. Though most of the works were later returned to the Royal Collection at the Restoration, many were not. One therefore wonders whether or not the original from which the Melton Constable was copied may still exist, tucked away in a private collection, mislabeled or unlabeled, unrecognized for the valuable historical artifact that it is. But on the whole, my investigation into the Melton Constable demonstrates many of the problems inherent in portrait research, from mislabeling and “authentication” of the mislabeling through repetition to the vicissitudes a single picture and it companions can endure as they are passed down across the generations.
9. Do you think an authenticated portrait of Jane, painted during her lifetime is waiting to be discovered?
We know with relative certainty that a genuine life portrait of Jane Grey existed at Hardwick Hall in 1565, since Bess of Hardwick is unlikely to have owned (and kept in her private bedchamber) a portrait of her close friend Jane Grey that did not actually look like Jane Grey. I do believe the Syon portrait is either that authentic life portrait from Hardwick Hall or a later copy of it. Is there another authentic and reliable likeness of her in existence? Quite possibly so. And if so, it is almost certainly mislabeled or unlabeled, awaiting the proper set of investigative eyes (whether mine or someone else’s!) to recognize it.