Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Thomas Wriothesley, 4th Earl of Southampton (1607 - 1667) 1660c

Studio of Sir Peter Lely (1618-80)

Portrait of Thomas Wriothesley, 4th Earl of Southampton (1607 - 1667), Studio of Sir Peter Lely
Oil on canvas
17th Century
50 x 40 inches 127 x 101.2 cm
William, 1st Duke of Bedford (1613-1700) at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire. By family descent to Hastings, 12th Duke of Bedford (1888-1953) His sale, Christie''s, 19 January, 1951, Lot. 120. Private collection, U.S.A. Butterfield and Butterfield Auctions, 20 May, 1997, Lot. 3638.
Vertue Note Books, II, The Walpole Society, Vol.XX, 1932, p.40. Letter from Horace Walpole to George Montagu, 8 October 1751. George Scharf, Woburn Abbey Catalogue, 1890, No. 143. R.W.Goulding, Wriothesley Portraits, The Walpole Society, Vol.VIII, 1920, No.K.vi, p.54.
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This image relates to a double portrait by Lely of Southampton with his third wife, Lady Frances Seymour (d. 1680/1) which is at Welbeck Abbey. This portrait was painted soon after Southampton was appointed Lord High Treasurer (8 September 1660) and has been described by Sir Oliver Millar as being painted in the sumptuous technique of Lely's Restoration manner. He holds in his wand of office in one of his pretty thick white short hands which Pepys admired although he was troubled by their long nails.

The sitter was the second son of Shakespeare''s patron, Henry, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573-1624) and Thomas succeeded his father in 1624. A man of moderate views, although he resented the King's and the Earl of Strafford extravagant notions of sovereignty, he was reluctant to identify himself with the champions of popular rights.

In May 1641 he declined assent to Pym's protestation against plots and conspiracies, which was signed by every other member present in each of the two houses, except Lord Robartes and himself. The commons avenged Southampton's action by voting what person soever who should not take the protestation was unfit to bear office in the church or commonwealth. Thereafter he became a devoted Royalist, a member of the privy council and one of the King's closest advisers.

During the Civil war he consistently urged the King to make peace with parliament and led several attempts in negotiation to procure it. In June 1646 was one of the privy councillors, who on behalf of the king, arranged with Sir Thomas Fairfax the surrender of Oxford. He was in London during the King''s trial and obtained permission to sit with his body at Whitehall the night after his execution. It was said that in the darkness a disguised figure entered the chamber and muttered Stern necessity. Southampton later affirmed his conviction that the visitor was Cromwell.
After the King''s death he retired into the country and declined to recognise Cromwell and his government. At the Restoration he was re-admitted to the privy council and created a Knight of the Garter. In September 1660 he was appointed to the office of Lord High Treasurer, a post he held until his death. He refused to take advantage of his place as others had done and agreed a fixed salary with the King. However, it was beyond his power to reduce the corrupt influences and decadent depravity prevalent at Court. According to Clarendon he lost all spirit for his job when he perceived that it was out of human power to bring the expense of the court within the limits of the revenue.
Burnet described him as : a great Man in all respects, and brought very much Reputation to the King's cause ... a man of great sharpness of Judgement... of a nature much inclined to Melancholy ... His person was of a small stature; his courage, as all his other faculties, very great.

The Woburn Abbey provenance of this portrait is significant. The 1st Duke of Bedford's eldest son Lord William Russell (1639-83), who was beheaded for High Treason as a participator in the Rye House conspiracy, married in 1669 Lady Rachel Wriothesley, second daughter and eventual heiress of the sitter.
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