Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury (c.1450-1532) 

After Hans Holbein 1727 - 1815

Portrait of William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury (c.1450-1532), After Hans Holbein
Oil and Canvas
18th Century
31 x 25 Inches(79cm x 63.5cm)
Probably acquired by Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon (1609-1674), for his gallery at Clarendon House, London; By descent to his son, Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon (1638-1709), at Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire; By descent, at Cornbury, and later The Grove, Hertfordshire, to his nephew, Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Rochester and later 4th Earl of Clarendon (1672-1753); Transferred to his son, Henry Hyde, 5th Baron Hyde and Viscount Cornbury (1710-1753), in 1749, who died without issue; By descent to his niece, Charlotte (d.1790), eldest daughter of William Capell, 3rd Earl of Essex (1697-1743), who married Thomas Villiers, 1st Earl of Clarendon (1709-1786), of the second creation; Thence by descent to the present owner.
Plymouth, City Museum and Art Gallery, Paintings in the Clarendon Collection, 1954, no. 2; Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, on long term loan until 2010.
Archbishop Warham was one of the most powerful figures of the Tudor period, holding the highest office in the Royal Government for over twenty-seven years and playing a crucial role in the developments and outcome of one of the most turbulent periods in the history of our nation.

Educated at Winchester College and New College, Oxford, Warham obtained a doctorate in Canon Law, proceeding to London in 1488 and quickly progressing up the ranks. He soon became involved in numerous diplomatic duties, including a mission to the court of Maragaret, duchess of Burgandy 1493 in an attempt to halt the Burgundian support for the false claimant to the English throne, Perkin Warbeck. As Master of the Rolls (1494), Warham’s position was further lifted, and assignments now included negotiations with the Spanish ambassador for the marriage of the ill-fated Prince Arthur to Katherine of Aragon – an involvement which inevitably in later years bought Warham closer to Henry VIII, over whom the latter thought he could hold control.

Warham’s contributions to state and church affairs were evidently well received; consecrated as Bishop of London, on 25th September 1502, and two years later, at royal request, transferred to Canterbury where he received the title of Archbishop in March 1504. The position granted him tremendous power - ‘Primate of All England’, historically being the accompanying title of the position, and Warham experienced a level of authority second only to the king.

On Henry VII’s death, and as a result of the tragic demise of Prince Arthur, Warham crowned the second oldest son, our most infamous monarch, Henry VIII and his wife Katherine of Aragon, at Westminster in June 1509. It comes as little surprise to hear that Warham was dubious about the marriage proposal of Henry to his dead brother’s wife, however perhaps due to youthful ambition Warham ultimately chose to keep quiet. This is all changed however when two decades later the King wanted a divorce, the monarch knew who to go to, and after an enduring attempt to recover the case from Rome, Henry recurrently named Warham as the judge on the matter, certain that the archbishop would comply to his demands. Warham wasted no time exerting his influence over Oxford during the consultation of the universities, his chief contender however being Cardinal John Fisher, a strong supporter of the queen and anti-reformist, who was later executed for his refusal to acknowledge Henry VIII as Supreme Governor of the English Church.
As the King’s tactics became more violent Warham began to appease to the relentless efforts of Rome, and after a meeting in 1531 with Clement VII’s nuncio, Warham withdrew his support of the crown.

Facing almost certain death, Warham began to condemn the king’s conduct in the Lords, and as was sadly a common occurrence during those times, it was not long before Warham was being accused on a trumped up charge of treason, the reason given that he had consecrated the new bishop of Asaph without full royal consent some fourteen years previously. Warham’s defensive speech still exists in draft form, however it was never delivered, as he died of natural causes on 22nd August 1532, before any formal action could have been taken against him.

Hans Holbein painted two finished versions in oil of Warham, the first is now sadly lost and the second, from which the present work was copied in now in the Louvre, Paris. The original was painted just after Holbein’s arrival in England in 1527, when Warham was seventy years of age. The portrait was commissioned by Warham in admiration of a likeness painted four years earlier of his theologian-friend, Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536). The preparatory drawing of the original work can be found in the collection at Windsor.
Warham is shown in his private chapel surrounded by numerous devout items, including a processional crucifix and a prayer book open at the Litany of the Saints, acting as clear reminders of his towering significance. Although painted later, around the beginning of the seventeenth century, this work nevertheless displays the competent realism, especially in the sitter’s features, which so epitomise Holbein’s work.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.