Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of King Edward VI (1537-1553) 

Workshop of Guillim Scrots (fl.1537-1553)

Portrait of King Edward VI (1537-1553), Workshop of Guillim Scrots
Oil on Panel
16th Century
19 x 14 1/2 in. (48.2 cm x 36.9 cm)
Dowager Lady Willoughby de Broke; Sir John Hay Williams, 2nd Baronet of Bodelwyddan, Anglesey; By descent to their daughter, Margaret, who married Sir Edmund Verney, 3rd Baronet of Claydon House in 1868; By descent to their son, Sir Harry Verney, 4th Bart, at Plas Rhianva, Anglesey; Thence by descent until 2013.
The iconography of King Edward VI is one of the most emotive in historical British portraiture, for, not only did the young king inherit a tired kingdom caught in religious turmoil, but his life, as we know, was cut so tragically short.

The portraiture of Edward VI is the one of the most varied of all Tudor monarchs. It is certainly the most extensive of any Tudor child, perhaps even of any royal child. It has often been assumed that the bulk of Edward’s portraits stem from his historical portrayal as a Protestant icon, especially after the religious revolution following the reign of his sister Mary. But contemporary Tudor royal portraits, such as this example, were not historical records. They were commissioned as current likenesses, either in an attempt to project the royal face, or as symbols of loyalty, and only an up to date portrait was therefore acceptable. Recent research has shown that some royal portraits were entirely over-painted in an attempt to maintain an up to date likeness of the monarch; the Anglesey Abbey portrait of Henry VIII as a young man is in fact painted over an earlier portrait of Henry as a child.

The same was true especially in Edward’s case. For not only was he the heir to the throne and the raison d’etre of years of political upheaval, but he was a child whose appearance changed every year. As a result, the demand for new portraits was great, and today we have a complete visual record of what Edward looked like as he grew up. The present portrait would no doubt have had a ‘shelf life’ of only a few years, had Edward lived, and would have been superseded by later, less adolescent-looking images as he matured.

The head-type seen in the present work derives from Guillim Scrots’ 1551 full-length portrait of Edward [versions in Royal Collection and Louvre], which was the last portrait for which the king sat. It was almost certainly painted during his reign as dendrochonological analysis of the panel has shown that the oak used was felled in the first half of the sixteenth century, with an earliest possible creation date of 1549. Scrots had been court painter to the Regent of the Netherlands, Mary of Hungary, and was recruited by Henry VIII as Holbein's successor at the close of 1545. His work, covering less than 10 years in this country, has never been satisfactorily reconstructed. One certain work that can be associated with him from this period is the distorted perspective portrait of Edward dated 1546 (National Portrait Gallery, London). This bore the signature ''Guilhelmus pingebat'' as late as 1713.

Unsurprisingly, the quality of Edward’s iconography varies widely, depending largely on the original function of the portrait and the patron who commissioned it. The present work, with tracings of gilding on Edward’s red doublet, would have been an expensive commission and was, perhaps, painted by a native painter, as it has been suggested they showed a preference for gilded detailing around this time.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.