Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of King Richard III (1453 - 1485) 

Late 16th Century English School 

Portrait of King Richard III (1453 - 1485), Late 16th Century English School
Oil on oak panel
22 Ĺ x 16 Ĺ in. (57 x 41.8 cm.)
The Lords Byron, Newstead Abbey Nottinghamshire; Newstead Abbey sale, Knight Frank and Rutley January 10th - 14th 1921, lot 603.
A Visit to Sherwood Forest, c.1850, p.36 The Home and Grave of Byron, c.1851, p.51 P. Austin Ryan, Newstead Abbey and the Relics of Byron, c.1874, p.29 A.J.Lloyd, A Guide to Newstead Abbey and Gardens, 1916, pp.60-61.
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This work, which was once owned by the famous poet Lord Byron, is an exceptionally rare late-Tudor portrait of King Richard III, one of the most captivating and debated English monarchs.

The painted portraiture of Richard III is all of one type, exemplified by the present painting, and best known from a sixteenth century panel in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG 148). This type unquestionably derives from a lost original which may well have been painted from life, a claim strengthened by the absence of any propagandist elements in paintings which survive from Tudor collections. The versions preserve a distinct characterisation, into which observers have been able to read either tortured humanity or malice, depending on their understanding of the Kingís character. Either is certainly possible, and it is a tribute to the accomplishment of the painters that this is the earliest English portrait type which conveys a sense of the man himself, rather than of the iconic power of the office he holds.

The long galleries of the nobility and gentry were hung with a profusion of panel portraits. These collections evolved from smaller sets in the early part of the century that would depict, perhaps, just the ownerís family and the present sovereign. By the date of the present portrait Ė in line with the Tudor pseudo-antiquarian fascination with dynastic and heraldic matters Ė these sets might span as far as possible the entire succession of the English crown, putative and actual family connections, foreign monarchs, political allies and great men of the past. Richard IIIís association with the Byron family is one that would have been known to the poet. His antecedent, an earlier Lord Byron, famously fought at the Battle of Bosworth where the king met his violent end. At Newstead, nineteenth century guides record this portrait hanging alongside other monarchs who shared associations with the family.

King Richardís reputation as a paradigm of evil only started after his death, initiated by Tudor propagandists, including Sir Thomas More and William Shakespeare. The youngest son of Richard, Duke of York, he was created Duke of Gloucester in 1461 after his eldest brother, Edward, had deposed Henry VI and been crowned Edward IV. In October 1470, the two were exiled by the Earl of Warwick in favour of Henry VI. Returning with Edward in March 1471, Richard contributed to the victories over the Lancastrians at Barnet and Tewkesbury that led to Edwardís restoration.

When Edward died in April 1483, Richard became protector of the realm for Edwardís son and successor, the 12 year-old Edward V. Problems soon arose with Edward IVís widow, Elizabeth Woodville, and her family, who dominated the young monarch. Richard arrested (and eventually executed) their leaders and too Edward V and his youngest brother into custody.

A publicity campaign condemned Edward IVís marriage as invalid, his children illegitimate and Richard to be the rightful successor. On 25th June an assembly of lords and commons endorsed these claims; the following day Richard III officially began his reign.

The usurpation, however, eroded Richardís support among those who had accepted him as Protector. The two young princes disappeared in August, widely rumoured to have been murdered by Richard. This remains a possibility. A rebellion raised by the Duke of Buckingham in October quickly collapsed, but Buckinghamís defection, along with his supporters, eroded Richardís power and support among the aristocracy and gentry.

Meanwhile, Richard had a serious rival to the throne. Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, claimed Lancastrian ancestry to the throne through his mother Lady Margaret Beaufort great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt. Although exiled in France, he was rapidly gathering support among those disaffected with Richardís governance. In August 1485, Henry landed in South Wales. He marched east and engaged Richard in battle on Bosworth Field on 22nd August. Although Richard possessed superior numbers, several of his key lieutenants defected, chiefly Lord Stanley and his brother Sir John Stanley. Refusing to flee, Richard was killed in battle. Henry Tudor took the throne as King Henry VII, founding one of Englandís greatest dynasties that would last until the death of Elizabeth I in 1603.
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