Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Lord Bray 1570s

 English School 

Portrait of Lord Bray,  English School
Oil on Panel
16th Century
22 ¾ x 17 inches, 57.8 x 43 cm
Probably, Lord Lumley, 1590 Lumley Inventory; The Brays of Shere; Sir Jocelyn Bray, by whom sent to Christies in 1950, but not sold.
‘The Brays of Shere’, in The Ancestor, no. vi 1903.
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This portrait, with its distinctive cartellino, is almost certainly that recorded in the celebrated Lumley inventory, when in the possession of the Elizabethan Catholic and noted art collector Lord Lumley. As such it would have formed part of the most celebrated art collection in England in the sixteenth century. The Lumley collection grew into a gallery of almost all the notable figures of the Tudor dynasty, and included sculpture as well as paintings. To judge from this example, as well as other sitters mentioned in the inventory, such as the full-length of Anne Boleyn, some of the portraits were posthumous, and thus included in an attempt to create a consciously historical collection. What is probably a later version of this portrait is at Stanford Hall.

John Bray was an influential nobleman and soldier during the most turbulent years of the Tudor regime. The son of Reginald, 1st Lord Bray, he first came to prominence when commanding the forces sent to suppress ‘Kett’s rebellion’ of 1548, which, along with a series of uprisings across England over religion and enclosure, threatened the very foundations of Edward VI’s government. In 1553, after Edward’s death, Bray was one of twenty-six peers who signed letters patent handing the Crown to Lady Jane Grey.

Unsurprisingly, Bray was particularly mistrusted by Queen Mary, and lost valuable lands as a result. In 1556 he loudly declared that he wished Elizabeth, Mary’s sister, was on the throne instead, for ‘he should have his lands and debts given him again, which he both wished for and trusted once to see.’ For this personal insult to Mary Bray was imprisoned in the Tower of London for a year, and for some time lived under the threat of execution. Mary in the end relented, being persuaded by Bray’s wife, Anne, daughter of the 5th Earl of Shrewsbury, that he should be spared. Mary could not, however, resist remarking that ‘God sent oft-times to good women evil husbands.’ Bray in fact repaid Mary’s mercy with interest – in 1557 he joined the siege of St Quentin, where he contracted a fatal fever. He died soon afterwards at his home in Blackfriars on 18th November at three o’clock in the afternoon. An account of his death and elaborate burial is recorded in great detail at the Royal College of Arms.
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