Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Frances Howard, Duchess of Lennox (1578-1639), c.1615 

Circle of Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1561/62-1636)

Portrait of Frances Howard, Duchess of Lennox (1578-1639), c.1615, Circle of Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger
Oil on oak panel
16th Century
25 x 18 3/4 inches 63.5 x 47.6 cm
By descent to Catherine Stuart suojure Baroness Clifton (1640-1678) Great-niece of the sitter, sister of Charles 6th Duke of Lennox; Her daughter, Catherine Lady Clifton (1673-1706J); Her daughter Theodosia Lady Clifton (1695-1722) married 1713 John Bligh
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Frances Howard was celebrated in her lifetime both for her beauty and her lineage. A pride in the latter - her father, Thomas Viscount Howard of Bindon was a younger son of the 5th Duke of Norfolk and the grandson of the 3rd Duke of Buckingham - sustained her through her first marriage to Henry Prannell, a rich wine merchant. Prannell died in December 1599, leaving her both a great heiress and free to make a more elevated match.

In 1601 she married the son of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Protector during the reign of King Edward VI. Her husband, Edward Earl of Hertford (1539?-1621). The Earl was the successful of two suitors for her hand. Sir George Rodney, the loser, in an act which testifies both to Frances Howard’s beauty and to the extreme conclusion to which Jacobean courtly love could lead, wrote a dying love song in his blood and ran upon his sword.

The marriage was performed secretly at Hertford’s house, without Banns of licence, for which the celebrant, Thomas Montfort, was suspended by Archbishop Whitgift for three years. Hertford was amused by his wife’s hauteur, and would tap her on the cheek, asking: ''Frank! Frank! How long is it since you married the vintner?''

Two months after Hertford’s death in 1621 Frances Howard married Ludovic Stuart 2nd Duke of Lennox (1574-1624). Lennox was a trusted courtier and servant of his cousin, King James I, and in addition to the offices of Privy Councillor and Steward of the household was in 1623 created Duke of Richmond. Unfortunately, this marriage, which otherwise would seem to be the Duchess’s happiest, was not destined to be long. The Duke died in 1623, predeceasing his wife by sixteen years.

It was to this last marriage that she looked back when giving instruction for her burial, asking in her will to lie in Westminster Abbey next to the man, ''whose matchless memory and faire needs to me shall ever live with me to the uttermost of affection and dutie, whiles I breathe on earth.''

This portrait is datable to c. 1615 and is related to a number of surviving images of the Duchess (e.g. A Lady called Elizabeth I collection of the Earl of Haddington. The low neckline and loose hair are designed to emphasise and flatter her youth and beauty. The coronet dates the portrait decisively to within her marriage to the Earl of Hertford.
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