Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of John Braddyll of Portfield and Whalley (1557-1616) 1580s

Attributed to Robert Peake (c.1551-1619)

Portrait of John Braddyll of Portfield and Whalley (1557-1616), Attributed to Robert Peake
Oil on Panel
16th Century
44 x 36 inches 113 x 92.7 cm
By descent to Thomas Braddyll of Portfield (d.1776); Colonel Wilson Gale, cousin, of Conishead Priory, assumed name and arms of Braddyll August 15th 1776; Colonel Braddyll''s great-great-nephew, Col. Inigo Richmond Jones, Kelston Park near Bath; By inheritance to Captain L.W. Neeld, Kelston Park; His sale Christie''s May 2nd 1958, lot 59, bt, Jessup 20
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This haunting picture was executed in the full tradition of Elizabethan courtly portraiture. The sitter is placed in a landscape in an attitude of melancholy, so familiar from the miniatures of Nicholas Hilliard. The sense of self-absorption is comparable to that projected in A Young Man, thought to be Lord Essex among the roses or Lord Herbert of Cherbury, and the immediate impact of these portraits is akin to eavesdropping on a Shakespearean soliloquy.

The elegance of the courtier is displayed not only through the sitter''s fashionable, pensive disposition, but also through the studied casualness of his costume. Braddyll's silver suit is appropriate for reception at Court, but the black lamb's wool cloak and brown gloves -one held by a single finger, the other tucked casually beneath his arm- allude to his place in the countryside suggested behind him. The gloves most correct with Court dress would instead be of a similar colour to the suit and would have large, lace gauntlets.

Stag-hunting -which with falconry was the gentlemanly sport par excellence- is represented to the left of the sitter. To the right in a less vigorous exercise a lady and gentleman, perhaps intended for John Braddyll and Elizabeth Brockholes, who married c.1582, walk closely together through a wood, as if through a bower in a formal garden. The forests and the river beyond may allude to the sitter's father's role of Surveyor of the Woods beyond Trent belonging to the Duchy of Lancaster, to which he was appointed by Queen Elizabeth and to which the sitter in this portrait was appointed in 1604, implying a heredity. It is more probable, though, that the dark woods and the rushing torrent occupied a less precise role both as stock pieces of the Elizabethan landscape, and as emblematic touchstones for some conceit of Braddyll's character. No subsequent age has derived as much pleasure and instruction from these verbal and pictorial ''devices'' and their precise meaning is frequently lost or conjectural. The divinely presented book represented in the sky at the left, for example, is accompanied by a Latin inscription semel et semper. This is not the Braddyll family motto -cognies toy meme- but must be some reflection of a more immediate relevance to the sitter. Does once and always, however, suggest constancy in love (and amorous interpretations are often to be found in this sort of courtly portrait) or might one see it, in combination with the book, as a manifesto of the sitter's putative recusancy? Nor is it known to what sorrow the single magpie on the left might allude.

The Braddyll family was closely involved both with events local to their seat at Portfield and, through their dealings with nearby Whalley Abbey, with the politics of the Kingdom. In the 1330s, for example, John Braddyll released his rights to land in Billington to Richard Topcliffe, the Abbot's brother, and in 1347 his son, William Braddyll lived on the same estate, still under the control of the Abbey. Like a number of country gentlemen, however, the Braddylls saw an opportunity to increase their landholdings through the suppression of the monasteries. They were in elevated company: Royal officials such as Sir William Petre and Sir Robert Cecil bought themselves a courtier's dignity through their profits on monastic lands. In Lancashire, a county of deeper-seated devotion to the Old Religion -or perhaps merely more instinctively conservative- matters were transacted less smoothly.

Although the Monastery was placed under attainder in 1536 -at which point John Braddyll (d.1578) the current sitter's grandfather, began to supervise the division and administration of the Abbey property as Crown Land- resentments to Royal policy as executed by Cromwell were felt more strongly here than elsewhere in the Kingdom. The Pilgrimage of Grace in 1537 was an expression of this unease. Unremarkably, as a revolt under arms against Royal authority, it was suppressed with considerable harshness, and may even have been used as a pretext for settling local scores. Whether or not John Paslew, former Abbot of Whalley, was closely involved in the revolt is far less certain or important than the fact that his execution removed the last impediment to the establishment of central authority and the last nagging reproach to the appropriation of Church territories.

The monastic property remained in sequestration until June 1553, when John Braddyll in partnership with Richard Assheton -whose niece Anne married John Braddyll's son Edward in the following year and became in 1557 the mother of this sitter- bought the lands from the Crown for 2,132 3s 9d. It has might appear that this purchase was injudicious coming as it did a mere twenty days before the death of Edward VI and the accession of Mary I. The latter had pledged herself to the restoration of the Roman religion and the restitution of church lands appropriated under her father and brother. For whatever reasons of practicality, however, Mary chose to undo only that part of her predecessors' work that touched upon men's souls; the church lands remained with their new owners. Assheton, therefore, became exclusive possessor of the Abbot's lodgings and Braddyll took possession of most of the outlying Abbey lands.

As an accompaniment to this newly acquired wealth, members of the Braddyll family were also to be equipped for their elevated station by a gentleman''s education. John Braddyll's son Edward, born in 1533, matriculated at St John''s College Cambridge in 1553. His second son Richard attended Christ''s College, before proceeding in 1559 to Gray's Inn. Although this was primarily in order to receive training for a career at the Bar, the Inns of Court served increasingly as gentlemanly finishing school. Not only was a training in the Law a prime qualification for government service, but it was an essential tool in the daily transactions of any land-owning gentleman. Equally, the proximity of the Inns to the Royal Palaces of Whitehall, St. James's, Greenwich and Hampton Court made them a perfect school of manners, from which young men might meet and emulate courtiers and politicians.

Edward Braddyll's sons were all sent to Oxford, where they attended Brasenose College. John, the sitter in this portrait, matriculated in 1575 and took his B.A. degree in February 1576/7. Like his father he became a member of Gray's Inn. His younger brothers Richard, Ralph and Edward followed him to Brasenose and all save Ralph then went on to Gray's Inn. It is notable that the wealth of a country family such as the Braddylls would have supplied only the eldest with the means to live as a gentleman. Younger siblings would have to enter the professions or the church. Ralph became a Fellow of Oriel and then Principal of St Mary''s Hall -which College was then attended by his son Laurence in 1635- and Edward became a Catholic priest.

John Braddyll would appear to have continued in the land-owning duties of his father. In 1604, shortly after Edward Braddyll's death, he was confirmed in his late father''s position of Surveyor of the Woods beyond Trent belonging to the Duchy of Lancaster. In the same year he was also appointed by Henry Prince of Wales to the office of Receptor Cumbriae, a position in which he owed responsibility to the Crown for the collection of revenues in Cumbria. He was succeeded not by his elder son, Edward, who died whilst an undergraduate at Oxford, but by his late-born son John (1599-1655), an ancestor of Colonel Wilson Gale Braddyll (d.1818), Groom of the Bedchamber to King George III and connoisseur of paintings.

The image that emerges of John Braddyll is in most ways that of the conventional Elizabethan squire, exercising deputed Crown authority within his demesne. The diary of a cousin of the Braddylls, Nicholas White, presents a vivid record of this existence in the 1620s, when the administration of local business was combined with frequent journeys to London nine days away in order to take care of legal matters and to remain in touch with national affairs. White also records the appearance before Star Chamber of John Braddyll's brother Edward, arraigned for practising as a Catholic priest. This fact is casually noted and the punishment mentioned only as a fine. This is curiously lenient, since Father Braddyll -who entered England as a priest in 1587 after a training at the Seminary at Rheims- had already been twice banished in 1607 and 1620, on the first occasion being imprisoned at Lancaster for ignoring the order of banishment. Despite these strictures he continued to minister in Lancashire as late as the 1630s.

Even though the reign of King James I was marked by a rapprochement with the Catholic powers and a dampening-down of the vigorous persecutions that took place under Elizabeth it is still remarkable that the Braddylls enjoyed royal favour despite the public delinquency of one of their number. There is no clear evidence as to the religious persuasion of John Braddyll, although to enjoy preferment from Prince Henry one would presume that at least publicly he shared the Prince''s vigorous Protestantism. The fact, though, that John Braddyll married Elizabeth Brockholes of Claughton -and that his sister Jane married into the same family- may open a window into his conscience. The Brockholes family feature prominently in the recusant rolls of Lancashire -a county which seems never to have been fully reformed- as do the families of Talbot and Southworth, into which families two further Braddyll sisters married. These circumstances encourage one to speculate as to what coded recusant vocabulary lies in the imagery of this portrait and the divinely presented motto semel et semper.

The attribution to Robert Peake is suggested by a comparison with other works by the artist which seem to echo this example in their treatment of figure and landscape, and are reminiscent of this work in the elegiac mood that they often evoke*. Paintings such as Princess Elizabeth later Elizabeth of Bohemia 1603 (National Maritime Museum) and Henry Prince of Wales with Sir John Harington 1603 (Metropolitan Museum of Art) contain highly comparable background passages. Physiognomically, however, there are discrepancies, most notably in the more plastic handling of the eyes and in the stronger tonal range to be found in these later works. By the accession of King James I in 1603 Robert Peake, a native of Lincolnshire, had become perhaps the most fashionable painter in London. He had been in independent practice since c.1576, however, and was popular with courtiers and North Country families on their visits to the Capital.

*We are grateful to Karen Hearn of the Tate Gallery for noting this comparison.
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