Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Henry VI 1421-71 c.1550 1500s

 English School 

Portrait of Henry VI 1421-71 c.1550,  English School
Oil on Panel
16th Century
22 x 17 inches 55.9 x 43.2 cm
Marwell Hall, near Winchester Capt. H.A.Franklyn, New Place, Shedfield, Southampton His sale, Christie''s, 15 June 1956, Lot. 13. Lt.-General the Rt.Hon. Lord Norrie, Brimpton Mill, Reading & Government House, Wellington, New Zealand. His sale, Christie''s, 24 October 1958, Lot.34. Mr & Mrs E.J.de Tracy Kelly, Audley House School, Bicester until 1995.
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While no authentic contemporary portrait of Henry VI survives, it has been argued that an original ad-vivuum likeness did exist. -1 Sir Roy Strong bases his case on the authenticity of the costume details and the portrait-formula of the portrait of Henry in the Royal Collection at Windsor (oil on panel, 22 1/4 x 14 in.). 2 This picture, which was part of a set (with portraits of Henry V and Richard III 3), was recorded in the royal inventories of 1542 and 1547. 4 Sir Oliver Millar points out alterations in the shape and size of Henry''s hat, which was originally narrower and taller 5, as in fifteenth-century fashion. 6 This would seem to endorse the case for the one-time existence of a fifteenth-century original. All the later portraits replicate the flatter form of the hat, indicating that the Windsor picture served as the prototype for these images.

Amongst the earliest of these are the portraits in the National Portrait Gallery (NPG 2457, oil on panel, 10 x 12 1/2 in.) and the Society of Antiquaries (oil on panel, 12 1/2 x 9 7/8 in.) 7. It has been suggested that these are the products of a workshop, which was functioning towards the end of Henry VIII''s reign. 8 Differences in the sitter's costume, such as the lace sleeves and lack of ermine trimming move the images further away from the original source.

Our picture is consistent in size and quality with the workshop images produced from the second half of the sixteenth-century onwards. These were in demand both as parts of royal sets and as Founder portraits. The latter through Henry's association with King's College, Cambridge; Eton College; and All Souls, Oxford. The sets of portraits of kings and queens would have hung in Long Galleries and an important part of their function was to emphasise the loyalty of the particular family to the crown. They also seem to have been commissioned when there was a blood link (real or imagined) with the monarchy. Examples of these sets include those at Syon House (Duke of Northumberland), Hatfield (Marquis of Salisbury) and Hardwick Hall (The National Trust).

The portrait is close to Windsor image and replicates many of the details of the sitter's clothing. However, the S collar has been replaced by a purely decorative one and the cuffs are ermine rather than fur. Another adaption is the position of the hands. In the Windsor portrait the first finger on the right hand is tucked behind the left thumb but in ours it has disappeared and been replaced by a little finger.

The Marwell Hall provenance of our portrait is significant since the property and estate had a number of royal connections. At the dissolution of the monasteries the Manor of Marwell, which had previously belonged to the Bishops of Winchester and Corpus Christi College, Oxford passed to the Crown. It was granted to Sir Henry Seymour, one of the sons of Sir John Seymour of Wolf Hall, Wiltshire, whose daughter, Jane, married Henry VIII as his third wife in 1536. Jane Seymour's son, Edward IV is believed to have stayed at the during his journey through Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire in 1552, a year before his death. Marwell belonged to the Seymour family for another three generations before it was acquired in the mid-seventeenth century by Sir Henry Mildmay, a favourite of Charles I.

1.Roy Strong, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, Vol.1, p. 147
2.Oliver Millar, Tudor, Stuart & Early Georgian Portraits in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, 1969, Text, No.8, p.50.
3.Millar, I, Cat.nos. 6 + 14.
4.W.A.Shaw, (ed.) Three inventories of the years 1542, 1547 & 1549-50, 1937, p.50.
5.Op.cit., note 2.
6.Frederick Hepburn, Portraits of the Later Plantagenets, 1986, pp.45-6.
7.Royal Academy exhibition, Kings and Queens, 1953, Cat.no.56, p. 12.
8.Op.cit., note 1, pp. 146-7.
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