Portrait of an Unknown Lady c.1565-8 by Hans Eworth (1540-1573), Tate Gallery, London, United Kingdom
There is a yet another discrepancy as to who the sitter is in another Hans Eworth portrait from the Tudor era. This time around, the actual sitter is, in fact, unknown. The proposed sitter of the painting was (and still is often) Lady Eleanor Clifford. Wikipedia has the portrait as Lady Eleanor’s main portrait. However, there has been a nod to perhaps the sitter being Eleanor’s daughter, Lady Margaret Clifford. As to who is really is–we’re not sure, so let’s study the background of each woman.
Lady Clifford was born Lady Eleanor Brandon in 1519 – 27 September 1547) She was the second daughter of Sir Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and his wife the former Princess Mary, Queen of France. Her mother was the younger sister of King Henry VIII; making Eleanor a grandchild of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. In March 1533, a marriage contract was written up for Lady Eleanor and Lord Henry Clifford, the eldest son and heir of Henry Clifford, 1st Earl of Cumberland by Lady Margaret Percy. However, since her mother died nine months later, she waited to go and live with her young husband and in-laws. Eleanor officially married Lord Clifford at Brandon house, Bridewell, in 1537; her uncle King Henry VIII was present.
Lady Clifford served several of her uncle’s queens. In 1536, she was Chief Mourner to Queen Katherine of Aragon; the deposed wife Henry put aside for his second, Anne Boleyn.
Lady Eleanor and her husband had one surviving child, Lady Margaret, who was born in 1540. Eleanor died on 27 September 1547, nine months after her uncle Henry VIII. At the time of her death, her cousin Edward VI was King.
Lady Margaret Clifford would have been born in the process of King Henry VIII’s wife swaps. In 1540, Katherine Howard was consort. A short lived marriage that put Katherine on the chopping block dissolved and Henry was single again. In 1543, the King would marry for the 6th and final time to the widowed Lady Latimer (born Katherine Parr). Queen Katherine had a sturdy circle of religious women around her at all times. In her list of ladies-in-waiting, we see that both Lady Cumberland (mother to Margaret) and the Duchess of Suffolk (Lady Frances Brandon; aunt to Margaret) are listed. Margaret would have only been three when her granduncle married Katherine Parr.
The scandal of Lady Jane Grey hit Lady Margaret’s immediate family hard. Her cousin, Jane was in line to the throne after King Edward VI and his two sisters; Ladies Mary and Elizabeth. King Edward saw fit to bypass his sisters in his will and give his cousin Lady Jane the crown. Jane was the daughter of Lady Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk. As such, Jane was the niece of Lady Eleanor Clifford; mother of Lady Margaret. The scandal was quickly suppressed and the will of Henry VIII (Edward’s father) was upheld. Lady Mary Tudor came to court to denounce her cousin Jane. The will of Henry VIII held more sway over Edward’s. Also, the blood descendants of King Henry VIII were preferred over the descendants of his father, Henry VII. There were two still living. Mary claimed her right to the throne and Jane was disposed. Jane, her father, her husband, and a few others were implicated and eventually executed under the new queen. As for Lady Margaret? She joined the court of Queen Mary. Queen Mary consented to the marriage of Lady Margaret to the heir of the Earldom of Derby and the two were married at Westminster Palace on February 12, 1555.
In 1557, Lady Margaret started to cause somewhat of a ruckus by claiming a superior succession to the crown than her cousins, Lady Catherine Grey and Lady Mary Grey. Margaret stated that because her cousin Jane had been tainted, tried, and executed, the whole line of the Grey family should be barred from the succession.
The death of Queen Mary set Lady Margaret in the attendance of the new Queen, Elizabeth. She held the rank of two of the highest noblewomen in the country along with her cousin, Lady Margaret Douglas (daughter of the eldest sibling of Henry VIII; Queen Margaret of Scots). Lady Margaret Clifford’s status may have been enough for a portrait. Her cousin, Margaret Douglas, certainly got a few.
Full-length portrait of Lady Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox (1515-78), standing with a Griffon at her feet. She is holding gloves in her left hand and resting her right on a table on which stands a clock in the form of a tempietto, the dial surmounted by a hound and a shield with the arms of Scotland. Inscribed: THE LADY MARGARET. HIR GRACE / LATE WIFE TO MATHEW ERLLE / OF LENNOX REGENT OF SCOTLANDE / AND MOTHER TO HENRY KINGE / OF SCOTLAND / Aetatis 55 Aí Dni. 1572.
What We Know About the Portrait
The coat of arms in the top left corner, which may have been added later, are the impaled arms (those of a husband and wife) of Henry Clifford, 2nd Earl of Cumberland, and his wife Lady Eleanor, daughter of Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk and Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France. As a result the painting has been frequently exhibited in the past as a portrait of Lady Eleanor, regardless of the fact that she died in 1547, well before the date of this portrait [the roman numerals MDLX at the top right = 1560]. It is, however, a rule of heraldry that impaled arms are not used by the children of a marriage, as they would have their own. Hence the later addition and erroneous use of the arms here suggests that the identity of the portrait was already unclear only two or three generations after it was painted, a situation by no means unusual amid the frequent early deaths, multiple marriages, and shifting alliances and fortunes of the most powerful families of the Tudor era. Later the portrait was thought to represent the only child of Eleanor and Henry to survive infancy, Margaret. Unfortunately the inscription on the right which might have provided a check (Margaret would have been aged 25-28 at the time of this portrait) has been truncated; although the Roman numerals of the year can apply only to 1565-8, the age of the sitter cannot be ascertained with any useful accuracy. The National Portrait Gallery has an online sketch of this portrait identified as Lady Eleanor, but the portrait remains in dispute.
Another unfortunate aspect of the portrait is the clothing; the clothing does not match the time period of Lady Eleanor Brandon. The dress is third quarter of the 16th century and is of Spanish influence.
According to Richard Davey. The sisters of Lady Jane Grey and their wicked grandfather, E.P. Dutton and co., 1912:
The Lady Eleanor Brandon was a better looking woman than her sister Frances. When her tomb in Skipton Church was disturbed in the seventeenth century her skeleton which was in perfect condition proved her to have been very tall and large boned whereas the Lady Frances was of medium stature. Lady Eleanor, if we may judge by her portrait, which hangs at Skipton Castle, was pretty rather than beautiful. The writer confesses that the portrait at Skipton did not impress him as that of one who could have put forward the slightest pretensions to good looks; the cheeks are high, the forehead abnormally broad, the eyes however are fine, and the hair fair but the complexion according to this venerable picture must have been quite ghastly. The portrait is very badly painted; a poor thing worth little as a work of art but none the less interesting.
The site for the Tate Gallery concludes that the painting is still unidentified, yet there is an identical sketch on the site for the National Portrait Gallery identified as Lady Eleanor. Who’s who?
Another proposal for the sitter is given as Hon. Margaret Wentworth, daughter of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Baron and his wife Margaret Fortescue. Sir Thomas was a nephew of Queen Jane Seymour’s mother, Margaret Wentworth. Thomas’s daughter, Margaret, married three times; Sir John, Baron Williams of Thame; Sir William Drury; and Sir James Croft. The new identification is given by Dr. Roy Strong based on the comparison to her sister, Jane Wentworth, Lady Cheney [below].
Problems with Identifying Tudor Portraits
Queen Katherine Parr attributed to Master John c. 1544. NPG, London. (c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
For years Queen Katherine Parr’s many portraits were thought to be Lady Jane Grey; it is just recently that the portrait in the NPG in London (first portrait) was finally changed permanently to Queen Katherine Parr based on the research of the Queen’s inventory of jewels which was recorded in the documents of King Henry VIII. They are also recorded in the back of the recently published book, “Katherine Parr: Works and Correspondences.” Those very same jewels that belonged to the Queens of England were last worn by Queen Katherine Parr. After the death of King Henry, and after Edward Seymour proclaimed himself Lord Protector, the jewels, along with her personal jewels, were put into the Tower for safekeeping. Since Edward VI had no queen the jewels would not have been in use unless Edward’s wife Anne Stanhope got a hold of them; which she was not entitled to. Lady Jane Grey was in the household of Queen Dowager Katherine Parr until her death in 1548, but as stated the queen’s jewels were not accessible to Lady Jane and the portrait which is dated in the early 1540s also proves that the person painted had to have possession of those jewels; and who had possession during that time — only Queen Katherine Parr.
Let’s Talk to an Expert
The portrait at the Tate is certainly not of Eleanor Brandon. The artist of that painting is identified as Hans Eworth, an artist who did not become active in England until after Brandon’s death. Too, the style of the sitter’s costume also quite firmly dates the painting to at least a decade after Brandon’s death.
It seems quite logical that a portrait of Eleanor would have hung at Skipton, since that castle belonged to the family of Eleanor’s husband Henry Clifford, Earl of Cumberland. I do see that Richard Davey claims to have viewed the portrait in situ just prior to World War I. Whether or not his claim is factual is an open question, however. Davey too often simply invented the “facts” presented in his books. His list in Nine Days Queen of portraits of Jane Grey is packed with errors and deliberate falsehoods.
I understand that Skipton is now partially derelict, though it may still have some limited habitable spaces. Have you contacted Skipton Castle directly through their website to ask for any information they may have? That is certainly where I would start. I did check the Getty Research Institute’s Provenance Research Database, but that did not turn up any portraits of Eleanor Brandon Clifford appearing at public auction between 1700 and 1900. But the portrait may have been sold privately. –Dr. Stephan Edwards (Author of A Queen of a New Invention and The Lady Jane Grey Prayer Book)
I have contacted Skipton Castle looking for information. I have yet to receive and email. So for now, as of the end of 2016, the portrait remains unknown.
- Lawrence Manley, “From Strange’s Men to Pembroke’s Men: 2 “Henry VI” and “The First Part of the Contention”.”, Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 54, No. 3 (Autumn, 2003), pp. 253-287.
- Sir Sidney Lee. Dictionary of national biography, Volume 54, Smith, Elder, & co., 1898. pg 70.Google eBook
- Eleanor Clifford (née Brandon), Countess of Cumberland, probably by Alfred Thomas Derby, after Unknown artist, Purchased, 1893, Reference Collection NPG D23066. National Portrait Gallery
- The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.66-8. Tate Collections
Katherine Parr, attributed to Master John, circa 1545. Purchased with help from the Gulbenkian Foundation, 1965 Primary Collection. Reference Collection NPG 4451
- Lady Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox (1515-78), c.1572, British School, 16th Century, Royal Collection Trust. RCIN 401183
- Kathy Lynn Emerson “Who’s Who in Tudor Women“.