Hans Holbein the Younger “An unidentified man”

An unidentified man c.1532-43
Black and coloured chalks, white bodycolour, pen and ink, and brush and ink on pale pink prepared paper | 27.1 x 18.9 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 912260 Wikipedia

Written and researched by Meg Mcgath

While researching Sir William Parr, 1st Marquess of Northampton, I came upon this portrait AGAIN! According to Susan James’ “Catherine Parr: Henry VIII’s Last Love”, written in 2009, this portrait may be his closest companion, Sir John Dudley, Lord Lisle, later Duke of Northumberland. *Note: Parr had his portrait done by Holbein.

The portrait is also featured in an article for the future Duke. While this website sometimes checks out, it’s not always 100% reliable unless sources are listed. Here it’s labeled “An unidentified man, possibly John Dudley by Hans Holbein”.

On the site Alamy, I have found this portrait. It is a later copy of the original “An unidentified man”.

Portrait of an unknown man, court of King Henry VIII, c. 1532. Possibly John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, who tried to install Lady Jane Grey as Queen. Handcoloured copperplate stipple engraving by Charles Knight after a portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger from Imitations of Original Drawings by Hans Holbein, John Chamberlaine, London, 1812.

There are a few more that say it’s possibly John Dudley.

Fine Holbein portrait. Unidentified Man engraved by Bartolozzi c1799. Classic Holbein portrait of an elegant young man. Engraved by Bartolozzi c1799. (Perhaps John Dudley. Lord Dudley was 1st Duke of Northumberland)
Portrait of an unknown man, court of King Henry VIII, c. 1532. ,1812 (engraving) Portrait of an unknown man, court of King Henry VIII, c. 1532. Possibly John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, who tried to install Lady Jane Grey as Queen. Handcoloured copperplate stipple engraving by Charles Knight after a portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger from Imitations of Original Drawings by Hans Holbein, John Chamberlaine, London, 1812.

The copy of the original pops up again a few more times with no identity.

An unknown Knight from the court of Henry VIII by Bartolozzi after Holbein 1884. Antique hand-coloured portrait plate, engraved from the original drawings by Hans Holbein; This series of portraits, engraved from the original drawings of Hans Holbein by F Bartolozzi (engraver to the King), shows Lords & Ladies from the court of King Henry VII of England (1884). 28.5 x 20.0cm, 11.25 x 7.75 inches. Condition: Good. There is nothing printed on the reverse side,
which is plain. Seller Inventory # P-7-005013

The portrait pops up on Tudors Dynasty which says “possibly John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland”.

Dudley seems to have one portrait which was done around 1605-08, well after his death. Any similarities? Is it a copy of another portrait from his lifetime?

Portrait of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. Oil on panel, 690 x 543 mm. English school, 1605–1608. On show at Knole, Kent (National Trust collections, NT 129763). National Trust Images/John Hammond

Another possible candidate?

The portrait was recently uploaded to Wikipedia as “Unknown man, Possibly George Boleyn, 2nd Viscount Rochford.jpg” on 28 November 2018 by username “UrikSweden”. The user uploaded a few things on 26, 28, and Dec 1. The history of the page shows the revision at 18:58 on 28 November by UrikSweden which originally stated,

Description English: A portrait drawing of an unidentified man, possibly George Boleyn, 2nd Viscount Rochford Date c.1532-43 Source Royal Collection

By 10 August 2020, the portrait had already circulated online and was the official portrait on his Wikipedia. Username “Ammelida” edits from 04:52 to 05:48. Her first edit,

Added [en] caption: An unidentified man c.1532-43, Hans Holbein the Younger

By the last edit, Ammelida has completely redone the page. They take out the original description by UrikSweden (above) and replace it with,

description = {{en|1=A portrait drawing of an unidentified man. A bust length portrait facing three-quarters to the right. He wears a fur collar and hat with a feather and gold ornaments pinned to its brim.}}

Added as reference: “https://www.rct.uk/collection/912260/an-unidentified-man RCIN 912260” and “Parker, K. T. (1945). ”The Drawings of Hans Holbein in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle.” London: Phaidon Press, p. 48, pl. 44.”

So let’s look at the link to RCT (Royal Collection Trust).

Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023

As of 22 March 2022, the Royal Collection Trust has it labeled as “An unidentified man”. There is no mention of George Boleyn or John Dudley for that matter.

So what’s all this? Wikipedia is where it seems to have originated. There are articles that feature this portrait as “George Boleyn”, they use the Wikipedia upload as a source.

Was it used in a documentary? Did they not see Susan James’ biography on Katherine Parr from 2009 saying it may be John Dudley? There just is NO source as to where the identification came from. With Dudley, at least there is a copy of the “An unidentified man” identified as “possibly John Dudley”.

At 01:31, username Ammelida takes the portrait out of George Boleyn’s Wikipedia stating,

Deleted image: the drawing by Holbein is that of an unidentified man. Parker, K. T. (1983). The Drawings of Hans Holbein in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle. London: Phaidon Press, pl. 44.

Hever Castle, home to the Boleyns, at one point started displaying it as “possibly George”. I think the description of the portrait states Dr Owen Emmerson as the expert. Comments?

Discussions of the portrait possibly being George have arisen on Facebook. Dr Sarah Morris was brought up as another expert who thinks it’s “George”. Comments?

On the Facebook page for Gareth Russell, author of Young and Damned and Fair: The Life of Catherine Howard, Fifth Wife of King Henry VIII, he has a post about it. On 2 February 2023 he wrote,

Is this the long-lost face of George Boleyn?

Anne Boleyn’s brother was a prominent, early, and enthusiastic supporter of the Protestant Reformation. He was also described as being as handsome as Adonis. Framed and executed on a charge of incest in 1536, it’s been assumed for centuries that all portraits of George, Lord Rochford, were lost or destroyed.

But there’s a modern theory that this sketch could be him.

It’s possible – and some see a similarity between this man and a sketch alleged to show his sister, Queen Anne. However, the two of them had dozens of first cousins on their mother Lady Ormond’s side, for instance. There were also Butler and Boleyn cousins on their father’s side. So people with a physical resemblance to Anne or George wouldn’t have been hard to find at court. Cousins often look as alike, or more alike, than siblings.

It’s not impossible that this shows George Boleyn, but it’s also possible it shows some other prominent courtier.

What do you think?

Response from yours truly as “Queen Catherine Parr”:

That’s the only reason people have started associating this with George? A similarity between the portrait and the one thought to be Queen Anne? You guys gotta do better than that. We don’t even know what Anne really looks like. Thanks to some random person it was uploaded as possibly George Boleyn to Wiki and it’s been showing up as factually correct all over the internet. However, if people took the time to click on the portrait (actually do some research on the portrait) they would eventually see that there is a link to the drawing in the RCT where it remains unidentified and there is no mention of this ridiculous idea of it being George.

So… ya’ll it’s “An unidentified man”… but copies say it could possibly be John Dudley…comments, thoughts?

The OTHER Elizabeth Cheney

Lately on Pinterest I have noticed that a certain portrait has become labeled as a member of Queens Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard’s family. The woman in the portrait is being credited as their grandmother (or whatever) “Lady Elizabeth Cheney Tilney“. The link used on each pin belongs to The Royal Collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and if clicked on — the title is clearly stated as being “Elizabeth Cheyne, Lady Vaux (1509-1556)“.[1]

The actual Lady Elizabeth Tilney was born in 1422 as a Cheney, the daughter of Lawrence and Elizabeth Cokayne. Elizabeth married firstly to Sir Frederick Tilney by whom she had a daughter named Elizabeth Tilney. By Lord Tilney, Elizabeth was in actuality the great-grandmother of Queens Anne Boleyn (wife no. 2) and Katherine Howard (wife no. 5). As the widowed Lady Tilney, Elizabeth made a second marriage to Sir John Saye. By that marriage she was also the great-grandmother of Queen Jane Seymour (wife no. 3). Lady Elizabeth Saye (born Cheney) died in 1473.

The only daughter of Sir Frederick Tilney and Lady Elizabeth (born Cheney), Elizabeth, married firstly to Sir Humphrey Bourchier by whom she had issue. After her first husband died, the widowed Lady Bourchier became the wife of Sir Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey (later Duke of Norfolk) on 30 April 1472. This couple was parents to Lady Elizabeth Howard (mother of Anne Boleyn) and Sir Edmund Howard (father of Katherine Howard)–the two doomed queens of King Henry VIII.

Will the Real Elizabeth Cheney Please Stand Up?


A copy of “Lady Vaux” originally by Hans Holbein c. 1536. This copy was done in 1938.

As for the REAL Elizabeth Cheyne (or Cheney)–she was born in 1509; around the time that Anne Boleyn may have been born. Elizabeth was the daughter of Sir Thomas Cheyne of Irthlingborough, an Esquire of the Body to Henry VIII, and Lady Anne (born Parr). Sir Thomas Cheyne (d.1514) was the son of Sir John Cheyne of Fen Ditton (c.1424-1489) and his wife Elizabeth Rempston (born c.1418)–see below for more info.[8] Lady Anne’s parents were Sir William Parr, Baron Parr of Kendal and Lady Elizabeth (born FitzHugh). By her parents, Lady Anne was a paternal aunt to Henry VIII’s last queen, Katherine Parr. In 1516, Elizabeth Cheyne became a ward of of her step-grandfather, Sir Nicholas (later 1st Baron Vaux of Harrowden). In 1523, she was married to Sir Thomas Vaux (later 2nd Baron Vaux of Harrowden); the heir of Lord Nicholas Vaux by his second wife.[1][2][3]

The Close Circle of Nobility

Step-grandfather you say?

Now this is where the history of the Vaux and Parr families become extremely confusing to some–Elizabeth Vaux and Katherine Parr’s grandmother, the widowed Lady Elizabeth Parr (born FitzHugh), married secondly to Sir Nicholas Vaux (later 1st Baron) as his first wife. This move was made as a measure to ensure loyalty to the new Tudor King, Henry VII. Lord Vaux’s mother, Katherine, had been a loyal supporter of the House of Lancaster and Queen Margaret of Anjou (wife of Henry VI). Elizabeth FitzHugh, herself, was loyal to the House of York. Her mother Lady Alice Neville was a daughter of Sir Richard, 5th Earl of Salisbury. As such, Elizabeth was a niece of Richard, Earl of Warwick “Warwick, the Kingmaker”. As close family members, Elizabeth and her mother were part of the coronation train of Queen Anne (born Neville) and attended her as ladies afterwards. Elizabeth and Nicholas had three daughters. One was the wife of Sir George Throckmorton, also named Katherine (née Vaux). After Elizabeth FitzHugh died, Lord Vaux married secondly to Anne (née Greene); the maternal aunt of Queen Katherine Parr. By Anne, Lord Nicholas had his heir–Thomas–who married Elizabeth Cheyne. Upon Thomas and Elizabeth’s marriage in 1523, Elizabeth was formally titled Lady Elizabeth Vaux or Lady Vaux. The family tree of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard have no such lady with this title.[2][3]

As for Sir Thomas Cheyne–here is where some people may have confused the portrait. Cheyne was of the same lineage as Lady Elizabeth Tilney/Saye (born Cheney), daughter of Sir Lawrence (d.1461) and Elizabeth Cokayne. Thomas’s father, Sir John (d.1489), was Elizabeth Cheney’s brother. So there is a connection there, but the daughter of Sir Thomas was not an ancestress to the Boleyn or Howard family.[7][8]

About the Work of Art


‘Elizabeth Cheyne, Lady Vaux (1509-1556)’ c. 1536 by Hans Holbein. Windsor Castle. The Royal Collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2012–RL 12247.[1]

Above: the actual sketch from Windsor Castle’s collection of Holbein’s portraits. It is described as using Black and coloured chalks, white bodycolour, wash, pen and ink, brush and ink, and metalpoint on pale pink prepared paper; 28.1 x 21.5 cm[1]

The original sketch was acquired by Edward VI in 1547 after the death of his father, Henry VIII. Henry FitzAlan, 12th Earl of Arundel bequeathed the portrait to John, Lord Lumley in 1580. Lord Lumley probably bequeathed the portrait to Henry, Prince of Wales in 1609, and thus, it was inherited by Prince Charles (later Charles I) in 1612. Charles I exchanged the portrait with Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke (the grandson of Lady Vaux’s other cousin, Lady Anne Pembroke (sister of Queen Katherine Parr) around 1627/8. Charles II acquired the painting through Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel in 1675. It has been in the Royal Collection ever since.[1]

This drawing of Lady Vaux with the companion image of her husband was probably made as a study for a painted portrait. Holbein’s painting of Lady Vaux is known only through copies. No painting of Lord Vaux survives.[1]

lady vaux

The Hampton Court painting of ‘Elizabeth, Lady Vaux’ c. 1600-30 (Twitter user Sir William Davenant)[5][6][9]

Henry VIII loved art and collected his fair share of portraits and drawings. There is a painting of ‘Lady Vaux’ at Hampton Court (above) which is said to have been painted by Holbein. It is one of three paintings recognized as genuine by the experts. However, others debate the authenticity and the painting at Hampton is labeled ‘After Holbein–Elizabeth, Lady Vaux‘. Elizabeth is depicted looking to the front, wearing a brown dress with ermine, with a jewel at her bosom decorated with the Madonna and Child enthroned. She holds a pink carnation in her right hand, and a cherry in her left. This is thought to be a competent copy after a lost original by Hans Holbein. The original was painted in 1535. This portrait hangs in the Haunted Gallery at Hampton. The authentic sketch of ‘Lady Vaux’ by Holbein (RCIN 912247) is at Windsor Castle.[1][4][5][6]

The only other copy of the painting of Lady Vaux is in Prague Castle Gallery of all places!


The portrait of ‘Lady Vaux’ hangs in the gallery at Prague Castle.

Authors Notes

So, if you see the portrait of Lady Vaux on Pinterest; the caption is incorrect. The fact that people refuse to or do not know how to change the caption is rather sad in my opinion. Elizabeth had no direct connection to the Boleyn or Howard families. Why do I feel like the painting was and still is being labeled incorrectly? My theory: most people do not know anything about Katherine Parr’s extended family; it seems so much easier to associate a lot of things to the Boleyn family for some fans. And when some are called on it, it can get pretty nasty. I’ve had some really nasty comments after leaving my own comment about the true identity of the sitter. For some Boleyn fans, the research, so they think, has already been done. The caption must be correct. No. But who am I? Some random pinner–or so they think.

I won’t deny that as a writer on Parr, this whole situation makes me extremely angry. I have been writing for years on this family and just trying to correct a simple image has become tiresome and pretty unpleasant. What really bothers me is the fact that putting the wrong label on a portrait deprives the memory of the real person. To me, somehow that person becomes erased.

Elizabeth, Lady Vaux died shortly after her husband on 20 November 1556. She was most likely a victim of the plague which killed her husband.[9]

More info:


  1. Holbein, Hans. “Royal Collection – Elizabeth, Lady Vaux,” circa 1536. RL 12247. Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II, 2015. URL: https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/egallery/object.asp?maker=12102&object=912247&row=82
  2. Douglas Richardson. “Plantagenet Ancestry,” Genealogical Publishing Com, 2004. pg 144, 561.
  3. Burke, Sir Bernard. “A Genealogical History of the Dormant: Abeyant, Forfeited, and Extinct Peerages of the British Empire,” New Edition. London: Harrison, 1866. pg 418.
  4. ‘Spelthorne Hundred: Hampton Court Palace, pictures’, in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2, General; Ashford, East Bedfont With Hatton, Feltham, Hampton With Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton, ed. William Page (London, 1911), pp. 379-380 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol2/pp379-380 [accessed 13 February 2016].
  5. Sir William Davanant on Twitter: “I give thee Elizabeth Cheyne, Lady Vaux (1509-1556). After Hans Holbein. #HamptonCourt” [https://twitter.com/SirWilliamD/status/297996052068450304]
  6. Holbein, After Hans. “Royal Collection: Elizabeth Cheyne, Lady Vaux,” circa 1600-30. RCIN 402953. Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II, 2014. URL: https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/402953/elizabeth-cheyne-lady-vaux-1505-1556
  7. A F Wareham and A P M Wright, ‘Fen Ditton: Manors’, in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire) (London, 2002), pp. 123-124 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol10/pp123-124 [accessed 11 February 2016].
  8. Richardson, Douglas. “Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study In Colonial And Medieval Families,” 2nd Edition, 2011. pg 526-7. Google eBook
  9. Johnson, Graham and Humphries, Lund. “Holbein and the Court of Henry VIII: The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace,” London and Bradford, The Gallery, 1978. pg 95-96.

©Meg McGath, 12 February 2016

This is the work and research of Meg McGath. You may not reproduce or copy this material without written permission.