Monday, 17 August 2009

Possible portrait of Mary?

Over on Blog, there is an interesting post on a portrait of an unknown woman which some believe to depict Mary. I believe the current owner of the portrait is trying to find evidence to prove that it is of Mary and then he intends to sell.

I agree with other posters on the blog in their criticism of the claim. It seems to me that the owner of the portrait, and historian Linda Porter, primarily want the portrait to be of Mary and lack compelling evidence to back this assertion. Porter’s statement that, ‘Plus which, to me at least, it looks like her’, is not valid evidence to be used for the case that this painting depicts England’s first anointed queen regnant. It is ultimately a rather empty statement that doesn’t contribute anything to be the debate. Porter also argues that a portrait once believed to depict Katherine Howard which was then questioned by historians and now accepted is proof that identify of sitters can come full circle, with historians now accepting long established judgments. [1] In this I would also disagree considering the ‘Katherine Howard’ portrait is still debated amongst historians, with many rejecting the idea that it is of Katherine. In fact that National Portrait Gallery have decided to label the portrait as ‘unknown woman, formerly known as Catherine Howard’. Though the portrait was recently used in the Hampton Court exhibit on the six wives of Henry VIII, the curator Brett Dolman noted that there are ‘no undisputed portraits of Katherine’.[2]

As a poster on the Blog has pointed out, the portrait dates to the 1550s and therefore does not date to c.1537 (the date which the owner of the portrait believes it to belong to). So we can dismiss the notion that is of Mary at the time of her brother’s birth. And I think, owing to the lack of evidence and the presence of a degree of personal interest in this (after all a portrait of a major Tudor royal is going to fetch quite a bit!), we can dismiss the notion that is of Mary. Perhaps the possibility that the portrait depicts Margaret Douglas, countess of Lennox should be explored further.[3]

The full article, from The Times, can be read here:


[1] Porter is directly referring to the current debate surrounding the portrait of an unknown woman by Hans Holbein the Younger, a version of which is housed in the National Portrait Gallery, London. For some time the sitter was believed to depict Katherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife and Mary’s fourth step-mother.

[2] Statement made in an interview Dolman did with the BBC History Magazine on the exhibit (Vol. 10, no 4; April 2009). Dolman does provide evidence for the portrait being of Katherine but certainly does not present this as something determined, which Porter implies.

[3] Margaret Douglas was first cousin to Mary. Margaret mother was Margaret Tudor, consort to James IV of Scotland and sister to Henry VIII. Mary and Margaret were very close, to the degree that Mary wished Margaret to be her heir and not Elizabeth.


  1. I dont think it even looks like her compared to other pictures, wasn't her face rounder?

  2. I don't think it looks like her, either. I don't recall any other portrait of her with such a pointed chin.

  3. I agree that the woman does have a rather pointed chin which has never come across in other images of Mary. She appears to have taken after her mother, with both having a rounder face (evident in the Holbein sketch of Mary):

    The argument that this is of Mary in 1537 and somehow marks her mourning of Jane Seymour is an odd theory given that it has been proven to date to 1550s (and this can be seen straight away by the woman’s dress which dates to a later period than the 1530s).

    I understand the desire to want to find another image of Mary as princess – particularly by so great an artist as Holbein. But unfortunately this isn’t it.

  4. Is this the portrait Leanda de Lisle refers to in her recent biography of the Grey sisters? She suggests it might be a portrait of Frances Brandon Grey, mother of Jane, Katherine and Mary.

  5. No, I was referring to a picture in the Fitzwilliam, Cambridge. I believe new research indicates this is a picture of Margaret Douglas .

  6. I myself can see a resemblence between the sitter of this portrait and Mary, hence around the nose and the whole face.I without a doubt beleive this to be of Mary and my reason for stating so is the above.The costume aswell as headress that the lady in this portrait is wearing is typical of the time and of the period, in style exactly.Upon looking at the earliest portraiture of Mary she did indeed look like her mother and does appear to have a rounded chin but upon looking at the later portraiture of her as queen her features seem more pronounced as they seem to in the portrait above of the lady dressed in black. Do not forget that as we get older our features change and become more pronounced and do indeed develop as we grow older and this is what I think has happened here.You can still see her mother in her as she ages but it is at this point in her lifetime when she also starts to look a little like her father.I therefore on the basis of this proclaim the portrait named "The Lady In Black" Mary.

    P.S Her chin when younger like I stated earlier in my post looks rounded but as she got older it seem to appear more pointed somewhat and it just shows in later portraits of her. The proof is in the portraiture and even if not prooved to be Mary it is deffinately of someone who lived and was painted during the "1550" + period hence the styling of both the headress and the clothing.As we all know and can see that this fashion was worn by women of not just the Tudor era but also of the particualr time when Mary I was queen.

  7. Elizabeth I (1533-1603) when Princess in mourning dress for her half-brother Edward VI (1537-1553), circa 1553? She would have been about 19 or 20 years old at the time. Please note the long, thin face and reddish-gold hair. Although the much-loved queen was considered to be striking in her youth, she was never a beauty.