Portraits of Tudor Nobility

Tudor fashion is a fascinating subject in itself, and so I've decided to include portraits of Tudor courtiers at the site.
These courtiers were personally an important part of Tudor history, but this page is concerned only with their fashionable attire - though I have also included brief biographies and information about the portraits.

I will be updating this page occasionally.  Please check the What's New? page for details.


A miniature portrait of Sir Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, date unknown
by Nicholas Hilliard
This is perhaps the best portrait of Dudley (1532?-1588), whom many historians believe was Elizabeth's true love.  Whether Dudley deserved the queen's affections is debatable; he was often ill-tempered and arrogant.  But he and Elizabeth remained close until his death, and there is much surviving proof of their emotional connection.  In fact, during the early years of her reign, most foreign ambassadors believed Elizabeth and Dudley would marry.
The son of the duke of Northumberland who had engineered Jane Grey's disastrous nine day reign, Dudley's fortunes were low until he met Elizabeth again in adulthood (they first met as children.)  He sought to keep his first marriage secret, though his wife, Amy Robsart, died in mysterious and scandalous circumstances.  Later, he made a secret marriage to the queen's cousin, Lettice Knollys.
Elizabeth only titled him earl of Leicester in 1564, and ostensibly this was to make him a more attractive candidate for marriage to the queen of Scots.  But, as the Scottish ambassador James Melville noted wryly, the queen openly tickled Dudley's neck as she fastened the mantle around his shoulders.  Still, Elizabeth was always quick to keep Dudley off-balance and insecure in her favor.  As she told him once, 'If you think to rule here, I will take a course to see you forthcoming.  I will have here but one mistress, and no master.'

A miniature portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh, date unknown
by Nicholas Hilliard
Raleigh (1552?-1618) was one of the more famous Elizabethans; a passionate and brilliant man, he angered the queen by secretly marrying one of her ladies-in-waiting, Elizabeth Throckmorton.  Imprisoned by Elizabeth, he was eventually put to death by King James I in 1618.  His long stay in the Tower chafed at the former explorer, but he continued his many studies and remained a popular figure amongst the English people.
This is a very lovely portrait of Raleigh in full court costume.

Sir Christopher Hatton, date unknown
by Nicholas Hilliard
Hatton (1540-1591) was one of Elizabeth's most gifted and trusted courtiers.  He was very intelligent, though he left Oxford without taking a degree; he went to court instead, and his wit and skills as a dancer impressed the queen.  Elizabeth kept at court for nearly a decade before rewarding him adequately for his services (she was perversely fond of withholding titles and monies from her favorites.)  Hatton eventually served ably in several offices, including Captain of the Queen's Bodyguards and as one of her spokesmen in the House of Commons.  In 1587, he reached the summit of his career when he was made Lord Chancellor.  And, ironically enough, she also made him Chancellor of Oxford University.
Elizabeth nicknamed Hatton her 'Lids', and called Robert Dudley her 'Eyes'; she was also fond of calling Hatton 'Mutton'.  She sat at his bedside when he was ill, and the two exchanged letters often; his were quite passionate, as the following excerpt indicates: 'Would God I were with you but for one hour.  My wits are overwrought with thoughts.  I find myself amazed.  Bear with me, my most dear sweet Lady, Passion overcometh me.  I can write no more.  Love me, for I love you.'
Elizabeth openly worried that Hatton would marry and seek to leave her service; she made it clear that she could not stand to lose his devotion.  He never did marry, wisely enough, though he had a succession of mistresses who resided well out of the queen's sight.

Frances Sidney, countess of Sussex, c.1575  temporarily unavailable
British School
Frances (1531-1589) was the daughter of Sir William Sidney, and also the aunt of the famous poet Sir Philip Sidney, of Faerie Queen fame.  Her father was Edward VI's Chamberlain, and her family occupied an important position at his court.  She married Thomas Radcliffe in 1555, and thus became countess of Sussex.  Her husband was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth's, and served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and Lord President of the Council of the North; he was also often at odds with the earl of Leicester.  In her will, Frances left a substantial sum to endow a new college at Cambridge, called 'the Lady Frances Sussex College'.  She became a passionate Puritan in later life, and perhaps intended the college to support its spread.
This portrait has been trimmed on either side.  In it, Frances poses in her role as one of Queen Elizabeth's Ladies of the Bedchamber.  She wears a black velvet kirtle in the French style.  In her hand, she holds a 'flea cravat', made of fur and and with a jewel-encrusted head - it was intended to attract fleas.
Incidentally, Frances has a beautiful funeral effigy at Westminster Abbey.

A Lady in Black (formerly titled 'Mary I'), c.1550
British School
This portrait was once assumed to be of Queen Mary I, but a 20th century exhibition put that assumption to rest - the lady's appearance in no way resembles contemporary descriptions or portraits of Mary.  Full-length portraits from this period are quite rare, and so the lady must have been of some importance.  The style of her gown can be definitively dated to 1550-54, and is in the French fashion.  Its color indicates the sitter may be in mourning, and the gown and headdress are richly embroidered with jewels.  The embroidered guards and black velvet partlet on this gown appear in Mary I's wardrobe accounts; she often gave fabrics and old gowns to trusted servants.  This lady may very well have received some parts of the gown from the queen, and adapted them to fit her mourning attire.
This portrait is in the possession of the Huddleston family.  One of their ancestors, John Huddleston, protected Mary at his home of Sawston after Edward VI's death, thus preventing her arrest by John Dudley's supporters.

Sir William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, date unknown
by an unknown artist
Cecil (1520-1598) was Elizabeth's most trusted and capable advisor.  He served in both Edward VI's and Mary I's administrations, and acquired the reputation of a reserved and dedicated servant of the crown.  He first met Elizabeth in her teenage years, and she recognized his abilities; she appointed him her surveyor (accountant.)  They were close friends, and Cecil - understandably - was often at odds with the queen's favorite courtier, Robert Dudley.  Both men viewed the other as their main rival for Elizabeth's affections.  Dudley was open in his ambition to marry the queen, and Cecil was just as openly opposed to the idea.
Despite Cecil's prodigious administrative gifts, Elizabeth remained the true power in England.  She enjoyed occasionally disagreeing with him, and never hesitated to have her own way.  But she trusted him unconditionally, and loved him deeply.  His death was a devastating blow in the last years of her reign; no other councilor received the same favor and affection.

Queen Catherine de'Medici, c.1555
attributed to Francois Clouet
Clouet was appointed court painter to the Valois family in 1541, upon the death of his father Jean Clouet.  He made many of the most beautiful images of the young Mary, queen of Scots.
This miniature portrait is quite rare since it was made before Catherine's husband, King Henri II of France, died in 1559.  Most images of the imperious queen were made post-1559, after she adopted the heavy veil and plain dress of widowhood.  In this portrait, she wears an elegant black gown trimmed with white fur, a jeweled French hood, and assorted other jewels.  She holds a feather fan in her right hand, and her left rests over the gold border of the portrait - a typical pictorial trick of northern portraits.
Catherine (1519-1589) was an heiress of the infamous Medici dynasty of Florence, and married Henri in 1533.  They were crowned king and queen of France in 1547.  In 1559, her husband died and Catherine began her singular odyssey as the central power in France.  She was the mother of the last three Valois kings, Francois II (who wed Mary, queen of Scots), Charles IX, and Henri III.  As her last son sank into madness and death, Catherine arranged the ill-fated marriage between her daughter, Marguerite, and Henri of Navarre (a Protestant royal and heir to the French throne.)  Navarre promised to renounce his Protestantism in return for the throne, but such vows did nothing to end the near-constant religious strife which plagued France in the 16th century.
Catherine was once widely believed to have engineered the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre, in which hundreds of Parisian Protestants (called Huguenots) were killed.  However, she was merely a convenient villain; in truth, she sought to stabilize France's religious turmoil in order to protect Valois interests.  And in January 1562, she issued the Edict of St Germain which allowed the Huguenots to worship publicly on the outskirts of towns, and privately within town precincts.
You can view a portrait of Catherine's daugher, Isabel de Valois (who wed Mary Tudor's husband, Philip of Spain), by scrolling down this page.
And, once again, I realize Catherine was not Tudor nobility, but this is a rare and lovely portrait - & she certainly had an impact upon Tudor politics.  Also, her son d'Anjou was one of Elizabeth I's most persistent suitors.

Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia and her Dwarf, c.1599
artist unknown; perhaps Otto van Veen or Frans Pourbus the Younger
Isabella (1566-1633) was the granddaughter of Catherine de'Medici, and the favorite daughter of Philip II of Spain and his third wife, Isabel de Valois.  In 1598, she wed her cousin Albert of Austria and together they ruled the Southern Netherlands.
Isabella wears an extraordinary pearl-encrusted gown lined with rich fur and embroidered with linked rings, fleurs-de-lys, and other flowers.  This portrait was sent to England in 1603 as a diplomatic gift to James VI of Scotland when he was crowned James I of England.

King Erik XIV of Sweden, 1561  temporarily unavailable
Steven van der Meulen
Erik (1535-1577) was the son of King Gustav Vasa of Sweden.  He became king of Sweden in 1560, and though often extravagant and emotional, he was very intelligent and talented.  In the summer of 1557, he was first proposed as a husband for Princess Elizabeth Tudor.  And, upon her accession in 1558, he remained on the list of potential foreign husbands (which also included Emanuel Philibert of Savoy and the Hapsburg archdukes Ferdinand and Charles.)  Erik was keen to wed Elizabeth, as evidenced by the passionate love letters in Latin which he sent her in 1558 and 1559.  Throughout the early 1560s, it was reported that he might leave Sweden to visit England - but only his brother, Johan of Finland, eventually came to England to plead Erik's case.
Erik's red and gold ensemble was the height of Spanish fashion, always popular in Sweden.  His royal blood is indicated by his sword, chain, and the crown which rests on the table beside him.
Poor Erik did not meet a happy end - his brother Johan had him deposed and imprisoned in 1568, and he was finally executed in 1577.

Sir Philip Sidney, c.1576
by an unknown artist
Sidney (1544-1586) is famous as the author of Astrophel and Stella and In Defense of Poesie, among other works.

Margaret Audley, duchess of Norfolk, 1562
by Hans Eworth
Margaret (1540-1564) was the daughter of Thomas, Lord Audley.  In 1558, she married Thomas Howard, 4th duke of Norfolk; she was his second wife.  The 'Audley arms', supported by the 'Audley Beast', are featured in this beautiful portrait.  The portrait was painted while she lived with her husband in London, at the Norfolk city home called Charterhouse.  Margaret died in childbirth in 1564.

An Unknown Lady, c.1560s
by Hans Eworth
Who is this imperious lady in such beautiful attire?  We know she was of very high rank because of her jewels and incredibly opulent gown.  The coat-of-arms in the background was added over a century later so it has no relation to the sitter.  Most historians believe it is Margaret Clifford, great-niece of Henry VIII and cousin of Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I.  No matter her identity, this is a lovely portrait - the gown itself is extraordinary.

An Unknown Lady, probably Jane Dormer, c.1560s
by Antonis Mor van Dashorst
The sitter in this portrait is probably Jane Dormer (1538-1612), a lady-in-waiting and friend to Mary I.  She married the duke of Feria, the Spanish ambassador to England; after Mary's death, she led several Tudor noblewomen into Catholic exile in Spain.

Isabel de Valois, c.1560s
by Alonso Sanchez Coello
This is a portrait of the French princess Isabel de Valois (1546-1568).  She was the eldest daughter of Henry II of France and Catherine de'Medici.  She became the third wife of Philip II of Spain by proxy in June 1559, just a few months after Mary Tudor (his second wife) had died.  She finally met Philip in person at Guadalajara in February 1560.
The near full-length size of the portrait indicates her rank and importance, and the town in the background is Toledo - she entered it formally as queen on 17 February 1560.  Unlike his marriage to Mary I, Philip was actually very fond of Isabel.  She died tragically young, in childbirth.  The color of her dress is quite rare in state portraits, but the rose shade was associated with romantic love.  On the hair jewel on her right, you can see the gold monogram 'YF' (either 'Ysabel Felipe' or 'Ysabeau de France'.)
There are portraits of Isabel's mother and daughter featured on this page.
And yes, I realize that she isn't Tudor nobility - but this is a beautiful portrait.
 

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