Sunday, 27 November 2011

Tudor portrait identification issues: Lady Eleanor Brandon, her daughter Margaret, or Margaret Wentworth?

Portrait by Hans Eworth; thought to be Lady Eleanor Brandon or her daughter, Lady Margaret Clifford
Lady Eleanor was a descendant of a member of the Tudor dynasty. In March 1533, a marriage contract was written up for Lady Eleanor and Henry Clifford, the eldest son and heir of Henry Clifford, 1st Earl of Cumberland by Lady Margaret Percy.[2] However, since her mother died nine months later, she waited to go and live with her young husband and in-laws. In anticipation of Eleanor's arrival, the Earl of Cumberland built two towers and the great gallery within Skipton Castle.[3] Eleanor married Clifford at Brandon house, Bridewell, in 1537; her uncle King Henry VIII was present.[3][4][5][6]
Lady Eleanor and her husband had one surviving child, Lady Margaret, who was born in 1540. Lady Margaret would carry on her mother's claim to the throne under the final will of King Henry VIII after the Grey sisters which included Lady Jane Grey. Margaret married Henry Stanley, 4th Earl of Derby in 1554.
The Portrait

There is a discrepancy as to who the sitter is in the Hans Eworth portrait which is featured. 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.[5][6]

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].

Jane Wentworth, Baroness Cheney of Toddington

That is one of the problems of portrait identification within the Tudor era.

Queen Katherine Parr, NPG
Melton Constable portrait formerly labeled Lady Jane Grey; now re-labeled as Queen Katherine Parr
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.

So for now, the portrait remains one of four options: "unknown", "Lady Eleanor Brandon, Countess of Cumberland","Lady Margaret Clifford, Countess of Derby", or "Margaret Wentworth".

3. 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.
4. Sir Sidney Lee. Dictionary of national biography, Volume 54, Smith, Elder, & co., 1898. pg 70. Google eBook 
5. Eleanor Clifford (née Brandon), Countess of Cumberland, probably by Alfred Thomas Derby, after Unknown artist, Purchased, 1893, Reference Collection NPG D23066. National Portrait Gallery 
6. 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
 Written and researched by Meg McGath

Sunday, 6 November 2011

"Anonymous": Shakespeare who?

The Chandos portrait, artist and authenticity unconfirmed. National Portrait Gallery, London.
HD International Trailer of Anonymous

William Shakespeare (baptised 26 April 1564; died 23 April 1616) was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist -- or so we are told growing up. 

Sir Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
The new movie that just came out, Anonymous, refutes that. We start with a CGI version of Elizabethan London. We are taken to the playhouse where a guy named Ben Jonson (an actual poet and playright) is directing his own play. In waltzes this middle aged man with a hanky in our next scene. The man walks into the theatre and sits down. He is intrigued by the play that is going on. He meets with Jonson after the play and we are introduced to the 17th Earl of Oxford, John de Vere. Who is this man and what does he have to do with Shakespeare and this Anonymous movie? 
"William Shakespeare"
Well, apparently there is another version of who Shakespeare really was. In short -- Shakespeare never wrote a word, is made to look like an uneducated actor who can only read but cannot write even one letter when put to the test. Jonson of whom we were talking about was supposedly first approached by the Earl who selected him to distribute his plays; which have been stacking up in his office for years. We see Jonson looking through the collection of plays which include, "The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet" and "Julius Caesar". Now the claim that Oxford wrote all of these plays and that Shakespeare wrote nothing was droned up by the fact that the Earl of Oxford was of nobility; he was raised to become an educated man among the court of Elizabeth I. Shakespeare was basically a "peasant" of the land.

Shakespeare crowd surfs after his successful debut
The whole movie paints Shakespeare as an idiot who is a complete fool, is conniving, and money hungry. In one scene, after finding that Jonson has been getting his plays from Oxford he appears at Oxford's home and threatens to expose him unless he is paid money and given credit for Oxford's work. Oxford, who said he has "no wisdom" agrees. With that, some of the greatest works of "Shakespeare" or should we say "Anonymous" are brought to light and introduced to the stage. Shakespeare starts to work on the productions and all he has to do is walk out in front of the audience at the end and bow; then he can lay back and enjoy the money he's getting from Oxford to upkeep the deal. Shakespeare is even shown bringing an official coat of arms that was granted to him into a pub, which "cost a lot", but he had to have it to make himself "official". Funny thing is -- his motto -- "Non sans droict" meaning "Not without right." When Shakespeare tries to pronounce the last word he is caught fumbling; Jonson who is present has to finish and translate for the tavern folk who are questioning "what is that?" (coat of arms) If I'm not mistaken, I believe it was Shakespeare's father who was granted the arms in the first place?

Young Queen Elizabeth with Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford
Anywho, the movie also revolves around the "love story" of Oxford and Queen Elizabeth. We have the young Oxford who is living under the wardship of William Cecil. Cecil gets Oxford the best tutors in all of Europe and Oxford still persists in writing poetry which is seen as the "devil's work" in Cecil's eyes. Oxford, while at court, attracts the interests of the young Queen played by Joely Richardson. The two dance and then fast forward through the love making we have Elizabeth who is now with child "again" apparently. She demands that she be allowed to marry him. Cecil quarrels with Elizabeth and sends her off to have the child, who is the bastard of Oxford obviously -- Cecil tells Oxford that he is to never see Elizabeth again and yada yada must go back to his wife, who is coincidentally Cecil's daughter, Lady Anne. Oxford is so insulted and angry that he writes a play making depicting Cecil as the character Polonius in Hamlet

We then get into the later years where Cecil seems to have developed a faction against his own son-in-law (Oxford), the Earl of Southampton, and the Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux. William dies, but passes on everything he knows to his son, Robert. By this point, Jonson, oh yeah remember him? Jonson makes it a point to report the play Richard III and how it is possibly depicting Sir Robert.While the play is debuting, Robert Cecil feels that his character like his father before him is being made fun of by making Richard III a hunchback.  It is also during this time that Oxford decides to write a book recounting the love affair he had with the queen so that she will invite him to court; a subplot to get Essex and Southampton into see the queen. Essex, along with Southampton are found out and put in the Tower. 
The late Queen Elizabeth agrees to meet with Oxford once more...
Because of the book written by Oxford -- she decides that she would like to meet with him again. In comes Cecil, to spoil her newly found affections for Oxford again -- she is told that Southampton is actually her child.

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton and his supposed father, the 17th Earl of Oxford
As the Earl of Oxford watches Essex and Southampton being ambushed -- he is also approached by Sir Robert Cecil who starts to talk about what his father told him before he died. "My father told me all of his secrets." Ok, creepy! Turns out that when Elizabeth was about 16 or 17 (can't remember exactly), under the rule of "Bloody Mary" and yes he uses those very words.. Elizabeth becomes with child and has her first bastard. One of many to follow. What Oxford is not aware of is that HE is that child and that he has committed incest with his own mother -- whow, flashbacks of Anne Boleyn and Mary Boleyn inserted here -- in fact Cecil even made a comment about the Tudors and their selection of sexual partners were not always "the best".  Anywho, Oxford, who is in disbelief and is sickened by the very thought, is also informed that Southampton is his son by the queen. Cecil goes on in his monologue about how Oxford was taken on by his father so that he might marry his daughter and father the next heir to the throne since Oxford was the first bastard of the queen... I know right.. I'm a little weirded out and lost as to how off track the plot got. Oxford finally sees the queen who has no idea that Oxford is her son -- Oxford begs for their sons life and it is granted after she scolds him and tells him that none of his works will ever bear his name.

Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth I
The queen continues to age and Cecil is determined to put James of Scotland on the throne -- in her last days an Act of Succession is written up naming James as the heir to the throne. Cecil approaches the dying queen who is staring off into space -- insists that she sign the decree -- she takes one look at it, sees James's name, and tosses it to the floor. Wham, Elizabeth is dead and James is proclaimed king of England.

As Oxford is on his death bed, he calls Jonson to him -- he hands over everything he has ever written and tells him to publish is a few years after the Earl has passed on. Jonson agrees and leaves with a stack of plays, sonnets, and poems. He is stopped by Anne, the Countess of Oxford -- who again relays the feelings of the Cecil family -- plays are the work of the devil and he won't be remembered for anything. Jonson politely, in what we call in our time, cusses her out and that's that.

What makes the movie worth seeing -- 
  • The plot is crazy and hard to follow at times, but is a magnificent attribute to Historical Fiction once again. The flashbacks between times was a bit much but it was interesting to see a mother and daughter portray the same person.
  • Joely Richardson who just wrapped up playing Queen Katherine Parr in "The Tudors" portrays a queen not unlike Queen Katherine herself. The rage of the queen and that of her father is there and her temper flares more than a few times but we also see the romantic side of Elizabeth and her enjoyment of the arts.
  • Vanessa Redgrave is also wonderful in her roll as the elder queen, a woman who has aged and is becoming somewhat mentally unstable but is still enjoying life.
  • The costumes -- were amazing as usual. Period costumes amaze me; yes there were some items and clothes re-used from "The Tudors" and other Elizabethan movies.
  • The CGI reproduction of London was amazing! The original London bridge was portrayed, we are talking the only bridge that existed back then. There are also lovely scenes of stately homes -- and they made a reproduction of I believe it was Hampton Court. The best scene of all -- Elizabeth's funeral. It was portrayed exactly as it is shown in the famous drawing. They zoomed in from the sky to I believe it was the frozen Thames -- thousands of people were lined up to see the queen pass by. Every detail -- including the flags was there and was rather astonishing. 
London, England c. reign of Elizabeth I
Funeral procession of Queen Elizabeth I
  • And the last thing I liked -- the music although some of it was taken from the movie Elizabeth (1998); i.e. Mozart's Requiem "Introitus: Requiem aeternam" and "Knight of the Long Knives" after William Byrd. The "love theme" of Elizabeth and Oxford was quite beautiful. Tracks I liked include "Hamlet in the Rain", "God Save the Queen", "Edward's Theme", and "The Other One" -- two tracks reminded me so much of Elizabeth's (1998) "Coronation Banquet" by David Hirschfelder -- that was "Play after Play" AND "Will's Triumph".  Music can make or break a movie -- I think the whole repeatative nature of using Mozart and Byrd was rather unoriginal and felt like it was almost done on purpose. The other themes.. well.. sounded just like Elizabeth (1998) -- there were only a select few tracks that had originality. Eh, soundtrack C+.