The Anglesey Abbey Portrait

Called Lady Jane Grey
by English School, ca. 1600–1799
Oil on wood panel
15.6 in. x 12.5 in.
Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire, UK
(The National Trust )
     This is one of the most obscure and seldom-seen sixteenth-century portraits identified as Lady Jane Grey. It has never before been published, nor has it ever been exhibited in any gallery or museum. Instead, it has remained quietly tucked away in the Library at Anglesey Abbey, a stately home near Lode in Cambridgeshire. This is probably the first-ever effort (albeit a limited one, at present) to study the painting in a scholarly manner.

     Anglesey Abbey has been a National Trust property and open to the public since 1966. The portrait came to my attention only because my friend and colleague Hope Walker searched the National Trust database in mid 2010 in an effort to aid me in locating otherwise unknown portraits identified as Jane. Thus far, I have been able to study the painting only by means of a single medium-resolution photograph, though I hope to see it in person during a planned research trip to England in 2011.

     The painting is executed in oil on wood panel. The central image is a vertical oval in shape, reportedly measuring 39.6 x 31.8 cm (15.6 x 12.5 in). What appears in photographs to be a faux-painted mat of reddish gold color surrounds the image, extending the height and width of the entire piece to a rectangle measuring 52 x 45 cm (20 x 17.7 in).
     A note in the Anglesey Abbey catalogue indicates that the painted image appears to be a modern portrait, but [the] oak panel is old, and this portrait may be superimposed on an earlier one.[1]

     The painting is currently attributed to English or British School, 1600–1799.

     The portrait depicts a young lady at half length and in proper left profile before a monochromatic gray background. The lady’s eyes appear light in color, perhaps gray or blue. The eyebrow is only slightly arched. The lips are pink, full, and slightly pursed. The jawline has a gentle regular curve from the chin to the temple. A sweep of reddish-golden hair encircles the temple above and before the ear.

      The face appears on the whole too perfect, too obviously consistent with facial ratios and proportions long held by Western European artists as an aesthetic ideal. An imaginary straight line drawn from forehead to chin would very neatly trace the plane of the face, and that plane is precisely ten degrees off vertical. Similarly, the line of the nose is precisely twenty degrees off vertical and is unnaturally straight. The nares are absolutely horizontal from the tip of the nose to the face. The bottom of the nose rests exactly halfway between the eyes and the chin. The corner of the mouth aligns perfectly with the pupil of the eyes. The line between the upper and lower lip is at the midpoint of the distance between the tip of the nose and the tip of the chin. The only discernible flaw in the ratios and proportions of the face is in the placement of the ear: the tip of the earlobe is higher than it should ideally be, i.e., on a horizontal line with the tip of the nose.

     The sitter’s costume consists of a brownish-black gown with sleeves. The fabric is plain, without embroidery, brocading, or any other embellishment. The neckline of the bodice curves convexly across the center-line of the body. The rear neckline is high on the shoulders, approaching the nape of the neck. The entire top margin of the bodice, front and back, is embellished with a narrow band of darker brown-black fabric. The lady’s upper chest and shoulders are covered with what appears to be either a partlet or a chemise constructed of golden fabric. A band-type collar at the throat is slightly ruffled. The lady’s headgear includes an orange caul that is embroidered or brocaded in a chevron pattern and reinforced with rows of black cording. The edge of the caul is also embellished with black cording, and a black cord passes under the chin to secure the whole in place. The lady wears over the caul a black cap of low profile and narrow brim, sometimes called a ‘pancake hat’, perched on the proper right side of her head. The hat is decorated with a single white feather plume.

     The lady’s jewels are limited to a gold necklace formed of box links and worn wide over the shoulders. The necklace is affixed in front to the upper margin of the bodice of the gown so that it hangs in slight curves on either side of the fixed point. A pendant is suspended from the center of the necklace at the fixed point. The pendant is made of goldwork in a vaguely floral pattern, with three small tear-drop shaped pearls suspended from it.

     The portrait is presently held at Anglesey Abbey, which was bequeathed along with its all its contents to the British nation in 1966 on the death of Huttleston Rogers Broughton, 1st Lord Fairhaven. No further documentation for the provenance of the painting is available.

     The composition of this picture, a left full profile, is exceptionally rare for English portraiture of the sixteenth century. While a handful of such portraits are known, they almost invariably depict men rather than women, and the majority of even those were the work of just one artist, Hans Holbein.[2] Profile portraits of English women of the sixteenth century are limited almost exclusively to carved-stone cameos set in jewelry.[3] In contrast, sixteenth-century painted portraits of female sitters viewed in full profile are seen far more commonly emerging from Northern Italy, especially Florence.[4] The profile nature of this portrait suggests at least an Italian-born or Italian-trained artist, but more probably an Italian sitter and an Italian origin for the painting itself.

     The style of the costume is decidedly at odds with English fashion in general and with English fashion during Jane Grey’s lifetime in particular. The headgear indicates a sitter from south-central Europe, perhaps southeastern France, the southern German-speaking states, or northern Italy. Additionally, the caul and low-profile hat are consistent with styles of those regions in the 1560s or 1570s, more than a decade after Jane Grey’s death in February 1554.

     While the precise historical origins of the portrait are not documented, the mis-identification as Lady Jane Grey most probably occurred in the nineteenth century. From 1796 until 1929, Anglesey Abbey was owned by a succession of wealthy Anglican clergymen, beginning with the Reverend George Leonard Jenyns. He had inherited the estate, along with Bottisham Hall, in 1796 from the widow of his cousin Soame Jenyns, the wealthy writer and politician.[5] Rev. Jenyns’s new fortune was considerable, contrasting sharply with his modest occupation as vicar of Swaffham Prior (1787–1848), near Bottisham Hall, and prebendary of Ely Cathedral (1802–1848). It is quite possible that the newly enriched Anglican priest purchased the portrait from some unknown source and installed it in his imposing new residence of Anglesey Abbey. Rev. Jenyns may well have been tempted by the absence of a pre-existing identification for the sitter in the portrait and, as a faithful Anglican responding to the re-emergence during the first half of the nineteenth century of Jane Grey as a religious martyr-figure, simply decided — somewhat arbitrarily — that the portrait depicted Jane. Such highly imaginative mis-identifications were all too common in the period, as attested by the plethora of putative portraits of Jane readily re-identifiable as persons or subjects other than her.

     It is equally possible that the painting was acquired by any of Jenyns’s successor-owners of Anglesey Abbey in the nineteenth century, including John Hailstone, who purchased the Abbey from Rev. Jenyn’s estate in 1849. Hailstone was vicar of Bottisham from 1839 to 1861 and Rural Dean of North Cambridgeshire from 1863 until his death in 1871. Anglesey Abbey then passed into the hands of James George Clark, who was ordained into the Anglican priesthood in 1872. Upon Clark’s death in 1929, the estate was sold to Lord Fairhaven.[6] Any of the owners before 1929 would have had a ‘natural’ inclination toward identifying the otherwise unknown sitter in the portrait as one of the first martyrs of the Anglican Church and a national heroine who was all but idolized throughout the Victorian era.[see Addendum below]

     The Anglesey Abbey portrait once reputed to depict Lady Jane Grey is instead almost certainly a portrait of either an imaginary feminine ideal or an unknown lady from south-central Europe, perhaps northern Italy. The costume is consistent with the same region in the 1560s or 1570s. That the lady is seen in profile further suggests an artist of northern-Italian origin, supporting the premise that the sitter, if a genuine person, was also from northern Italy.

     The mis-identification as Jane Grey was most likley put forward by one of the several Anglican clerics who owned Anglesey Abbey during the nineteenth century [see Addendum below]. The mis-identification was undoubtedly a well-intentioned response to the popularity during the highly-romantic Victorian era of Jane as a historical figure.

J. Stephan Edwards, Ph.D.
Palm Springs, California
26 December 2010 
  Addendum :  
     On 16 November 2012, I received an informative email from Tim Cockerill, a volunteer house guide at Anglesey Abbey. Mr Cockerill has done some research on the history of Anglesey Abbey, and he discovered that when Lord Fairhaven purchased the house in 1926, it was empty. Mr Cockerill indicates that the painting called Lady Jane Grey was acquired by Lord Fairhaven only after he had purchased the house, and it was therefore not, as I speculate above, purchased by any member of the Jenyns family. The painting was apparently just one of many acquisitions made after 1926 by Lord Fairhaven and intended to furnish an otherwise empty residence. Mr Cockerill states that the purchases included a significant number of portraits of royal historical figures. He further stated that the volunteer guides, when speaking with visitors to Angelsey Abbey, continue to identify the painting as a likeness of Jane Grey. I understand this practice, as it is often difficult for those with an emotional investment in a historical object to accept challenge to the apparent ‘facts’ related to that object. Nonetheless, I stand wholly by my conclusion above that this painting is not an authentic likeness or accurate depiction of Lady Jane Grey.
  NOTES :      
Anglesey Abbey Catalogue of Paintings, Item 120, Unknown, Supposed Portrait of Lady Jane Grey, British School, AA/P/142. See note by Bobby Gore, second page.
See, for example, Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam writing by Hans Holbein, 1523, oil and tempera on wood, 43 x 33 cm, Louvre, Paris; Portrait of Simon George by Hans Holbein, 1533, oil and tempera on oak, 31 cm diameter, Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt; Portrait of Edward VI (anamorphosis) by William Scrots, 1546, oil on wood panel, 42.5 x 160 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG 1299).
Many such jewel cameo profiles of Elizabeth I are known, including the Heneage Jewel (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, accession number M.81-1935) and the Barbor Jewel (V&A Museum, London, acc. no. 889-1894).
See, for example, Portrait of Barbara Pallavicino by Alessandro Araldi, c.1510-1520, oil on wood, 46.5 x 35 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence; Profile Portrait of a Young Woman by Sofonisba Anguissola, late sixteenth century, oil on canvas, 68.5 x 52.5 cm, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg; Portrait of Laura Battiferri by Agnolo Bronzino, c.1555-1560, oil on canvas, 83 x 60 cm, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.
Elizabeth Grey Jenyns (1702–1796), daughter of Henry Grey, Esq., of Hackney and second wife (m.1754) of Soame Jenyns, retained a life interest in Bottisham Hall following the death of her husband Soame in 1787. Elizabeth acquired Anglesey Abbey sometime between 1793 and her own death in 1796 from Frances Shepheard Ingram, Viscountess Irvine, widow of Charles Ingram (d.1778), 9th Viscount Irvine. Elizabeth’s husband Soame Jenyns had served alongside Frances’s natural father, Samuel Shepheard (from whom Frances had herself inherited Anglesey Abbey in 1793) as MP for Cambridgeshire in the first half of the 1740s. The sale was thus a friendly one between longtime acquaintances. See Bernard Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland 2 vols. (London: Colburn and Company, 1852), I: 649; A.F. Wareham and A.P.M. Wright, eds., Bottisham: Manors and other Estates in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10: Cheveley, Flendish, Staine, and Staploe Hundreds (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell and Brewer, 2002), 196–205.
Wareham and Wright, Bottisham, 196–205.
    Introduction to Portraiture of Lady Jane Grey
    The Althorp Portrait     The Bodleian Library Portrait   
    The Chawton House–Hever Castle Portrait     The Elliot–Gedling House Portrait  
    The Fitzwilliam Museum Portrait     The Houghton Hall Portrait  
    The Jersey Portrait     The King’s College Portrait  
    The Madresfield Court Portrait     The Melton Constable Hall Portrait  
    The Norris Portrait     The Northwick Park Portrait  
    The Portland Portrait     The Rotherwas Portrait  
    The Somerley Portrait     The Streatham Portrait  
    The Syon House Portrait     The van de Passe Engraved Portrait  
    The Wrest Park Portrait     The Yale Miniature  
    Other Portraits Called
‘Lady Jane Grey’


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Page Created 26 December 2010, Revised 16 November 2012

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