The Houghton Hall Portrait

Called Lady Jane Grey
Unknown Artist
30 x 25 inches
Oil on wood panel
Private collection
     Little need be said about this portrait since it is all but identical to the Streatham Portrait, though the above photograph indicates that it is in very poor condition.[1] It is currently in a private collection in the UK, and the owner has declined permission for me to examine or photograph it. The best that can be managed at present is a brief analysis of the probable provenance of the painting and a few comments on the likely original purpose of the work.

     The Houghton Hall Portrait was exhibited in 1866 at the South Kensington Museum (item number 193 in the exhibition catalogue), on loan from Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton of Fryston Hall, Yorkshire.[2] It was one of four putative portraits of Lady Jane in the exhibition. The others included the Althorp Portrait (as item 183), the Bodleian Portrait (item 190), and a portrait then owned by a Colonel Tempest and attributed to the late-Elizabethan painter Marcus Gheeraerts (item 184).[3]

     Christopher Foley, the London art dealer who handled the recent sale of the Streatham Portrait, was able to determine that Lord Houghton bequeathed this portrait to his son, Robert Crewe-Milnes, 2nd Baron Houghton.[4] At Robert’s death in 1945, the painting passed to his daughter Lady Helen, wife of the Hon. George Colville, thence to her son Sir John Colville (d.1987), former Private Secretary to Princess (now Queen) Elizabeth and Assistant Private Secretary to Prime Ministers Chamberlain, Churchill, and Atlee. The painting remained in Sir John’s collection until at least 1973. The current owner wishes to remain anonymous.

     The painting has on occasion been supposed to have originated in a house called Houghton, though Houghton is a relatively common place-name in England with at least five Houghton Halls, Houses, or Lodges known today.[5] Mr Foley found evidence of a portrait of Jane Grey owned late in the sixteenth century by Frances Rodes (d.1588) of Barlborough Hall, Derbyshire.[6] Frances’s fourth son, Godfrey, inherited a Houghton Hall in the Manor of Great (or Long) Houghton, near Darfield, South Yorkshire early in the seventeenth century. The Rodeses were Presbyterian non-conformists (‘Puritans’), and Foley found evidence that they owned an entire collection of portraits of Protestant heroes, especially of those heroes of a more radical persuasion. Intriguingly, Godfrey’s distant lineal descendant and heir, Martha Rodes Busk, was herself the great-grandmother of the 1st Baron Houghton of Fryston Hall.[7] When Martha died in 1789, Houghton Hall passed to her daughter Rachel and Rachel’s husband Richard Slater Milnes. An attempt was made to update the house, but Richard soon abandoned the effort and removed its contents to Fryston Hall.[8] His grandson Baron Houghton inherited Fryston in 1858. It is therefore possible, though as yet unproven, that the provenance of the Houghton Portrait can be traced backwards from Sir John Colville through the Crewe-Milnes family to the first Baron Houghton, thence through his Milnes and Busk ancestors to the Rodes of Houghton Hall, Godfrey Rodes, and Judge Frances Rodes in the 1580s. The portrait’s ‘Houghton’ moniker may thus refer either to an original location at Houghton Hall, to the nineteenth-century owner Baron Houghton, or to both.

     The painting, as seen in the older black and white photograph above, is in rather poor condition. There appears to be significant separation and splitting of the boards, creating a fissure down the center of the painted surface. Additionally, paint loss can be readily detected throughout. Assuming this portrait does indeed originate with the Rodeses of Houghton Hall, the damage may have resulted from military assaults on Houghton known to have occured during the English Civil Wars of the 1640s. Or the damage may have occurred more recently, when Baron Houghton’s seat of Fryston Hall suffered a massive fire in November 1876.

Part of a Portrait Set
     As noted above, Christopher Foley found evidence that this painting may once have been part of a portrait set depicting early Protestant heroes and martyrs. Portrait sets were relatively common in the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries. English monarchs were by far the most common subjects of portrait sets, but sets could also depict any group of prominent people with shared characteristics.[9] Portrait sets ranged in format from full-scale painted pictures intended for display in the long gallery of a large house or in a large room in a public building, to sets of small engravings bound into books. One well-known engraved set is found in Henry Holland’s Heroωlogia Anglica, published in 1620 with engravings by members of the van de Passe family of engravers — a printed set that notably included a supposed portrait of Jane Grey.

     In both painted and engraved formats, the authenticity of the depictions were quite variable. In Holland’s Heroωlogia Anglica, for example, about half of the engravings can be matched to surviving authentic painted portraits of the individual depicted. A portion of the remaining half cannot be matched to authentic painted portraits, often because none survives. But a minority of paintings within any portrait set, whether painted or engraved, are often demonstrably non-authentic, as is the case with the van de Passe engraved portrait of Jane Grey. Therefore, in the absence of a fully authenticated comparison image of an individual from outside a portrait set, it is best to treat portrait-set depictions with some skepticism.

     The Houghton Hall Portrait (and its ‘cousin’ the Streatham Portrait) requires this skepticism. When no authentic image of a subject-person was readily available to the artist for reference or copying, it was common practice in the sixteenth century to adapt the image of some related or similar person. For example, portraits of the murdered child-king Edward V ( produced in the second half of the sixteenth century were often based upon authentic images of Edward VI (d.1553), another child-king who died young.[10] In the case of Jane Grey, it can be shown that images of Katherine Parr were often used, either deliberately or inadverently, to represent Jane Grey (see the Jersey Portrait, the Melton Constable Portrait, and the van de Passe Engraved Portrait). While neither the Houghton Hall nor the Streatham Portraits can readily be associated with any known portrait of Parr, neither can they be matched to any verifiably-authentic portrait of Jane Grey. And because the Houghton Portrait was, like the Streatham Portrait, almost certainly created half a century after Jane’s death, it is highly probable that the artists of both were indeed compelled to use a substitute model.[11] As such, the Houghton Portrait is almost certainly and at best an imaginary depiction. Like its ‘cousin’ the Streatham Portrait, the Houghton represents the ‘best effort’ of some anonymous craftsman of lesser technical and artistic skill to portray a person long dead and for whom the artist had no reliable reference image. In short, the Houghton Portrait cannot be relied upon as an authentic depiction of Lady Jane Grey.
J. Stephan Edwards, Ph.D.
Palm Springs, California
5 March 2012
The differences are in the fine details of the jewels. The pearl necklace in the Streatham portrait is festooned, while that in the Houghton is not. The larger pendant at the bodice of the Streatham sitter contains more gemstones that does the corresponding pendant in the Houghton picture, though the overall design of the two is essentially identical. Each leading edge of the open overskirt in the Streatham portrait is embellished with a row of pearls, while that of the Houghton lady is unembellished. The gemstone and pearl chain of the girdle pendant is considerably longer in the Streatham portrait.
Lord Houghton was Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton (1809–1885), a politician, poet, and patron of the arts. He was also an ardent suitor to Florence Nightingale, though she refused him.
Catalogue of the First Special Exhibition of National Portraits ... on Loan to the South Kensington Museum, revised edition April 1866 (London: Strangeways and Walden, 1866), 33–35.
Email communication, Christopher Foley, 28 February 2012.
Robert Milnes had appended the surname Crewe to his own in 1894 when he inherited the title 4th Baron Crewe from his maternal uncle. Robert was created Earl of Crewe in the following year, then Earl of Madeley and Marquess of Crewe in 1911 in reward for extensive government service.
These include Houghton Hall near King’s Lynn, Norfolk, home of Sir Robert Walpole in the 18th Century (extant); Houghton Hall in Sancton, East Yorkshire, built ca.1760 for Philip Langdale (extant); Houghton House near Ampthill, Bedfordshire, home of the Earl of Ailesbury in the 17th Century (a ruin since 1800); Houghton Lodge, Stockbridge, Hampshire, built ca.1800 as a rental property (extant); and Great Houghton Hall, Darfield, South Yorkshire, built for Sir Godfrey Rodes early in the 17th Century (burned 1960).
Frances Rodes is best known today for having been a Justice in the Court of Common Pleas and for having participated in a secondary role in the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots at Fotheringay in 1586.
Joseph Wilkinson, Worthies, Families, and Celebrities of Barnsley and the District (London: Bemrose and Son, 1883), 137–164.
Wilkinson, 163.
See, for example, the Hornby Castle Portrait Set of English monarchs exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery (London) in 2011.
Picturing History: A portrait set of early English kings and queens, part of the Making Art in Tudor Britain research project at the National Portrait Gallery, London.
The Streatham Portrait has been dendrochronologically dated to no earlier than 1594. Because the Houghton and Streatham Portraits are so nearly identical, it is highly porobable that they were produced by the same studio and thus at about the same time. Dendrochronological study of the Houghton Portrait is needed to confirm this hypothesis, however.
    Introduction to Portraiture of Lady Jane Grey
    The Althorp Portrait     The Anglesey Abbey Portrait  
    The Bodleian Library Portrait     The Chawton House–Hever Castle Portrait  
    The Elliot–Gedling House Portrait     The Fitzwilliam Museum 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’


Historian "at" somegreymatter "dot" com

Page created 5 March 2012, Updated 20 August 2012

Copyright © 2005 - 2013, J. Stephan Edwards
May not be reproduced in part or in whole without written permission of the author.