The Yale Miniature Portrait

Unknown Lady
Attributed to Levinia Teerlinc
Undated, Sixteenth Century
vellum glued to plain paper
1 7/8 in. diameter
Collection of Yale University Center for British Art
     In a recent exhibition entitled Lost Faces: Identity and Discovery in Tudor Royal Portraiture at the galleries of Philip Mould Ltd (London), guest curator David Starkey presented a sixteenth-century miniature painting now in the collection of the Yale University Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut, as an authentic life portrait of Lady Jane Grey, England’s ‘nine-days queen’ of July 1553.[1] Starkey argued that the miniature was created either ‘to capture Jane’s fleeting moment of glory’ or to symbolize ‘the endurance of suffering and ... imprisonment’ that she shared with her husband Guildford Dudley in late 1553 following Queen Mary’s accession.[2] Starkey marshaled numerous pieces of largely circumstantial evidence to support his claim, but the overall argument is not sufficiently convincing.

     Careful examination of the miniature reveals inconsistencies between the depiction of the sitter and the single extant eye-witness physical description of Jane Grey. The sitter’s eyes, for example, are blue-gray, yet Dr. Starkey quoted Baptista Spinola, a Genovese merchant living in London in 1553, and his assessment of Jane’s ‘sparkling and reddish-brown’ eyes. The sitter’s hair appears a mousy brown with golden highlights, while Spinola described Jane’s as ‘nearly red’. The sitter’s eyebrows are depicted in the same color as the highlights of the hair, yet Spinola made special note that Jane’s were ‘darker than her hair’.[3] In terms of physiognomy alone, the appearance of the sitter does not match the one known contemporary description of Jane.

     The jewel affixed to the bodice of the sitter’s dress is, Dr. Starkey argued, perhaps the same as the one described in an inventory of more than 133 items delivered to Queen Jane on 14 July 1553, leading him to suggest that the portrait was perhaps painted at that time. He noted two items from the inventory: ‘a broche of gold w[i]th a face in agathe’ and ‘a broche of golde enameled black w[i]th a face agathe’.[4] These particular carved-stone faces are so vaguely described, however, that they cannot reliably be associated with the one depicted in the miniature. Further, such ‘faces in agate’ were both highly prized and fairly common in the Tudor period.[5] The large number of additional vaguely described faces in agate listed in various Tudor jewel inventories belies Starkey’s claim that this piece of evidence is, in regard to the Yale miniature, a ‘distinct and unusual identifying feature’.[6]

     Underlying the bodice brooch are two tiny bundles of foliage and flowers. To the viewer’s left are acorns and small oak leaves; to the right, a number of tiny yellowish flowers. Starkey identified the flowers as gillyflowers or wallflowers, specifically Cheiranthus cheiri, and asserted that they are a distinctive personal badge or heraldic-like symbol for Jane’s husband, Guildford Dudley.[7] Starkey based his assertion on the presence of a similar flower depicted in a heraldic device carved as a bas-relief in the Beauchamp Tower of the Tower of London. The carving is reputed to have been created by the Dudleys during their imprisonment following Jane’s abortive reign and to contain symbolic references to each of the Dudley sons, including a gilly- or wallflower symbolizing the fifth son, Guildford. Starkey argued that the Yale miniature, if created after Jane’s change in status on 20 July 1553 from royal resident to prisoner in the Tower, ‘would be an exact companion piece to the Dudley carving’.[8] If this is so, the painting must have been created sometime after July 1553 and therefore after the blooming season for Cheiranthus cheiri ended.[9] If the portrait is, as Dr Starkey suggested, a ‘quickly executed’ one painted from life after July, the wallflowers included by the artist were imaginary and therefore certainly symbolic, just as Starkey argued, rather than a purely whimsical or aesthetic affectation by the sitter.

     This then calls into question the inclusion of the oak leaves and acorns symbols and their referent. The Greys are not known to have used them as badges, though they apparently did use pinks, another variety of gillyflower similar to carnations.[10] Acorns and oak leaves were, according to Starkey, included in the Beauchamp Tower carving to symbolize Guildford’s older brother Robert, but that makes their presence in the miniature even more startling.[11] Starkey offered no explanation as to why one woman might display the badges of two men, one her husband and the other his brother. Yet the arrangement of the sprigs in the miniature suggests that they were ‘impaled’ and thus symbolic of a marriage between a man whose badge was oak and a woman whose badge was a flower. This latter interpretation excludes a marriage between Guildford and Jane.

     Even if the symbolism issues of the floristry are ignored, Starkey’s suggestion that the use of floral symbology in both the carving and the miniature indicates the two were created contemporaneously and after July 1553 is problematic. Jane was imprisoned under an accusation of high treason, and after her conviction on 13 November 1553 she was held under sentence of death.[12] She was certainly not the sort of state prisoner whom Queen Mary or royal officials were likely to allow to be publicized through creation of a reproducible image. It was in the logical interests of the Crown to minimize the ability of anti-Marian and anti-Catholic factions to make of Jane a sympathetic and symbolic figure around whom they might rally support. Further, I am not aware of any instance during the whole of the sixteenth century in which a prisoner in the Tower, regardless of the charge under which he or she was held, had his or her portrait painted while still imprisoned. It would be all the more astonishing if Mary and her royal officials allowed an exception to this apparent rule.

     One piece of evidence remains to be considered: the Latin inscription ‘An[n]o XVIII’ signifying the sitter’s age. Dr. Starkey argued that the inscription indicates Jane was in her eighteenth year, or, in modern terminology, aged seventeen years, when she was queen. He was correct in observing that Jane was almost certainly not born in October 1537, despite the claims of popular legend, but was instead born sometime before that date.[13] She was in all probability born a mere few months before then, however, and not ‘significantly’ before as Starkey suggests.[14]

     In only one known instance did any of Jane’s contemporaries refer with numeric exactitude to her age, but that instance is so precise and reliable that we can deduce from it a very narrow timeframe for Jane’s date of birth. John Aylmer was Jane’s tutor from 1545 until about 1552, long enough to become quite certain of her age, and in May 1551 he wrote a letter in which he stated that Jane ‘now ... is fourteen years old’.[15] She was thus probably at the beginning of her fifteenth year of life when Aylmer wrote. Two years later, in May 1553, Jane would have been sixteen years old, or at the beginning her seventeenth year of life. She did not live to see her seventeenth birthday, which would have fallen in the late spring of 1554, and thus never saw her eighteenth year of life, as Dr. Starkey proposed she may have done. The sitter in the miniature is therefore too old to be Jane Grey.

     When reconsidered carefully and as a whole, the evidence presented by Dr Starkey in the Lost Faces exhibition catalogue does not adequately support his argument that the Yale miniature is a lost portrait of Lady Jane Grey. If my interpretation is sustainable, the evidence positively excludes her as the sitter, and the search for the young woman’s identity must continue elsewhere.
J. Stephan Edwards, Ph.D.
Palm Springs, California
Summer 2007 
  Addendum, July 2012:  
     In the five years since writing the above assessment, new evidence has come to light that must be accounted for, though my conclusion that the Yale miniature is not a depiction of Jane Grey is unchanged.
     First, the supposed contemporary description attributed to Baptista Spinola may be fictional. The description was originally cited by Richard Davey in The Nine Days Queen: Lady Jane Grey and Her Times, written in 1909. Davey states only that the document was in an archive in Genoa, but offers no other specific details. No writer prior to Davey ever cited the Spinola letter, and all writers since 1909 have merely re-quoted and cited Davey. The existence of the Spinola letter has never been independently confirmed. I have searched extensively for the original document and corresponded with numerous Genovese archives without locating the Spinola letter. Because other portions of Davey’s work are demonstrably heavily fictionalized, extreme caution must be exercised in regard to the putative Spinola letter. There is considerable likelihood that it may have simply been invented by Davey in order to fill a descriptive void. Thus Dr. Starkey’s reference to the Spinola letter may also be invalid.
     Several months after writing the above assessment, my first article on Jane Grey’s date of birth was published, with a follow-up article published one year later. Together, these articles argue that Jane was most probably born between the late autumn of 1536 and April of 1537. It is therefore possible that Jane had reached her seventeenth birthday, and was thus in her eighteenth year, by the time of her death in February 1554, as Dr. Starkey suggested. Nonetheless, in order for the age inscription ‘Anno XVIII’ to be valid in the context of Jane Grey, the miniature would had to have been created in the autumn or winter (October—late January) of 1553/4, while Jane was a prisoner under close guard. It is exceptionally improbable that her gaolers would have allowed her to sit for a portrait during this period. Indeed, written permission from the Privy Council was required before she could even be allowed to step outside on the roof-walk or to receive family visitors. No similar written permission for an artist is recorded. Further, portraits of individuals painted while they were actually being held prisoner are unknown, so that this example would be virtually unique.
     Even with the new evidence regarding Jane’s likely age at the time of her death, the remaining evidence actually argues against the Yale miniature being an authentic depiction of Lady Jane Grey.
  NOTES :      
‘Portrait of a Lady’, ca. 1545–47, attributed to Lavinia Teerlinc (d. 1576), gouache on parchment laid down on card. Diameter: 1 7/8in. (4.8cm). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, accession number B1974.2.59.
David Starkey, Bendor Grosvenor, and Alistair Hawkyard, ‘The Search for Lady Jane Grey’ in Lost Faces: Identity and Discovery in Tudor Royal Portraiture (London: Philip Mould. Ltd., 2007), 83.
Starkey et al., Lost Faces, 81.
Starkey cites Nicolas Harris Nicholas, ed., Memoirs and Literary Remains of Lady Jane Grey (London: Published for Henry Colburn, 1832), cxiii–cxlii.
See Marie-Christine Graz, Jewels in Painting (Milan: Skira, 1999), 112; Yvonne Hackenbroch, Renaissance Jewelry (London: Sotheby Park Bernet, 1979).
Starkey et al., Lost Faces, 82. The inventory reproduced by Nicholas contains no fewer than 13 items potentially identifiable as faces carved in stone or cameos — almost ten percent of the inventory — an indication of how numerous and non-specific such items were. Similar jewels appear in other inventories of the period as well. See British Library Harley Manuscript 611, a detailed and lengthy inventory of the jewels of Queen Mary; BL Additional Manuscript 46348, ff. 205r-209r, the Sudeley Chest Inventory of a portion of Katherine Parr’s jewels, reproduced as Appendix VII in Susan E. James, Kateryn Parr: The Making of a Queen (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1999), 435-442.
Starkey et al., Lost Faces, 82. It is noteworthy that Yale B1974.2.59 was acquired by the Paul Mellon Collection as one in a pair by different artists, the other being a miniature of a man, B1974.2.58. A small yellow flower also appears in the male miniature, pinned behind a medallion on the sitter’s cap. The inscription on the miniature identifies the man’s age as 35, and thus he cannot be Guildford, who died aged 18 at most. The use of a small yellow flower by this second man suggests that it is not a badge unique or distinctive to Guildford.
Starkey et al., Lost Faces, 83.
Starkey argues that the flower depicted in the miniature is the specific species Cheiranthus cheiri, which bloomed between April and July in the early modern English climate. See Mark Laird and John H. Harvey, ‘A Cloth of Tissue of Divers Colours’: The English Flower Border, 1660-1735’, Garden History 21, no. 2 (Winter 1993): 188; Starkey et al., Lost Faces, 82.
Susan E. James, ‘Lady Jane Grey or Queen Kateryn Parr?’, Burlington Magazine 138, no.114, January 1996, 20–24.
Starkey et al., Lost Faces, 82.
Jane and Guildford were not formally arraigned, tried, and convicted of treason and sentenced to death until 13 November 1553. See National Archives Public Record Office KB 8/22. John Dudley was found guilty of treason and executed in late August 1553.
See J. Stephan Edwards, ‘On the Birth Date of Lady Jane Grey’, forthcoming from Notes and Queries, September 2007; also J. Stephan Edwards, ‘Jane the Quene’: A New Perspective on Lady Jane Grey, England’s Nine-Days Queen’ (Ph.D. diss., University of Colorado, 2007), Appendix One, 314–319.
Starkey et al., Lost Faces, 83.
John Aylmer to Heinrich Bullinger, 21 May 1551 , Epistolae Tigurinae de rebus potissimum ad ecclesiae Anglicanae reformationem pertinentibus conscriptae A.D. 1531-1558 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1848), 182. ‘... iam ... est 14 annos nata’. The Latin adverb ‘iam” might also be translated, in the context of emphasizing a numeric value, as ‘precisely’.
    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 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  
    Other Portraits Called
‘Lady Jane Grey’



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