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The Art of Monarchy

A collaboration with BBC Radio 4 to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Lucas Horenbout (c. 1490/5-1544)

Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset (1519-1536) c.1533-4

RCIN 420019

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Measuring only 44mm in diameter, this small-scale portrait sits comfortably in the palm of the hand. It is painted with fine squirrel-hair brushes on vellum and laid on to a playing card (the ace of hearts) to give the soft vellum the required tension. The figure of the young man in this striking image is set against a brilliant blue background prepared with pigment ground from the mineral azurite. The portrait is surrounded by a circular border applied with gold. Around the upper edge of the miniature, and on either side of the sitter’s head, is an inscription in gold giving the name and age of the sitter.  He is Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, painted at the age of fifteen.

Henry Fitzroy was born in June 1519 to Henry VIII and Elizabeth Blount, a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon. It is possible to see in the features of the teenage boy the same shallow features that are familiar in portraits of his father.  Acknowledged as Henry’s son from birth, the child was highly favoured and was invested a Knight of the Garter in June 1525.  Shortly afterwards he was created Duke of Richmond, and other appointments, as well as sources of income, were showered upon him.  An advantageous marriage to Lady Mary Howard, daughter of the third Duke of Norfolk, Treasurer of the Household and Earl Marshal, was arranged for him in 1534.  At the point when this miniature was painted, c.1533-4, Henry VIII had divorced Catherine of Aragon for her failure to give him an heir and had married Anne Boleyn, who had in turn, produced only a daughter, Elizabeth, in January 1533. Prior to Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn, it had been thought that the King might name his illegimate son, Henry, Duke of Richmond, as his heir. As Anne, too, had failed to produce a son, this once again became a possibility.

In these circumstances, the portrait surprises us by presenting an image not of a privileged and wealthy young courtier – and possible aspirant to the throne – but of an invalid, clothed unusually in a nightcap and linen shirt. It allows us a glimpse of the vulnerable young man who was already succumbing to tuberculosis, the disease that finally killed him in 1536.  It is one of the first truly intimate portraits in English art, and we can be certain that it was intended for private enjoyment by someone close to the sitter and not for public display.  It may have been painted at the time of Henry Fitzroy’s shortlived marriage in 1534.