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The Art of Monarchy

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

Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8-1543)

Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) c.1526-7

RCIN 912268

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Sir Thomas More was a prominent lawyer and statesman as well as a noted scholar and writer. In 1523 he had served as Speaker of the House of Commons, a key mediator between the King and Parliament, and in 1525 was appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. More was rewarded for his work with the influential post of Lord Chancellor in 1529. In this role he found himself unable to support the King’s increasing assumption of religious authority, and resigned in 1532. The opposition of such a prominent figure was, however, more than the King could bear, and More was imprisoned in 1534 for his defiance of the Act of Succession. The next year he was tried for his opposition to the Act of Supremacy. Sir Thomas More was executed in July 1535, having refused to capitulate to royal demands.

More was the first English patron of the German artist Hans Holbein, who arrived in London in 1526 and who lived with the More family for much of his first period in England (1526–8). This drawing is a study for a portrait of More now in the Frick Collection in New York. The artist has pricked the outlines on the sheet to transfer them to the painted surface by rubbing chalk dust through the holes.

During much of Holbein’s two periods of residence in England (1526–8 and 1532–43) he was in royal employment. This drawing is one of the eighty drawings by Holbein which entered the Royal Collection soon after the artist’s death. The collection also contains Holbein’s drawing of Cardinal John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, who was likewise executed on Henry VIII’s orders.