All principal residences of the Earl of Leicester boasted so-called long or great galleries, and all contained collections of paintings – early examples of the picture galleries which became so fashionable in the early 1600s. Whether at Leicester House on the Strand, at Wanstead in Essex, or at Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, these pictures would have been on display before a large audience, a politically acute audience.
Leicester’s collection comprised mostly portraits – as was usual at the time in England – although religious and classical themes featured on his walls as well. There was also The historie of Cookery, most probably an example of the kitchen still life which emerged in Flemish art during the second half of the 16th century.
Among the portraits, several dozen in all, there were family members and personal friends but also European aristocracy and crowned heads. Not always a clear line could be drawn between the two groups of people.
Robert Dudley may have wished to complete his sets of royalty. In 1571, one of the first tasks of the newly appointed ambassador to France, Sir Francis Walsingham, was to purchase portraits of King Charles IX and his brother the Duke of Anjou for Leicester. Alas, none were to be had on the market and it was prohibited to paint the princes without a special licence;1 so for the time being the earl had to be patient.
It is believed that for the great festival at Kenilworth in 1575 Leicester commissioned “ii greate tables of the quenes maiesties pictures”, along with two matching likenesses of himself, both full-length and one in armour. Among other English nobility, the following were present at Kenilworth in 1578:
my Lorde of Arundell
my Lord of Matrevers
my Lorde of Penbroke
Henry Erle of Penbroke
the younge countisse
The last two, the Earl and Countess of Pembroke, were family, the countess, Leicester’s niece Mary Sidney, having recently married his old friend from school days, Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. The first Lord of Pembroke was of course the latter’s father, William Herbert, the man who had betrayed Leicester’s father in 1553 and at whose death-bed Leicester had sat in 1570. Henry Fitzalan, 12th Earl of Arundel, the other man who had betrayed his father and a rival for Elizabeth’s hand, in later years had relied on Leicester’s help. He also loved to have himself painted. Lord Maltravers had been Arundel’s heir, having died aged 18 in 1556.
Leicester’s pictures, both at Kenilworth and Leicester House, were not hung in any obvious order; the collection clearly concentrated on Spanish and Dutch royalty and nobility, though, and both sides of the great conflict – which touched Robert Dudley very personally – were represented.
the counte of Egmont
the Quene of skottes
the duke of Feria
Federicke duke of Saxon
the emperor Charles
King Philipps wife
the prince of Orainge
the princes Wife
the marques of brydges
the marques wyfe
the count horne
the count hocstrae
the duke of Alva
the cardinall gravelles
the duchess of Parma
Counts Egmont and Horn were figureheads of the Dutch resistance against Spanish rule, made famous by their execution in 1568 as victims of the Duke of Alba’s “reign of terror”. The Prince of Orange, William the Silent, and his third wife, Charlotte de Bourbon-Montpensier, were much honoured correspondents of Leicester, and the earl would stay with them in 1582 on his visit to Antwerp. Antoine de Lalaing, 3rd Count of Hoogstraten, was another freedom fighter, having died from a bullet of Alba’s regiments, also in 1568. Monsieur and Madame de Brederode Leicester would meet during his time in the Netherlands in 1585–1587.
Robert Dudley may have seen the great Duke of Alba himself, along with King Philip, when both stayed in England in 1554 and 1555. Leicester’s mother certainly befriended Alba’s wife, which helped to release her sons from the Tower. The Duke of Alba was not just a military hero, but one of Philip’s principal political advisors; so was Cardinal Antoine de Granvelle, who, like his father, had also served the Emperor Charles V. Margaret of Parma was the emperor’s illegitimate daughter; she ruled the Netherlands after the death of her aunt Mary of Hungary – until she was replaced by Alba in 1567, the “Dutch revolt” having gone out of hand. King Philip’s wife in the 1570s would have been Anne of Austria, his fourth and last consort.
Jean IV, Marquis of Bergen, had been a further Habsburg servant, having been sent – with his colleague Count Egmont – to England to negotiate the marriage treaty between Philip and Mary. The Duke of Feria, one of Philip’s closest advisors, had acted as his envoy in the early months of Elizabeth’s reign. On the spot, Feria married Jane Dormer for love; Jane was not only a devout Catholic but also Sir Henry Sidney’s first cousin and thus on the fringes of the Dudley family network.
The Queen of Scots was of course Mary Stuart, who had been in English custody for ten years by 1578. Leicester had paid her a visit at the Buxton baths the previous year. Frederick of Saxony may have been the enormously fat elector John Frederick – painted by many artists, including the Cranachs and Titian – or even Frederick the Wise, the patron of Martin Luther.
By 1580, Leicester’s collection finally boasted portraits of the “French Kinge”, Henry III, as well as of his brother, Elizabeth’s suitor who had already paid a secret visit to her court. Leicester had now two panels with this French prince’s likeness – one was probably a present, while the other may indicate that Walsingham had not been entirely unsuccessful on his shopping tour in 1571.
Now complete with French faces, Robert Dudley’s palatial London town house featured likenesses from the same politico-religious contexts as seen at Kenilworth:
Duke of Askot
the Duchess his wife
Emperour Charles bareheaded
Marquis of Berghes
Count Mannsfelde and his wife
Count Degmont and his wife
Count Horne and his wife
the Reingrave and his wife
my Lord Admirale in black armor, whole proportion, with a ship lying by him
the Prince of Oranges sonne with a rechet and a ball in his hand
the King of Portingalles sonne
the Duke of Alva
the Cardinal of Lothereng
the Duke of Savoy
the Prince of Orange
the Prynce of Orindges youngest sonne
Friar William Peyto had acquired a reputation for holiness, standing up in the cause of Katherine of Aragon in front of King Henry VIII before going to Italy and the Netherlands in support of the Catholic Church. Back in England under Mary I, in 1557 he was appointed papal legate and a cardinal in place of the excommunicated Archbishop Pole; he wisely declined, however, preferring to retire to his Franciscan convent.
The Cardinal of Lorraine was Charles de Guise, one of Mary Stuart’s uncles and a highly cultured man with a lot of influence in Scotland, France, and Rome during the 1550s and 1560s. His colleague Odet de Coligny, Cardinal de Chatillon, represented the other side; he was the famous admiral’s brother, married his mistress after his conversion to Protestantism, yet continued to wear his cardinal’s robes. In 1568 he fled to England and became a friend of Leicester, who regularly worshipped in the French refugee congregation. Chatillon died at Canterbury in 1571, on his way back to France – according to rumour poisoned by his valet.
Prince John Casimir of the Palatinate was another of Dudley’s Calvinist friends, and his was a “large picture”. A son of the Elector Palatine Frederick III, the man who introduced the Reformation at Heidelberg, he had once been a suitor to Queen Elizabeth; he then became involved in the French Wars of Religion on the side of King Henry III, before visiting England in 1579 in search of money for his campaigns. Leicester, a long-time correspondent, had the task of entertaining the lusty prince, a demanding business. They met again years later in the Netherlands.
The “Duke of Askot”, Philippe de Croÿ, Duke of Aerschot, was another servant of Philip II in the Netherlands; while his delight at the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day recommended him to the king, his unwillingness to work with some of Philip’s appointed governors did not. Count Mansfeld served as Philip’s governor in Luxembourg and was the father of a famous commander in the Thirty Years War. The Duke of Savoy was the Spanish king’s son-in-law.
The two portraits of William the Silent’s sons at Leicester House would have shown the eldest, Philip William, holding a princely orb, and the youngest, Frederick Henry; he was still a little boy in the later 1580s, when this picture would have been added to the collection.
“The King of Portingalles sonne” was Prince Manuel, who accompanied his father, the pretender Dom Antonio, to England in 1581. The Earl of Leicester was a principal supporter of Antonio’s cause against Philip II, who had successfully added the Portuguese crown to his dominions in 1580. “My Lord Admirale” in 1580 was the long-serving Earl of Lincoln, first appointed in his office by the Duke of Northumberland (whose nephew by marriage he was) and an old family friend.
Of English monarchs Leicester House had “three large pictures, namely King Harry, Queen Mary, and the Queen’s Majesty”, apparently hung as a set. They were complemented by
In February 1567 an explosion rocked the courts of Western Europe; the King of Scots was found strangled in a garden, next to his blown-up lodgings. William Cecil quickly came into possession of a sketch of the event, and of course Leicester may have had a version in oils on his walls. More likely, however, the painting was a commemorative piece, of the type showing Lord Darnley’s family in prayer before his effigy. “My Lady of Lennes” was, of course, his bereaved mother, Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox. Leicester had plotted with her to bring her son to the Scottish throne and dined with her a few weeks before her death in 1578. She bequeathed him a “tablet picture” of Henry VIII.2
the King of Scottes that now is
picture of my Lady Lennes sonne
the murder of the King of Scottes
My Lady of Lennes picture
The “picture of my Lady Lennes sonne” would have been of her younger son, Charles Stuart, himself son-in-law to Bess of Hardwick. Bess was an old friend of Leicester; the earl helped Bess’ daughter Elizabeth, Charles’ widow, to write the queen a letter. Elizabeth I being unwilling to settle the succession, her subjects in high places nevertheless looked to the future. The future in 1580 was James VI, the 14-year-old King of Scots.
1 Jenkins 2002 p. 174
2 de Lisle 2013 p. 414
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de Lisle, Leanda (2013): Tudor: The Family Story 1437-1603. Chatto & Windus.
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Gristwood, Sarah (2007): Elizabeth and Leicester: Power, Passion, Politics. Viking.
Haynes, Alan (1987): The White Bear: The Elizabethan Earl of Leicester. Peter Owen.
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Nicolson, Adam (2008): Quarrel with the King: The Story of an English Family on the High Road to Civil War. Harper.
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