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07.12 | 21:47

It looks like The Tau cross derives from the Egyptian Ankh and basically they are wearing it around their necks, life rebirth, salvation mirror. sun.Stonehenge looks like it is made up of Ts to form c

07.12 | 21:30

are wearing the symbol on effigies at Ingham church Norfolk and Henry StanleyD1528 at Hillingdon Middlesex.Countess Jacquline of Hainaut and husband Frank Borsele are also wearing the insignia others

07.12 | 21:23

These Queens could of been members of the order and i think the Tau cross is a symbol of the Holy Trinity also.These pendants could of been reliquaries.Lady margaret de Bois and Roger de bois

07.12 | 21:17

I think the Tau cross that they are wearing could be linked to the(knights) order of St Anthony, Mary 1st collar looks like it may represent the knotted girdle/waist cord of st Anthony .

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According to J. Stephan Edwards, the answer lies in the extent to which both the person commissioning the portrait and the artist understood correct Latin usage. "Anno Aetatis Suae" translates from classical Latin as "in the year of his/her age." Obviously that begs the question of what is meant by "age" (see "anno suae" and "aetatis suae"). But the usage "anno aetatis suae" is syntactically incorrect, at least in the context of classical Latin. Latin usage of the 16th century seldom met the standards of classical Latin, however.

Those who wanted to impress but who had limited knowledge of Latin simply copied those around them, often doing so incorrectly. Errors compounded errors. It is also important to remember the levels of literacy in England in the 16th century. Most scholars agree that literacy rates were extremely low, perhaps as low as 5% in English, lower in Latin. True, persons able to commission portraits were generally of a socio-economic status that meant they were functionally literate, certainly in English and perhaps in Latin as well. But the extent to which they understood the correct usage of classical Latin would have been limited for any but the most highly educated. In other words, the local city alderman in Norwich who commissioned a portrait of himself would have been quite unlikely to know (or care) which form was used, whether Anno Suae, Aetatis Suae, or Anno Aetatis Suae, as long as one of them was indeed used. The goal lay in the appearance of being educated or sophisticated, not in providing absolute proof of education or sophistication.

“Lastly ... and this may be the most important point of all ... language usage was not yet fully standardized in the 16th century. See, for example, the many variations in the spellings of common words. The precise way in which a word was spelled was less important to persons of the 16th century than was the extent to which both the writer and the reader were able to interpret the spelling correctly and thus arrive at the same meaning. Queen/Quene/Queene .. three spellings, but only one meaning. I suspect the same was true of expressions of age, at least among the less well educated. Only the very well educated would have been entirely precise in their usages, including people like Jane Grey, John Aylmer, William Cecil, etc.”

“So, bottom line: All three phrases were used to mean roughly the same thing, which was a close approximation of the age of the sitter, i.e. within a twelve-month. Precisely what the artist intended, whether full years lived since birth or year from birth in which one was currently, cannot be known with absolute certainty since we ordinarily cannot know the extent to which the artist had an accurate understanding of correct Latin usage.”

There was an assumption that Holbein knew the difference between the three phrases, however,  examining every painting on Wikipedia’s List of paintings by Hans Holbein the Younger individually, shows something different.

Keeping in mind that it would be necessary to look up the modern scholarship on each painting in order to determine whether a given inscription is original to the work or a later addition. The suspicion is that some, perhaps even many, are later additions.

That said, Ætatis Suæ appears to have been Holbein’s preferred inscription for denoting age.

However, Holbein actually appears to use Anno Ætatis Svæ in several paintings.

And simply Anno Ætatis in several.

J. Stephan Edwards concludes: “Whether he understood "Aetatis Suae/His Age" to mean years from birth or ordinal year (i.e.: a newborn is in Year One and therefore "his age" is One) is unclear. In order to clarify that distinction, it would be necessary to research those sitters for whom a precise date of birth is known and then to determine precisely what time of year the sitter sat for the painting. The first data point is difficult but not impossible. The second is all but impossible. I am not aware that any artist or sitter of the 16th century documented the date(s) on which they sat for a portrait. I would therefore interpret Holbein inscriptions using "Aetatis Suae" as equivalent to the modern expression of age, plus or minus one.”

I would therefore interpret Holbein inscriptions using "Aetatis Suae" as equivalent to the modern expression of age, plus or minus one.

The implication for our lady is that the lady in the Toledo portrait could be either 20 or 21 years old (or even 22 years old). 

Elizabeth Seymour, Lady Cromwell?

I was more than happy to accept the portrait's new identity of Elizabeth Seymour, Lady Cromwell. While I could detect none of that likeness to Jane Seymour that others seemed to, I was happy to accept such a seemingly compelling theory, which also gave us the appearance of a fourth Seymour sibling.

Also, Elizabeth Seymour seems to have been an interesting character in her own right.

Unfortunately, the more I learned of the portrait's history, that just did not make any sense.

The National Portrait Gallery writes of the Toledo Portrait and the copy in its possession: It is possible that the sitter was a member of the Cromwell family who once owned the picture. Previously it had been in the collection of a descendant of Oliver Cromwell. It is possible that this was a copy made for a descendant eager to trace or prove ancestry.

The Cromwell family had apparently thought that the portrait was of Oliver Cromwell's mother.

Naturally, I went ahead to see what kind of relationship he had to Elizabeth Seymour.

As it turned out, none.

Or more accurately, a very distant one.

She was the wife of the cousin of his great-grandfather.

Elizabeth Seymour's husband was Gregory Cromwell, 1st Baron Cromwell (c. 1520–1551). He was the cousin of Sir Richard Cromwell (c. 1510–1544), who was Oliver Cromwell's great-grandfather. 

The painting had not descended down through the descendants of Elizabeth Seymour, Lady Cromwell, though she had many children from her first two marriages.

Rather it had descended through the line of her husband's cousin, Sir Richard Cromwell.

No matter how I twisted the facts I could not come up with a sensible explanation for why he would be in a possession of painting of his cousin's wife, rather than that cousin's wife herself, no matter how close the family might have been.

I turned to Sir Richard's family to find other candidates, and like other researchers discovered nil.

From Wikipedia: «The fall and execution of Sir Richard's uncle Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, in July 1540, did not (as might have been supposed) adversely affect his social standing, or private fortune.

In 1541, he was appointed High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, he was also returned as member of parliament for Huntingdonshire, in the parliament which began 16 January 1542. In this year Henry VIII gave him a grant of the monastery of St Mary's, in the town of Huntingdon, and St Neots Priory, whose yearly values were £232 7s. and £256 1s. 3d.

In 1518 Sir Richard married Frances, daughter of Sir Thomas Murfyn who was that year Lord Mayor of London. Lady Frances died at Stepney and was buried there on 20 February 1533. Two sons of Sir Richard and Lady Frances survived him:

* Henry, his eldest son and heir, grandfather of Oliver Cromwell.

Sir Richard died on 29 October 1544. He had made his will on 20 June 1544, in which he styles himself Sir Richard Williams, otherwise called Sir Richard Cromwell, knt. and of his majesty's privy chamber; he directed that his body should be buried in the place where he should die; and devises his estates in the counties of Cambridge, Huntingdon, Lincoln, and Bedford, to his eldest son Henry, with the sum of £500 to purchase him necessary furniture, when he should come of age: his estates in Glamorganshire he devises to his son Francis and bequeathed £300 to each of his nieces, Joan, and Ann, daughters of his brother, Walter Cromwell; and directed that if Thomas Wingfield, then Sir Richard's ward, should choose to marry either of them, he should have his wardship remitted to him, otherwise the same should be sold. He also left three of his best great horses to the king, and one other great horse to Lord Cromwell, after the king had chosen: legacies were also left to Sir John Williams, and Sir Edward North, chancellor of the court of augmentation; and to several other persons, who seem to have been servants: Gab. Donne, clerk, Andrew Judde, William Coke, Philip Lentall, and Richard Servington, were appointed executors. His will was proved on 28 November 1546.»

Since his wife Frances died in 1533, she could not be the sitter, having died seven years before these particular sleeves came in style. Also, since the two were married in 1519, it seemed reasonable that she was older than an infant at the time and would therefore have been older than 20 or 21 years old in 1540–1543.  

I did consider the nieces, but age and the fact that the painting was not in their possession spoke against them.

I did, however, notice something odd. When I clicked upon the link to his son Sir Henry Williams, alias Cromwell, it said (1537 – 1604), that is, that he was born in 1537, four years after his mother's death, but I shrugged it off, fictional birth years and confusion about the likely age of a person distilling into wrong certainty being all too common.

Katherine Howard and Elizabeth Seymour, Lady Cromwell

Comforting though Gareth Russell's statement «Few families had less of a reason to keep a portrait of her than Thomas Cromwell's» was to someone who has always intensely disliked the Toledo Portrait as a depiction of Katherine Howard, it does not actually appear to be true.

Like it did to Gareth Russell, this interpretation of events made immediate and instinctive sense to me. After all, the reason for Thomas Cromwell's execution was Henry VIII's jilting of Anne of Cleves, and his subsequent desire to replace her with precisely Katherine Howard.

There is no evidence for anything other than the Cromwells being an unusually close family, and both Gregory Cromwell, his son, and Elizabeth Seymour, Lady Cromwell, his daughter-in-law, being genuinely distressed at the fate of Thomas Cromwell and the circumstances around it.

(Elizabeth did mention in a letter to Henry VIII 'the heinous trespasses and most grievous offences of my father-in-law', but it is difficult to read this as anything else than a desperate political ploy (which worked) to save herself and her husband from the repercussions and danger. Elizabeth's own correspondance with Thomas Cromwell show a cordial relationship, and she and her husband, his son, was certainly not involved in the downfall of Thomas Cromwell in any way. There can be little doubt that they would have saved him, it they at all could.)

However, the more I learned about Elizabeth Seymour, Lady Cromwell, facts sometimes being stranger than fiction, the less likely it became that she harboured any unloving feelings or warranted and unwarranted but understandable resentment towards Katherine Howard at all.

Elizabeth Seymour, Lady Cromwell, was actually Queen Katherine Howard's lady-in-waiting.

Of course, that in itself does not necessarily have to mean anything more than that Elizabeth Seymour was really, really good at hiding her resentment.

However, Gregory Cromwell and Elizabeth Seymour had a daughter, Katherine, about 1541, apparently named for the Queen.

It seems at least two little girls were named after poor little Katherine Howard, Lady Katherine Grey (1540–1568), whose fate was almost as tragic as the Queen's own, and the Cromwells' daughter Katherine (c.1541– ?). Let us hope that little Katherine Cromwell had a happier life than the other two.

That seems to go a bit above and beyond what could have been expected, even if they had harboured milder negative feelings than outright hatred for her.

I doubt Katherine Howard would have tried to create problems for them, simply for not naming their daughter for her.

Instead it seems to have been an honest homage. She may have done them some kindness or many small ones.

After all, when her star was on the rise in the first half of 1540, how difficult would it have been for her to convince the King to if not let them join Thomas Cromwell on the scaffold, then at least let them partake in his disgrace?

Instead she let Elizabeth Seymour, Lady Cromwell be one of her ladies.

Katherine Howard, in her brief time at court, seemed much more interested in building alliances than breaking them.

She may have been a difficult mistress, Chaypus describes her during her confinement at Syon as 'more imperious and troublesome to serve than even when she was with the King',[1] but I cannot find that Katherine Howard was involved in or contributed directly to the downfall of any of Henry VIII's courtiers in her time as Queen, or, indeed, before. (Though Thomas Cromwell was executed, I have never heard it suggested that she pushed for this in any way. And why would she? The King was already free to marry her.)

Perhaps that is why Henry grew bored with her.

Katherine Howard After All?

After the death of Katherine Howard, Elizabeth Seymour seems to have retired from court life. After having been in the consecutive households of Henry's queens since the time of Anne Boleyn, it seems that she withdrew from it after what happened to Katherine Howard.

What the death of her own sister, Jane Seymour, the execution of her own father-in-law and the fall of Anne Boleyn, of whom she was apparently also very fond, had not accomplished, the fate of Katherine Howard did.

Curiously enough, Elizabeth Seymour may have been one of the people fond enough of little Katherine Howard to wish to have kept a portrait of her.

And the bravery to do so.

She or her daughter (Katherine's goddaughter?) may even have been gifted a portrait from the Queen

I, who had always hated that heinous portrait and had been so happy to see it on the scrap heap of portraiture of Katherine Howard suddenly found myself in the absurd situation of possibly having to argue that it may be her after all.

I had to take a long, hard look at the possibility. There was still the matter of the birth year. I had always favoured a later birth year for Katherine Howard, which excludes the sitter of the Toledo Portrait if true.

Could it be possible that those who argued for an earlier birth year had been in the right and I in the wrong?

Although, there was still the matter of provenance.

There was no proof that this portrait had ever been in the hands of Elizabeth Seymour.

If she was fond enough of Katherine Howard to keep a picture of her, braving Henry VIII's displeasure, then why did she not do precisely that?

Instead the picture ends up with the descendants of her husband's cousin.

Elizabeth Seymour lived until the 1560’s, it would have made sense for her to keep the picture until then.

By this time, Elizabeth I Tudor was Queen.

She had been fond of Katherine Howard, and there would have been no danger to either Elizabeth Seymour or her children for being found in possession of this portrait.

While for Sir Richard Cromwell, who had absolutely no reason to be fond of Katherine Howard, it would be perfectly asinine to wish to keep a picture of her in 1544. Henry VIII was still very much alive, and only growing more unpredictable and paranoid as the years marched on. It was only two years since half the court had been imprisoned in connection with the scandal.

For Sir Richard Cromwell to leave such a dangerous object to his two motherless sons, while he himself went off to war, knowing he might never return (hence why he wrote his will), leaving them even more at the mercy of strangers than before, seems strange.

Everything about Sir Richard Cromwell suggests that he was a slick, experienced politician, little given to excessive emotions, foolhardiness or recklessness, a man of the world, and a rather hard one at that.

That is not to say that he was not a brave man, he obviously went to war and into battle, probably contracting wounds that would later kill him, as he died in 1544, and seems to have been in perfect health until that war. He was also an impressive jouster (Henry VIII loved jousters). Neither was he incapable of deeper feelings, as – perhaps most brave at all – he went about in open mourning after his uncle's disgrace and execution, a very brave thing to do at the court of Henry VIII.

However, that was for a close family member whom he loved, not a risk he took for a girl who meant nothing to him.

He seems overall to have been a pretty ruthless customer, Thomas More fans will remember his treatment of that gentleman. After all, his beloved uncle could be pretty ruthless himself.

It seems ridiculous of Elizabeth Seymour if she first risked keeping the picture of someone she was fond, then within two years to have handed it to another person to whom it would only spell trouble.

So much has been said both in favour of and against the idea of the Toledo Portrait being of Katherine Howard, that excepting the above I felt that I had little else to add.

Instead, I felt, I must take a long, good, hard look at the facts and examine the other possible theories surrounding this portrait, and possibly some new ones.

Anne of Cleves and Sleeves

Anne of Cleves landed at Deal in England at 5 pm on the 27th of December in 1539. Anne of Cleves Arrives in England – The Anne Boleyn Files

The Toledo Portrait would thusly have had to have been painted some time between Anne of Cleves arrival in England on the 27th of December 1539 and Hans Holbein the Younger's death between the 7th of October 1543, when he wrote his will, and the 29th of November 1543, when the executor of said will legally undertook the administration of the artist's last wishes. 

From Wikipedia: «Holbein had deftly survived the downfall of his first two great patrons, Thomas More and Anne Boleyn, but Cromwell's sudden arrest and execution on trumped-up charges of heresy and treason in 1540 undoubtedly damaged his career. Though Holbein retained his position as King's Painter, Cromwell's death left a gap no other patron could fill. It was, ironically, Holbein's portrait of Anne of Cleves which largely led to Cromwell's downfall: furious at being saddled with a wife he found entirely unattractive, the King directed all his anger at Cromwell, whereas there is no evidence that he blamed Holbein for supposedly flattering Anne's looks.

Apart from routine official duties, Holbein now occupied himself with private commissions, turning again to portraits of Steelyard merchants. He also painted some of his finest miniatures, including those of Henry Brandon and Charles Brandon, sons of Henry VIII's friend Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk and his fourth wife, Katherine Willoughby. Holbein managed to secure commissions among those courtiers who now jockeyed for power, in particular from Anthony Denny, one of the two chief gentlemen of the bedchamber. He became close enough to Denny to borrow money from him. He painted Denny's portrait in 1541 and two years later designed a clock-salt for him. Denny was part of a circle that gained influence in 1542 after the failure of Henry's marriage to Katherine Howard. The king's marriage in July 1543 to the reformist Katherine Parr, whose brother Holbein had painted in 1541, established Denny's party in power.»

As we see, this fits perfectly with the theory that some other lady, not Katherine Howard, of major or minor nobility sat for Holbein after the fall of his patron Cromwell.

Lady Margaret Douglas?

«Another possibility is that the portrait shows Henry's Scottish niece, Lady Margaret Douglas, the mother-in-law of Mary, Queen of Scots. In October 1531, Margaret Douglas turned sixteen, and received gifts from the king including a gown of "tynsen", possibly gold-coloured cloth. At Christmas of 1535, she gave a miniature portrait of herself to Lord Thomas Howard. Both were imprisoned in the Tower in July of 1536, when Margaret Douglas was 20, over their relationship. She left the Tower, and later travelled to Syon Abbey in November of 1536 or 1537, just after either her 21st or 22nd birthday. In December 1536 Douglas received a gift from the King. Around this time, she was ill, incurring a medical bill of £14 4s. Thomas Howard was also ill and died in the Tower on the 31st of October 1537. Margaret Douglas died in March of 1578, age 63. Her grandson James Stewart became king of both Scotland and England. Other portraits of Margaret Douglas exist, mostly showing her decades after these portraits were painted.»

As far as I know, this theory was suggested by Conor Byrne here: The Reidentification of a Portrait Identified as Elizabeth Cromwell or Katherine Howard.

I agree with every word he says, with one simple caveat: The lady in the portrait cannot possibly be Lady Margaret Douglas, as she would have been 20 or 21 years old in 1535–1537, and the fashion worn by the lady in the Toledo Portrait would have been hopelessly wrong for 1535–1537. And even for 1538, when she would have been 22 years old.

The Toledo Portrait can thus not possibly be a portrait of Lady Margaret Douglas.

Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond or Eleanor Brandon, Countess of Cumberland?

There are, however, two ladies of the time who equally well fit the status of 'semi-royal'.

Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond, and Eleanor Brandon, Countess of Cumberland.

Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond and Somerset (1519–1557), was a daughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and a sister of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, both of whose portraits Holbein painted. In 1533, she married Henry VIII's illegitimate son Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset, who died in 1536. 

As we can see from this sketch, she had red hair, as does the lady in the Toledo Portrait.

The Toledo Portrait

The Toledo Portrait

The Toledo Portrait

The Toledo Portrait

I have always had a soft spot for poor little Katherine Howard, and I will never forget my disappointment when I first saw the picture of the Toledo Portrait described as being of Katherine Howard in a school book. My relief when I many years later discovered that it had been discounted as a representation of Katherine Howard, was profound and real. At the same time I found the Windsor version of the Holbein miniature, and I never looked back.

Katherine Howard – The Windsor version of the Holbein miniature

Katherine Howard – The Windsor version of the Holbein miniature

The Toledo Portrait still remains my least favourite of Holbein's portraits. It is therefore one of life's little ironies that I have spent so much time trying to figure out who the lady in the painting is.

The Copy at Hever Castle

The Copy at Hever Castle

The portrait shown at the top of this page, attributed to Hans Holbein, dated circa 1535–1540, is exhibited at the Toledo Museum of Art as Portrait of a Lady, Probably a Member of the Cromwell Family (1926.57). Another version of the portrait, now located at Hever Castle, dating from the 16th century, is exhibited as Queen Katherine Howard. The National Portrait Gallery exhibits a similar painting, Unknown Woman, Formerly Known as Katherine Howard (NPG 1119), which has been dated to the late 17th century. The National Portrait Gallery remains undecided about the sitter's identity.

NPG 1119

NPG 1119

«This portrait was previously identified as Katherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII. The sitter is now thought to be a member of the Cromwell family, perhaps Elizabeth Seymour (c.1518–1568), sister of Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour, and wife of Thomas Cromwell’s son Gregory.

Based on a three-quarter length portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger (now in the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio), technical analysis has dated this wooden panel to the late seventeenth century. The sitter's gold medallion shows the flight of Lot and his family from Sodom (Genesis 19) and was designed by Holbein; the drawing survives in the British Museum.»

Medallion of Lot with his family, guided by an angel, fleeing from Sodom by Hans Holbein the Younger

Medallion of Lot with his family, guided by an angel, fleeing from Sodom by Hans Holbein the Younger

«Description Medallion of Lot with his family, guided by an angel, fleeing from Sodom, one of ten designs for medallions, from the 'Jewellery Book'; stone set at the centre into the figure of a woman, town in flames at l, an angel leading Lot and two other figures away at r, inscribed scroll beneath, circular Pen and brown ink, with grey wash, cut octagonally»

Young and Damned and Fair: The Life of Katherine Howard, Fifth Wife of King Henry VIII by Gareth Russell

Gareth Russell, who has written a recent biography of Katherine Howard, has this to say about the Toledo Portrait and its relation to Henry VIII's fifth Queen:

«Perhaps the most famous portrait of "Katherine" is a half-length by Hans Holbein, about twenty-nine inches tall, of a lady in a high-necked dark dress and a white French hood trimmed with gold braid. She wears a golden necklace, waist chain and rings, and a large pendant that seems to depict the angels leading Lot's family from the biblical destruction of Sodom. On either side of the sitter's head, Holbein has added the biographical detail "ETATIS SV Æ21" ("DURING HER 21ST YEAR"). The original is owned by the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, which acquired it in 1926, and copies are housed at the National Portrait Gallery in London and Hever Castle in Kent.

It was identified as Katherine by the art historian Sir Lionel Cust in 1909, after he was asked to examine it by its owners, the Cromwell family. The portrait's association with the Cromwells is enough to prove beyond reasonable doubt that whoever sat for this portrait in the sixteenth century, it was not Katherine Howard. Few families had less of a reason to keep a portrait of her than Thomas Cromwell's, nor did the family have a tradition of regarding the unidentified lady as one of Henry VIII's queens. Up until about 1817, they seemed to think it might show Oliver Cromwell's mother, Elizabeth, but the clothing is at least a generation too early for that. Later in the nineteenth century, the rather magnificently named Avarilla Oliveria Cromwell believed it was a likeness of Henry VIII's youngest sister, an interpretation shared and promoted by the talented amateur artist and historian Sarah Capel-Coningsby, Countess of Essex.

Lionel Cust's findings, published in the Burlington Magazine in 1910, enjoyed wide acceptance for the next forty years, which might explain why the Toledo portrait still crops up on so many souvenirs commemorating Katherine and Henry VIII's other family members. However, as early as 1953 it was being questioned at a Liverpool exhibition, whose organizers preferred to showcase it as an unknown lady, a conclusion shared today by its curators in Toledo, who label it as a Portrait of a Lady, probably a Member of the Cromwell Family. When one its copies was sold in a Christie's auction room in 1961, it was tentatively marketed to prospective buyers under Avarilla Cromwell's label of Henry's sister Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk. Eight years later, Sir Roy Strong, director of the National Portrait Gallery, argued that it was a portrait of Katherine's lady-in-waiting Lady Elizabeth Cromwell, Gregory's wife and Queen Jane's sister. The style of the sleeves suggests it was painted between 1535 and 1540 which, with the sitter's age given as twenty-one, would put her date of birth between 1513 and 1519. Elizabeth Seymour's date of birth is usually given either as circa 1513 or circa 1518. As a wealthy married woman and then as Cromwell's daughter-in-law, she was in a position to afford a portrait by Holbein. Some viewers detect facial similarities between the sitter and Queen Jane in a portrait by the same artist, particularly around the mouth, chin and nose, and Elizabeth was a member by marriage of the family who owned the portrait from the sixteenth until the early twentieth century.

Recent attempts to push Katherine's date of birth back to the late 1510s are largely motivated by attempts to validate this portrait. The dress, though clearly appropriate for a member of the upper classes, is not quite grand enough for a queen, which has prompted some defenders of the portrait's authenticity to advance a chronology wholly untenable with what we know of Katherine's biography, namely that it must have been painted before she became queen, around the time she joined the court. This would date the portrait to a time in Katherine's life when she was paying back Francis Dereham for money she had borrowed to buy a few silk flowers, and require her to have been born between 1516 and 1518, which makes her almost a decade older than some of the other maids of honor in 1539» Young and Damned and Fair: The Life of Katherine Howard, Fifth Wife of King Henry VIII by Gareth Russell

Wikipedia has this to say: "ETATIS SVA 21" portraits

«The contemporary Hans Holbein the Younger portrait of a woman in black (shown above left, Toledo Museum of Art), was identified by Sir Lionel Cust in 1909 as Katherine. Two copies of Holbein's original are extant: one at Hever Castle and another owned by the National Portrait Gallery in London. The portrait has long been associated with Henry VIII's young queen, however the identification of the portrait as Katherine Howard is widely but not universally discounted.

The text on the portrait, ETATIS SVÆ 21, indicates that the sitter was in her 21st year, an age Catherine Howard never reached. Herbert Norris notes that the sitter is wearing a sleeve which follows a style set by Anne of Cleves, which would date the portrait to after 6 January 1540, when Anne's marriage to Henry VIII took place. The original Holbein is dated to 1535–1540, but the National Portrait Gallery dates their copy to the late 1600s. This would seem to indicate a sitter who was still a connection to be commemorated over a century later (unlike Katherine).

Historians Antonia Fraser and Derek Wilson believe that the portrait is far more likely to depict Elizabeth Seymour. Antonia Fraser has argued that the sitter is Jane Seymour's sister, Elizabeth, the widow of Sir Anthony Ughtred, on the grounds that the lady bears a resemblance to Jane, especially around the nose and chin, and wears widow's black. Black clothing, however, was expensive, and did not necessarily signify mourning: it was an indication of wealth and status. Derek Wilson observed that "In August 1537 Cromwell succeeded in marrying his son, Gregory, to Elizabeth Seymour", the queen's younger sister. He was therefore related by marriage to the king, "an event worth recording for posterity, by a portrait of his daughter-in-law." The painting was in the possession of the Cromwell family for centuries.»

Anno Suæ Versus Ætatis Suæ

Both the above quotes (Wikipedia has since corrected this) writes of the lady in the Toledo Portrait being in her 21st year. However, according to J. Stephan Edwards, ETATIS SVÆ 21 means 21 years of age.

«Age could be expressed in sixteenth century England using either of two formulae. One was "anno" or "anno suæ," meaning "in [his/her] year." By this formula, a newborn infant was "in his first year," and upon the first anniversary of his birth entered his second year, and so on. The alternate formula expressed age as "ætatis suæ," or "at his/her age of," calculated according to the annual anniversary of birth most recently achieved. "Ætatis suæ" is therefore the same as modern Western European reckonings of age, while "anno suæ" equals the modern reckoning plus one year.» J. Stephan Edwards, A Queen of a New Invention, p. 106

Ætatis suæ is therefore the same as modern Western European reckonings of age, while, while anno suæ equals the modern reckoning plus one year.

But some portraits I have come across has Anno Ætatis suæ. Which definition is correct then?

«This drawing is a raw example of Holbein's preliminary notation style for an oil portrait; it includes alternative designs of the hat and lettering, as well as indications that the dress is to be of red and black velvet edged with gold.»

Eleanor Brandon, Countess of Cumberland

An unidentified woman by Hans Holbein the Younger, sometimes said to be of Lady Eleanor Brandon, Countess of Cumberland

An unidentified woman by Hans Holbein the Younger, sometimes said to be of Lady Eleanor Brandon, Countess of Cumberland

Eleanor Brandon, Countess of Cumberland, was born some time between 1518 and 1521, and could therefore have been 20–22 years old sometime between autumn 1538 and Holbein's death in October-November 1543.

Eleanor Brandon Clifford was the younger sister of the more famous Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, mother of Lady Jane Grey. She was the younger daughter of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and his wife Mary, Queen of France, the sister of Henry VIII.

Eleanor Brandon Clifford was thus the niece of Henry VIII.

She was thus of sufficient status to have had her picture painted by Holbein and perhaps also to have had a piece of jewellery designed by him and the wealth to pay for both.

Lady Eleanor was a descendant of a member of the Tudor dynasty and therefore her marriage would advance the political ambitions of any given husband. In March 1533, a marriage contract was written up for Lady Eleanor and Henry Clifford, the eldest son and heir of Henry Clifford, 1st Earl of Cumberland by Lady Margaret Percy. In anticipation of Eleanor's arrival, the Earl of Cumberland built two towers and the great gallery within Skipton Castle.

Eleanor married Henry Clifford at Brandon house, Bridewell, in 1537; her uncle King Henry VIII was present.

We see therefore that Eleanor's status was valued and appreciated.

She was also a sickly woman, as evidenced by her only surviving letter and her early death at only about 28, which could fit with the somewhat haggard appearance of the woman in the Toledo Portrait. 

While there is no striking similarity between a sketch said to depict Lady Eleanor Brandon and the Toledo Portrait, nor are their features so dissimilar that it is a count against the theory. 

While it is difficult to make out, it would appear that the lady in the Toledo Portrait has blue eyes, as does this lady in the Holbein sketch of an unknown woman possibly Lady Eleanor Brandon.

The only problem with either of these theories, and the question that presents itself, is, of course: Why in the world would Sir Richard Cromwell have a picture of either of these ladies?

The Third Succession Act of 23 March 1544 defined that Eleanor was in line to succeed her maternal uncle Henry VIII. She was eighth-in-line for the throne following:

  • Edward, Prince of Wales, her first cousin
  • The Lady Mary, her first cousin
  • The Lady Elizabeth, her first cousin
  • Frances Grey, Marchioness of Dorset, her elder sister
  • Lady Jane Grey, her eldest niece
  • Lady Katherine Grey, her second niece
  • Lady Mary Grey, her third niece

Henry VIII died on the 28th of January 1547. Prince Edward became King Edward VI. Lady Eleanor was the seventh-in-line for the throne, but she died on the 27th of September the same year without surviving male issue at Brougham Castle, and was buried at Skipwith. Her place in line was taken by her daughter, and later by this one's son, Ferdinando, Lord Strange.

In short succession, Edward VI, her first cousin, Mary, I, her first cousin, Frances Grey, Marchioness of Dorset, her elder sister, Lady Jane Grey, her eldest niece, Lady Katherine Grey, her second niece, and Lady Mary Grey, her third niece, were all dead. 

As Elizabeth I refused to acknowledge the children of her cousin Katherine Grey as legitimate, Eleanor Brandon's line was the only acknowledged legitimate claimants of the people mentioned in Henry VIII's will.

Ferdinando, Lord Strange, was a supporter of the arts, enjoying music, dance, poetry, and singing, but above all he loved the theatre. He was the patron of many writers, including Robert Greene, Christopher Marlowe, Edmund Spenser, and William Shakespeare. Shakespeare may have been employed by Strange in his early years as one of Lord Strange's Men. By 1590, Strange's was allied with the Admiral's Men. He was a popular and able man and a favourite amongst many for whom should succeed Queen Elizabeth I.

It is therefore possible that someone possessed of anti-Stuart sympathies would have valued a portrait of Lady Eleanor Brandon, as the ancestress of the only viable line of competion to the English throne.

However in 1544, the year of Sir Richard Cromwell's death, any dynastic importance of Eleanor Brandon Clifford was still in the future, as all of the people mentioned in Henry VIII's will, and indeed Henry VIII himself, were all still alive.

Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond and Somerset

Her nose does appear different though, in the sketch by Holbein. The eyes are not coloured in, perhaps the use of pencil is to indicate that the eyes were grey?

The eyes of the lady in the Toledo Portrait could be grey.

The thin, unsmiling, palely orange lips are the same.

The face in the Howard sketch appears slightly rounder than that in the Toledo Portrait, however Mary could have been a teenager in the sketch and she would have reached her twenties in the Toledo Portrait. And she would have gone through many hardships in the years between.

Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond and Somerset?

If the Toledo Portrait is indeed one of these two women, my guess would be Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond.

The Duchess was notoriously hard up for cash after the death of her husband, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond. Fearful that too much sexual activity had hastened his elder brother Arthur's death, the King had ordered the young couple not to consummate their marriageAs a result, the Duchess was not allowed to keep many of the lands which would normally have been her entitlement as widow: the King insisted without the consummation, it was not a true marriage. She remained at court, closely associated with the King's niece, Margaret Douglas, and one of his mistresses, Mary Shelton. In 1539, Margaret Douglas and the Duchess were appointed to meet Anne of Cleves at Calais.

Mary could not remarry until her jointure was settled and she needed the money to live on. She had to rely on her father for necessities and the money from the jointure would give her some independence. While she awaited her settlement, she was forced to sell her jewels and go into debt. Her father consulted lawyers and sent a steady stream of letters pressing her case. But he risked making Henry angry. Mary was not satisfied with his efforts and threatened to go to court in person.

Finally in March of 1539, King Henry granted Mary £12 per annum from Richmond’s estates. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, he gave her lands and estates which raised her income to £744 per annum. Attempts were made to place Mary in the court of King Henry’s new wife, Anne of Cleves but the new Queen had brought her own attendants and Mary received no place.

King Henry’s next wife was Mary's first cousin, Katherine Howard. The Howard family was in the ascendant again.  Mary was made a member of Katherine’s household when she became Queen, serving as a Lady of the Privy Chamber under the supervision of Lady Margaret Douglas. Mary attended Katherine when she and Henry made their progress to the north of England. Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond – The Freeelance History Writer

Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond would therefore have had a lot to celebrate in 1540–1541, when she  21 years of age, and would suddenly have had the means to do so.

After the disgrace of Katherine Howard in late 1541-early 1542, Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond and Margaret Douglas were sent away from court to Kenninghall for the next seventeen months. In December 1546 Mary's brother and father were arrested and imprisoned. When men were sent to search her brother's home at Kenninghall, Mary was there. The men searched her coffers and found them bare. Mary had been forced to sell or pawn her jewels to pay her debts as her father was neglectful of her well-being. Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond – The Freeelance History Writer

If Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond had been in possession of a portrait of Holbein, it stands to reason that she might have had to part with that as well.

The Portrait Collection of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

According to the Royal Collection, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk celebrated his family alliances with portraiture. Twenty-eight portraits are listed in his possession in 1547. 

It would have been very interesting to know who these portraits were of, and if any portraits of his daughter Mary was included in the collection.

It is entirely possible, of course, if no pictures of Mary are to be found, or none from the time period of the Toledo Portrait's creation, that the Toledo Portrait was intended to be a part of that collection, but that the lady considered the portrait her own property (which it also probably was), and considered the needs of today more important than the needs of tomorrow.

It is interesting that no portrait of Mary should survive, considering the profligate amount we have of her brother.

She was Henry VIII's only daughter-in-law after all, the wife of one duke and the daughter of another. And all that in the era of Holbein.

It is is not without the realm of reason to believe that she would have commissioned a portrait of herself, or that someone would have commissioned a portrait of her.

It is made stranger still because of the greatest collectors of art in history, to this day, and through whose collection so many of the portraits we are still talking about today passed, and someone who we know revelled in buying pictures of his family, was Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel, the direct descendant of her brother Henry.

Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel, (7 July 1586 – 4 October 1646) was a prominent English courtier during the reigns of King James I and King Charles I, but he made his name as a Grand Tourist and art collector rather than as a politician. When he died he possessed 700 paintings, along with large collections of sculpture, books, prints, drawings, and antique jewellery.

His inventory shows amongst other item number 169: Portrait of the Earl of Surrey, life-size. Probably the much discussed full-length portrait in a painted architectural setting, now at Arundel. (Not by Holbein.)

His grandfather Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, had together with his brother and sister been left in the safe-keeping of their aunt Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond and Somerset, after the death of the children's father in 1547.

The children of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey:

It therefore stands to reason that if a known portrait of Mary Howard had existed, Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel, would have wanted it.

Which could indicate that the portrait, if of Lady Mary Howard, had lost its identity and been renamed by then.

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, sketch by Holbein side by side with a rendering of the Toledo portrait

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, sketch by Holbein side by side with a rendering of the Toledo portrait

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and his sister, Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond?

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and his sister, Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond?

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1516/1517 – 19 January 1547), brother of Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond (1519 – 7 December 1557)

Both portraits by Hans Holbein the Younger, both portraits painted around 1540.

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, would have been in his 25th year in 1540.

Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond, would have been 21 years of age in 1540.

Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond and Somerset (1519–1557)

Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond and Somerset (1519–1557)

Noble[6] is widely quoted regarding the Cromwells. He stated that Frances Murfyn was married in 1518 to Richard Williams; that she died at Stepney, London and was buried there on 20 Feb 1533. However, in the will of Thomas Murfyn in 1523 it is clear that Thomas was to marry Elizabeth Donne in 1519 and hence if the visitation of 1613 and the other sources are to be believed then the dates in Noble must be incorrect.


[1] The Visitation of the County of Huntingdon 1613. Sir Henry Ellis (Ed.) Printed for the Camden Society. 1849. Cromwell Pedigree p 79-80.

[2] Sir Richard William Drake, 1873. Fasciculus Mervinensis. (Extract from the Will of Sir Thomas Murfyn 1523).

[3] Cromwell alias Williams, Richard (by 1512-44), of London; Stepney, Mdx. and Hinchingbroke, Hunts. Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982.

[4] Great Raveley', in A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 2, ed. William Page, Granville Proby and S Inskip Ladds (London, 1932), pp. 198-201. British History Online.

[5] Will of Sir Richarde Williams otherwise called Richarde Cromwell, Gentleman of the King's Privy Chamber. 24 November 1546. PROB 11/31/335. National Archives.

[6] Noble, Mark. Memoirs of the Protectoral House of Cromwell. Third Edition 1787.»

Nobody seemed to realise the implications or what this meant, however.

What this meant was that Frances Murfyn, the wife of the (likely) first owner of the portrait, and the ancestress of the subsequent owners and the ones who made copies of the original portrait, was not only alive when this fashion was fashionable, but, if she were born around 1520 she would have been 20 years of age precisely when it was at its most fashionable.

Frances Murfyn, Lady Cromwell (c.1520 – c.1543)

Which means that the perhaps most natural candidate for the lady in the Toledo Portrait is Frances, Lady Cromwell, née Murfyn, the wife of the man who owned the portrait.

One can only suggest that the reason she has not been suggested as a candidate previously is the mistaken belief based on Noble that she died in 1533, well before the garments of the lady in the Toledo Portrait became fashionable.

When it now becomes clear that she died at some point between 1542 and 1544, that is to say, after the garments of the lady in the Toledo Portrait had been perfectly in style, this re-establishes Frances, Lady Cromwell, née Murfyn, as a strong candidate for the sitter.

With a probable birth year of 1520, this means also that Frances, Lady Cromwell, née Murfyn, would have been 20–21 years old in 1540–1541, at the exact point in time when the garments of the lady in the Toledo Portrait would have been at their most fashionable.

Sir Richard Cromwell alias Williams even refererences his wife's gowns in his will: «I will and geve to my Lady Dennys’ Sr Thomas Dennys’ wiffe the best gowne of my late wiffes».

Perhaps the fine black dress in the Toledo Portrait was one of them?

The Will of Thomas Murfyn

The reason that we can pinpoint Frances’s age so accurately is thanks to her father’s will.

The Will of Thomas Mirfyn or Myrfyn, Alderman of City of London, proved the 15th of October 1523, held by the National Archives, Kew, quotes the marriage contract between him and his second wife Elizabeth Donne, Frances’s mother:

The xvth day of Octobr the xjth yere of the Reigne of Kynge Henry the viijth It is covenanted and agreed betwene Thomas Mirfyn maire of the Citie of London of the one partie and Robert Dymmok knyght on the other partie That the said Thomas shall wt the grace of God mary and take to wife Elizabeth Donne doughter and heire to Aungell Donne late Alderman of London and the said Thomas Mirfyn on this side the fest of the natiuitie of our lorde that shalbe in the yere of our lord god M1Vcxxijti

The will is printed in Fasciculus Mervinensis by Sir William Richard Drake.

Thomas Murfyn and Elizabeth Donne were to be married before Christmas, the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. The contract is signed the 15th of October 1519 (the 11th year of the reign of King Henry VIII).

Frances had been born when her father wrote his will on the 2nd of September 1523:

Also I bequeth vnto Fraunces my doughter a standing Cup wt a maydens hede which I will shall be kepte to her .. And yf she fortune to dye I will that it shall goo remayn and be to the said Crafte of Skynners And I will that it shalbe in the custodye and keeping of the same crafte till she come to lawfull age orelles to be maried.

A searchable version of the will is at genealogieonline.

Roy Strong's Take on the Toledo Portrait

Roy Strong has served as director of both the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

«Portraits called Katherine Howard


The most widely accepted portrait type of Katherine makes its appearance as her as late as 1898. Three versions are known, of which the original by Holbein is in the Toledo Museum of Fine Arts, Ohio (PL. 76). In addition there are two copies, NPG 1119 (PL. 77), and that formerly at Trentham Hall (last recorded Christie's 25 November 1966 (lot 2) (PL. 78)). The history of each of these pictures has to be examined in detail in order to understand the hopeless mislabelling which has occurred.

The picture now at Toledo came from the Cromwell-Bush family. These are the descendants of Thomas Cromwell's sister, Katherine, whose son Sir Richard Williams assumed the name Cromwell. A label on the reverse of the portrait reveals that in 1817 it was called 'Cromwell's (i.e. Oliver Cromwell) mother' and a second fragmentary label, probably written by Avarilla Oliveria Cromwell, daughter of Artemidorus Cromwell Russell, subsequently identified it as Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk. In 1909 the picture was submitted for inspection to Sir Lionel Cust who first made the attribution to Holbein and who identified it as Katherine on the basis of the NPG version. Since then it has been widely disseminated as a portrait of Katherine, an identification which was first questioned in print in the catalogue of the Kings and Queens Exhibition at Liverpool in 1953.

The NPG version came from Overleigh Hall, near Chester, seat of the Cowper family, which subsequently passed into the possession of the Cholmondeleys of Condover Hall. When it was sold in 1897 in the Cholmondeley sale at Christie's it was called a portrait of 'a Lady' and only at some later stage did the dealers, Colnaghi, or Cust himself, identity it as Katherine, presumably on comparison with other items believed to be her (see below) at that date. By 1949 the portrait rightly been withdrawn from exhibition as being of doubtful identity.

Of the Trentham Hall version there is little to tell other than that it appeared in the sale-room in 1961, Christie's 27 October 1961 (lot 45) as 'Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk'. It is clearly a much later copy and, therefore, of little importance as evidence.

None of these identifications can be taken seriously, least of all that identifying the lady as Katherine. One thing alone binds two of the portraits together; a connection with the Cromwell family as both appear in the context of a set of Cromwell family portraits. Of the connection of the Toledo version with the Cromwell family the provenance from the Cromwell-Bush family alone is ample testimony. The NPG version was one of a series of Cromwell portraits at Overleigh Hall which included Sir Oliver Cromwell's relatives, his father-in-law, Sir Thomas Bromley, his nephew, Protector Cromwell, and one of the wives of his brother, Henry. The Cowpers of Overleigh had inherited these pictures through a Cromwell connection.

The costume is unusual, notably the cut of the sleeves, and the only dated parallel is Holbein's 'Christina of Denmark' of 1538. The sitter must therefore be a lady who was twenty-one about 1535 to 1540. This eliminates the generation of Thomas Cromwell himself, his wife and sisters as being too old. Frances Murfyn, wife of Katherine Cromwell's son, Sir Richard, is also eliminated on that score (they were married in 1518) and the fact that none of the pictures descended via Thomas' other sister, Elizabeth, wife of William Wellyfed, rather argues against the sitter being a member of that connection. The strongest case rests with Cromwell's own daughter-in-law, a lady of exalted rank, Elizabeth Seymour, sister of the Queen Jane, wife of Gregory, Lord Cromwell. She was already a young widow (which may account for her being in black) and she married Gregory Cromwell before 1538, one source dating the wedding to August 1537. This must remain an hypothesis, as the date of her birth is unknown and no other portraits of her survive. One fact is certain, that the sitter is a lady who had strong ties with the Cromwell family.

The lady wears a large pendant jewel at her breast, depicting Lot and his family being led away from the destruction of Sodom by an angel, and a design for which a Holbein drawing survives. The allusion does not appear to have any specific bearing on the sitter. Typologically, the story of the flight of Lot's family prefigured the angel informing the Magi to depart by another route from Bethlehem and Christ's delivery of the just from Limbo, according to the Old Law. There is no surviving drawing for the other pendant depicting God the Father flanked by angels. Our version seems to be the best witness for the design of this; it is cut and obscure in the Toledo version.» Tudor & Jacobean Portraits by Roy C. Strong, p. 42-44

(The version formerly at Trentham Hall is the one now at Hever Castle. The Lost Tudor Princess: A Life of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox by Alison Weir)

As we see, Frances Murfyn would have been Roy Strong's first guess for the identity of the woman in the Toledo Portrait, if only she hadn't died in 1533.

When it now becomes clear that Frances did in fact not die in 1533, but lived all the way to at least 1542, when she is mentioned in a grant, and was of the age of the lady in the portrait, the most obvious candidate for the sitter is the wife of Sir Richard Cromwell.

The Angel on the Lady’s Brooch

«The lady wears a large pendant jewel at her breast, depicting Lot and his family being led away from the destruction of Sodom by an angel, and a design for which a Holbein drawing survives. The allusion does not appear to have any specific bearing on the sitter.» Tudor & Jacobean Portraits by Roy C. Strong, p. 43-44

It is perhaps worth noting that Frances Murfyn’s grandfather was Angel Donne. He was late Alderman of London. In portraiture was a usual way for people of the Tudor era to highlight their status and family connections. They also loved word plays.

Frances Murfyn, Lady Cromwell (c.1520 – between 1542 and 1544)

Frances Murfyn, Lady Cromwell (c.1520 – between 1542 and 1544)

Frances Murfyn, Lady Cromwell (c.1520 – between 1542 and 1544)

Frances Murfyn, Lady Cromwell (c.1520 – between 1542 and 1544)

Frances Murfyn, Lady Cromwell (c.1520 – between 1542 and 1544)

Frances Murfyn, Lady Cromwell (c.1520 – between 1542 and 1544)

Frances Murfyn, Lady Cromwell (c.1520 – between 1542 and 1544)

Frances Murfyn, Lady Cromwell (c.1520 – between 1542 and 1544)

Taken from the book Henry VIII by AF Pollard


After Hans Holbein the Younger

Colourised black and white print

Frances Murfyn, Lady Cromwell (c.1520 – between 1542 and 1544)

Frances Murfyn, Lady Cromwell (c.1520 – between 1542 and 1544)

Frances Murfyn, Lady Cromwell (c.1520 – between 1542 and 1544)

Ever since I identified this portrait as Frances Murfyn, Lady Cromwell, I have actually grown very fond of it.

It was only as Katherine Howard if felt wrong.

Blank space

Frances Murfyn, Lady Cromwell

Frances Murfyn, Lady Cromwell

Blank space

Thomas Mirfyn. He married the daughter of Aungel Don (Alderman 1506). One of his daughters married Sir Andrew Judde (Lord Mayor 1550–1), another married Sir Robert Cromwell, and was great-grandmother of the Protector and of John Hampden. Notes on the aldermen, 1502-1700 | British History Online

The Cromwells had thought that the lady in the portrait was Oliver Cromwell's mother.

She was in fact his great-grandmother.

Holbein's sketch of an unidentified woman side by side with the Windsor version of the Holbein miniature of Katherine Howard

Addendum 31.07.2020

Teri Fitzgerald has since persuasively suggested that Holbein's The Man in Black is Frances Murfyn's husband, Sir Richard Cromwell.

Sir Richard Cromwell (c.1510–1544)

Sir Richard Cromwell (c.1510–1544)

Perhaps Sir Richard Cromwell (c.1510–1544)

In Sir Richard Cromwell: A King’s Diamond Teri Fitzgerald makes an excellent case for this portrait being Sir Richard Cromwell.

There is much to suggest that it could have been painted as a double portrait with the one of his wife.

Sir Richard Cromwell (c.1510–1544) and his wife Frances Murfyn, Lady Cromwell (c.1520 – between 1542 and 1544)

Sir Richard Cromwell (c.1510–1544) and his wife Frances Murfyn, Lady Cromwell (c.1520 – between 1542 and 1544)

The lettering, the spelling and the blue background are all identical.

Seemingly this is contradicted by the year 1539 written on the painting of the gentleman, as the sleeves of the lady can be dated so firmly to the arrival of Anne of Cleves so near to 1540.

However, at this time in England the calendar year started from Lady Day (25 March), so the portraits could actually have been painted from and nearly three months into the year that to us would have been 1540, but to the Tudor court would still have been 1539.

That makes us able to date these portraits pretty precisely to between the 27th of December in 1539 when Anne of Cleves arrived in England and the 25th of March in 1540 when the new year commenced for the Tudors.



22.09.2020 02:01

I like to think it is Anne Boleyn. She is wearing the French hood and her facial features seem to match the 1534 image of her on the Moost Happi medal. Just wishful thinking...

Site Owner

22.09.2020 12:37

Hehe, I am afraid it is definitely not Anne Boleyn 😊 The fashions are too late for her! Henry was on his second Anne by then 😊

Site Owner

22.09.2020 12:36

But I do not see the harm of having a portrait in one's heart as an image of that person, even if it is not *strictly* true ;)

Site Owner

22.09.2020 12:36

I myself do that with the Herωologia Anglica-engraving of Lady Jane Grey (even though I *know* it is based on a portrait of Katherine Parr),

Site Owner

22.09.2020 12:35

and I still think 'Frances Brandon' every time I see the Portrait of a Woman sometimes identified as the Duchess of Suffolk in the Royal Collection,

Site Owner

22.09.2020 12:33

even though it is I myself who have concluded that she is Dorothy Wadham née Petre 😊

Site Owner

22.09.2020 12:32

I do not think it is dangerous to let one's imagination believe something as long as one does not let it override one's logical sense 😊

It has been said that Windsor version of the Holbein miniature of Katherine Howard displays the characteristically hooked Howard nose.

Portrait of Thomas Howard 3rd Duke of Norfolk side by side with the Windsor version of the Holbein miniature of Katherine Howard

Portrait of Thomas Howard 3rd Duke of Norfolk side by side with the Windsor version of the Holbein miniature of Katherine Howard

The Howard Nose

The Howard Nose

So, how does the lady in the Toledo Portrait resemble her (possible) relatives?

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk (1473-1554), and the Toledo Portrait

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk (1473-1554), and the Toledo Portrait

Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon (1526-1596), great-grandson of Lady Elizabeth Howard, the daughter of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk, and the Toledo Portrait

Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon (1526-1596), great-grandson of Lady Elizabeth Howard, the daughter of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk, and the Toledo Portrait

The Toledo Portrait and Margaret Howard, Baroness Scrope (1543-1591), daughter of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and granddaughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

The Toledo Portrait and Margaret Howard, Baroness Scrope (1543-1591), daughter of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and granddaughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

The Toledo Portrait and Frances Howard, Duchess of Richmond (1578-1639), granddaughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

The Toledo Portrait and Frances Howard, Duchess of Richmond (1578-1639), granddaughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

The Toledo Portrait and Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset (1590-1632), great-granddaughter of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and great-great-granddaughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

The Toledo Portrait and Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset (1590-1632), great-granddaughter of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and great-great-granddaughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

Frances Howard, Duchess of Richmond (1578-1639) and Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset (1590-1632) – Distant cousins and alike enough to be sisters.

Frances Howard, Duchess of Richmond (1578-1639) and Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset (1590-1632) – Distant cousins and alike enough to be sisters.

Margaret Howard, Baroness Scrope (1543-1591) and Frances Howard, Duchess of Richmond (1578-1639) were first cousins. Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset (1590-1632), was a distant relation of the two others. All of them alike enough to be sisters.

Margaret Howard, Baroness Scrope (1543-1591) and Frances Howard, Duchess of Richmond (1578-1639) were first cousins. Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset (1590-1632), was a distant relation of the two others. All of them alike enough to be sisters.

Anne of Denmark

Anne of Denmark

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However, apparent family likeness can be deceiving.

This lady also bears a marked resemblance to the Howard ladies above, especially Margaret Howard, Baroness Scrope, but is in fact Anne of Denmark, the consort of James I.

A Miniature Called Mary Howard

Sometimes, however, no matter how much you meticulously research a theory, and how well everything seems to fit together, it can still get inconveniently ruined by facts.

No sooner was I half-convinced that the Toledo Portrait may have been Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond, and Henry VIII's only daughter-in-law, before I made two amazing discoveries.

The first was a little miniature called Lady Mary Howard, which I came over quite by chance.

Now, it is clearly either a copy, or a fantasy portrait, and even if it is a copy of a genuine portrait from the Tudor era, it is by no means certain that it really is Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond.

And yet there was something about it that did not allow me to dismiss it so easily.

Perhaps it was the attention to detail, which matched up with genuine details from costumes of the ladies in the Holbein miniatures with which I was now so familiar.

And yet it was not a carbon copy of any of the others, it had unique detailing as well.

Or perhaps it was the nose, which matched up so well (or so I thought) with the nose in the sketch.

If it is a fake, it is well made.

Called Lady Mary Howard After Hans Holbein the Younger

Called Lady Mary Howard After Hans Holbein the Younger

If the miniature is a real depiction of Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond, I have a difficult time reconciling it with the Toledo Portrait. The nose in particular is so different.

Naturally, however, there is no way to know for certain whether or not the sitter of the miniature actually is Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond.

I did, however, consider this a weakening of my theory.

Until I discovered something that blew it out of the water.

The Real Wolf Hall – The Cromwell Family in Wolf Hall: Richard Cromwell at The Anne Boleyn Files

I was happily reading a post at The Anne Boleyn Files, The Real Wolf Hall – The Cromwell Family in Wolf Hall: Richard Cromwell, when I innocently came upon the following paragraph:

«Within a few months, however, Thomas Cromwell had successfully negotiated with Sir Thomas Denys for a marriage between Richard and his step-daughter. By 8 March 1534, Richard had married Frances Murfyn (c.1519 – c.1543), the daughter of Thomas Murfyn and his second wife, Elizabeth Donne. Thomas Murfyn, an alderman and former Lord Mayor of London, had died in 1523 and his widow subsequently married Sir Thomas Denys, a friend of Thomas Cromwell, in 1524. His wife’s ample dowry included houses in St. Helens Bishopsgate and Stepney. The couple had two sons: Henry, (c. 1537 – 1604) and Francis (c. 1541 – 1598).»

I quite literally did a double take.

But ... weren't those the same people?

And yet, the dates were different.

Significantly different.

In fact, these dates lined up perfectly with Frances Murfyn being ...

Could I have misunderstood something? I checked Wikipedia again, but it (then) still reflected the information quoted above. These were unquestionably the same people, but the information about Frances's age, birth and death were radically different. 

Importantly different.

Almost too excited for words I kept reading, and found another little snippet about Frances:

«Richard’s wife, Frances was still living in June 1542, but had died before he made his will on 20 June 1544. He died on the 20 October at Stepney and was buried at St Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate.»

Before I got too excited, however, I had to double check the new numbers.

Frances Murfyn, Lady Cromwell (c.1520 – c.1543)?

A careful Internet search revealed that several people had reached these conclusions, undoubtedly as a result of primary sources and other resources becoming more easily available.


In the Cromwell Pedigree in the visitation of Huntingdon in 1613 she was recorded as Frances Murfyn, daughter of 'Sir' Thomas Myrfyn and Elizabeth Donne; the wife of Richard Williams alias Cromwell of Hinchinbroke, Huntingdonshire; and the mother of Sir Henry Cromwell of Hinchinbrooke, Huntingdonshire, and Francis Cromwell of Hemingford, Huntingdonshire[1].

Frances Murfyn was a beneficiary of the will of her father, Thomas Murfyn, Alderman of London, in 1523[2]. In the will of Thomas Murfyn there is reference to a document indicating that he was to marry Elizabeth Donne (his second wife) before Christmas 1519. A year of birth for Frances of about 1520 is therefore assumed.

It has been suggested [1] that the marriage between Frances Murfyn and Richard Williams Cromwell was arranged by Thomas Cromwell, the marriage taking place before 08 March 1534[3]. If so, Frances may have been only 13 or 14 years of age when she married.

"In June, 1542, Sir Richard Cromwell alias Williams and Frances his wife granted the manors of Great Raveley and Moynes [Huntingdonshire] to John Sewster"[4].

In the will of her husband, Sir Richard Cromwell alias Williams, the will made on 20 Jun 1544 and proved on 24 Nov 1546[5], he made a bequest as follows: "I will and geve to my Lady Dennys’ Sr Thomas Dennys’ wiffe the best gowne of my late wiffes" (Lady Dennys being Elizabeth Donne, the mother of Frances). Hence, Frances pre-deceased her husband, and died presumably between June 1542 and June 1544.