Tag Archives: Hans Holbein

Who murdered the princes in the Tower?

princes_in_the_tower_2.jpgThe honest answer to that is that it rather depends on your interpretation of the sources and, as I have said before, your affiliations. Richard III is a monarch who stirs strong sentiments!  I first encountered the event and a few of the various sources aged eleven when my History teacher used the Jackdaw activity pack about the princes to encourage his class to see that History isn’t something cast in concrete and that the same source can be valued or discredited according to viewpoint and known facts. The story of the princes is the story of an unsolved murder – it’s a bit like unmasking Jack the Ripper in that everyone has their pet theory and some evidence to back up their ideas. The novelist Patricia Cornwall has spent a huge sum of money to gather overlooked evidence which points to Jack being the artist Walter Sickert. Unsolved historical murders have a fascination because everyone can look at the available evidence and draw their own conclusions.  Difficulties arise when historians – and determined amateur sleuths – try to find previously unknown evidence that has disappeared down the crevices of time  that will point in the right direction. It is often the work of painstakingly moving the pieces around until a more clear picture emerges. Until then it has to be best and most accepted fit – but that doesn’t mean that in a modern court the evidence would produce a guilty verdict.

So here  are the possibilities of what happened to the Princes- in no particular order, other than the order they’ve emerged from my brain.

  1. King Richard III had them killed. Please don’t inhale and reach for your keyboard if you think he’s innocent – he is a rather notable suspect.  Richard, as duke of Gloucester, served his brother Edward IV with loyalty and honour.  Edward left him to get on with ruling the North of England and he did a stonkingly good job of it.  The good folk of York felt sufficiently strongly about it to make a note of his deposition and death at Bosworth – an act guaranteed to hack off the new regime.  The problem for Richard, if you’re that way inclined, was that Edward IV allowed the Woodville faction to gain dominance at court in terms of lucrative positions, marriages and ultimately by giving the care of his son into Woodville hands.  Richard only found out about his brother’s death because Lord Hastings sent him a note warning of Woodville intentions to get young Edward crowned as quickly as possible which would have seen Richard as a protector without any power because he didn’t have control of the king. When Richard intercepted the young king at Northampton it could be argued that Richard was acting in the interests of rather a lot of people who weren’t terrible keen on the aforementioned Woodvilles who were regarded by many as too big for their boots – and now is not the time to go down the side alley of Jacquetta Grey’s lineage. So far so good. Nor is this post the time to go through the whole chronology of events. The key things that stick in my mind are the Eleanor Butler incident i.e. the announcement that Edward IV had already been pre contracted in marriage thus rendering all his children illegitimate and Richard as heir to the throne.  The argument is usually put forward that if the children were illegitimate and since the Titulus Regulus act of Parliament said they were then there was no way they could inherit-so why kill them?  There’s also the episode with Lord Hastings finding himself being manhandled out of a privy council meeting to a handy lump of timber where he was executed without trial – clearly a large chunk from the historical jigsaw missing there although plenty of historians have presented theories on the subject as to why Richard should fall out with his brother’s friend so dramatically and decisively. Jane Shore found herself doing public penance, lost her property and ended up in jail in the aftermath of the episode – again why should Richard do that?  His brother had plenty of other mistresses.  The problem with skulduggery is that people don’t tend to make careful notes before, during or after the event – at least not if they wanted to keep their heads. There is obviously much more that I could write about both for and against Richard’s involvement.  I have four rather hefty volumes on my desk as I type.  Richard was the key suspect at the time according to rumour- Dominic Mancini left an account of events as he understood them.  He left England the week of Richard’s coronation, doesn’t provide an account of what Richard looked like and his manuscript went missing until 1934.  He says:” But after Hastings was removed, all the attendants who had waited on the king were debarred access to him. He and his brother were withdrawn into the inner apartments of the Tower proper, and day by day  began to be seen more rarely behind the bars and windows, til at length they ceased to appear altogether. The Physician John Argentine, the last of his attendants whose services the king enjoyed, reported that the young kin, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission of his sins by daily confession and penance, because he believed that death was facing him.”

    “I have seen many men burst into tears and lamentations when mention was made of him after his removal from men’s sight; and already there is a suspicion that he had been done away with. Whether, However, he has been done away with, and by what manner of death, so far I have not yet at all discovered.” 

    Mancini recognises that rumours aren’t fact but does give us a circumstantial account which holds water in that he doesn’t have any particular axe to grind on the subject.  Richard was in charge – whilst dying in the Tower was a huge risk for any of its imprisoned inhabitants it should only have happened if the bloke at the top of the chain of command gave the order; medieval Kings needed to secure their dynasties.  In having Edward of Middleham created Prince of Wales, Richard was laying a marker for the future.  If nothing else, and this is my thought on the subject, the Wars of the Roses would have taught him that having two kings on the board isn’t a terribly good idea in terms of political stability.  Little boys, bastardised or not, have a nasty tendency of growing up to be focal points of rebellion (and so does the idea of their existence as Henry VII swiftly discovered). I should also add that I have no problem with it if Richard did do it – medieval kings weren’t required to be nice they were required to hold on to the throne, pass it to the next generation and preferably win a large number of wars abroad whilst avoiding the scenario of their own citizens killing each other. I might also add that no one has any problem with Edward IV bumping off Henry VI in order to ensure no further unrest – of course he had the body displayed which eases the problem of conspiracy theories popping up out of the woodwork and he produced heirs – not to mention a brother who managed to land himself with a far more juicy tale. Equally Henry IV who bumped off his cousin doesn’t suffer as much as Richard on account of the fact that there were two further generations of Lancastrian kings making Henry’s actions less noteworthy (if you wanted to keep your head) whilst Richard lost his throne and his life after only two years  allowing the Tudor propaganda machine to get to work which also muddies some of the sources.

  2. Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham was descended from both John of Gaunt and Thomas of Woodstock. Again, if contemporary/near contemporary accounts are to be believed he had something of a grudge against the Woodvilles believing that his marriage to Katherine Woodville was beneath his dignity and that he hadn’t been permitted to take up his correct position in society. There are accounts where it is Stafford who is encouraging Richard to do away with the two princes. Things weren’t going terribly well for Stafford in terms of promotion and power although he swiftly became virtual ruler of the whole of Wales when Richard followed his brother’s model of giving titles, offices and lands to people he trusted and then letting them get on with it. By the winter of 1483 Bucking was in open rebellion against Richard and in cahoots with Margaret Beaufort who we  know he met on the road to Brecon where Bishop Morton was being kept under house arrest.  There seem to be two separate plots that turned into one plot – untidy but demonstrating that the great and the good had seen an opportunity for making their moves and also demonstrating that beneath the surface there were some very nasty currents at work – none of which is evidenced through much more than hearsay, some gleaned documentary comments and a few very interesting travel itineraries. The combination of  Buckingham’s arrogance and a few well chosen words of encouragement could have  been enough to see Buckingham have the boys murdered.  He had the means and the opportunity in that he was Constable of the Tower and had Richard’s trust.  He was executed in Salisbury on 3 November 1483.  He was not permitted to make a speech before his death.  It is plausible that he had the boys killed in order to make life difficult for Richard and also to open his way to the throne – it would have to be said that if the latter was the case Stafford was an inordinately optimistic chap.  If the former is true then he succeeded better than he could ever have dreamed. Jean Molinet is one of the sources who references Buckingham as does Commines.  There’s also a fragment of manuscript in the Ashmolean that points in Buckingham’s direction. The key thing here is that Richard didn’t know about it until it was too late and then who would have believed him.
  3.  

    Sir James Tyrell- according to Sir Thomas More and Polydore Vergil – the chap that did the deed. He apparently confessed in 1502 prior to his execution.  There is no known copy of the confession in existence. The Great Chronicle of London repeated the rumour.

  4. And that was more or less it until historians began revising their views in the Twentieth Century – the Victorians as the image above demonstrates were rather keen on the wicked uncle theory.  There is an account written by the Tudor historian John Stowe which says that there was a failed rescue attempt complete with a diversion of fire.  Again, I have no problem with that as it is entirely plausible that Stowe had access to sources that are now lost – happens a lot in this story.  This account opens up the possibility that the princes were killed accidentally or on purpose by someone other than on the orders of the folk in charge.  If there was a rescue attempt and it went wrong it would be very easy for the princes’ guards to kill them either to prevent their rescue or – and this is pure speculation- trying to do their best Thomas Becket replay for reward or someone could have paid the killer on the staff to do the deed – which opens up the possibility of the Lancastrian faction weighing in…all of which has no evidential base – Josephine Tey and Philippa Gregory are fiction writers. They can take  scraps and use the wriggle room as they wish. For accounts in the history books to be changed there needs to be something rather more substantial.
  5. They died accidentally or of illness. Well, why didn’t Richard just say?  Who would have believed him – look what happened to Edward II and Richard II and Henry VI – no one believed their deaths were natural….and that’s mainly because they weren’t.  There are plenty of other examples of the elite dying unexpectedly and the next thing you know its on account of poison or dastardly deeds. The average medieval man and woman in the street liked a conspiracy theory as much as the present generation – another thing which doesn’t help the primary accounts that we do have.  It’s largely all gossip.
  6. They didn’t die at all.  There was a story in Tyrell’s family that he removed the boys from the Tower.  There’re un-identified children in Richard’s financial records in Sheriff Hutton (oh goody, more speculation- but at least there’s something documented). There is also the Laslau Theory that says that John Clement, Margaret Gigg’s husband, was actually Richard of York. It’s a really interesting theory based on Holbein’s picture of Sir Thomas More’s family – obviously with flaws like the idea of Sir Edward Guildford (father of the duke of Northumberland’s wife) actually being Edward V incognito  but it would account for some of Sir Thomas More’s more glaring errors in his account of events – if you’re a follower of the Laslau Theory, Sir Thomas rather than being a Tudor propagandist/historian (depending on your viewpoint) is actually laying a screen of misinformation in order to protect the identity of a surviving prince. Laslau does offer some slender  threads of documentary evidence in his quest which are  interesting and which muddy the waters still further.  And finally and most obvious of the lot there is Henry VII’s on-going fear of pretenders.  King James of Scotland accepted Perkin Warbeck as Duke of York. This isn’t without its difficulties as Warbeck was initially acclaimed in Dublin as Earl of Warwick but you get the gist.  Elizabeth Woodville testified to the legitimacy of her children but never accused anyone of murder – either before or after Richard’s demise…and yes there’s a whole host of things that could be added to that statement.
  7. There are a couple of other candidates for murderer- take John Howard who became Duke of Norfolk.  He was the claimant to the estate of the Mowbray Dukes of Norfolk.  He was given custody of the Tower of London under less than regular circumstances the night the Princes are supposed to have disappeared from the Tower (Weir). He had opportunity and it turns out he had a motive—Richard, Duke of York was also Duke of Norfolk in right of his deceased child bride Anne, the daughter of the last Mowbray Duke.  Normally land and title reverted to the family where a child marriage was not consummated and no heir produced – which is why Edmund Tudor didn’t wait until Margaret Beaufort was a bit older before getting her with child.  he was concerned she’d die and he’d lose the lolly. In this case though, Richard had kept the title, the estates and the revenue…
  8. And finally John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. John had been by Uncle Richard’s side throughout 1483.  Like Buckingham he was trusted.  He would become Richard’s heir presumptive after Edward of Middleham’s death.  If we’re going to suggest that Buckingham was looking to be king then it also makes sense that someone a bit nearer to the Crown would bear some investigation.

The thing is that there is some evidence but its contradictory and circumstantial.  It might be possible to rule out the princes’ survival if the bones in the urn in Westminster Abbey turned out to belong to Edward V and Richard of York. Even if they weren’t it wouldn’t necessarily mean that they had survived their misadventure. And if the bones were theirs, it wouldn’t prove who did the killing since the skeletons did not emerge from their resting place clutching a note identifying the murderer – though it would make the account offered by More more plausible – errors and all.

And that’s all I intend to post about the Princes in the Tower for the time being.  Most of the time, with a few notable exceptions, if it weren’t for the traffic stats on the History Jar I wouldn’t know whether anyone was reading my ramblings or not.  I’ve not got the hang of being liked, joining communities or developing conversations through comments – Richard III, the Woodvilles and the Princes on the other hand certainly get a response! So thank you for your comments – positive, negative, knowledgeable and thought provoking as they are.

Primary sources or near primary sources include:

André, Bernard: Vita Henrici VII (in Memorials of King Henry VII, ed. J. Gairdner, Rolls Series, 1858)

Bull of Pope Innocent VIII on the Marriage of Henry VII with Elizabeth of York (ed. J. Payne-Collier, Camden Miscellany I, 1847)

Fabyan, Robert: The Concordance of Histories: The New Chronicles of England and France (1516) (ed. H. Ellis, 1811)

Grafton, Richard: Grafton’s Chronicle, or History of England (2 vols, ed. H. Ellis, 1809)

Hall, Edward: The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (London, 1550; ed. H. Ellis, 1809; facsimile edition of the original published 1970)

Holinshed, Raphael: Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (6 vols, ed. H. Ellis, 1807–8)

Leland, John: Collectanea (6 vols, ed. T. Hearne, Oxford, 1770–74)

A London Chronicle in the Time of Henry VII and Henry VIII (ed. C. Hopper, Camden Society, Camden Miscellany IV, 1839)

 

More, Sir Thomas: The History of King Richard the Third (in The Complete Works of Sir Thomas More, Vol. II, ed. R. S. Sylvester and others, Yale, 1963, London, 1979)

Rous, John: Joannis Rossi Antiquarii Warwicensis. Historia Regum Angliae (ed. T. Hearne, Oxford, 1716 and 1745)

The Song of the Lady Bessy

Stow, John: A Survey of London

Vergil, Polydore: The Anglica Historia of Polydore Vergil, AD 1485–1573 (trans. and ed. D. Hay, Camden Series, 1950)

For secondary sources both for and against Richard as well as presenting other possibilities and candidates see http://erenow.com/biographies/richardiiiandtheprincesinthetower/26.html

 

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The Flanders Mare – Anne of Cleves

annecleeves emblemPrior to her marriage Anne of Cleves used the emblem of two white swans which stood for innocence and honesty or sincerity. They were also supporters of the Cleves badge coming as they did from the story of one of Anne’s ancestors who was guided down the Rhine by a pair of swans. It should be added that more factually, like all his wives, Henry was related to Anne – through a daughter of Edward I.

 

Anne’s motto, which seems rather tongue in cheek to modern eyes, was “God send me well to keep.” However, rather than casting aspersions on her spouse’s marital record it was rather an attestation of her Lutheran background, no doubt one of the reasons why Thomas Cromwell was so keen on the marriage. The couple married in January 1540 despite the fact that Henry had taken one look at his bride and decided that he didn’t like her overly much and after the marriage declared that she hadn’t arrived in England in a state of maidenly virtue – which was hardly chivalrous especially as Anne’s upbringing was cloistered and it had to be explained to her that Henry would need to kiss her more than goodnight for there to be any Tudor heirs- either that or Anne was playing a very clever game indeed.

 

anne of clevesIt’s odd too that poor Anne should have been lumbered with the title Flanders Mare when the portrait by Holbein shows someone very different to that particular sobriquet. It has been suggested that Holbein had played up Anne’s beauty when he visited the court of Cleves to paint Anne and her sister Amelia but there again no one accused him of making the full length portrait of Christina more striking than the lady in question really was. Anne of course hadn’t turned down the opportunity to marry Henry, Christina said that she’d be more than happy to marry him if she had a spare head.

 

The Cleves ‘marriage’ after a disastrous start with Henry bursting in on Anne incognito when she first arrived in England lasted only six months and Cromwell’s head was on the block because of his unfortunate matchmaking skills. To be fair a portrait doesn’t show what a person is actually like and Anne swiftly developed a reputation for being unlearned and not very witty, though it didn’t stop her learning English, besides Henry had met another girl and it was easy enough to get an annulment from his Cleves marriage. The teenage Katherine Howard had been dangled in front of the Tudor monarch and he’d taken the bait. Anne must have heaved a huge sigh of relief when she became as a ‘sister’ to the king and popular with the aforementioned king’s subjects and daughters. She stayed in England until her death in 1557.

 

Her emblem is the ducal badge of Cleves which is apparently an escarbuncle- and that, as we all know, is a eight spindled wheel without a rim.

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Mrs Jane Small and Hans Holbein

Holbein,_Hans_(II)_-_Mrs_Jane_Small,_formerly_Mrs_Pemberton_-_Google_Art_ProjectIt’ll come as a bit of a shock if you don’t already know it but this portrait is only five centimeters in diameter. She’s a miniature or as the Tudors would have known it – a limming or limning.  The image is one of the first minatures produced in England and was painted by Holbein. She’s been painted on vellum and stetched over a playing card (Denyer-Baker: introduction) which can clearly be seen if the mount, a later addition, is reversed. The miniature was designed to be worn a bit like a jewel.

 

Mrs Jane Small, as we now know her to be, isn’t a great courtier. She’s the wife of a merchant, Nicholas Small. Originally art historians thought that Jane was actually Mrs Robert Pemberton from Northamptonshire, which was problematic. Mrs Robert Pemberton was a Throckmorton so she would have had links to the court but certainly it seemed unlikely that Holbein who worked from London would have painted her. Mrs Jane Small on the other hand, lived just down the road from Holbein.

 

The black gown she is wearing is wool but because her husband is prosperous there is a faint possibility it may be silk. She’s wearing a linen smock with collar and cuffs decorated in black work – another reason I like the image. Katherine of Aragon made blackwork, or Spanishwork, popular in England. She embroidered Henry’s shirts even after he sought a divorce. Expert stitchers ensure that the work is the same on both sides of the fabric. Women like Bess of Hardwick employed embroiderers (usually men) for important pieces of work but in this portrait it is likely that Jane embroidered the blackwork pattern on her own collar and cuffs, as a bride she would seek, perhaps, to demonstrate her prowess as a housewife and capability with the needle was an essential skill.  She would undoubtedly be wearing her best clothes for the occasion of the portrait.

 

There’s a flower pinned to her bodice – the iconography is important. Holbein’s subjects often hold a carnation whether they’re male or female and this is the indicator that they have become betrothed. So Jane hadn’t yet married Mr Small, certainly the coat of arms, of a later provenance, that accompanies the trinket is that of the Pembertons. Jane Pemberton was in her twenty-third year and married in 1540.  She’s not important to Tudor dynasties, she hasn’t done anything particularly noteworthy but she is the face of an ordinary woman looking out at us from Holbein’s crisp blue background – she could be you and she could be me.  She reflects changing and growing affluence within society.  Ordinary people can now have their portrait painted to celebrate a special occasion – marriage.

 

But back to the iconography.  She’s depicted with two ears of corn and holding what looks like a sprig of lavender – they must have meaning but your guess is as good as mine as to what message Holbein is conveying. The corn could be representative of fertility. She did go on to have several children. Equally, though perhaps unlikely, it could be a reference to her virgin status. Yates references Elizabeth I being compared to the goddess Ceres be depicting her holding corn – virginal but fruitful (Yates: 78) Culpepper writing in 1653 saw lavender as good for colds and a symbol of virginity. In folklore lavender was supposed to be loved by the Virgin Mary.  The problem with foliage is that the meaning can shift depending upon the context.

 

Jane would marry again in 1567 after the death of Nicholas to another Nicholas called Nicholas Parkinson. She outlived him as well and seems to have reverted to the name Small.

 

Denyer-Baker, Pauline. Painting Miniatures

 

Yates, Francis A. (1999) Astraea – Yates London: Routledge

 

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Erasmus and Holbein

Holbein-erasmusErasmus and humanism go hand in hand. And it was through Erasmus that Holbein was able to make his way to England with a letter of introduction. He travelled from Basel to the Low Countries and from there to London and the household of Sir Thomas More. Later Erasmus would write that Holbein coerced the letter; outstayed his welcome in Holland; played fast and loose with the truth to gain admittance to More’s household.

 

Young Desiderius, a Dutchman, was born in1466 or 1467, the illegitimate son of a priest. In 1492 after both his parents died of plague and he and his brother were sent to a school that Erasmus remembered for its discipline rather than its nurturing of learning. Both Erasmus and his brother took monastic orders and then Erasmus was himself ordained as a priest before going to Paris to study.

 

As his reputation as a scholar became known he began to correspond with the likes of Sir Thomas More whom he’d met on his first visit to England in 1505 and Dean Colet. Letters travelled across Europe as ideas were shared. He challenged ecclesiastical abuses, drew on the classics to expand his humanist philosophies, wrote against Luther and he sent pictures to his friends – except in an age without the polaroid a competent painter was required if you wanted to send your likeness as a gift – not a new idea if you were a monarch but very new for an ‘ordinary’ person like Erasmus. Holbein was just the man, not least because Erasmus travelled to Basel and had been impressed by Holbein’s illustrations of the Dance of Death.

 

As a consequence of his illustration work Holbein received his commission to paint Erasmus.  His studies of Erasmus’s head and hands remain as does the portrait and many copies ‘in the style of.’ The most learned groups in Europe saw the picture and the drawings that Holbein executed. Holbein’s reputation became international and entry to the English court must have become much easier – after all Henry VIII was a Renaissance king…who needed a Renaissance artist.

Personally I love the fact that Erasmus is depicted with ink stained hands.  Holbein has also place some Greek in the picture as well as Latin.  Erasmus translated the New Testament into Greek.  There’s a reference to the classics and Erasmus’s use of the classics – which the monastery of his youth disapproved of- through the pillar in the background.

 

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Archbishop Wareham

Hans_Holbein_d._J._066William Wareham left Oxford in 1488 to follow a career in the ecclesiastical courts. His reputation was such that he was soon being sent abroad on diplomatic missions. In 1502 he became Bishop of London, then in 1503 he became Archbishop of Canterbury. The following year Henry VII made Wareham his chancellor.

 

In his capacity of Archbishop of Canterbury he crown Henry VIII and his new bride Katherine of Aragon. Initially he maintained his role of king’s advisor but Henry became increasingly reliant upon Wolsey who received his cardinal’s hat from Wareham in 1515. That same year Wareham resigned in part because he disagreed with Henry VIII’s anti-French policy but in 1520 he was part of the Field of Cloth of Gold where Henry and Francis I of France declared undying friendship.

 

Wareham was loyal to Henry even though he didn’t always agree with him. At the time of the King’s Great Matter in 1527 it was Wareham who was appointed to represent Katherine, which was not particularly helpful to the queen as he refused to give her any advice based on the principal that the king’s wishes should not be opposed. In fact he signed a petition to the Pope Clement VII requesting that the divorce should be granted. It was even suggested that as Archbishop of Canterbury he should try the case but fortunately for him this idea fizzled out. He was doing his best to maintain the Church in the face of Henry’s growing hostility towards it and the Pope.

 

In 1531 he was in charge of the Convocation that handed £100,000 over to Henry in order to avoid the charge of praemunire (obeying a foreign authority). He also accepted Henry VIII as the supreme head of the church with the caveat that allowed most men to accept the oath “so far as the law of Christ allows.” Perhaps he realised that Henry would never be satisfied and tried to pursue the rights of the Church but it was too late – he was old and tired. He died on 22 August 1532.

 

The painting of Wareham is after the style of Hans Holbein – a sketch of Wareham’s head by Holbein is in the Royal Collection which was executed (okay perhaps not a good word to use in the context of anyone alive during the reign of Henry VIII) during Holbein’s first visit to England in 1526-28.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nicholas Kratzer

NPG 5245; Nicholas Kratzer after Hans Holbein the Younger

after Hans Holbein the Younger, oil on panel, late 16th century (1528) – click on picture to open a new window in the NPG catalogue.

Nicholas Kratzer, born in Munich in 1487, was a friend of Hans Holbein. In fact, Kratzer’s was one of the first portraits that Holbein painted when he came first to England. But who was Kratzer?

 

He was a mathematician and astronomer  who invented the polyhedral sundial. He arrived in England in 1516 from Cologne to teach mathematics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He was about thirty at the time. He went on to be employed by Henry VIII as Court Astronomer in 1520 to make clocks and sundials. The clock at Hampton Court is is work. Wolsey also gave commissions to Kratzer for similar items. Both men were demonstrating that they were renaissance men. It wasn’t enough to know languages (both ancient and modern) it was also essential to be seen as a man of science. Inevitably Henry’s courtiers also sought out Kratzer to demonstrate their own learning and to keep up with the Tudors and their cronies. One of Kratzer’s sundials was uncovered at Iron Acton Court near Bristol which is now in the hands of English Heritage but once belonged to Nicholas Poyntz – demonstrating that the trend for horology spread far beyond the court setting.

 

Kratzer moved in the England’s leading intellectual circles. He tutored Sir Thomas More’s children and this was where Holbein seems to have first met him. More writes of Kratzer in a letter to his family:

 

But I think you have no longer any need of Master Nicholas [Kratzer], since you have learned whatever he had to teach you about astronomy. I hear you are so far advanced in that science that you can not only point out the polar star or the dog star, or any of the ordinary stars, but are able also…to distinguish the sun from the moon! Onward then in that new and admirable science by which you ascend to the stars!

 

Holbein’s original portrait of Sir Thomas More’s family no longer survives but the original sketch which was presented to Erasmus as a gift by More is still in existence. Each member of the family is carefully annotated in a hand that is not Holbein’s – it is Kratzer who not only knew More, Erasmus and Holbein but also Durer who wrote that Kratzer has provided invaluable assistance in technical matters. Kratzer also knew Thomas Cromwell who was an astute man of business with many German links.

 

Kratzer provided Holbein with technical information. Experts believe that the mathematical instruments and dials depicted in Holbein’s The Ambassadors were provided by Kratzer. The men worked together for the décor of the Banqueting House at Greenwich in 1527. It was a temporary building designed to allow the king to show off his wealth, splendor and just how learned he was – iconography was incredibly important in the sixteenth century so Kratzer’s advice was essential.  They collaborated in the making of maps.

It is interesting to note that his death is written as circa 1550 and even his birth is based on guesswork derived from how old he looks in Holbein’s portrait which was painted in 1528. The painting in the National Portrait Gallery is not Holbein’s original, that hangs in The Louvre.

 

 

 

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Hans Holbein and the mystery lady

anne_ashby_largeThe catchily titled Lady was a Squirrel and a Starling  was painted, experts believe, on Holbein’s first visit to England (1526-28). She is sometimes supposed to be Margaret Giggs, Sir Thomas More’s step-daughter on account of the fact that her unusual fur hat is very similar to a drawing of Margaret held at Windsor in the royal collection but evidently a pointy hat was a fashionable item – because who would want to be painted in clothes that weren’t their very finest?

Another, and more likely, suggestion made by the National Portrait Gallery is that the lady may be Anne Lovell nee Ashby. The rationale for this suggestion comes from the presence of the very perky pet squirrel in the portrait. Holbein portrayed monkeys and even a marmoset as well as falcons in his portraits.  Not that there was anything new about being painted with your pet – think of Leonardo Da Vinci’s portrait of the girl with her pet ermine. The squirrel may indeed just be a pet in the picture for a bit of foreground interest. Apparently they were popular from medieval times onwards but this is a sixteenth century portrait and symbolism was important.

east_1aAlternatively, and more likely, the squirrel is an allusion to the Lovell family of Norfolk  who had three squirrels on their coat of arms. If this is the case then it is also suggested the starling is a rebus for the East Harling Estate in Norfolk which Anne’s husband Francis inherited from his uncle Sir Thomas who had fought at Bosworth on the side of Henry Tudor. There is a squirrel lurking in the stained glass at East Harling.

Anne and Francis were only recently married when Holbein came to England.  It is possible that the picture is one of a pair of husband and wife but that the husband has gone astray.  So is the portrait a celebration of marriage? Of inheritance? Or something else?  Once again history in it’s many guises offers some tantalising insights but leaves much of the story untold.  We do know that Anne was dead by 1539 and that Francis remarried to a woman called Elizabeth but of Anne we know very little other than what she looked like.

According to Time Out this picture is number thirty-one on the hundred best paintings to see in London. It is certainly an opportunity to admire the way that Holbein creates texture not only in the textiles but also in the squirrel which looks as though it is about to leap off the oak board upon which it is painted.

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Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan

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In October 1537 Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour, died from complications following childbirth. Henry, a man notorious for divorcing his first wife and beheading his second was in need of a new wife – or at least that was the view of his chief minister Thomas Cromwell.

Cromwell’s attention initially fell upon Marie de Guise a young widow with a son – so a proven track record for the production of heirs. She was also purported to be a tall woman, something that Henry liked the sound of when he Marie was described to him. Marie however declined the offer of marriage explaining that she only had a little neck. She went on to marry James V of Scotland.

Henry next suggested that all the eligible women in France on Cromwell’s list of suitable brides make like to meet in Calais – think of it as a Tudor hen night where the king could choose his next wife on the grounds that Henry didn’t trust his ambassadors and he was determined he didn’t want to marry an ugly princess. Unsurprisingly the prospective brides and their families were not terribly impressed with the idea – the French ambassador explained that diplomatic marriages were not horse markets . There was also the small matter of the fact that Henry had been excommunicated- which rather put off the Catholic brides.

Ultimately Cromwell sent Hans Holbein on a fact-finding trip with his paintbrush and easel. One of the most striking portraits that Holbein painted at this time was that of sixteen-year-old Christina of Denmark. Christina was the younger daughter of Christian II of Denmark and Isabella of Austria (sister of Charles V). Christian was an early follower of Luther – even if Charles V was very Catholic.  Christian was a bit of an unfortunate king – his wife died, his children were effectively confiscated by their Hapsburg uncle and then he managed to get himself toppled and imprisoned – so Christina of Denmark was actually more Christina of the Netherlands. In some ways she was already part of the English royal family because her great-aunt was none other than Katherine of Aragon.

In addition to being a Hapsburg she was also, as this picture shows, a very pretty girl. She’d been married by proxy at the age of eleven to the Duke of Milan who was a mere twenty-six years older that her. He died two years later – hence the deep black of mourning- Christina returning to her uncle in Brussels so that he could arrange the next advantageous diplomatic marriage. Like Marie she was a tad concerned about the English King’s way with the ladies. She is supposed to have said that if she had two heads one of them would be at the disposal of Henry. Charles V who was looking for allies against the French seems little bothered about the way in which his aunt had been treated and was quite prepared to send his niece across the Channel…unless a better offer came along.

As a consequence of the initial negotiations Holbein visited Brussels in 1538. Christina sat for a portrait but only for three hours.  Holbein did his preliminary drawings, came home and whipped up the portrait.  And what a portrait! This is the only full-length female portrait that Holbein made (I think if memory serves me correctly). The colours and the simplicity of the picture concentrate the viewer on Christina’s hands and face as does the beautifully executed fur collar.  There is a hint of a smile on Christina’s face – perhaps she knew she wouldn’t have to marry Henry!  Henry liked the portrait so much that he announced that he was in love.

For some reason the negotiations did not continue. Christina married François, Duc de Bar in 1541, who succeeded his father as Duc de Lorraine in 1544 and died in 1545, leaving Christina Regent of Lorraine with three children. She died in 1590. As for the portrait – well Henry liked it so much he kept it.

The image for this post was accessed from http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/hans-holbein-the-younger-christina-of-denmark-duchess-of-milan 08/11/2015 @ 23:26

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Gregory Cromwell – Thomas Cromwell’s son

640px-Cromwell,Thomas(1EEssex)01Gregory, born about 1520, was the only son of Thomas and Elizabeth Cromwell. Gregory’s two legitimate sisters died along with his mother of sweating sickness when Gregory was nine.

Thomas Cromwell sought to ensure his son’s well-being and education in the aftermath of his bereavement by sending him to nuns to be cared for. Cromwell knew many abbesses having gained a reputation as a man of business, legal advisor and arbitrator: an irony probably not lost upon the nuns when they were unceremoniously booted out of their homes. After Gregory outgrew the nuns Cromwell sent his son, aged about fifteen, to be educated in Cambridge where he worked hard according to the letters that his tutors sent Cromwell but without the gifts that Cromwell himself demonstrated for language and learning. It must have been frustrating for Cromwell, a self-made and apparently self-taught man, to see his son provided with the best education that money could buy but apparently lacked the skills to make most use of the education which his father provided.

One of the letters that Gregory’s tutor sent to Cromwell reveals a narrowly averted tragedy.  Gregory’s room-mate accidentally set fire to his bedding and caused much damage but, fortunately, no loss of life.  Cromwell was called upon to compensate the tutor for the loss of his possessions.  Other letters cover more mundane affairs such as the need to feed a clothe the growing boy.

In a bizzare twist of fate Cromwell arranged for Gregory to marry Elizabeth Seymour in 1537– sister of Jane Seymour so was the brother-in-law of the man who had his father executed in 1540– Henry VIII.   So technically Henry VIII was the uncle of Gregory’s children.  Gregory did not suffer from his father’s fall from favour instead he went on to become a baron owning extensive lands in Leicestershire and in Rutland. He was created a baron less than five months after his father’s execution and would eventually regain some of the lands that the king had confiscated when Cromwell was found guilty of treason.

Gregory died in 1551 of sweating sickness. His letters demonstrate the depth of his affection for his wife and his children.  There is no picture of him that is known.  It is odd given the number of pictures of Cromwell painted by Holbein that none was commissioned of Cromwell Junior.  There is however a possible picture of Elizabeth Seymour who went on to marry for a third time after Gregory’s death.

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