The portrait parade of Tudor monarchs and nobles at Hever Castle and Gardens gets even more impressive with the addition of an unseen Richard III
In late 16th and early 17th century England, the corridors and long galleries of noble houses were often hung with collections of panel portraits reflecting a Tudor fascination with dynastic matters – and the complicated historical narrative of the English monarchy.
And as the period progressed through the bloody reign of Henry VIII the purpose built long gallery – often leading nowhere but accessible from private apartments and looking out on to the house’s best vistas – became a status symbol for any self-respecting Tudor noble.
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Henry VIII had several of these oak panelled parades of monarchical history in his great houses, and Cardinal Wolsey built what are thought to be the first long galleries at both Hampton Court Palace and York Place.
Some are now lost to history but many of them survive to this day – notably at Hampton Court Palace. But one of the most enlightening is at Hever Castle in Kent, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn and where the ill-fated queen’s father, Thomas Boleyn, added a wood-panelled gallery in 1505.
Today the house is a major tourist attraction with many period rooms reflecting its Tudor connections – including Anne Boleyn’s bedroom, a Henry VIII bedroom and the Boleyn’s original gallery, augmented by one of the finest collections of Tudor portraits in the country (thanks to owners the Guthrie family who have built the collection since taking over running the Castle in 1983).
The impressive gallery, which has been faithfully restored, redecorated and lit, now boasts the most monarchs and nobles from the ever-fascinating York/Lancaster/Tudor timeline represented in contemporary and later portraits, including an impressive cast of Tudor women.
Until recently there was however one omission – the man who effectively ushered in the Tudor dynasty when he lost the Battle of Bosworth to Henry VII in 1485 – King Richard III.
As part of a permanent display, originally opened in 2018, Hever has now acquired and hung a late 16th century portrait of the notorious king, which has been in private collections for many years.
Never seen in public before it is believed to be an example of the only painted portrait-type of Richard, best known from a 16th century panel in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, and probably derives from a now lost original that was painted from life.
In the portrait the King appears to be placing a ring on the little finger of his right hand, which some interpret as evidence of his cruel nature and by others as evidence of his humanity – depending on which historians, novelists and playwrights you choose to believe.
Intriguingly, Shakespeare’s Richard III was written about 1593, which is when the original panel was being painted. Dendrochronological analysis (tree-ring dating) of the panel on which Richard III is painted suggests an earliest possible usage date of 1586 upwards.
Whatever your view on him, Richard’s defects of person and character are not a later, Tudor, invention as some of his later 20th-century supporters have claimed. His seizure of the throne was regarded as so shocking and extraordinary at the time that in December 1483 an Italian, Dominico Mancini, wrote an account of it, saying “but how he may afterwards rule, and yet rules I have not sufficiently learnt because directly after … I left England for France.”
A month later, in January 1484, the Lord Chancellor of France in his opening speech to the Estates General (Parliament) of France, directly accused Richard III of murdering his nephews, Edward V, King of England and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, and usurping the throne.
It seems probable that the Lord Chancellor had drawn his information from Mancini, who had already reported in his treatise “that there was a suspicion that [Edward V] had been done away with”.
How Richard III afterwards ruled – in particular the murder/disappearance of his nephews – was so contentious and divisive in England that after a mere two years on the throne, he lost the Battle of Bosworth to the exiled Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond who some historians believe had the weakest claim to the throne in English history.
The portrait, which was almost certainly part of a set, bears a number of striking similarities with another portrait of Richard III in an English private collection, and it is likely they were both produced in the same workshop, around the same time.
The very distinctive design of the hat jewel, which also appears in the private collection work, does not appear in any other recorded portraits of Richard III from the same period. It is also thought it was created specifically for a long gallery setting, to where it now returns, as the missing link more than 400 years later.
At Hever 18 original portraits now chronologically depict the dynastic saga of one of the most universally fascinating eras in English History – from the Wars of the Roses to the Reformation – beginning with Henry VI and concluding with Henry VIII.
Hever Castle and Gardens
Nr Edenbridge, Kent
700 years of history to be discovered at this 13th century double moated romantic castle, once the childhood home of Anne Boleyn and housing an important collection of Tudor portraits, fine furniture, tapestries and artefacts. The natural and formal gardens include Italian Gardens with a magnificent collection of Italian statuary,…