Does anyone else like me get irritated by misidentified portraits of historical characters?  Is it that difficult to get correct? It’s quite sloppy to be honest as just a quick glance at them tells you something ain’t quite right here!  It’s particularly common around  16th century portraiture when in actual fact that type of art reached its zenith with wonderful artists like Holbein the Younger.

One of the most irksome for me, and from an earlier period,  is the portrait that is frequently used to depict Richard Neville 16th Earl of Warwick, known as The Kingmaker.  Lets take a look..

This is a prime example of a wrongly, really wrongly identified portrait.  I don’t know who it is  but this is definitely NOT Richard Neville,  16th Earl of Warwick known as the ‘Kingmaker’.

I ask you, does this resemble someone who fought in the Wars of the Roses and was dead by 1471?  Give Me Strength! There is no known contemporary portraits of Richard Neville other than the drawings of him in the Rous Roll and  a weeper on his father-in-law’s tomb, Richard Beauchamp,  13th Earl of Warwick, St Mary’s Warwick,  said to depict him.  None of these depict him with a beard which was not fashionable in the 15th century.  Nor did he wear anything like the costume in the offending portrait.  Warwick would not  have been seen dead in those late 16th knickerbockers.   However still this portrait is used regularly and captioned with his name. Please make it stop! groan.  And kudos to those that get it right.


Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known as the Kingmaker.  Drawing by Rous – who would have actually known him by sight.  Not a knickerbocker – or beard –  in sight…

Misidentified portraiture is not just limited to paintings.  It can also occur in stained glass.  Take a look at the wonderful early 16th century stained glass windows in St Mary’s Church, Fairford, Gloucestershire.   In these windows are figures of the Tudor Royal family.  These include Henry VII, his wife Elizabeth of York and his mother Margaret Beaufort. All these figures closely resemble their paintings and busts .There is one included of a chubby child identified as Henry VIII as a toddler.


Drawing of a cherub like Henry VIII as a child.  Ah..what’s not to like. Holbein.
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Chancel, north chapel, Lady Chapel, North window, Fairford Church.  Jesus as a small boy in the temple modelled on a young angelic Henry VIII.    A good likeness between the sketch and the glass – all ok here.

However there is also a figure of an elderly churchman.  This has been identified by an ‘expert’ as being that of Cardinal Wosley.  This is despite the fact that when these windows were made c.1500,  Wolsey, being born in 1473 would have been  young man and not the older man portrayed.    A closer look combined with a bit of research and it can be seen ‘Wolsey’ is in fact Cardinal Morton portrayed as the elderly man he would have been when the windows were made.  Morton was held in high regard  with the Tudors, particularly Margaret Beaufort and Henry Tudor for whom he had tirelessly laboured/plotted to enable Henry’s usurpation of Richard III’s throne.   I base my conclusion on comparing the face in the window to the wooden boss of Morton in Bere Regius church, Dorset.

See for yourself and decide…image

Stain glass portrait in Fairford Church identified as Cardinal Wolsey.  I believe the churchman looking benignly down on the Tudor family is actually Cardinal Morton whose plotting helped get Henry VII to the throne.  

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 Carved wooden boss of Morton in Bere Regius Church.  

Moving on to the Tudor Queens…teeth gritted…

The portrait below of Queen Katherine Parr is, at this very moment as you read this, being erroneously identified regularly in books and online article/searches as Lady Jane Grey or even Mary Tudor.


Katherine Parr, attributed to Master John, circa 1545.  Regularly misidentified as Lady Jane Grey. © National Portrait Gallery, London 

Casting aside the obvious and glaring fact that this is a lady who is considerably more older than Lady Jane Grey who was dead at 17,  but don’t let common sense get in the way of choosing illustrations for one’s book/article.

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