Looking through Google images, I have come upon various uses of my tweaked version of Titian, whose masterpiece, Portrait of a Man in a Red Cap, I was impudent enough to ‘adapt’ into my idea of John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. Sorry Titian. Anyway, I’ve always been pleased with the result, so I thought I’d explain how it came about.
Writers of historical fiction always have to picture their characters. Well, all writers do, of course, but for historical fiction, featuring actual persons, one has to pay attention to known portraits and descriptions. We all know what Richard III and Henry VII looked like, and Margaret Beaufort. Even Elizabeth Woodville and Elizabeth of York have their famous likenesses. My main character, Cicely Plantagenet, daughter of Edward IV, is thought to have been like the picture below – well, maybe, since she and all her sisters are portrayed in exactly the same way. Peas in a Yorkist pod.
Were they really all so uniformly fair and golden? Or was this image merely an ideal? Thomas More described her as ‘not so fortunate as fair’, but I think the ‘fair’ refers to good looks rather than golden hair.
But other important men and women are still entirely unknown to us visually, obliging an author to ‘invent’ their appearance. One of these men was Richard III’s trusted nephew, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. John was the eldest son of Richard’s sister, Elizabeth, and the 2nd Duke of Suffolk, another John de la Pole. He was said to have been Richard’s choice as heir, and certainly he was worthy, but what do we really know about him? He was an important lord, but his looks, thoughts, character, family life and so on are a mystery. To me, at least. Maybe there is a wealth of information about him, in which case, someone please tell me how to see it.
So I needed to give him an appearance that would fit with the character I had created. After looking around for a suitable portrait to tinker with, I came upon Titian’s Portrait of a Man in a Red Cap. Perfect. Well, apart from the red cap and the main clothes, which do not fit a young aristocrat who died in 1487. So please overlook the fashion. The rest of my changes have recreated, to me, the dashing Jack de la Pole of my books.
Whether it conjures your idea of Lincoln is a matter of choice. Maybe you see him as big, brawny and blond, or red-haired and freckled, with a snub nose. Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder.