The sitter was the eldest son of Sir Dudley North (1641-1691), financier and economist, and his wife Ann (d. 1715), widow of Sir Robert Gonning and daughter of Sir Robert Cann, M.P. for Bristol. He had two brothers, Roger (b. 1686) and Robert (b. 1688), and a sister Anne (see lot 54 for a portrait of Dudley and Anne as children). His father's sole heir, Dudley acquired a country estate at Glemham, Suffolk, in 1708, and became known as Dudley North of Glemham. He served as M.P. for Suffolk and Oxford and married Catherine, daughter of Elihu Yale, founder of Yale college in New Haven (for her portrait see lot 53).
Sir Godfrey Kneller, an English artist born in Lübeck, Germany, was considered the leading portraitist in England during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. At the time he painted the present portrait in 1717, he held the post of Principal Painter to the Crown.