The sitter was the fifth son of John Crew of Stene (1598-1670), Member of Parliament and Speaker of the House of Commons (1623-5), who was elevated to the peerage as Baron Crew of Stene, Northamptonshire, in 1661 following the Restoration. His mother Jemima, his father's second wife, was the daughter and co-heir of Edward Waldegrave, of Lawford Hall, Essex. He was educated at Lincoln College, Oxford, of which he was later a Fellow, and took Holy Orders in 1664 becoming Rector of Lincoln College (1668-72). Crew gained the favour of James, Duke of York, to whom he owed his rapid preferment and was appointed Dean of Chichester (1669-71); Bishop of Oxford (1671-74), and then Bishop of Durham in 1674. In 1676 he was made a Privy Councillor and on the accession of King James II he was appointed Dean of the Chapel Royal in place of Compton, Bishop of London. On King James II's flight he went into hiding but then gave his vote in the Lords for the recognition of William and Mary. He married twice, first Penelope, widow of Sir Hughe Tynte, daughter of Sir Philip Frowde, of Kent, and secondly Dorothy (d. 1715), daughter of Sir William Forster, of Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland. Leaving no children on his death, the Barony became extinct, while the estate of Stene devolved, under the terms of the 2nd Baron's marriage settlement, on Jemima, Duchess of Kent.
This portrait, which would appear to date from the early 1650s is characteristic of Lely's early portraiture. Lely executed a number of portraits of members of the Crew family including portraits of the sitter's brothers Thomas, 2nd Baron Crew and the Hon. Samuel Crew. The Crew family was connected to the Earls of Sandwich through the marriage of Jemima, daughter of John, Baron Crew, to Sir Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich, K.G. (1625-1672) in 1642.