Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573-1624), in doublet, fair hair falling in curls over his left shoulder
on vellum laid down on card, unfinished
oval, 2 9/16 in. (65 mm.) high, gilt metal-frame with reeded surround
a feint pencil inscription on the reverse reads '[..] Earl Southampton'
Philip J. Cosens.
Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon P. Cosens.
Mrs Gordon Cosens, London.
Mrs Hugh Myers; Sotheby's, London, 1 November 1965, lot 35 (476 gns to Woollett).
On loan to The Victoria and Albert Museum, 1928-1965.
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Exhibition of British Art c. 1000-1860, 1934, no. 954 (lent by Mrs Gordon Cosens, London, as by Peter Oliver, 'Alleged portrait of The Third Earl of Southampton').

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Lot Essay

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, was the son of Henry Wriothesley, 2nd Earl of Southampton and his wife Mary Browne. He inherited his father's title in 1581 but was taken into the custody of Lord Burghley and his estate was held in trust by Lord Howard of Effingham until his maturity. It fell to Burghley to arrange Southampton's marriage, an issue over which they later fell out. At Burghley's home Wriothesley received tutelage in Latin, history and politics and developed a passion for literature. He went on to study at St John's College, Cambridge.

At one time Southampton became a patron of Shakespeare and the bard's Venus and Adonis contained a dedicatory letter addressed to him. Some accounts suggest that Southampton was the subject of some of Shakespeare's sonnets where parallels can be drawn between the protagonists and the earl, such as the predicament of marriage.
By the 1590s Southampton was at court where he enjoyed a secret relationship with a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I, Elizabeth Vernon. In 1598 she fell pregnant and the couple married and went on to have four more children. The union displeased the Queen and Southampton fell out of her favour. One of his allies at court was Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, with whom he fought in Ireland in 1599. Southampton was drawn into a conspiracy in which Essex and his friends attempted to re-establish their influence at court and in 1601 was imprisoned for treason. Essex was beheaded but Sir Robert Cecil negotiated a less severe punishment for Southampton, who was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released two years later under the orders of the new monarch, King James I. Southampton soon resumed his place at court and was awarded estates by the king. He was appointed Master of the Game by the king's consort, Queen Anne of Denmark (see lot 103), who showed him special favour. Southampton divided his time between Parliament and promoting colonial enterprise and died, in 1624, five days after his eldest son, during a military campaign against Spanish forces.

The earliest known portrait of Southampton is by Nicholas Hilliard, dated 1594, in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. A full-length painting by an unknown artist circa 1595-1600 depicts him with longer hair and traces of a beard: features which correspond with the present miniature. He was painted by John de Critz the Elder during his imprisonment from 1601 to 1603 when he still had long hair and a fuller beard. By 1605 he had short hair and a full beard, as seen in a portrait miniature of him by Nicholas Hilliard (see R. Strong, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, London, 1969, I, pp. 298-300, illustrated II, pl. 587-591).

A similar unfinished portrait of Southampton's close friend and ally,
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, is at the Yale Center for British
Art, New Haven. Made circa 1596, it has been described as a 'pattern' portrait, which took one sitting and was designed to be kept in Oliver's studio as a pattern, enabling the artist to produce copies without the need for further sittings (R. Strong, The English Renaissance Miniature, London, 1984, pp. 9-11, illustrated p. 11).

We are indebted to Sir Roy Strong for supporting the identification of the sitter as Sir Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, on the basis of a photograph.

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