Audio: Portrait of Edward Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon (1523-1556)
English School, circa 1555
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English School, circa 1555

Portrait of Edward Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon (1523-1556), half-length, in a black jerkin tied by points and a ruff, leaning on a stone ledge, ruins beyond

English School, circa 1555
Portrait of Edward Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon (1523-1556), half-length, in a black jerkin tied by points and a ruff, leaning on a stone ledge, ruins beyond
inscribed 'En puer, ac insons et adhuc juvenilibus annis / Annos bis septem, carcere claus eram, / me pater his tenuit vinclis, que filia solvit, / sors mea sic tandem veritur a superis' (upper left) and with identifying inscription 'E. Cortenay Comes Devonie' (lower right)
oil on panel
43¾ x 31¾ in. (110.2 x 80.7 cm.)
The Dukes of Bedford, Woburn Abbey, by 1727, and by descent to,
Hastings Russell, 12th Duke of Bedford; his sale; Christie's, London, 19 January 1951, lot 126, as Mor (220 gns. the following).
Colonel A.V. Dower Gander, T.D. (1898-1980), until at least 1956.
Anonymous sale; Bonhams, London, 17 April 1980, lot 51, as Hans Eworth (£7,000).
with Lane Fine Art, London, 1980, from whom acquired by the present owner.

H. Walpole, Anecdotes of Paintings in England, collected by G. Vertue, London, 1782, I, p. 220, as Antonio More [sic].
G. Vertue, 'Notebooks, II', The Walpole Society, XX, 1932, p. 40, as 'supposed to be painted by ... Zuchero; consequently not so - because he was not then in England'.
G. Scharf, A Descriptive and Historical Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures at Woburn Abbey, London, 1890, p. 7, no. 10.
L. Cust, 'The painter HE', Walpole Society, II, 1913, p. 21, as Hans Eworth.
F.G. Hill, Edward Courtenay, reprinted from 'Numismatic Chronicle', V, 1925/6, p. 3 [267].
R. Strong, The English Icon: Elizabethan & Jacobean Portraiture, New York, 1969, p. 130, no. 84, as Steven van der Meulen.
C. Foley, 'A Forgotten Heritage', The World of Interiors, December 1982-Januaruy 1983, as unattributed.
London, The British Institution, 1820, no. 183; 1846, no. 149.
G. Barrett, 1797.
T. Chambars.
J. Cochran.
W. Freeman.

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Lot Essay

The sitter was the second, but only surviving son of Henry Courtenay, Marquess of Exeter (1498/9-1538) and his second wife, Gertrude, and also the great-grandson of Edward IV. As a young child, Courtenay enjoyed the privileges and protection of royal relations and spent most of his childhood under the care of the dowager queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk, Mary Tudor. While at court, Courtenay’s father became entangled in the divorce controversy between Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon and his decision to support Katherine and collude with Cardinal Reginald Pole proved fatal. In November 1538, when Courtenay was only twelve, he was imprisoned with his mother and father in the Tower of London. Two months later, he witnessed his father’s execution for treason. Although Courtenay and his mother were not guilty of any specific crime, the family’s Aragonese sympathies made them a potential danger to Henry VIII and they were stripped of their right to inherit Henry Courtenay’s lands and title.

Courtenay’s mother was released nearly two years later, in 1540, but as Courtenay was a serious dynastic threat he remained imprisoned for thirteen more years. Isolated from the outside world, Courtenay’s only pleasure was studying and one of his most notable accomplishments was a translation of Tratatto utilissimo del beneficio di Gieusu Cristo crocofisso verso I Cristiani, which he dedicated to the Duchess of Somerset, in an effort to gain favour with Edward VI. It was not until Mary ascended the throne in 1553 that Courtenay found any reprieve: he was released immediately from the Tower, created 1st Earl of Devon and a Knight of Bath, and had much of his inheritance restored. Courtenay enjoyed great popularity - he was touted as the ‘flower of the English nobility’ by Reginald Pole and tipped as a prospective husband for Mary. When Mary decided on a Hapsburg match with Philip II, Courtenay transferred his interest to Elizabeth. Mary’s decision to marry a foreigner was unpopular and Sir Thomas Wyatt, along with Sir James Croft, Sir Peter Carew, and the Duke of Suffolk conspired to overthrow Mary and instate Elizabeth, with, hopefully, Courtenay as her husband. Courtenay’s role and support of the plot remains largely unknown, but it is speculated that he was planning on inciting rebellions in Devonshire and Cornwall. At his execution, Wyatt publicly exonerated Elizabeth and Courtenay for their suspected participation and Courtenay was moved from the Tower of London to Fotheringhay Castle, where he was confined for a further year. On his release, he was exiled to the Continent and travelled first to Brussels and then to Italy, where he consorted with other disgruntled exiles who wanted him to return and marry Mary, Queen of Scots. Before this plan could come into fruition, Courtenay died of a fever at Padua, although suspicions that he was poisoned remain to this day.

This portrait captures Courtenay during his brief period of freedom in the 1550s and the rich symbolism in the picture alludes to his infamous imprisonment: behind his head are the towers of a ruined castle, symbolic of his former family seat, seized by Henry VIII; the foliage on the towers hints at a regrowth of fortune; and Courtenay’s more relaxed posture, without any accoutrements of war or weapons, can be seen as emblematic of his newly found freedom. This painting is a poignant portrait of a man whose life was dominated by imprisonment and foiled plots and who, ultimately, was doomed to live in the ‘shadow of the White Rose’ (J. Taylor, The Shadow of the White Rose: Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon, 1526-1556, New York, 2006, p. 2).

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