This important portrait of King Edward VI, which echoes Holbein's magnificent portraits of his father King Henry VIII, is among the more remarkable portraits extant that were painted in England in the years following Holbein's death in 1543.
King Edward VI (1537-1553), the only son of King Henry VIII by his third Queen, Jane Seymour, succeeded to the throne on the death of his father in 1547, when only nine years old. At the outset of his reign he was under the guidance of a Council of Regency which appointed his uncle, Edward, 1st Earl of Hertford, later Duke of Somerset, Governor and Protector of the Realm during the King's minority. Somerset remained the dominant figure at Court until his influence was eclipsed by that of John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, whose influence over the young King remained unchallenged from the execution of Somerset in 1551 until Edward VI's death in 1553. Although King Edward VI's reign was short, and despite the fact that he was only fifteen when he died of consumption, he displayed a deep interest in religious policy and his reign is most notable for the continuation and consolidation of the English Reformation for which he was praised by European protestants and which his sister Mary, who succeeded him as Queen of England, was unable to reverse.
Although Edward VI lived and reigned only briefly, as the male heir to the throne - for whom his father had longed in order to secure the Tudor dynasty - his childhood is well documented in terms of portraiture when compared with that of the other Tudor Royal children. The earliest portrait type of the young Prince was developed by Hans Holbein (1497/8-1543), who had painted celebrated portraits of both Henry VIII and Jane Seymour and executed a drawing of Edward VI in circa 1539-40, when he was only two years old (Royal Collection, Windsor Castle). This shows the young heir to the throne in a frontal and already authoritative princely pose which Holbein later developed into a painted portrait of which the only known, and universally-accepted autograph version is now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington (fig. 2). The present portrait would appear to date from circa 1547-49 and, while unique in certain aspects, is a variant of a portrait type which was initially developed before Edward VI succeeded to the throne and was later adapted to provide a portrait of him as King. The original of this type is the three-quarter-length portrait in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle which shows Edward VI with a jewel with the prince of Wales's feathers (see O. Millar, op.cit., I, no.44). The pose deliberately echoes Holbein's earlier portrait of King Henry VIII for the great life-size wall-painting of the Tudor dynasty which he executed for the Privy Chamber in Whitehall Palace in 1537 (destroyed in the Whitehall Palace fire of 1698) which is known through the surviving left hand section of Holbein's cartoon for the composition (National Portrait Gallery no. 4027; fig. 1), and Remigius van Leemput's later copy of the whole composition (Royal Collection, Hampton Court; see O. Millar, op.cit., no.216). In the catalogue to the Treasure Houses exhibition in 1985 (loc.cit.) Susan Foister commented:
'The head of the Loseley portrait follows that of the Royal Collection portrait very closely, but the costume and pose are quite distinct, and do not occur in other variants. The pose in particular suggests a deliberately less formal image. Edward is not wearing the Garter, although he does wear a heavy jeweled collar very similar to that worn by his father Henry VIII in Holbein's cartoon for the lost wall painting at Whitehall Palace. The sword that the young King holds does not recur in other portraits of Edward.'
In the nineteenth century the present portrait was thought to be by ,
Holbein; however the discovery of the date of Holbein's death, 1543, made this impossible. Susan Foister has also pointed out that while in the present portrait there are parallels with Holbein's work such as the 'inclusion of the sitter's shadow reflected onto the green background and the precise disposition of the pattern over the surfaces of the costume', these are only superficial and do not suggest the work of a close follower. It has sometimes been suggested that the artist William Scrots, who worked at the English Court between 1546 and 1553, painted the Royal Collection portrait but this is generally not accepted. The Royal Collection and Loseley portraits appear to be by different hands.
The inscription on the frame of the portrait was first recorded by J.G. Nichols in 1859. The date '1549' is inconsistent with the rest of the inscription which proclaims the portrait to be the image of King Edward VI at the time of his coronation (which took place in 1547) and should therefore be regarded with caution.
The rapier that Edward VI clasps with his left hand in this portrait is particularly interesting. It was traditionally associated with a lost drawing by Holbein of a sword for Edward VI from the Arundel collection which was recorded by Wenzel Hollar. However, A. Norman (op.cit.) commented that although this 'has a similar knuckle guard, the pommel is of another shape and is, in any case, quite differently decorated' and suggested that it was more similar to a drawing by the Spaniard Antonio de Valdez dated 1537 which has several similar features (op.cit., p. 369). More recently it has been suggested by Claud Blair that the rapier might be the work of the Spanish damascener Diego de Çaias who is known to have worked for Henry VIII and Edward VI.
The portrait is first recorded in the collection of the More family in an inventory of the contents of Loseley House dated 1777 (the first inventory of the contents of the house to list pictures individually). Its earlier provenance is not clear. The Manor of Loseley was acquired by Sir Christopher More, who had held the position at King Henry VIII's Court of King's Remembrancer and was Sheriff of Surrey and Sussex, in 1532. It seems likely that the picture was acquired by either Sir Christopher's son Sir William More (1520-1600), one of Queen Elizabeth I's most trusted advisers, who was a Member of Parliament as well as county Sheriff, and who built the present house between 1562 and 1568 (where he entertained Queen Elizabeth I in 1577), or perhaps by his son Sir George More (1553-1632), who was also a Member of Parliament, Sheriff of Surrey and Sussex (1597), and held a number of important offices under King James I including that of being Treasurer to Henry Prince of Wales (1603). The picture does not appear in an inventory of Sir William's possessions of 1556, taken before the building of the present house, which records him owning only one portrait, that of King Henry VIII, so it may have entered his collection after that date. Susan Foister (loc. cit.) commented that one possible source for the picture was Sir Thomas Cawarden, Edward VI's Master of Revels and also Keeper of the nearby Palace of Nonsuch, built by Henry VIII, for whose estate Sir William More acted as an executor. Although she noted that an inventory that appears to list Cawarden's goods (in the Guildford Muniment Room) includes several pictures, but no portrait of Edward VI.